The Morning News directed me to a “best of Craigslist” (Boston) essay about the difference between being “cool” in the US and being “mates” with fellows in Australia. Frankly, the essay confuses me. I think it is saying that living in an “advertising culture” makes American boys who get picked last on the playground grow up in to self-absorbed hipsters and geeks, whereas boys in Australia are all about selflessness and group membership.
Here’s a relevant excerpt:
When an American boy gets picked last at a game on the playground, he gives up on ever being selected by the other boys, except last. He retreats into self-pity and misanthropy. This is encouraged by the adults, especially his parents, doubly especially when his dad made the same choices about being picked last himself. This boy tries to create a new playing field where he is the top of the selection. Because he knows he cannot compete on the playing field, he tries to compete in intellectual pursuits, or in a fantasy world, or in fandom. He collects comic books, or plays Dungeons & Dragons, or plays video games. Maybe he learns science, or literature, or art, or music. It never occurs to him to strive to improve himself, to make himself an asset to the team that might choose him. It never occurs to him that a drama is unfolding on a level bigger than that of his individual ego.
Two notes so far: one, I think it’s kind of ironic that learning “science, or literature, or art, or music” don’t qualify as self-improvement. And two, I’m wary of the claim that parents encourage kids to eschew sports in favor of more isolating hobbies. As of 1997, 60% of American parents responded to a poll by saying that â€œif forced to choose, they would prefer their sons or daughters to make C grades and be active in extracurricular activities rather than make A grades and not be activeâ€ (Rose, Gallup, & Elam, 1997, quoted in Bishop et al., 2004).
When adolescence hits, this boy tries to be cool. He creates a new pecking order based around musical taste, or fashion, or obscure knowledge. He tries out for the school play, or joins the debate team, or starts a band, or joins the school’s literary magazine, and tries to win approval through his creativity and intelligence. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking approval through these channels, but the boy still has a chip on his shoulder about rejection. He strives to create not merely a new selection where he is on top, but a new selection where the kids who are successful at the old games are rejected here. He seeks to be even crueler than he thinks those other kids areâ€”to cut them down before they can hurt him again. He doesn’t realize that being rejected from the alternative he has just created doesn’t hurt at all, really. His ego depends upon being top of some pecking order, even an imaginary one, and he will viciously defend his new status, especially by being cruel to those who are lower down on his new pecking order. He becomes an asshole, but it’s everyone else’s fault but his.
This confuses me because it’s somewhat related to the comments of some people I’ve interviewed, but still dissonant enough that it seems like we must not be talking about the same people or phenomena here. I’m especially confused because the essay seems to be suggesting that geeky social groups in high school aren’t real, long-term friends like “mates” in Australia, but that’s totally contradictory with my own experiences and many of those I’ve interviewed; I’m still good friends with guys I played Dungeons & Dragons with in eighth grade.
I’m fascinated by the apparent claim here that adolescent crowds revolving around misfit interests and oppositional to sports and popularity constitute and effort to affect coolness. However, I’m wary of the claim that this necessarily implies the denigration/subjugation of those “lower down on [the] new pecking order” as opposed to resentment of those higher in this order. I figured I’d throw this out there, though, in case this resonates with others better than it does with me. Thoughts?