Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lecture 2: Societal Reactions to Deviants

Lecture 2: Societal Reactions to Deviants
Deviant Survival Guide
Copyright 2006 by drewkitty

In my last essay, I took a stab at defining deviance. Highlights: deviance is defined by society generally, is pretty much independent of the facts (for example, smokers are becoming deviant, a fascinating process to watch), and changes over time. I also discussed how deviants are created and molded by labeling them as such. (Hint: one could reduce deviance by refusing to apply labels -- and political correctness ran around changing tags in the deviant dressing room, while creating more tags.)

Since this is "survival for deviants," what is more interesting to us is . . . oops, got deviated, time to escape and evade.

Never mind. What is more interesting is the various ways in which society attempts to enforce its boundaries against deviant behavior and lifestyles.

Ever noticed that the rich have a limited pass when it comes to odd and bizarre behavior? It's called being "eccentric" and you can be as eccentric as you want until the cash runs out.

Conversely, the poor are not allowed to be odd, even when it is in their own best interest, if they want to get any help from anyone else to stop being poor. In order for poor people to get help from the middle class, they have to enter middle-class stealth mode. (The people who administer welfare are lower-middle-class themselves, and uneasy about it, so the hurdles they create for the worthy poor to jump are too high. Filling out the average form for public assistance is worse than doing your own 1040 -- in some cases, it's not cost effective for the average poor person to try. Although it is still cost-effective for the welfare cheats.)

I am reminded of when my introduction to criminology instructor gathered the teaching assistants (all six of us) and asserted, "I see that you are all in uniform today. Good." We were shocked and appalled -- what did he mean, uniform? we're brilliant rebels, damn it! -- until one of us noticed that all six of us, male and female, were wearing blue jeans. He was right.

Social control is a thesis in sociology that everyone would be deviant and/or evil unless there were powerful social forces at work that kept us in check. It has been largely disproven, as there are many other variables at work: most people are innately good, many people are conformists and/or lemmings, standardization is economically efficient and produces social good, c
haos theory suggests that accidental parallelism is quite common, etc.

By far, the most powerful form of social control is informal. This can be carved into three rough categories: people you care about, people you don't care about, and the almighty News Media (this generation's God with feet of clay.)

Informal social control is when some stranger on the bus tells you that purple hair is icky; your mom suggests that you should dye your hair another color; and you never see purple hair on the television except briefly on the dorky character during the sitcom who is trying to look cool.

This is in sharp contrast to formal social control (your boss telling you to lose the hair or lose the job), which will be covered on Thursday.

Women are well aware of the awesome power of informal social control. The average woman is so immersed in the system of female repression in this country that it takes quite a bit to step back and notice some really obvious things:

-- 80% of women think that they are of above-average weight.
-- Over half of women cannot buy clothes that fit them in the average shopping mall.
-- The purpose of women's magazines is to make women think they can't get laid without major industrial help from the fashion industry, when anyone knows that most women can get laid by whistling and saying "Yo."
-- Gender discrimination is largely the product of women oppressing other women, starting with mothers and ending up in the workplace. (Hint: if women stood in solidarity, the glass ceiling would have shattered about a decade ago.)
-- Even though women-only cable networks make a truckload of money, there are only a handful of them, and most of the advertisers are idiots.
-- Strong women abound in real life. They are incredibly rare in all forms of media, and have major character flaws when they appear.

I should add as an aside that I was kicked out of my Feminism in American History class in college for the crime of being one of two males in a class of 120. They passed me with a B on the condition that I did not attend lecture. "Andrea [Kitty]" did get an A on the final, however.

Funny that.

Men think that they are less influenced by informal social control. They are wrong. How many men can break the following social taboos:

-- a guy asking for directions
-- social hugs in mundane settings
-- making small talk without flirting
-- buying feminine hygiene products without embarrassment

Often, informal social control consists of making the accepted path easier than the unacceptable paths. One must constantly "swim upstream" in time and energy to be different, so why not relax and go with the flow? The resolve to be different is worn away by little comments from strangers, by nagging from friends and family and co-workers, from the media with its subtle-and-not-so-subtle messages that "you are different, different is bad, Amerika is united, responsible disagreement is OK (if we get to define irresponsible.")

We do not have free speech in America. Did that statement surprise you? Did it anger you? Good. There's a reason.

It is taboo to say that we don't have free speech in America. That's one of the ways in which our free speech is limited.

Don't believe me? Just try to run an ad during the Super Bowl, if you're -- or just about any policy or political ad on National Cinema Network. Or on your (formerly local) Clear Channel radio station. Or write an opinion piece for a major metropolitan newspaper. If you dig enough (and the great thing about the Net is that you can), you can find "content guidelines" that lay out in detail what you are NOT ALLOWED TO SAY.

Now, deviants are free to hang out in their little groups and make up whatever perverted rituals suit their fancy, form their own twisted communities, and basically do their own thing. As long as no one finds out. This allows the most important taboo -- the illusion of normalcy -- to persist.

As sociologists have pointed out, THERE IS NO NORMAL. But the illusion of normalcy allows a lot of interesting things to happen:

-- it allows a centralized group to define normal
-- it allows a lot of money to be made selling "normalizing" products -- ranging from makeup through cosmetic surgery to skin "whiteners" for black people (really!)
-- it allows deviants to think that they have to hide in corners or isolated communities, even when they are 10-15% of the population (gays) or even 50% of the population (women)
-- last but not least, it allows small groups of powerful but deviant people to push their views on the entire society, and make us even pay for the privilege

So even when you're abnormal, and you know it, society looks for ways to smack you with a trout for the unforgiveable sin of being publicly abnormal. Secretly, many of them are afraid of being outed themselves. There's no gay basher like a secret homophile.

In other words, it's not your weirdness that is getting you into trouble -- it is your defiance of society's stance that there is no weirdness, nothing to see here, move along.

This immediately suggests two implications for deviant survival:

1) it is very useful to be able to go into "stealth mode" with one's deviance -- this isn't a sell-out, but a survival skill

2) when you choose to depart from stealth mode, you need to be ready to protect yourself (emotionally, spiritually, even physically) from those who would take objection

You may also have noticed by now that deviance in one dimension is often assumed to be deviance in several dimensions. Gay men are presumed (on little evidence) to be potential child molesters.

So your minor deviance may be mistaken for severe deviance and trigger sanctions accordingly.

One may also be the simple victim of mistaken identity.

(I am thinking of the poor Sikh beaten by rednecks who didn't realize that turban-wearing Sikhs have been victims of Muslim fanatics since before the Confederacy was a bad idea in plantation owners' heads.)

Last but not least, any society is full of predators looking to eat the weak (or at least, steal their money). Deviants are weak. So the predators go after deviants. This is one reason why prostitutes get beaten and robbed (and raped). What are they to do, call the cops? In sober fact, criminalizing a behavior is tantamount to saying that it's OK for the criminal predators to victimize anyone who engages in that behavior. Scary, ain't it.

This is also why crossdressing men can't find a damn thing that fits in their size without paying $$$ for overpriced junk, why there are very few good porn videos and even fewer premium-quality vibrators (although there are a lot that cost $100 and up), why mainstream hair dyes have less problems than those in weird colors . . . both the economics of scale and the realization that "there is no competition, so I can sell whatever crap I want" cause this.

So much for the informal nature of social control over deviance. The next lecture will discuss those kinky perverts who wear leather and big black rods and handcuffs -- and can and will beat your ass.

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