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.