Sunday, August 06, 2006

Non-conforming conformists

There are two types of "cool". (To be honest, if you have to use the word "cool" to describe cool, then you're probably not cool). There’s the “I do popular things, so I’m cool,” and also the “I’m cool because I don’t do popular things.” These are known in the au-fait circles as the conformists, and the non-conforming conformists (NCCs) respectively. And the latter despise the former; no marks for guessing to which camp I like to deceive myself that I belong.

The NCCs occupy the moral high ground, especially in typical scenarios such as when a conformist confesses to being a fan of OutKast (note the expertly capitalised k) and their single “Hey Ya!” Depending on the level of bile building up in the NCC’s stomach, the reply would likely be, “oh really? So where the bloody hell were you in 1994 when I was smuggling Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik out of Our Price?”

The NCCs are cool because they know the specialist fringe non-consumer consumer products, made cool by fringe people that hardly anyone knows about. People's reaction to my taste in music ranges from, "is that even music?" to my favourite, "are you promoting your German cousin's album?" And when these unpopular things become popular by way of mainstream appropriation, they have to find another kind of cool. Nothing grates an NCC like when one of their own cool bunch becomes, well, cool in the popular sense. This anger lies in the fact that an effort has to be made to be an NCC, because the mainstream does not cater for them. And to see their hard work splattered on billboards, television and in ipods is anathema to them. These things belong in their raffia pouches and smoked out basement gigs for their own personal consumption.

Recently, there have been some prime examples of conformist appropriation of non-conformist cool. Converse trainers. When I graduated from university a few years ago, I bought a pair of red low-top Converse All Stars for £30. Incredibly versatile and classic shoes for next to no money, style on the cheap. We all know who the arbiters of taste are in today's world, the 16 to 34 age group. I wore the trainers to my aunt's house, a house full of fashion concsious teenagers. They weren't at that age bracket yet, but they aspired, and felt they could pass judgment on my choice of footwear.

When children mock, they mock as pack. They're like piranhas to an isolated catfish - they eat you alive. The first one called his brother and sister, and they all started pointing and laughing at my ol' skool shoes. Ha ha, very funny, I thought. Fast forward to late last year. "Nkem, can you please buy me a pair of Converse trainers, they're only £30," cried the little bratlings. At that point, I wanted to see how far I could stretch the law of "reasonable chastisement", but somehow I was sure I'd end up stretching the laws of GBH instead. As if my little cousins wasn't bad enough, David Cameron now wears them. Should we keep wearing them?, the masses ask.

The conformists see the NCCs as an obscure cult who are odd precisely because they don’t fit into the mainstream of things. Sadly, they both need each other to survive. The conformists always eventually have to steal their cool from the NCCs, while the NCCs define themselves against the conformists. A perfect but grudging example of symbiosis if ever there was one.

ps. How cool is that guy's back? Men should applaud him for even going through the pain of getting that figure etched on his back. And women should be happy he attempted some form of grooming, albeit stylish. Rock on, dude!


remi said...

Good observation. Thinking about it, I never really liked any mainstream music until they were old and forgotten. Does that count? Conforming after everyone else has conformed. I suggest you add it as third category of "Cool" ;)

supermandru said...

Remi, I was going to make a similar comment. How do we classify people that like old/forgotten music. Maybe they are a subset of the NCC.

I'm 20 something yrs old, and I tell people that Phil Collins is a legend, and they look at me funny, and tell me not to mention it to strangers. The albums "...But Seriously", and "Both Sides" are classics. And most of my yoruba friends around my age have never about Haruna Ishola or Orlando Owoh!

ExtrovertedPrude said...

I've read this somewhere before...hmmmmmm. I thot it was good first time round and still think it is. I am a true NCC!..

remi said...

Supermandru, Huruna Ishola and Orlando Owoh are legends.

As per Phil Collins, OYO (On your own) men!