21 November 2013Nonconformity
Nonconformity is failure or refusal to conform to a prevailing rule or practice, in other words it is going against the “norm” of society and listening to your heart on your ideas. The famous philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau used this idea as a main idea of their belief of transcendentalism. Transcendentalism was an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century which taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity. Since this movement, the ideas of transcendentalism have been reflected in literature, movies, and music. Dead Poets Society is a movie that reflects on this idea of transcendentalism and nonconformity. Many different urban musical artists have resonated with the same ideas. Ralph Emerson and Henry Thoreau created an idea of nonconformity and rebelling against societal conformity in order to seize the day and make life extraordinary, this is still demonstrated in movies such as Dead Poets Society, and also shown in urban music today. The Transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau were not the people that were worried about fitting in to society. They were the exact opposite. In his essay Civil Disobedience, Thoreau supported breaking the laws set by the government if one felt that they were morally unacceptable. Thoreau did exactly what he said he believed and refused to believe that slavery was right. He was pushed aside by many for his radical ideas, but he ignored the protests and stood up for what he believed in. The definition of non-conformity is considered a failure to conform. Thoreau sees this idea of “failure to conform” as a good thing because having the idea of nonconformity allows you to express your own ideas and opinions and not society influenced ideas and opinions. In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau says what he thinks about government, “Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves." (Thoreau 413). In Thoreau’s eyes government and society is something that in the end is bad for ones ideas and own mind. Emerson reflects this same idea of being your own person in his essay Self-Reliance. There is one main quote in this essay that sticks out to me as nonconformity; “envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.” (Emerson 391) When Emerson says “envy is ignorance” he is saying to be jealous of someone is stupid. Then when he says, that “imitation is suicide” he means trying to be someone you are not or being jealous of someone ruins one of the only things you have purely to yourself, that is your own mind. Both these famous philosophers used these ideas to seize the day and make life extraordinary in everything they did. Their writings are one of the prime examples of how they rebelled against societal conformity. In the movie, Dead Poets Society nonconformity is expressed through the character development of a group of teenage boys brought together at a prestigious boarding school called Welton. Welton is the symbolism of society in the plot. In the story, the boys adapt the term “Carpe Diem” from the new English teacher at the school named Mr. Keating. He is a teacher that is un-orthodox when it comes to his teaching methods. He uses the ideas of transcendentalism in his classroom, such as nonconformity. The term of “Carpe Diem” is Greek for “Seize the Day”. Mr. Keating teaches this to his class and a particular group of boys takes the idea and runs with it. They create a group in which they urge each other to go against society and make life extraordinary. The consequences come with the rebellions, but none worse than when Knox Overstreet one of the main boys in the group commits suicide. This final act of rebellion by this boy was not meant to be negative. The suicide was meant to show that Knox could no longer be the boy his father and Welton wanted him to be and he could no longer live with himself as not being his own person. The idea of Transcendentalism through nonconformity is shown today in a big way in music. Kid Cudi is an urban rap artist that uses these ideas in the way he makes his songs, and his lyrics. In the song, “Man On The Moon” he uses these nonconforming ideas to describe himself in high school as the smart kid with strong ideas and someone who wasn’t afraid to be himself, but because of this he faced ridicule and hate from the “popular” kids at his school. He is not the only artist that uses these ideas in their music. Another example of this nonconformity in rap/urban music today is a group called Odd Future. The main character of the group, Tyler, the Creator, produces mostly vulgar, loud, sometimes nonsensical music. The majority of Tyler's songs and Odd Future songs in general, are not played on any kind of radio stations. Most artists would take this as a sign of failure, however Odd Futures artist take this as a badge of success. Being considered unfit for radio listening, and being proud of it is one of their greatest examples of nonconformity. Tyler, the Creator even regularly raps about the importance of doing what you love and not giving into the pressures of society. The consequence of them being different is they are not as popular as other rappers, but they are okay with that because they know they are being their own person. Ralph Emerson and Henry Thoreau created an idea of nonconformity and rebelling against societal conformity in order to seize the day and make life extraordinary, this is still demonstrated in movies such as Dead Poets Society, and also shown in urban music today. This theme of nonconformity is even more valid today than it was back in the Transcendentalist era. Society has expanded more and people are pressured more to live up to certain life’s that just are not what they want to do. To those people I say “Carpe Diem”.