It was in second hour AP English Literature and Comp that the subject of conformity came up. We had just begun reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a class and my English teacher, Mr. W, was explaining the symbolic significance behind The Weird Sisters in Act I.
I giggled to myself and when he raised his eyebrow at me, I explained that J.K. Rowling once again put in another secret allusion in her books for the Weird Sisters in the Harry Potter series are a punk rock band composed of three witches.
As soon as the words “Harry Potter” left my mouth, Mr. W rolled his eyes.
I crossed my arms and demanded what was so stupid about what I had just said. Mr. W didn’t deign to reply.
“Don’t tell me that you’re one of those snobby English teachers that believe ‘Harry Potter has no place in my classroom’” I said, giving my best imitation of an elderly, stuffy Englishman.
“Look,” Mr. W said, “I just don’t think Harry Potter has anything valuable to teach us, it’s just frivolous commercial fiction.”
Everyone in the classroom gasped at this last statement. Mr. W rolled his eyes again.
“Ok,” he said. “I’ll give you 30 seconds, convince me that Harry Potter has significant value in modern society.”
I jumped up at once and began rattling off all the significant themes in Harry Potter and all the allusions J.K. Rowling embedded it with. I began talking about the complex themes of class struggle between purebloods and muggleborns, how her characters deal with the issues of death, battle, and the responsibility of those who must take on the wars of their fathers. Soon the whole class, full of kids equally as nerdy as I, jumped to my aide. However when I brought up how Rowling delves into the issues of racism and intolerance with house elves and werewolves, Mr. W scoffed.
“Werewolves,” he said, “really?”
“Hey! Harry Potter came before Twilight, okay!” I retorted.
“You haven’t convinced me,” Mr. W, said.
“Have you even read them?” I asked.
“Then how can you judge them?!”
“I know enough about those books to pass judgment.”
“Just read them,” I said. “Then you can judge, but really Mr. W, if you haven’t even read them, what have you got against them?”
He shrugged and said “They’re popular.”
This made me freeze. Finally, I understood Mr. W’s point of view. I have never been one to jump onto bandwagons. If something is popular, part of me wants to hate it simply to be different. When something is popular I feel like I can’t make my own decision about it. I feel like everyone is pressuring me, that I have to like it, because if everyone else loves it surely it must be good, right?
I feel like when I read or watch or wear something when its popular, I feel like I can’t make my opinion for myself—society has already made it for me. I feel like when I adapt to a popular trend no matter how much I liked this thing before it was taken up by the masses, my utilizing it is nothing more than conformity.
Some might call my aversions to mainstream trends as being a hipster, I just call it being me (besides, I don’t listen to enough Indie Rock to be a hipster).
But when Mr. W told me he didn’t like Harry Potter because it was popular, I sympathized with him.
I started reading Twilight just before it began gaining popularity. I thought it was a pretty good book, but then, before I was even half-way through reading it, everyone else was reading it too. On some levels, this made me want to hate it, but I forced myself to keep reading it and judge it for myself. Once I was finished with the book I felt like I could accurately judge it and—nope, definitely not my cup of tea (though I don’t hate on others who like it).
However, Mr. W had no excuse. He’d never even read Harry Potter.
“Look, I totally get you want to be a hipster and stuff and say you’re too good for Harry Potter, but Mr. W, it’s popular for a reason. It’s a good book that practically started a renaissance within children’s book writing, why else would J.K. Rowling have become a billionaire from writing it?”
Mr. W shrugged.
“You should read it,” I said.
He paused a moment. “I’ll consider it.”
And that’s when I realized, there are certain trends that I will never understand, (yoga pants and high-low skirts for instance). There are fads that I refuse to like due to a long seated distaste for that no amount of popularity can cure (Miley Cyrus and wearing leggings as pants for example). But I realized then that though I’ve never believed that conformity is the best way to live, being a “hipster” and staying away from the mainstream isn’t always a good thing either. Because every so often there is a trend worth trying and, as in the case of Harry Potter and a few other selections lining my bookshelf, every so often there is a popular book series out there that is very much worth reading.
Little Lady out 😉