Imagine sometime in the future, there is a government decree that we must all wear a label communicating who we are. Let’s say the Director of Homeland Labels has assembled a list from which we must choose and in fact, others get to vote from that list. On Facebook, any friend can vote on our label and we must wear it throughout the day. It may sound absurd and yet in many ways we act like this already. We are label manufacturers. We look at someone, what they are wearing or the company they keep, study their body and attach a label to them. Is this part of our DNA or was it developed as a survival kill for urban dwellers?
Consider that the list of labels come from commonly used ones which we throw around daily. There’s the Bible Thumper, the Douche, the Bitch, the Skank the Jersey Shore, the Queen, Geeks, and Skaters. There are those who seem to be above the law (Untouchables), the guy who doesn’t seem to know who he is (Little Boy Lost) and the darkly clad brooder (Goth Kid). Of course, there’s also the Misfit! Attributing character qualities to these labels seems to be universal. I was chatting with a new online friend from overseas the other day and he was completely in sync with my discussion about someone using a few of the aforementioned labels.
Once we’re given a label in the court of public opinion, it is very difficult to shake it. Reinventing oneself probably requires a relocation. Perhaps that’s why we must be vigilant to what we’re showing about ourselves in the public domain. With friends, it’s one thing because they’re not as concerned about how we might be acting out with our little character quirks. But strangers are quicker to judge and assign a label. We also give labels at work. Slacker, Asshole, Brown-nose, Know-it-all and Wimp are commonly thrown around in places of business. We seldom use positive attributes when creating labels and I wonder if that, too, is in our DNA. You don’t hear a lot of Genius, Super Terrific, Compassionate, Intuitive, Powerful, Dynamic or Radiant. We save those for our offspring, significant other or our hopeful conquests . Nope, our label lexicon is chock full of superlative negatives, and that says hoards about human nature.
Madison Avenue wants us to fit into a neatly defined box. Marketers dream of calculated demographics and politicians live and die by predicted behaviors. It seems everyone wants to project how we will live, what we will wear and the places we’re likely to visit. Even Netflix wants to know my profile of movies so it can suggest an array for me. Can I not just enjoy a good movie without it being DRAMA or DOCUMENTARY or ACTION? It’s like we’ve awakened into a world where we’re going to be told and directed toward what and how we will consume by search bots that profile us with finely tuned algorithmic formulas. Since when was being unpredictable such a bad thing?
Labels are the product of a population on edge about its identity. They are divisive and serve more as amplified projections rather than true reflections of our souls. The obsession with labels creates tension and leaves us cold. When we eliminate labels we will be more able to clearly see that which unites us in the common. Until then, if you want to label me as bright, witty, talented and humorous – well go right ahead!