In what could be perceived as prehistoric times before social media proscribed personal predilections with venomous vitriol or applauded attractive addictions as admirable, I survived on my own with few friends or family support. Making individual choices about my career, appearance, lifestyle, relationships and passions among other issues, I considered my options alone in private, without needing affirmation or approval from anyone..
Suffice to say that perusing diverse media articles recently about the increasing popularity of Facebook and Twitter as well as the pervasive penchant to emulate celebrity stars posted on Instagram, I feel most fortunate to have allowed my own desires, beliefs and thoughts to direct my life, engendered by personal inspiration and ambition rather than an insatiable need to copy anyone else, gender irrelevant.
Indeed, aged just 29 in 1979, almost 40 years ago, I penned a play (unpublished and unperformed) about it being apposite to “rip up the carbons” of stereotyped facades and behaviours to encourage and enhance individuality and difference. (I’m assuming those perusing my posts will remember that reproducing typed print was achieved by using ‘carbon paper’ behind it with another page recording the copy).
In the Melbourne Age newspaper on 15/12/2017, a London Telegraph columnist, Elizabeth Day, wrote “Let’s celebrate how different we are, rather than rushing to be the same as someone (else)…” On the same day and the opposite page was a headline proclaiming “Abandon Facebook, free yourself”, written by an Australian female academic who wrote “it stresses us, even while it is temporarily calming us. Like a poker machine, its unpredictability invites us back for hit after hit until we are so full of chemicals we suffer “disconnection anxiety” when we are away from the screen.” A few years ago, never having been on Facebook or bothering with Twitter or Instagram, I posted “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” about digital technology touching all our lives, but since then the proclivity for these pursuits seems not just more entrenched worldwide, but of prime importance for social well-being, despite its potential to delude, distort and destroy individual difference and self-direction.
Certainly, I have written about being my own person ad nauseum, but what I’ve been contemplating more and more is WHY so many people need, or seemingly need, to be the same as others? Why is it that people not only are unable to embrace difference in self as well as others, but more significantly actually choose to want to be the same as others? Is there some latent fear lurking in their psyche, consciously and/or unconsciously, that prohibits wanting individualism over prosaic sameness? These are issues I’ve reflected on for more than 50 years when I first donned a uniform to look like all the other girls at school? What was my identity about when a uniform dress code denied my self-expression and sense of self? The focus on self is not just about fashion and our appearance, but more profoundly encompasses some apparent wariness about standing out from the crowd from a fear of being unaccepted, even ostracised, because of our difference.
Striking out for self, be it by behaviour and/or beliefs, may frighten people into wanting and needing to fit in by ‘belonging’ to some tribe. The increasing attention to ‘identity politics’ and people understanding their identity by ascribing and adopting a populist ideology of nationality, family, colour, creed, politics and sexuality et al, manifests for me as a sense of social security in numbers, a source of solace, comfort and reassurance because to contemplate a sense of aloneness can be simply too frightening to not just consider but actually live. The sheep mentality seems alive and well and thriving, be it played out on Facebook,. Twitter or Instagram.
That’s not to deny we need social relationships with others for friendship and an enriching life, but I have always endeavoured to have friends and relationships with others where I can be myself, without proscription. This of course has been very difficult over my life, having being told or advised all too often as well as criticised and condemned for somehow being innately ‘wrong’ for the choices I made, not just about my work and career, but about marriage, having children, my family and certain friends who were unable to accept our relationships as “toxic”. I felt unable to be myself, warts and all. As I got older, it became far easier to dispense with these friendships as I much preferred my own company and conversations with myself to superficially indulge in sociable chit-chat that only negated me.
Research I’ve read attests that wanting sameness, albeit without conscious understanding of what that can mean for self, can foster a range of not just serious mental health problems, but also precipitate physical illness too. People don’t seem particularly happy being the same yet they continue to want to be and even more disturbing is that these people then project this need for sameness, irrespective of evidenced facts, onto those around them. Family members, the medical community and so-called friends too often think they know what’s best for you despite their own unhappiness, albeit unrecognised, even denied. Their comfort is then oft found in relationships that are a shallow sham, dangerous drugs, over-eating, excessive alcohol and popping pills. Sadly too through Facebook,. Twitter and Instagram et al.
My own work experience offers another perspective about this sameness. In 1982, I began a journalist job on showbiz magazine “TV WEEK” and realised how not just my colleagues, but its big readership, mainly female, “got off” on reading stories about “stars” in the entertainment industry who had fallen on hard times, be it with mental health issues or other deemed social failures such as marriage breakdowns, drug addiction or a cancer diagnosis. One of my female colleagues used to sit at her desk nearby and literally clap her hands in glee at “a great story” about some celeb who had ‘confessed’ to a ‘dark and shameful’ secret no one else knew at that time; publishing heaven! Moreover these days, so many journalists seem to derive some vicarious pleasure in detailing how the rich and famous have fallen from grace. Be it 60 Minutes or the Herald Sun, everyone in the public spotlight from footballers to fashionistas to infamous politicos are fair game for the propaganda of the press as it reports how these people have been ‘caught’ straying illicitly into others’ beds, colluding with innocent foreigners who want to shape this country’s destiny and/or even been guilty of real crimes such as sexual assault appropo of Harvey Weinstein and many others it seems too. Both the public and the press seem to ‘titillate’ over the revelations in some kind of reassuring sadism.
I contend the fall from grace of these people in some perverse way actually makes others feel better about their own lives as it’s not just them who are unhappy, frustrated or anxious as even the rich and famous make mistakes and are human like the rest of us. We are all in the melting pot of flurry and confusion and we all suffer.
Nearly 40 years ago, I penned a line in one of my novels about “one woman gets up and she’s a threat to the social pecking order” by refusing and not needing to join the whining, indeed blaming rhetoric about the male, power patriarchy as a helpless, subordinate victim. I found out in the years since that was true, for me anyway. Despite realising that about myself, I constantly puzzle over why so many people seemingly fear difference in themselves and others. Enough said.
If any readers have any thoughts, please leave a comment.