Tag Archives: cultural capital

Thoughts Related to Awards Show Season

I was having coffee with someone who mentioned how cool it felt the year she knew a person who had won an Oscar. She described watching the show and pointing at the TV, remarking “hey, it’s Joe!” because she had worked with him in the past. She seemed surprised that she had reacted this way; that she had found that short experience so cool.

The coolness effect that comes with the realization that someone you know is now momentarily famous intrigued me. It is partially a sharing of the prize–in knowing the person you feel a small sense of ownership over their accolades, as if you, by knowing them, had contributed to their recognition/distinction. As if you feel rewarded for knowing someone who was actually rewarded. A closeness to the prize and the public recognition of hard work and talent via your social closeness to the person actually receiving said accolades. It’s not really about the cultural capital, the bragging rights that come from telling the story that you know someone who won a nationally recognized award. And in the instance I began with, it certainly wasn’t name-dropping. (Who the hell is Joe? It didn’t matter that I didn’t know–it only mattered that it was a person she knew.) It was about the coolness of intimately knowing someone who was briefly a public figure.

But it was more the connection itself, and the way the connection works, that interested me in this story. The unexpected delight of not quite a coincidence, but a connecting to thousands (millions?) of nameless others who are simultaneously watching this same person that you know accepting an award. Someone in your life is now connected to everyone else who is witnessing the same event. It is a cool feeling because it means that you are now connected to these strangers–you are all in each others’ lives.

This effect has been discussed before in various ways…how we track our own lives using the lives of celebrities and public figures. This is why media outlets announce the deaths of famous people. Because viewers care. We they to know, in a way. Because it reminds viewers of their own life trajectories. This particular awards show connection phenomenon is a variation on the same theme.

It’s about connecting to strangers through particular people, making these shared people icons/symbols in the process. It solidifies our imagined community; our commonality as mortal beings. And it’s also pretty cool.

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Filed under Contemporary, Media

Performing Togetherness: Sartorial Coordination at School Dances

In an effort to procrastinate on the promised treatment of that dog book, I’ve decided to take a little time to dissect another youthful phenomenon. Today it’s not cheap-ass broken friendship hearts, however. No, this topic is even more worthy of copious eye-rolling and the activation of gag-reflexes. I’m talking about high school students who go to dances together wearing matching outfits.

I’m almost nauseated thinking back on it now–realizing the implications. The market-place/political economy of securing a date for the dance, and being able to identify them as your date with visual cues. Cultural capital made materially concrete through dress. The (gendered?) performance of mutual ownership…turning “relationships” into a parody of themselves. I am ashamed to have actually participated in such displays. (Although I am rather proud for having once done it by wearing a “mens” shirt. Take that, gendered expectations!)

The tradition of dates wearing similarly colored clothing (or a corsage/boutonniere) to dances all seems to boil down to a social performance of togetherness and mutual ownership. Making visually obvious the fact that these two people came to this dance with one another. It “marks” your date as yours. This performance is so that others recognize these two people as being together–if only for the evening. I wonder at what point this matching is for the couple themselves…the chance to recognize themselves in the other and vice versa via the very obvious medium of clothing (a representation or manifestation of their inner emotional connection, if you will)…and at what point it becomes more about the outward appearance of togetherness. My guess is that this phenomenon is heavily weighted toward the latter. It’s mostly about the public’s perception of two people as a couple. The assumption that two people are receiving recognition of their togetherness is made salient in the very performance of this sartorial togetherness. TOGETHERNESS!!! (must. find. synonym.) Ahem.

One aspect of this phenomenon that bears discussion is the fact that all these school-sanctioned social functions are in an effort to play at adulthood. As one of my more arrogant professors smugly loved “revealing” to us, the Prom is in many ways a practice wedding. But these dances-as-social-spaces encourage couples to perform adulthood to a cartoonish degree. What real adult couples make a conscious, agonizing effort to match their wardrobes at social functions? (Irritating ones.) Sometimes this type of couples-dressing is sanctioned, but it’s all about context. Perhaps the most “allowable” social occasion is that of Halloween, but even then adults who match one another can be a bit much. Especially those who are romantically involved. Okay. We get it. You’re together. Enough already. But if we take high school dances as opportunities for young adults to “practice” being actual adults, it seems odd that they perform imagined adulthood to such a hyperbolic degree. Maybe you have to over-do it before you can do it, do it. (Control yourselves.)

The other adult social context in which sartorial coordination is sanctioned, even encouraged, is the wedding. This is the ultimate ritualized performance of couple-dom in our culture, and wedding parties often don similar colors, if not identical outfits. This, it need not be noted, is a special occasion. As is the school dance (albeit a more frequent one). If school dances are a shadow of the ultimate couple ritual, then matching the colors in one’s outfits makes a certain amount of sense. This is, after all, playing at being recognized as being together: practice for the ritual where you perform your together-forever-ness in front of your sacred social circle.

So the color-coordination teenagers endure can be accounted for quite easily. What I cannot fathom an explanation for is why the matchy-matchy gets so overblown at Sade Hawkins dances in particular. Is there a worry that because the girl asked the boy, it won’t be pheromonically obvious that they are together? (That’s stupid and I would never argue that.) The most I can work out is that it somehow off-sets (or complements) the relative informality of the dance. The fact that the girl is supposed to ask the guy, that the traditional gender roles are reversed, seems to be a mere correlation. Why would a switch of gender hierarchy entail the hyper-matching of clothing? Couples often literally wear the same thing, rather than simply matching color-schemes. At the Sadie Hawkins dance, there’s no mistaking who asked whom. It’s an aggressive sign of mutual ownership, commemorated forever in an embarrassing photo in front of a cheesy, themed backdrop. But exactly why the hyper-matching occurs at the informal Sadie Hawkins dance is a mystery to me. So if anyone wants to venture a theory that helps explain why this happens, I’d love to hear it.

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Filed under Beginning of the Body, Contemporary

I’m too lazy to do anything with this right now

but it’s worth checking out:

blissblog on culturesourcing, local to global, and its implications

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Filed under Check This Out!