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Monday, January 17, 2011

Outcasts, Weirdos and Freaks

Photo: Maja Dumat - flickr.com
I went to hear a lecture on Friday night about the transcendental movement of the early to mid-1800s. As the lecturer spoke about the beliefs that grounded the various movements before and after transcendentalism, he touched briefly on southern fiction (Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, William Faulkner, etc.), saying those authors often used characters who were outcasts, weirdos and freaks to speak the truth into a situation.

He quoted O’Connor as saying, “Whenever I am asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” I found a fuller context of this quote on a blog called The Reformed Reader, where O’Connor goes on to say, in part, “To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man. And in the South, the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological.”

In other words, they recognized freaks because their theological understanding of man drove them to examine their own hearts and on some level, we’re all freaks, so it's easy to spot another one. Some of us are freaky looking. Some of us have freaky mannerisms. Some of us have freaky beliefs.

Usually, we find other freaks of the same ilk to hang out with so we can let our freaky hair down and pretend we aren’t freaks. They don’t have to agree with us about everything or even look like us necessarily; they just have to accept us – think Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld. Who among us hasn’t wanted to live in one of those worlds?

While I’m not a Lady Gaga fan, I’m intrigued by her story and her fanbase, whom she refers to as “little monsters.” According to a story in New York Magazine, she began working with a record producer to find her sound, style and look. One of those experiments led her down the Michelle Branch-Avril Lavigne singer-songwriter route, but it didn’t work.

Wendy Starland, a singer who was responsible for connecting Gaga with the producer, pointed out why it didn’t work, “Those artists are usually classically beautiful, very steady, and more tranquil, in a way.” At this point, she wasn’t into fashion. She wore leggings and sweatshirts and she came into the studio a couple of times in sweatpants.

Wanting to be a star, she eventually went on to study trends in pop culture and she re-made herself as a performer rather than a singer. After she became a star, she began referring to her fans as “little monsters,” which she means in the most affectionate way. She knows how it feels to not fit in. She even wrote a manifesto of little monsters, and she closed it this way:
When you’re
I’ll be lonely too,
And this is the fame.

Lady Gaga
Notice how she put the word “lonely” way out by itself? She knows how many of her fans – the outcasts, weirdos and freaks – feel, and while they, like other outcasts, weirdos and freaks find comfort in the company of one another, they also feel the same isolation the rest of us freaks of different stripes feel when they aren’t together.

On some level, we’re all freaks. Some of us are freaky looking. Some of us have freaky mannerisms. Some of us have freaky beliefs. Acknowledging that might help us to cut our fellow freaks a little slack once in a while.


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