15 June, 2011

A Certain Cultural Aesthetic

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A Certain Cultural Aesthetic


Every time I look away from my computer, this weird old guy sitting alone at a table is looking at me, then quickly looks away. Look at him. He has a Member’s Only jacket on and he’s holding his coffee’s receipt out at arm’s length to read it. He’s kind of freaking me out. Maybe when I get up to go have my next cigarette, I’ll walk passed his table and stumble on it. That would be great if I just assed out, throwing coffee in the air and knocking chairs over on my way down. Then I’d lie on my back and cry, “Why!” like Nancy Kerrigan. While I was living that little fantasy in my head, the old guy left. I guess all of this was pointless.

I love the country in which I live. Despite the inherent flaws in the systems of government, and regardless of my political position, the United States of America is a wonderful place to be from. It seems as if the world view of our settlement is not the best. We’re like the middle child of the world, always scrutinized for our flaws, but rarely championed for our successes. We have been called imperials. We have been called elitists. We have been called boorish and crass. We’re probably most of these things. I know I am boorish and crass. Watch; fuck! See? What is interesting about our nation, to me anyway, is that for nearly three hundred years, we’ve been looking for a unique identity, and I don’t believe we’ll ever find one.

Let’s try to keep this modification related. Our country is a bunch of squatters and rebellious malcontents. We outlined cartographical limits by the hands of those from every corner of the world. What is the culture of an American? Do we have customs and behaviors that are uniquely our own, or are they all the coagulation of fat of other cultures and societies?

Modification, yeah, I’m getting there. I look on these kids who spend time at the bookstore. They gather in droves and scads at collected tables and chairs, all with their cellphones in hand, and stacks of magazines about nonsensical things like fashion and celebrity. They talk loudly, often raising the volume of their voices in saying things that are dropped on the eves of their table neighbors, just to see how they react. Some of them have stretched lobes. The offset captive in the lip is popular. Septums, eyebrows make appearances. Their clothes and hair are nonconformist to what is typical of an upstanding member of society. It’s what being a youth is about, I suppose. But I look on them, the older kids as well, the ones my age (I guess I’m not really a kid anymore), and I think to myself that in them must be where our cultural identity lies.

There’s a cultural aesthetic to societies. We’re familiar with the dress of those in the middle east. Pacific Asians have an aesthetic. Africans, Dominicans, Brazilians, English, Irish, Italian. They look a way. They look a specific way that speaks to their aesthetic identities. What is our aesthetic identity? Does modification fit into that identity?

I believe Americans are more forgiving with modification, believe it or not. Think stretched lobes in any state in the union sells better than in some countries of the European Union. I think very little surprises Americans. We seem to have a ‘whatever blows your skirt up’ point of view toward how people choose to share their beauty. I think, on the whole, we tend to let people do what they want with themselves. I think modification fits into that culture, but like most of the elements of our culture, it’s a borrowed practice. It’s not our own. It has been imported to our shores by the indigenous tribes of wherever. Our very own indigenous tribes are ones that have had their identities evaporated, whatever your political position is about that; I really don’t care. This isn’t about that.

What all of the populous can agree on in this nation is that we all have a great sense of our tethered lineage. A friend may be a fifth generation American, but he will continue to align his identity with a mother country he has never seen, and likely never will. We try to wrangle an ethnic identity that doesn’t want us as a member. Strangely, to be proud to be American is also to be proud of those in our ancestry who sailed into the harbors of New York and the shores of Boston. After how many generations are we solely American, and will we ever be that?

Modification, right. I’m back on it. All of our modification practices are borrowed from this culture or that. Americans didn’t invent tattooing. We didn’t invent lobe stretching, nor neck stretching, nor scarification, nor any number of mods that we have readily embraced as our own. Does that negate our right to claim these as part of our identity? I don’t think so. We have chosen that which we enjoy from other cultures, and blended it into a solution that we label as ‘the melting pot of America.’

But our aesthetic identity has always resided in a sense of rebellion or nonconformity. What can we do that is different from what the other guy is doing. That was the part of the reason why we conquered this land, isn’t it? We had different ideas and points of view, so fuck you, I’ll start my own country. Similarly, we have our own unique sense of what we are aesthetically, so we say fuck you, I’ll wear these clothes; I’ll look this way; I’ll speak these words; I’ll modify. We often embrace the fringe, yet we do it in a way that still retains its sense of taboo. We thrive on controversy and aesthetic dissonance. It is almost as if we only like something if someone else doesn’t.

Modification has come to typify the youth of America. Lobe stretching is spanning all shades and genders of person. We are populating our society with those who are not afraid to beautify to their own standards, rather than the standards outlined by Cosmopolitan magazine and the E! channel. How wonderfully American; the astute rebellion of the norm, and what those in power believe. That’s how we all got here, I suppose.

America does have an aesthetic identity, and modification has become a firm part of it. Modification has manifested itself into an accepted form of art and expression. Those who are modified seem to exemplify what it means to be American. It seems to personify a certain peaceful discord with the systems in place, or convention. It is a beautiful thing, and though I am very much aware that other societies embrace modification the way America does, maybe even more so in some places, it is nice to believe that there is an element of our culture that, though we didn’t originate it, we’ve embraced it as something that defines us. It’s a satisfying notion. Stay beautiful, kids.

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