Conformity and Pop Culture

by teresalaynebennett

photo of Julie Andrews with the Von Trapp kiddos, belting out

Famous Julie belting out “My Favorite Things”

Like it or not, pop culture oozes into our thinking, almost always changing us – and not necessarily for the better. Most us know this, yet we like to pretend we’re above the fray and are the only independent thinkers for miles. (Self deception knows no bounds.)

Even relatively harmless pop culture songs, myths, etc., can insinuate themselves into our brains with astonishing ease. Even though we know they don’t match up with what we truly believe or are just goofy-silly, we find ourselves so embarrassed at being the outlier that we go along.

Sometimes, our sheepish compliance is a relatively harmless deal. But remember that whole process thing? Sometimes our compliance turns into a very big deal because of where it eventually leads us. Conforming to ideas and beliefs that don’t line up with our moral values and world view is a process. We get better and better at just giving in, convincing ourselves all the while that “no harm’s done,” as we give up who we are and what we believe.

You know where I’m headed with this, don’t you? An embarrassing real-life example.

My Favorite Things
– Or Not

A few weeks ago, we passed the fiftieth anniversary of the sappiest of all musicals, The Sound of Music. I was a high school junior when it debuted. Didn’t know myself very well then. Ate up that sugary music and plot as any giddy teenage girl would, blithely belting out the saccharine lyrics as if I truly believed them. Even convinced myself I liked cats and, get this, foods I’d never tasted.

Now? I know myself better and have spent a lifetime assessing pop culture and deciding if I want to keep certain of its items or not. Mostly, I decide not to participate. I’m not so easily convinced to go along just to make life easier or please those around me who desperately want me to believe as they do.

*Scroll to the bottom of this post for a refresher if you, pagan that you are, have forgotten the immortal words to this favorite of all favorite songs, made favorite by Julie Andrews. You’ll see what I mean about the syrupy silliness. Now, fifty years out, I can finally speak my mind with no worries about conforming. Here are my stand-up-and-be-counted, Ebert-and-Siskel thumbs-up-thumbs-down assessments.

Raindrops On Roses

Are you kidding? Rain on any growing thing is a favorite thing when you live in the arid West, as I do. In our more droughty years, I’ve grown rapturous about rain on dandelions.

But “raindrops on roses”? That’s just icing on the cake. We used to have a house with a yard and garden. We used to try to grow roses. And then we gave up. Out here in the West, apparently, our extremely hot and dry summers and all-over-the-map winters make roses ridiculously easy prey to insects and fungus. Having tried to raise roses and having failed miserably, I know how to appreciate a healthy rose when I see one. And one with delicate dew drops all over it? Let her rip, Julie; you’re on a roll.

Whiskers On Kittens

Or not…. I’m going to say this right out: some of us abhor kittens, and dogs, and horses – basically anything with fur that sheds. Kitten whiskers are just, well, annoying, mainly because they’re attached to something furry.

When we visit you, our favorite things don’t include looking like a pet on our backsides after we leave your home. Back at home, one of our favorite things isn’t attacking our pant legs with a lint brush because the fur in your carpets hitched a ride on static electricity – straight up in the air – and Velcro-ed itself to our pant legs.

Furthermore, we’re not fond of fur in our food. When Fluffy hops up on the counter and you look stunned and say, “Down, Fluffy!” we’re not fooled. Not even when you say, with just the appropriate amount of bewilderment, “I don’t know why she did that; she never gets on the kitchen counters.”

Right.

We all know cats do whatever they please. If yours has the run of the house, we know she walks around on anything she pleases when you’re gone – including your kitchen counters. We know we can expect to spit out cat fur all evening, as we delicately pick our way through food prepared on those same kitchen counters.

I decided to pass on the kitten whiskers – and fur – a long time ago.

Bright Copper Kettles

Yep, there’s something about a shiny copper kettle whistling on a stovetop that sings out “Welcome. Hang out awhile.” It takes me back to simpler times, slathered in good-old-days nostalgia.

But the trick word here is shiny. I’ve owned a fair amount of copper goods, including a copper kettle. They require serious elbow grease with copper polish to look the way you see them in house magazines, home furnishings stores, and open-to-the-public mansions. They’re work, in other words.

Kettles from other materials? Not so much. But “cheap aluminum kettles” just doesn’t have the same lyrical punch, does it? So I’m on the fence with this one. Maybe coppery aesthetics are worth the polishing.

Warm Woolen Mittens

Oh, yes. For someone whose hands are almost always cold, warm mittens are lovely. Wool ones are even better (unless you’re one of those unfortunates who’s allergic to wool). I’m not so I’m in.

Brown Paper Packages
Tied Up With String

Definitely a favorite thing, though not for the same reasons as that famous, having-second-thoughts nun. For me, it means some bright soul reversed a humble brown paper grocery bag, pressed it out, and recycled it into gift wrap. They’ve also found a secondary use for ordinary twine or string from who-knows-where, and pressed it into service as “ribbon.” Chances are, since tan on brown can be a little too understated, they’ve also found some clever tidbit to glue to the top – also recycled. Yep, my favorite things always include social responsibility, personal creativity, and a gift assembled just for me on the inside and outside.

Cream-Colored Ponies

Nope. Reread Whiskers on Kittens. There’s fur involved.

Crisp Apple Strudels

Oh, how I wish. But wild horses couldn’t make this celiac girl take a bite of apple strudel – or any other variant of strudel. There’s wheat involved.

Doorbells and Sleigh Bells

Now, I’m on board again. Doorbells usually mean guests, which usually signal better-than-usual fare on the dining table, except when the doorbell means USPS or UPS. But that’s usually an anticipated package – a favorite thing, too.

I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing that sleigh-bell sound, but I’d sure like to. Doesn’t it just cry out old-fashioned romance?

Schnitzel With Noodles

Nah. Reread Crisp Apple Strudel. (Wheat – and more wheat.)

Wild Geese That Fly
With The Moon On Their Wings

Um. There are feathers involved, no? Too close to fur. Count me out.

Girls in White Dresses
with Blue Satin Sashes

NOW, we’re talking. I was a pigeon-toed runner all through my early childhood, as walking took SO LONG. I fell down a lot. My ever-so-practical mother never dressed me in white – ever. Smart woman. So you see why prissy little girls in pristine white frocks and dressy satin sashes (no matter the color) just turn my crank. It was the girlhood I never had – and didn’t deserve because I would not slow down.

Snowflakes That Stay
On My Nose And Eyelashes

Depends on how long we’re talking snow, here. Snowflakes are fun – for awhile. A short while. After a longer while, not so much: there’s backbreaking shoveling involved.

Silver-white Winters
That Melt Into Springs

Oh, yes. By the time Spring (all three weeks of it) appears, I’m so over Winter I don’t even think to say goodbye. Spring brings the promise of green, and green is one of my favorite colors.

Ta-da. Drum role, please.
Here’s the pay-attention point,
in case you missed it.

Not going along with pop culture won’t get you killed. As you can see, after skewering one of the most favorite songs from one of the most popular of all American musicals during the last fifty years, I’m still standing. No lightning. No unhappy voice from the heavens. No hate mail – yet.

Yes, I may be shunned by the uber-trendy when I buck the latest PC trend or (more likely) disinvited by my animal-loving friends, BUT NOT KILLED. I’m living proof that it’s okay to decide not to participate. It’s okay to decide you really don’t like ______ even though everyone else raves about it.

And yes, I know I’ve chosen a safe, wimpy example. I could’ve called out the words to some current pop-culture songs that are alarmingly toxic to the soul. Baby steps. Baby steps. It’s easier to start by taking a stand on the little things. Gain some momentum and get comfortable with how it feels to buck pop culture. Keep assessing it in light of your thoughtfully chosen values and carefully examined beliefs. Keep deciding not to conform. The soul-toxic stuff? You’ll be strong enough to smack it down sooner than you think.

Pay attention: not conforming to pop culture won’t get you killed. Au contraire: it just might save your life.

red box with white text from Romans 12:2:

Conforming to our culture is dangerous.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

*My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;

Brown paper packages tied up with strings;

These are a few of my favorite things.

Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels;

Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles; 

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings;

These are a few of my favorite things.

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes;

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes;

Silver-white winters that melt into springs;

These are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things,

And then I don’t feel so bad.