Having recently listened to the Joe Jackson song referenced in class, I have been on a “kick,” if you will, about sameness. As our readings, particularly the Wilkins piece, exemplified, sameness offers solace and comfort, as well as social reaffirmation that one is on the “right path.” For example, we witnessed the University Unity kids assert repeatedly that they do pursue and hold friendships outside the confines of Unity and Christianity as a whole. However, and most notably, they find it hard to know “where they stand” with these secular friends or friends of other faiths. This cuts Unity/non-Unity friendships short, or only allows them to reach a certain point before one or both of the members feels disconnected from the other person on moral grounds. And in terms of Unity lifestyle, there are many areas that are apt to prompt disagreement with non-Unity friends.
The idea of being a part of a group that Wilkins originally categorizes as “just good people” is intriguing, because it brings up the necessary and essential idea of goodness. What—and who—can be considered “good?” In terms of Unity alone, it seems that if one is dutiful in praying and reading the Bible, setting aside time for God, and abstaining from sex, drug usage, and immodesty, then that individual fits the criteria for “goodness.” But in effect, adherence to these rules leaves very little room for individuality and potential to think for oneself outside of an academic context, so no wonder it limits their more secular relationships.
My question here is, does goodness imply sameness—sameness of “thought, word, and deed,” as outlined in the Nicene Creed itself?
This is a disturbing thought, because the last thing we want to believe is that we, as humans with functional minds and control over our actions, could subscribe to a set of prescribed actions and thoughts to such an extent that we become, as we mentioned earlier in the semester, “holy spirit zombies.” That we would be unable to identify any personal characteristic or marking qualities aside from surface-level hobbies, such as Lucas’ swing-dancing pastime, is frightening to a modern, liberal, 21st-century mind. And yet, on the surface, they seem so normal—college hoodies and movie nights with friends, going out to diners and for ice cream, and the like, seem to suggest that we as non-Unity members are not so different from them after all.
However, it is also important to note that while the Unity kids seem not to stand out in their choice of dress and lack of partying—Wilkins describes them explicitly as “vanilla” at one point—this is precisely what sets them apart from the norm. Though understated and subtle, Unity kids maintain the appearance of social “norms” in the way that Christian Rock does—they take the semblances of the mainstream and then “clean it up,” therefore making the action more palatable for those who subscribe to the Unity lifestyle. For example, some of the Unity girls like to go out and dance with their friends, but instead of contour skirts and pumps, they can be seen in T-shirts and jeans.
This is the tricky part: T-shirts and jeans seem so normal, but in this case, their wearers are actually embodying a quiet form of resistance to social (i.e., secular) norms. By going against the expected code of dress, Unity girls maintain the modesty expected of them, and are able to participate in activities outside Unity, all the while upholding Unity values.
This resistance is fascinating, because it is often gender-dependent, can have many layers, and can be done in a variety of ways. In my Language and Gender class, we have talked a lot about gender and how individuals and groups will often subvert gender in ways that are unexpected and often surprising. If you have the time, I would recommend you read the following article about “Nerd Girls” that we had to read for class. Just the idea that the category of “Nerd” does not already include females is noteworthy, but that aside, it is a good read and exemplifies yet another way that groups subvert, undercut, and otherwise resist social norms and gender expectations. Furthermore, this is another example of how important sameness is in terms of connection and group cohesiveness, and how social situations can become potentially problematic or confusing if not all participants in the conversation approach the subject the same way.
[Incidentally, another gender-bending article we read for Language and Gender may be of interest to some of you. It is a culturally-based a commentary on Japan’s “Kogals”who routinely defy and redefine young Japanese women’s sexuality through sexual availability, deliberate linguistic change, and distinctive images that offer yet another form of resistance against traditional femininity.]
Whew, sorry for the longest blog post ever! See you all in class!