SELF IDENTITY THROUGH THE POP CULTURE
THE SOCIALIZATION PROCESS
In a world of over 7 billion people with varying skills, special abilities and knowledge, no man or woman can live in isolation. We certainly need one another for our needs to be fully met. Interaction hence, plays a vital role in our day to day life. Therefore, individuals are compelled to submit their instinctual, individualistic will and take up the social will as dictated by culture through learning. It is often argued that what defines our roles has little to do with biology, it is beyond our genes and chromosomal features. The way we perceive ourselves and the definition of the ‘self’ is not a personal thing just as your ability to read is not instinctual.
The process of child development is characterized by imitation, taking up roles assigned to us based on gender, sex, colour etc, and obeying the socially acceptable standards of behavior and punishment, for deviating. We become religious not because we were born to be, our preferences for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, political ideology, our definition of acceptable ways of behavior and so on are defined by social dictates, which invariably constrains the individual and relegates him/her. He/she is weakened by the prevailing social order, hence, his/her self-identity is a reflection of the prevailing social system.
Since the society shapes most of the behavior of the individual, the self concept derives from the internalization of what the society views as acceptable rather than biological traits inherited through gene. The family institution has been at the fore-front of administering the norms of the society on the child and it evidently adds the social bias, stereotypes and selfish interests to her informal curriculum in the socialization process. Despite the fact that it plays a vital role in molding individual behavior, it is far from perfect. The family identity is in fact the product of culture, religion, system of governance and law. However, urbanization and globalization gives alternative to individual perception of his/her ‘self’ in the society. It won’t be long that the individual soon looses interest and seeks means of escape from the ‘hostage’ of the society.
For the very fact that self identity is constructed from what the social world around us wants us to be, creates a burden, a strain on the personal development and confusion. The social expectation that comes with the role of women, a male child, attending school, or taking up a political position creates a scene that is likened to actors on stage (Herbert Mead 1934). Inability to meet up with these expectations often leads to depression, stress and could be a cause for suicide. The individual is lost to the social will, that he/she is overwhelmed. In Durkheim’s study of Suicide for instance, he opined that the rate of integration of the individual into the social conscience can be a cause for suicide commitment.
There is the need hence, to express the ‘self’ within a new sub-culture that diffuses the tensions of belonging to hitherto prevailing and unattractive social system. According to Robert K. Merton in his social action theory, he referred to this stage in the re-definition of the self as the stage of rebellion- the individual finds an alternative to the established social values and denounces any such affinity to once held belief. While Merton’s assertion indicates the tendency towards deviant behaviours or criminality, it fails to establish the actualization of self identity within the context of individual progress and social change.
A NEW SUB-CULTURE
‘Being yourself’ is not necessarily a phrase that denounces social interactions, neither is it a call to isolation or self love. Simply put, it implies that the individual is taking up a new form of behavior, expressed in his/her attitude based on a new found appeal. In as much as, it gives meaning to the individual in his/her pursuit of peace and happiness. The pop culture for instance, appeals to a demography which, seeks to express its youthfulness by exhibiting their talents through music, arts, fads, fashion and style. It makes use of slogans, gestures which is sometimes used for identification, and they are held together by a common will to re-define their values against the pre-existing ones. The mode of dressing is not formal; it celebrates innovation by introducing new trends in fashion, style and craze. In the pop culture, there are no formal rules of entry and it is easier for the young ones to identify with. It has its own ‘prophets’ and cult heroes, it is a world where celebrities rule. This is where being famous is attributed to greatness.
Interestingly, self identity within the pop culture thrives due to what is referred to as crowd psychology or the bandwagon effect. The realization is that individuals love to attach themselves to a particular thing, event or object, or participate in social gatherings, political movement and engage in behaviours that involves a large number of people. We are simply just lost in the crowd and the process of adaptation and assimilation is surprisingly fast. The things we learned from the family and neighborhood are discarded, and everyone is just in the world of his own. The internet through the social media has further amplified our exposition to pop culture because of the large presence of people connected to various social networking sites. The internet provides us with an escape route from our significant others with just a click on a mobile device. There is little to what parents can do in dissuading their wards from forming a new identity through this means. Its effects are just overwhelming.
Therefore, the understanding of who we are, our identity and being ”being yourself” is a reflection of how we perceive ourselves within the context of the environment we find ourselves. We construct goals that are in relation to our skills and ability within a social context. Our race, colour, physical attributes, gifts, or talents, gender, occupation, wealth, academic brilliance can form the basis of self identity. However, the capacity for making use of these attributes largely depends on the burden or freedom experienced. For instance, in countries where women have no rights to take political offices or in countries where the Caste System is being practiced, it may be extremely hard for the individual to construct for him/herself a definition of self. In other words, self identity in that respect is social identity expressed in human conduct.
Is it a crime to ‘be yourself’? Definitely not. In as much as the new roles we choose as against the ones hitherto ascribed on us does not constitute nuisance to the society, causes social disorder or anarchy, our self identity is thus, a worthy one. Restraints by family values, religious ordinances, government policies, ideologies and laws will determine how the individual is able to express the ‘self’. In Western democracies, self identity is based on choice as it is with the formation of attitude, although majority of what individuals choose still largely depends on the value for individual freedom, and racial groupings.