Friday, August 31, 2007

Identification

When I was growing up, my small town had a friendly rivalry with a neighboring small town, particularly when it came to competitions between local sports teams. This was at its peak when I was in elementary school and we called the people from the other elementary school "Rimers-burgers" in a juvenile attempt to make the denizens of Rimersburg seem stupid. Of course, we were the ones who were being stupid but such is the behavior of the under 12 set when they are trying their best to undermine their rivals.

By the time we all hit 7th grade though, we had to abandon this rivalry and our identity with our small town (Sligo) since we were all integrated into the same combined junior and senior high school. We outgrew our small town rivalry and grew into a rivalry which was based largely on the football teams our school's team played against. By the time most people started dating though, even this sense of strong identification with our home towns and schools dissipated as one discovered there were attractive and kind people everywhere who one would like to associate with.

The funny thing about a lot of people in America though is they don't tend to outgrow this need for identification with places, things, and people that don't matter at all. This was brought home to me on more than one occasion when a casual disparaging comment about something or other elicited a hostile defensive response from a party who felt emotionally connected to the object of my low opinion. In one instance, I used Barry Manilow as an example of a type of music to which I was not attracted, not knowing that the party I was speaking to was a particular fan of the man. Her reaction was highly defensive and she reacted as if I'd insulted her personally by my rejection of Mr. Manilow's music. She then proceeded to personally insult me as an act of retaliation.

As I believe I've mentioned in other posts, this sort of casual identification with content and items we consume is rampant in the U.S. from colas (the Pepsi vs. Coke crowd) to music (Goths, gangstas, metalheads, and beyond) to sports teams. People appear to ally themselves rather intensely and often. It's something I don't actually encounter as much in Japan from the Japanese. I'm not sure if they simply do not make the same emotional connection or if they don't react when you disparage the items they love. Mind you, I'm not saying they don't love items but that love seems tied more to status than to emotional integration.

Since no one has gotten mad at me for disagreeing with what they have staked their identity on for quite some time, the curious intensity of the angry response you can get when someone feels their beloved is attacked hadn't been on my mind until today. I received an extremely foul-mouthed and hostile response from a Mac user who clearly doesn't read my blog on a regular basis but came across my "Apple Frustration" post and decided he was going to call me a 4-letter-word starting with "c" and try to bully me off the Internet. (I'm staying.)

The interesting thing is that a lot of people who have such responses will profess views of tolerance, enlightenment and open-mindedness when it comes to things like culture, religion, or politics yet they will have disproportionately aggressive reactions to trivial matters such as someone finding fault in the computer platform they choose. They may deride others as close-minded or bigoted but then have responses which show that, when someone finds that one thing they've staked their identity on, they can be just as irrationally hostile and defensive as a religious zealot or political extremist.

3 comments:

Emsk said...

I almost fell off my chair just now when you mentioned the woman who'd staked her life on Barry Manilow. And she had the chutzpah to admit it???

Back home in London I have a group of friends who are loyal AC/DC fans. I love the music too, but I am considered a bit of a traitor because I also like The Clash and, God forbid, disco music.

There's also the dreaded North v South London thing which you find, quite surprisingly, politically-correct, anti-war types getting really vicious about. There's a bit of Kansai/Kanto going on here, but even then it seems fuelled more by gaijins.

I have a theory about this kind of identification and I observed most of all amongst groups of anarcho-punk, free-spirited types. Because it's not right to be racist or xenophobic these days (was it ever, but we all know how it was), we're forced to find other expressions of our tribalism. Hence my cool ex-boyfriend who once jumped on stage with The Clash in 1978 couldn't abide businessmen, whom he called 'suits' although he never stopped to consider that many are only guys trying to eke out a living in an exorbitantly exprensive city like he was.

tornados28 said...

Geez, that person is a little obsesed with Apple and needs to get a life.

Shari said...

emsk: lol (on the chutzpah); I think what you say about finding other ways of expressing our tribalism is spot on. I do wonder if the Japanese don't have this so much because their culture places a higher value on similarities than differences. They're not trying to find a group with which they can identify. They already have one big one.

tornados28: I agree wholeheartedly. :-)

Thanks to both of you for your comments!