Sunday, January 2, 2022

The minority report: To belong yet to still be unique

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

So today everything has a name… “Microagression”, “pansexual”, “harassment”. You want to declutter your “toxic” relationship? Go ahead, “Mary Kondo” it (along with your wardrobe, lifestyle and house) and turn your “Brazilian lifted” bum on the past, because you need to “be the best version of yourself”.

And no I am not exaggerating in any of the above.

All these are expressions often used by the youth and not so youthful, to say things which might be something to them (although I am not sure what, maybe I am too retro). But I still maintain that there are too many things with names these days. I know, I know, I seem to come from a different age, and oddly I am very relaxed – whatever works for you, works for you, as long as you are not hurting anyone. I mean, what? You want to be sexually adventurous? You want to cross-dress? You do nude swimming?

Little or nothing shocks me. Hell, after losing too much weight following diabetes and falling to a level where websites no longer can advise me on a good fit, the only t-shirt that worked on me was one from the women’s section. And yes, I wore it, and no – no one noticed. Just to tell you that I am indeed permissive.

Funny I was having a conversation with someone lately (an artist I truly respect who is American of Lebanese origin) and he said that “he had little interest in pop phenomena these days. ME. The man who always swore to remain hip” to which I answered “perhaps the time came for you to be hip replacement rather than hip”!

But there are still too many self-imposed labels (or perhaps imposed by others) to go by. Maybe it makes people psychologically safe to belong to one category or other (OK, sorry but “other” is a category apparently these days). Maybe people like boxes. It makes them both – “belong to something, while being unique”.

I think at some point, if we resolve this “target audience” (the one that wants to belong to something, while being unique) problem, we could have be done with all the marketing dilemma in the world.

In 2003, I wrote an article entitled “Of minorities of my own” (which was published earlier on this blog). Oddly it still holds true after all these years. Below are parts of the article (which is still long mind you).

I have often wondered what it meant to be a minority or what it exactly meant to belong to one. A minority is defined as: “A part of a population differing from other groups in certain characteristics and sometimes discriminated against”. A minority is also any group of persons which is less than half.

Being part of a minority is a cool act in itself. One can always brag about it. You hold that characteristic you possess high and loud. Now imagine telling someone “Yes, there are only some 300,000 of us in the whole world!” when referring to whatever characteristic you might possess. Personally, I belong to the “Christian Maronites”, which is a religious order only found in Lebanon. Although we follow the Catholic church in everything, we still like to think that we are a minority.

When I was in New York, I was taking a walk with an Indian friend of my brother’s and there I was gasping: “See that Lincoln over there! Well it belongs to a Christian Maronite from Lebanon!”. The clue behind my statement was that the back window of the Lincoln had a sticker of St. Charbel on it, a Lebanese saint following that particular order. The owner of the Lincoln felt so proud of being part of a minority that he just had to brag about it on Manhattan’s sixth avenue.

I am a left-handed person, and I specifically recall an incident which happened while at university: By sheer coincidence, we were three left-handed students sitting side by side at a table in the library and a right-handed one looking at us oddly. The remark he managed to say must have been the stupidest one I heard in my whole life: “I have been writing like that since I was a child [as referring to writing with his right hand], and no one told me that it was the wrong way to write!”.

But it always surprised me why minorities feel they are “wrong” - to quote that right handed person at university - and majorities feel themselves “right” - to quote any skinhead - when found in specific historical, and geographical conditions.

Another point which also intrigued me is that the same person who belongs to a majority also, in some way, simultaneously belongs to a different minority. In an episode of Murphy Brown, the rather tall actress Candice Bergan found herself obliged to join a club for “short” men since she seemed to have offended them in her show. The only way for her to get off the hook was to stir differences about other characteristics they might possess. And finally, a club member shouted to another - even though they were both short - “At least I am not bald!”.

Now, short and bald, is a minority within a minority.

A Lebanese proverb goes: “Me against my cousin; Me and my cousin against the stranger”. Short and bald against short and “furry”, then short against tall. Of course, it should all make sense.

I’ve been thinking, I certainly would like to be the leader of a minority. A minority which would regroup all Christian Maronite, left-handed, 5 feet 3 inches tall, 100 lbs heavy; people who are into Formula 1, pop culture, world music and graphic design; and who are formed as agriculture engineers, and subsequently as environmental economists.

We would have our weekly outings at the Chase restaurant - my favorite - and sometimes hike on Sundays, we would march for our rights if we had to, and have an annual convention of our own once a year - twice a year if I am in the mood. We would all have stickers on our cars signaling our membership to that specific minority.

Our flag will be anything containing the yellow color - again my favorite.

What happens if a member of the minority dislikes yellow? Well, he can still find himself another minority who would want to have a genetic mutation who dislikes yellow.

Even better, that member [former member to be more precise], can be the leader of his own minority regrouping all people who are Christian Maronite, left-handed, 5 feet 3 inches tall, 100 lbs heavy; people who are into Formula 1, pop culture, world music and graphic design, and who are formed as agriculture engineers, and subsequently as environmental economists… and who dislike yellow.

But what kind of people are these anyway?”

The quote of the article is now done. And now I can add what Groucho Marx said "I don't want to belong to any club which would accept me as one of its members". Because you know, I am a minority, and I still like to belong. To what however is a different question!