Convention is hard to define. A conventional person, one would think, follows the guidelines of society while an unconventional person does not. An unconventional person is out of the ordinary while a conventional person is, well, ordinary.
Maybe these lines were easier to draw in the “50s. A person was either hip or square. Squares wore poodle skirts and polo shirts hipsters wore leather and jeans. I think I got this idea from the Johnny Depp movie “Cry, Baby,” so perhaps the dichotomy was not so clear then either.
Today, the subcultures are endless: Yuppie, slacker, stoner, skater, alternative, frat boy, club kid. You can pick out members of these groups largely by the clothes they wear or the music they listen to. Clothing companies have capitalized on this Abercrombie & Fitch caters to preps, for example. Their website has an Mp3 you can listen to that goes along with its image, like the song “Sister Brother” by Fuzz Townshend. (The plug promises shoppers if they pull down this song, they will “get happy”).
Is a frat boy considered conventional and a slacker considered unconventional? But isn”t it accepted and, therefore, conventional to hate the frat boy? Or consider this: Is it usual for skaters to don preppy gear? The skater thus molds to the convention of being a skater. No person categorized into one of these groups is necessarily unconventional, even if the whole premise of their group is to defy convention.
It is thought of highly, especially in college, to be unconventional and go against the grain. But in this age and on this campus it is tough to decipher whether your opinion goes with convention or against it. Take marijuana, for example. When Hash Bash hits this weekend there will be no shortage of places to put your signature in favor of legalizing marijuana. I won”t sign any of these petitions because I don”t think it”s a good idea. Am I conventional because society and lawmakers tell me I should refrain from signing? Or am I unconventional, considering we”re on a liberal campus where most of my peers are in favor of legalizing marijuana?
Also, as our college days wind down, amongst the seniors there has been talk of what has really been important these past years. It is fashionable to denounce classes, saying that the real learning has been done on our own: Paying bills, cooking, laundry, making friendships. All of these things have of course been vital to our growth. But then would we have learned the same lessons waiting on tables for four years, as long as it were on our own? I don”t think so.
My classes have taught me an incredible amount-about Chekhov, Milton, Joyce, yes. But also about perseverance, critical thinking, debating and learning. A few years ago, I read from a stall in the Mason Hall bathroom: “Don”t complain about classes, exams, papers and studying. Trust me, you will miss them when you”re gone.” And under that, it was written, “On behalf of all the GSIs at Michigan, thank you.” I agree with these girls. I have learned just as much from my classes here than I have from my social and domestic endeavors. Is it conventional of me to say this? The first time I really thought about convention was after reading Ayn Rand”s “The Fountainhead” my senior year of high school. The protagonist is Howard Roark, a brilliant, stubborn, redheaded architect with a unique vision of how buildings ought to look, and his visions are nothing like the conventional standard. Howard does not bend or compromise his work ever, regardless of the price. This individualism struck me when I read the book because I was planning on going to school in Michigan while the rest of my friends were staying in California. I envisioned myself a Howard Roark of sorts, doing what I knew was best for me.
Then when I got here I did the most un-individualist thing a person can do: I joined a sorority. In retrospect I don”t feel like a hypocrite, though I had to swallow down that feeling at the time. Throughout college it”s only natural to identify oneself with a group. Most people who poke fun at fraternities and sororities (and I”m not saying it”s undeserved) are in one group or another. They have a hang out and listen to similar music as and dress similar to their friends.
College is not that different from high school students still feel a need to belong. But hopefully, as graduation becomes nearer, we have broken away from this need. Symbolically I broke away when I dropped my sorority, but it is not that simple. Breaking away from the need to conform, to wear the right jeans and frequent the right bar, is a process. Being unconventional does not have to do, anymore, with what you wear or what music you listen to. Or even the opinions you hold. It has more to do with your complexity of thought and willingness to say and do what you think is right. And as we sit in our stadium, graduation tune playing, I hope at least some feel a Howard Roark rising up in them.
Gina Hamadey”s column runs every other Tuesday. Give her feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum/ or via e-mail at email@example.com.