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October 7, 2013 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

An Identity Crisis

“You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were.”

— Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye

I need some help. If you’re like me, you will have been told way too many times a mélange of the following:

“Do what you want!”

“Just be yourself!”

“Don’t be someone you don’t want to be!”

“That’s just not you!”

I am tired of this dogmatic barrage to be the real Duncan. If you’re like me, you live a pretty uncertain, schizophrenic and anxious existence. I don’t know the answer to many things but most importantly, I don’t understand how to answer this ‘who I am’ question.  So I thought you could help me. I am having an identity crisis, as we all are. Perhaps there is no ‘me’. My therapist loves this stuff.

Observation 1:

I think there’s a pretty normal intuition held by our inner Holden Caulfield that some people are just annoying contrived individuals. They love the new Drake album, all of a sudden.* They will push you to describe the Nietzsche book you’re reading, when they don’t even know how to spell his name (life hack #1: google it). They wear New Balances. Apparently, those are just comfy. They have this vibe which makes you just want to roll your eyes back and keep rolling them until your wine’s finished. They are fake. They have forged an identity to make them cooler. But so is the reverse: the anti-cool cool. Those who deliberately do the opposite: vintage New Balances, ironic Miley Cyrus fans. You can never win.

Observation 2:

Sometimes though, being contrived is cool. See: music. It is sometimes considered ‘edgy’ to appropriate and borrow aspects of different music genres and cultures. Look at the advent of white female rappers like Iggy Azalea who are able to subvert the misogynistic traditions of the rap industry. The deliberateness of their cultivated personality is cherished. Iggy rapping is so much cooler than Kanye doing the same because Iggy is actively engaging in a culture that is both foreign to her and has historically oppressed her. One commentator, after Miley’s twerking at the VMAs, observed that “while nonwhite culture is assumed to be rooted in instinct, white culture is one of intent… White people clamouring to up their cred by appropriating nonwhite culture do so hoping to be rewarded for choices that are falsely seen as inherent in people of color.” There are real concerns with white people like Miley ever trying to colonise black culture (if twerking can be construed as such). However, the reception to her dancing acts is an interesting example of how actively doing something that is not ‘you’ can be perceived as cool: contrived cool.

Observation 3:

Now for a hopefully non-controversial confession: I act differently around different people. Sometimes, I am morose and introverted. Other times, I am happy and bubbly. At work, I use New Zealand jargon like ‘G’day’ and ‘how are ya’. Around lawyers I show ~deference~ and ~respect~. Sometimes, and this may be TMI, but I actually construct conversations and jokes (GREAT ONES) prior to meeting up with people so as to avoid awkward silences. But I think this is normal. We are identity chameleons. We are who we want to be, when we want to be. Identity becomes a tool of engagement. Something moulded to foster relationships.

Observation 4 ~philosophy~:

Here’s a puzzle: how do you distinguish between a genuine interest and an interest engendered by influences? Some people will often say that they just really like that song. “It really speaks to me” is a classic line by someone you should probably stop talking to. Some people like rap more than rock. Maybe they grew up with it. Or they know all the albums back to front so that when the new one comes out: it resonates. I have another gripe here. Why is it that those who happened to have older brothers who told them what to listen to or had more trendy parents, are allowed to have genuine interests, whereas I (yes, poor me) am forced to work to prove that my interests are ‘real’. I mean, guyz, talk about an injustice.  And regardless, why does indoctrination by your parents make your thoughts more genuine rather than the pressures of your peers?

Identity is fickle. We act, wear, listen, read, in order to signal an aspiration. A person we want to be. A person who is well-read, well-dressed, well-versed. This is the paradox of identity. Sometimes we hate fake people. Sometimes we love them. Having an identity is an identity in itself: being that genuine guy. We maintain the concept though to protect ourselves: to act as a Band-Aid from the terrifying waylessness that comes from being a vessel filled by the influences around us. But maybe that protection is misguided. We should celebrate subversion; embrace the freedom we have to create our own lives: the autonomy to like Miley, Drake and wear button-downs. To make me rather than be born me. Or maybe that’s just me and this was all just an overshare.**

N.B. I hope you understand the irony of the Catcher quote. I just googled it. But it’s a good’un.——

Duncan is lovely; a really great guy. He likes and hates everything discussed above. Apart from New Balances. He has zero tolerance for New Balances. Duncan is next year’s Co-Editor. @donutsmclachlan

*I love it. Listening to it right now. ‘Too Much’ is probably my favourite, but I’m flexible.

**My ideas have come from the internet. I use Tumblr.


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