Saturday, June 8, 2013

Man Bags and States of Independence

Batman wears a fanny pack
Recently, somebody was ragging on me because I had a small stylish bag slung on my shoulder. Man bag, he called it, and his clipped quip carried more of a moral judging tone than one rooted in fashion. His comment was, to say the least, annoying but not for obvious reasons.
              That he was critical of my professional accoutrement was not much of an issue for me; the bag was a business-casual alternative to my usual briefcase and carried an electronic tablet (think iPad), business papers and other portable office necessities. Besides I had carried man bags before, in other cities where quite frankly the subject never came up.
              Here’s the rub: if Batman can wear a utility belt in his line of work and no one barks, why can’t a yokel local like me carry a utility bag and not get harangued? Does Batman get a pass because he beats up bad guys? The Caped Crusader is into criminal justice; my thing is social justice, so what’s the problem?
So does Chuck Norris
              For that matter, why can’t a middle-aged father of four on family vacation wear a fanny pack for his stuff at Disney World and not get teased about it? Sadly, I’ve seen it happen more than once. Furthermore, in my case with the bag, I wasn’t the one sporting a business suit and wingtips with no socks.
              Granted, this griping is ultimately irrelevant and borders on petty. However, it raises a larger issue – one that carries higher stakes with potentially more damaging effects. And that is the excessive compulsive disorder affecting much of mainstream America regarding its obsession with the need for conformity. That is, everybody looking and doing the same thing the same way at the same time. The ironic thing is that we, as Americans, pride ourselves on being unique, individual and independent.
              Yet, it amazes me just how prejudice and judgmental we can be toward each other. This prejudice includes all manner of social and cultural oppression but is particularly harmful when it comes to the physical looks of another human being.
              We crack jokes about women who have really short hair or men who are balding, then make fun all the more when they don hair extensions or toupees. We laugh at people who are overweight.  We gawk at females who possess hard, muscular features; we castrate males bearing softer physical traits. Speak with a lisp? Watch out. Have a visible disability? Prepare for the stare. All are subject to mean-spirited ridicule.
Urban tool carrier
              Why must it be this way? What is it about places and people in American society that we are programmed to insist on physical conformity among individuals? Interestingly, the question itself is convoluted. Individual? Independence? Conformity? That does not compute.
              In America we value uniqueness. At least, we give lips service to it. It's the American way, right? Folks are adamant: “I’ll play whatever kind of music I want” or “I’ll decide how many guns I need” or “You can’t tell me not to buy a low MPG SUV.” Why then is it offensive to a so-called individualist for a person to look or act different?
              Think about it; the Declaration of Independence specifically speaks to an individual’s unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Yet time and again we find ourselves under attack by fellow Americans who are not only intolerant of a person’s difference; they bully, intimidate or otherwise coerce conformity. Granted, that revered historic document was probably referring more to a citizen/government dynamic than one at the person to person level. Nevertheless, shouldn’t we as a people lift up that important value wherever/whenever we can? For me that truth is self-evident.

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