Where do they all come from? All the naughty people, where do they all belong? Somehow a conversation about cartoons collided with an external house inspection and set me on a mental path to pondering the purpose of basic social norms.
My friend was talking about the animated Barbie videos she watches with her daughter. I was curious about them, wondering what she personally got out of watching them. She said that they contained good values and usually had a morality lesson. I compared it to Shaun the Sheep, one of my own favourites. He’s usually naughty, we agreed. That’s why he’s so funny and popular, my friend said. That hadn’t occurred to me before.
“We buy things we don’t want with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like,” goes the social media post in my newsfeed. Yeah, yeah, I think. I guess that’s why I don’t invite people inside my home, because I’m not able to live up to that meme. I can’t and I won’t conform to that norm. It’s a source of both pride and shame. Hmm. Why shame, I wonder. I guess my middle class capitalist indoctrination was strong and is reinforced by the popular media I choose to keep paying attention to.
And it’s expected by my landlords. This is social housing, after all. They know I’m not rich, so aren’t expecting a backyard jacuzzi or expensive statuary, but they do expect neatness and tidiness. My nemeses. I’m in agreement with Bill Mollison, one of our late Permaculture elders, that neatness and tidiness are not ecologically sound. They are merely a Western social norm. And as a tenant, I am required to conform.
As I pull out plants that attract beneficial insects, for the crime of self-seeding in the ‘wrong’ place, I rant about social norms and values and mindless conformity. I don’t want to be the squeaky wheel that cops the grease on this occasion, yet I am feeling stressed by our clash of values. I’m reflecting on how we all try to keep each other in line. On the nature of crime. Naughtiness.
Shaun is funny. If this were Shaun’s garden, this scene would be funny.
This set me thinking about this past year or so, and the social pressures associated with that blasted virus. How we have often felt socially connected and influenced, despite distancing. Many of us (not all) felt the need to keep in touch and reinforce social bonds and social norms. I wondered how those who lived through the Spanish Flu, one hundred years ago, navigated those challenges. (Unprecedented times? BS!)
I thought about C19 wins and fails. Masks that people (still) wear under their noses, if at all. Social media posts about conspiracies that were allowed to proliferate, because Free Speech trumps defendable facts. Grass roots care organisers, random acts of kindness, hand sanitiser at almost every turn, and the front line staff who suffer the brunt of customer aggression (not OK!)
It made me reflect on basic social norms, the purpose of rules and how I usually take our acceptance of them or agreement with them for granted (until I transgress via my gender presentation, social awkwardness or my gardening style that is so out of keeping with my neighbours). What makes Shaun’s disruptive behaviour funny or the farmer’s confusion or anger funny? Could any of the Covid disruption be funny?
Could Shaun have been used in C19 social education campaigns? Could he have made it all funny? Could he have helped?
How did I get from my resentment of pointless tidiness to serious crime and the power of social pressure? I don’t know, but it’s one of the wonders of gardening.