And that gives me pause.
Well, I’m assuming she’s a right winger, or at least, that right wingers are presumed to agree with her (after all, high school students often don’t even know their political affiliation yet) because her rant is published in the Wall Street Journal.
Suzy Lee Weiss, high school ranter extraordinaire, failed to get into the college she wanted. So she wrote a rant. A rant at all those people who just told her to “be herself” and a rant at all those try-hards who got in. And it’s pretty spot on, actually, in a lot of ways.
Because, let’s face it, everyone’s telling us to be ourselves these days aren’t they. Parents, schools, advertisers, the media in general (especially when doing so involves buying stuff they are selling). It’s quite weird, in a way, to be constantly urged to do something that is true by definition. I mean really. Be yourself? I can’t physically be anybody else.
But of course that’s not what it means. We’re all supposed to journey through life in a constant process of becoming, a noble search for authenticity: a quest to our deepest, darkest inner souls which somehow always ends up expressed as a selection of kooky outfits, a bunch of gap-yah style stories, a laundry list of self-identity labels and a shocking lack of self-awareness. Yeah, real authentic. And then we are supposed to expect that everyone will love us all the more for doing so.
“I don’t CARE what anyone else thinks!!” goes the self-realizer’s hearty war cry.
“How dare you judge meeee!!” often follows.
Not much feel for irony, these people. Somehow, it’s just so maddening, when these people they allegedly don’t care about don’t turn around and give them the proper adulation they deserve. It’s rather like telling someone to go fuck themselves and being surprised they didn’t respond with admiration at such a bold and fearless act.
And the funniest part is when then they remember that “anyone else” runs the fucking world. As poor old Suzy Lee has discovered. “Being yourself” is the luxury of those whose selves are already stamped with society’s seal of approval. Which, by the way, includes most of those people who think they’re being transgressive. As Suzy Lee has also discovered. Knowing what she knows now, Suzy describes how she would have lived her high school career differently:
“If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.”
“I also probably should have started a fake charity. Providing veterinary services for homeless people’s pets. Collecting donations for the underprivileged chimpanzees of the Congo. Raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome. Fun-runs, dance-a-thons, bake sales—as long as you’re using someone else’s misfortunes to try to propel yourself into the Ivy League, you’re golden.”
“I should’ve done what I knew was best—go to Africa, scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures, and write my essays about how spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life. Because everyone knows that if you don’t have anything difficult going on in your own life, you should just hop on a plane so you’re able to talk about what other people have to deal with.
Or at least hop to an internship. Get a precocious-sounding title to put on your resume. “Assistant Director of Mail Services.” “Chairwoman of Coffee Logistics.” I could have been a gopher in the office of someone I was related to. Work experience!”
Gawker, as might be expected from dumbass liberal media, gets it wrong. Apparently, she is just an idiot for taking the “be yourself” advice literally, as if she thought “being yourself” is an actual activity, i.e. just sitting there. And being. Yourself. I think Gawker is missing the point. “Being yourself” is about doing what you want, not doing nothing at all. All of those people with the charities and the fake (appropriated) native American heritage also thought they were just “being themselves.” They all believed it, I’d put money on that.
According to Gawker, the “most unsettling” thing is her apparent “rabid hatred of charity”. Apparently, “it’s not clear what she’s satirizing, except the concept of charity.” Oh come ON Caity Lee from Gawker. It’s pretty fucking obvious what she’s satirizing.
She’s satirizing privileged white kids who dig up questionable minority heritage to win points on their applications. She’s satirizing how these people treat charity and voluntary work as a CV-building exercise: dedicating themselves to pointless made-up causes just to show what compassionate go-getters they are, without any thought to the actual wider purpose of what they are doing. She’s satirizing people who use others’ suffering just to make themselves more interesting. She’s satirizing people who talk up their ‘work experience’ or ‘internship’ as if it meant anything other than being some corporation’s drudge. And as if it was something they got by actual merit, not through their own family contacts.
And she’s satirizing the ludicrous concept that “Be yourself” is anything other than just another flavour of “You are free to do as *we tell you*!”
To be fair to her, she also hates on real minorities (particularly lesbians), as if they were just as fake as the appropriators, and that’s not cool.
But her overall point is a sound one. Trouble is, some people’s real selves, well, they suck don’t they. You don’t tell a paedophile or a rapist to just “be themselves”. Or an alcoholic. Or even a radical feminist. Ha ha. Not many calls for me to “be myself” on that count. In fact, “being myself” was apparently hideously oppressive to other’s people’s right to “be themselves”, i.e. engaging in casual misogyny.
Which just goes to show how dumb the whole thing is. Everyone can’t go around “being themselves” and expect everyone to validate them for it when they believe completely opposing things. That would render the nature of having an opinion entirely meaningless, as I have said elsewhere.
But in fact, “being yourself” is in some ways quite a good idea. The “being” part. The problem is, is that has been confused with *showing* yourself. The fact is, we live in the shining edifice of crap that is capitalist patriarchy. You can BE yourself, sure. But showing it, in every situation, is going to get you fucked over. The trick is to be conscious of the games you have to play, and the limits within which you will play them. Sadly, this conflation of being and showing often results in a lot of confusion, as people try to justify the things they do to survive in an unjust world as expressions of authenticity (see: sex pozzers).
Suzy Lee finishes with a refreshing admission of her conflicted feelings of hatred and admiration for these people – on the one hand, she denounces their so-called achievements as completely fake, self-serving and stupid; on the other she is jealous of their ability to play the game without exploding under their own apparent contradictions (well maybe for that latter part I’m projecting). Feelings I know only all too well. Not because they are winners, but because I disagree with the criteria for success. But damn, wouldn’t it make life easier to be one.
So sometimes right wingers say things I agree with. And it gives me pause. And then I remember we both hate liberals, so that’s why. But they hate radicals too, so fuck ‘em. But good for you, Suzy Lee. I’m sure you can still hope for a brilliant career in satirical writing. Maybe you’ll even become a radical one day packing a cynicism like that.
And would you look at that? I think I was just “myself” there for a moment. Wow, I feel so actualized!
Doubt it’ll get me a job though.