Labels Redux

I’ve writ­ten about my resis­tance to labels sev­er­al times. Yet after The Shon­des show the oth­er night I found myself think­ing in oth­er paths. I was wear­ing my Don Hertzfeldt “Reject­ed” shirt, per­haps as a most­ly uncon­scious asso­ci­a­tion with the mean­ing of The Shon­des and the fact that I was going to a show full of per­form­ers who are mar­gin­al­ized. Yet in ret­ro­spect I feel that in my dis­dain of labels I might have appro­pri­at­ed one that I have no right to.

I’m a Catholic white mid­dle-class straight male. I’m any­thing but a shon­de, any­thing but reject­ed [except when it comes to get­ting a new job]. In my label-dis­dain I think I neglect­ed to rec­og­nize that when peo­ple will­ing­ly label them­selves [in con­trast to accept­ing a label] a sub­tle exchange of pow­er takes place. This is prob­a­bly right in there with the recla­ma­tion of “nig­ger” and “queer” which I’ve under­stood in the­o­ry but nev­er inter­nal­ized.

By embrac­ing the label of a mar­gin­al group a per­son gains grist for the grind­ing away of the mill­stone sta­tus quo. Because the accep­tance of the label is willed instead of enforced, my old saw about how labels lim­it more than they spec­i­fy changes. The lim­i­ta­tion now becomes focused [like a laser beam, Andy] and strong enough to bal­ance the exchange of pow­er to those who don’t rec­og­nize this next bit. It is almost like “Tom Han­ks as Tom Han­ks in Tom Han­ks from Space”. By that I mean the label-choos­er retains all the pow­er of label­less human­i­ty in addi­tion to the focus pro­vid­ed by their cho­sen label; to those who under­stand the rea­son­ing behind their choice. So, for exam­ple, The Shon­des are even more pow­er­ful than the peo­ple who have cast them out real­ize. By going on mak­ing rock as “just folks” who hap­pen to use shon­de-itude as a slap-back to soci­ety, they’re oper­at­ing on a dif­fer­ent lev­el.

For me, my dis­dain of labels is prob­a­bly caused by the fact that I am so mainstream/majority. I have no need to adopt a label because, at a fun­da­men­tal, self­ish lev­el, the world has already set my plate the way I like it.

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