So Am I

Although her name is an obscure one, Ava Max has her own group of stans [1] who call themselves Avatars and who have cheered on the top 10 success of her first American hit, “Sweet But Psycho.”  The second song she plans to release as a single, to hopefully avoid the fate of being a one hit wonder, is the slower track “So Am I,” where the singer seeks to show herself as relatable to her audience by pointing out that she has felt different and as if she didn’t belong either.  Whether or not the song ever becomes a hit in the United States–it has already achieved a great deal of success on the UK charts, for example–the song itself deals with what is quite intentionally an effort to build a group identity in finding comfort as someone who does not fit in with mainstream society for one reason or another.  It is seeking to turn the sort of isolation that typically cuts us off from others as a way of joining with other misfits who have the same struggles.

It should be noted, for the record, that I have never known any young person in my entire life who did not feel as if one was a misfit in some fashion.  As much as we tend to long for belongingness, none of us truly belongs.  All of us have hobbies and interests that are uncool, have rough edges that tend to make other people uncomfortable, or tend to have qualities that would, if known, lead them to be ridiculed and insulted by those around them.  To be sure, there are people who re so interested in being viewed as cool and in fitting in that they smooth over and disguise and hide those rough edges and would-be blemishes, but they still exist even if they are ignored or disguised or papered over.  The gulf between our public persona(e) and our genuine private selves means that none of us feel as if we belong, whether we admit it or not.  This is not helped by the tension between our mutually contradictory ideals of seeking to stand out and fit in, seeking to gain attention and praise and our desire to avoid drawing hostility and criticism.  That which would gain us praise and attention from some and would make us stand out from those around us are precisely the same qualities that draw criticism from envious people who tear others down rather than build themselves up.

Is it possible to build a cohesive identity out of being a misfit?  That is the ideal of every sort of identity group activist in existence, and there are a great many groups that have sustained efforts at building together unity in opposition to what is viewed as an oppressive and dominant mainstream culture.  Some of these groups are based on common interests, as one will find if one is a part of various geeky fandoms that are based on one’s enjoyment of tabletop roleplaying games or various television series or comic book movie adaptations.  Within such groups one can have productive and enjoyable debates about who is the best Doctor or which captain of the Enterprise one identifies with the most.  Other groups of outsiders are based on fashion, such as the goth subculture.  Still others are based on their hostility to others, such as the reverse racism of Black Lives Matter (and related groups) or the more traditional racism of the Aryan Nation or KKK.  Cohesion can be found in both positive and negative spaces, whether in what one loves in common with others, or in a resolute determination not to be like others in the way that Canada’s identity is based on not being American [2].

And it must be recognized that not all labels of identity carry with them a sense of cohesion.  There are some groups that have such low status or that are viewed of as transitional that they do not lead to a sense of in-group cohesion at all, but are rather viewed as groups that one simply wants to get out of.  An example of this is the phenomenon of the singles group, which is defined as being those people who are not married, either because they have never married, are divorced, or have been widowed.  As a generally undesirable status, acquired by various ways, is the only thing that unites these people, it is little surprise that such a group would tend to have little cohesion and low morale, since the goal of one in such a group is to get out of it by finding oneself a husband or wife and leaving that group behind.  A similar situation could be found in the journeymen of the Middle Ages, who all had the ambition of being masters of various trades and who therefore had no sense of cohesion with other journeymen who were rivals for the status improvement that all of them sought.  Just as some identities bring people together, other identities pit others against each other as rivals for shared longings and aspirations.

Can a group identity with some sense of cohesion be formed on the grounds that Ava Max is intending with her song “So Am I?”  It seems possible, at least.  While being a misfit is generally a status that people would seek to avoid, there are at least enough people whose compulsion to be themselves outweighs the compulsion to fit in with others and who find themselves predictably on the outside or margins of their communities as a result.  It must be admitted, though, that the ways that one can end up being a misfit often do not lend themselves to a large-scale union of outsiders, though.  After all, while a pronomian Christian who keeps the Sabbath and biblical food laws may find a great deal of agreement with a similarly unusual Orthodox or hasidic Jew or with a conservative and fair-minded Muslim when it comes to their shared devotion to a moral and legal standard that sets them apart from contemporary mainstream culture, such people are not as likely to fit in with those who are outsiders because of their flagrant transition of the few moral norms that a contemporary community might insist upon.  Likewise, those whose marginal identity is based on ethnicity may find that the contemporary mania for intersectionalism leads them to pit their outsider status against others who feel marginalized for different reasons even if they share a hostility to the culture that rejects them.  Establishing a cohesive identity out of outcasts depends on an atmosphere of mutual empathy and respect, and these are not always easy to build, since they require making a harmonious community out of those who have been tossed out of the community they are from for different transgressions against social norms.  Are you at least skeptical that this is an easy problem to resolve?  So am I.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2019/04/30/life-among-the-stans/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/02/o-canada-or-finding-identity-in-negative-spaces/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to So Am I

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    No, it is not an easy problem to solve. One has to overcome the label of “misfit” to begin with, for it confines the individual to a mentality of rejecting as well as rejection. The best example I can come up with as far as resolving this conundrum was my experience of joining the Tampa church congregation when it began. The Lakeland congregation was highly cliquish and more than a handful of us teenagers were outcasts. We resolved that the Tampa church would not be like the Lakeland one and worked hard to welcome the other teens that began attending. Our groups were open-ended. Small cliques developed over time, but they were overpowered, for the most part, by negative peer pressure from the majority. It was a twist on the normal state of life outside those hallowed walls. That congregation was our safe haven. But I’ve learned, over time, that this is a rare occurrence.

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