My Sociology final:
I can’t remember the last time I felt like I had a brilliant idea that quickly turned on me until after I put this assignment together. The task was simple: violate a social norm. After I looked up what a norm was (Norm: Expectations and rules for proper conduct that guide the behavior of group members.) I set out to pick one that I could violate. Picking a norm for this assignment proved harder than I thought it would be. Despite the fact that I’m unknowingly bound by norms on a day to day basis. For example; don’t eat with your mouth open, cover your mouth when you yawn, brush your teeth, say “excuse me” when trying to move past someone, don’t laugh when someone you’re supposed to care about makes themselves look like an idiot, don’t burp, fart, or sneeze in peoples faces, be polite, the 10 commandments, my companies employee handbook, etc. Almost every part of my life can be categorized as some sort of norm. I began to feel oppressed, brainwashed, captive and betrayed by society. All this time I thought I was unique, a rebel per se, but I was like everyone else: a sheep amongst the herd just following the norms of life without questioning why. I decided today or someday in the near future would be the day to challenge one of these norms. I understand some of these norms are essential to the day to day business of being human for example; the section in my employee handbook on sexual harassment, that commandment about not killing anyone, those signs that indicate you shouldn’t smoke inside a building, there’s really too many to list, but rest assured they are all imperative to human survival and often times designed to keep us out of prison. Deciding on which norm to violate I had only to wait for the opportune moment to strike and prove that at times ditching the herd is necessary.
That opportune moment came in the form of a regular work day. It was a Monday and I had a sudden burst of Sociological inspiration while getting ready for work. I would wear my clothes (both pants and shirt) inside-out and unpressed. I chose to violate this norm for two reasons: 1.) People usually expect you to go into work looking sharp and professional and 2.) It would re-establish my self proclaimed stance as an all around nonconformist social rebel. After a quick phone call to my supervisor to give him a vague heads up on my experiment I made my way to work. Weighing the magnitude of my choice in norm violation on my way to work I decided that the two outcomes would be that I’d be seen as a.) A complete fool, or b.) The epitome of fashion; a visionary like Kanye West and his popped collar polo shirts, Gwen Stefani and her eye catching outfits, and Sarah Palin with her $150,000 wardrobe and iconic eyewear. I hoped to be seen as the latter, but knew it would rely solely on my ability to brush off the forthcoming looks and comments from coworkers unfamiliar with what it feels like to swim against the current. Wearing reversed jeans who’s pockets looked like hanging pancakes against my legs and a reversed Guess dress shirt I would have to open up the minds of the professional business world to my radical fashion statement. A fashion statement that’s been hiding on the other sides of our clothes for decades.
I’ve worked for the cable company for three years. Although I provide Online Support, my cubicle is nestled in a call center full of customer service professionals. The setting is loud, often hectic and everyone knows everyones business. As with any office environment the way a person looks is usually the subject of many breakroom discussions. That said, a guy walking in with his clothes wrinkled and reversed would quickly rise to the top of everyones conversational priority list. My workplace is relatively lenient when it comes to clothing. A brief look through our handbook will reveal that a person is “expected to” come to work dressed in a professional manner, but from what I’ve seen in my three years experience is that just showing up with some form of clothing on will suffice. Obviously guidelines are in place to keep one from arriving to work in what they’d wear to a raunchy beach party, but this is simply to prevent any lawsuits. By comparison what I was doing would technically be socially acceptable if not embraced as “thinking outside the box.” The keyword being “should” as in this stunt should fall into a grey area all while avoiding any legalities.
On my way into the building I came across a complete stranger who didn’t seem to notice my new look and walked passed me unphased. The moment of truth had arrived and the door to the call center beckoned my entrance. Would I be taken in as a fashionable trend setter unafraid of breaking free from the norms of appearance? Or would I be shunned as a complete moron with no sense of fashion? Again, I remained optimistic. My walk into the call center was met with no one so much as looking my way and I passed about 20 people. I figured this may be due to the fact that I don’t socialize so therefore, I was no more then a moving piece of bland office furniture to these people. As I sat at my desk I wondered if anyone had noticed me and what they were thinking. My cubicle neighbor arrived and with a look of utter confusion greeted me by asking if I was hungover, I wasn’t. For the next few hours 4 people asked if I knew if my clothes were reversed, 2 asked if I was ok, and 2 chuckled as I waited in the breakroom for a fresh cup of coffee. For the most part everyone I came across looked generally confused. As I ate my lunch in the breakroom 1 person in particular ignored my clothing altogether and treated me as if nothing was out of place. That afternoon I realized that the odds for breaking down a fashion wall with the breaking of a social norm were against me. No one voiced disagreement over my new found use for clothing, but no one endorsed it’s idiosyncratic vision either. I went home uncomfortable, awkward and socially defeated.
There is a paradox in our society when it comes to my wardrobe. If a celebrity wears some oddball outfit at the right time, it’s immediately embraced as the next big thing in fashion and not seen as the violation of a social norm. However, if someone like myself who is also human, but not in the public spotlight tries to break from the mold everyone laughs. My determination to appear advanced by wearing my clothes inside-out came from my deductive reasoning on watching the media cover celebrities and various forms of “fashion.” Social norms apply to everyone don’t they? Furthermore, this experiment wasn’t on what could be considered an integral rule of society, I didn’t show up to work with a loin cloth. I bet if Johnny Depp wore his clothes backwards no one would ask him if he was ok. At that moment it hit me, the violation of norms is almost impossible within the celebrity demographic. Allow me to explain, let us assume Marilyn Manson meets President Bush and rather than shake his hand Mr. Manson decides to lick him on the cheek. The headlines would read “Marilyn Manson Licks POTUS” but 99.9% of the coverage would contain an underlying bias that would imply Manson was just being normal and him licking the President was not a big deal. Now to take that a step further, let’s assume I went out with my clothes reversed and met Mandy Moore and proceeded to lick her on the cheek. The headlines would read “Disoriented Man Assaults Mandy Moore: Police say he wore his clothes inside out.” This assignment made me realize that Society is messed up, but until the day comes when I can lick Mandy Moores cheek without fear of persecution I will continue looking for a job where I can wear my clothes inside-out everyday.