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July 29, 2019 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Fit the Pumps I Walk In

Freaky Friday (2003) is one of those Disney Channel Originals you’re absolutely sure you saw as a kid. The culmination of Disney cashing in on the death of the ’90s, and Lindsay Lohan cashing in on raw talent. Remove the classic “minorities as mystical plot devices” tropes, and you’ve got a middle-of-the-road teen comedy. 


The central moral lesson of the film—and the only tangible theme I was able to take away after four consecutive viewings—is one of perspective. 


I grew up in a middle-class family as a straight, white male. The only time I have ever been a stark minority is when I found out I was one of two people in the office who used Apple Music. My parents worked from the ground up in small working-class towns to make a life for themselves. They made sure I knew how fortunate we were. But the life the majority of people in my hometown lived, and the systemic reasons behind that, was something I had to learn myself. 


It was an experience that seared itself onto my teenage brain: I saw my perspective evolve in front of me the first time I listened to the most iconic album of my adolescence, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid m.A.A.d City (2012). I’d stayed away from it for so long, dreading that I would just become the archetypal white kid rap fan. The type of kid you see trying to emulate the “thug life” from their cozy bedroom on the other side of the world, completely missing the point that the day-to-day of this life is not glamorous.


Regardless, I decided to dive in. I physically remember sitting down to first listen to that album with the lyrics up on When you expose yourself to a new sensory experience, your palette cannot process what you are experiencing fully because it has no frame of reference for it. That shock to my (admittedly tame) musical sensibilities was what helped the album infuse such a paradigm shift. 


For 45 minutes, I swapped bodies with Kendrick. I had never lost a friend to the life around us, robbed a house to pay bills, or been persecuted by police based on sinister assumptions. Then Pharrell delivers a signature hook; I feel the target on my back, a boot on my chest, and the ground no longer beneath my feet. The beat switches; I’m four deep in a white Toyota, a quarter tank of gas, one pistol, and orange soda. I don’t know why I’m starting trouble—usually I’m a good kid—but in this moment, I’m fuelled by the friends looking for any excuse to do exactly that. 


Kendrick had spun his tales of turmoil into a hyperbolised yet masterfully illustrated slice of a world that wants to swallow you alive from conception. Of course, it wasn’t possible for me to grasp the full picture of the struggles (both surface and institutional) that minorities in Compton and beyond face day in, day out. But it jolted me into learning more. I wanted to expand my perspective on the issues that fostered the system Kendrick and millions more like him lived within. 


The release of Kendrick Lamar’s follow-up album To Pimp A Butterfly in my first year at uni left me feeling freshly educated. So when I got challenged to a rap battle, I channelled that energy and decommissioned an entire human being by going verse for verse on “Backseat Freestyle”. Not only did this establish the identity I thought I was seeking at university (an entirely different topic for another day), it was the moment that kicked off a long-lasting, pervasive bias to the opinions of the friend that challenged me in the first place.


The good friend and I remain that to this day. Through all the ups and downs and challenges of being in your early 20’s, we still have a profound ability to make each other laugh while say nothing at all. However, there was something I couldn’t shake—why was she trying to impress all the time? 


I didn’t really believed that she listened to and enjoyed Earl Sweatshirt. I didn’t believe she thought SATURATION II was the best BROCKHAMPTON album. She was always recommending me artists she’d been listening to, but she probably got them from a Complex Top 5 list.


Two keywords in those statements: she & I.

I had no problem believing those same exact sentiments from a dude I just met at a house party sporting Vans recovered from an archaeological dig. She’s a driven, A-student that would run circles around me on any number of topics, from literature to how to ruin someone’s life on Buzz Jungle Party. I had no justifiable reason to think she was putting on a ‘cool-girl’ facade. She was already cooler than me, what did she have to prove?


She had to prove she was one of the boys. The level of knowledge she had to showcase was five times that of your average Emporium shopper, because she was a woman. 


Misogyny is a powerful thing. Examples include poorly conceived Tinder icebreakers, 6ix9ine lyrics, and your least favourite uncle’s opinions. More often than not, you can spot this type of bias and call it out for what it is. What you often miss is the internal, deeper sexism that subconsciously shapes your opinions on even the most mundane topics. 


I had my own stereotype to face, pedestrian as it was, in approaching hip hop. That stereotype deepened tenfold when I started to imagine what I would have to prove if I were in her shoes. What would I have to demonstrate to fit in? I couldn’t just say I liked GKMC, that could come across as posing. In order to assimilate in this male-centric culture, I would have to know every verse to the remix of “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, the cousin of the sound engineer who worked on “Money Trees”, and why Maya Angelou’s spoken interlude is actually a reference to Tupac. That’s just to sit at the same table as Josh/Daniel/Matt/Jackson/Ryan/Angus and be considered an equally important voice in the discussion.


It was more recently than I’d like to admit that I only truly began to understand how pervasive this mindset was in our conversations. It baffled me how unaware I had been. I had listened to the voices of those around me, but I had never applied those perspectives to my own internal biases. 


There’s a moment in Freaky Friday where Jamie Lee-Curtis realises the full extent of the pressure her daughter is under—at school, in love, and everything in between. It would be naïve to think anyone could ever reach that kind of enlightenment on every facet of the world around us. But it shouldn’t mean we don’t try at all.


Keep listening to the voices of those around you, when they share in their experiences. Embrace the fact you are not all-knowing and let it motivate you.


Whether your name is Jamie-Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, or Callum Turnbull, you will always have room for more perspective. 



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