Isn’t “Mainstream” a bad thing?

“Mainstream that shit” became my go-to phrase whenever “taboo” topics (that shouldn’t be taboo) got news coverage, e.g.:

“OH MY GOD THEY SAID VAGINA.”

“VAGINA!!!”

My theory is this: If we talk about it (the “offensive topic”), we can desensitize all the sensitive people who get offended when they hear (perfectly reasonable) things they don’t want to hear (like the medical terminology for sex organs). In other words, if we say VAGINA, VAGINA, VAGINA a billion times people will either stop thinking it’s a bad word or they’ll just get tired of claiming it is and shut up about it already.

The challenge is that institutional group-think is a sticky, self-preserving monster, and it takes a bit more effort and planning to shift popular opinion. As much as I would like to run around screaming VAGINA at the top of my lungs, I don’t think it would have the desired effect. Instead, we need to recognize that people adapt to social change in fits and starts. Reoccurring contact with the undesired element in everyday happenings (news, popular culture, the legal system) creates an inoculation effect of sorts, which eventually leads to a general acceptance by the public.

For example, say I have a core belief that the color green is wrong. It’s so wrong that, in my opinion, no one else should wear green clothing, like the color green, or talk about the color green. My belief that this color is wrong is reinforced by my friends and family. They all agree with me, and I with them. We all watch the same TV channel that validates our feelings about the color green, and we eschew any sources of information that diverge from our own established opinion.

Meanwhile, there’s a group of people who really like green stuff. Their choice in clothing is ridiculed by us anti-greens, and unfortunately for the green-lovers, the anti-greens have “strong ties to the community”, meaning we’re in charge of shit. And because we’re in charge of shit, we start establishing rules that outlaw the color green, and discriminatory practices against green-lovers become socially acceptable because it reinforces the existing opinions of the anti-green camp. I mean, hey, they could just stop wearing green and their lives would be much easier.

Because the social pressure to shun this color is so strong, those few hiding in our ranks who do like green either face becoming a social outcast by admitting their secret or they simply hide their preference from their loved ones to avoid being judged.

But wait! Someone I know admits to me that they like the color green, and then the next week another person says that their daughter wears green shoes! I don’t want to lose these people, but I can’t reconcile their choices with my own morality. I’ve lived my entire life rejecting this color. Until one day, after trying yet again to talk some sense into these people, I realize that my friends are still very much who I always thought they were, they just make different choices that have absolutely no effect on my life or my own choices. Hmm… I might not like the color green personally, but I suppose that doesn’t mean that everyone else has to think the same way I do.

So you can see that while this is a drastically simplified scenario, you can substitute a myriad of demographic classifications or lifestyle choices for the “color green”.  The path toward understanding of our differences requires a shift in popular opinion that may start with rejection but evolves into ambivalence and then moves from apathy to tolerance and then finally mainstream acceptance.

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