I’ve been thinking about some stuff recently. It’s sort of interesting, but hardly very original. Stick around, though – this will likely anger or confuse you.
I work in Vodafone now, which as you may know is a nest of fouls. My job so far has required me to stand at the door and apprehend all comers for the purposes of selling them a Nokia N95. This means I see a lot of people per day. Some of them are hilarious. Here’s some examples:
The utterly punked-up guy who had those weird black plastic hoop ear piercings . . . but these ones were at least four inches across. There was a hole through each earlobe that was four inches
wide. You could see the skin stretched into a twanging fibre. Disgusting, but amusing.
The UberSloane with trousers that had virtually no legs; there was the belt, then a kind of single trouser leg that ended in the flies around six inches from the ground and truncated legs. He walked like he had his ankles strapped together. Also ridiculous.
The girl with so much metal in her face that it was frankly terrifying.
The hasidic jew with the big black hat, black suit and such, beard, little weird hair thing down by his cheek . . . it was raining, and when I saw him going past the other way a little later he’d put a kind of plastic shower cap thing on his hat, to prevent it from getting wet. He looked like an idiot.
This gets contentious, doesn’t it? Because even if it’s not polite, there is no real taboo against thinking people from social groupings who adopt specific stylistic motifs – like goths, emos, punks etc – look funny or just stupid. I know a lot of people think I look stupid, what with the long hair, long black coat, etc. You might think twice about going to bunch of goths and asking them why they can call themselves individuals rejecting the norms of society when all the stuff they wear is bought from goth shops . . . but you could still say it.
So I could point out to a colleague “look at that punk! Look at his ears!” and we’d all laugh, because deep down we’ve become slowly revolving embers of hate, entombed by Vodafone. But I would certainly think twice about saying “look at that Jew! Look at his hat! It’s fucking ridiculous!” because I would get accused of religious intolerance and probably labelled as an anti-semite.
There is an odd and incomprehensible difference between fashions adopted for personal reasons, and fashions adopted for religious reasons. As far as I’m concerned the two are the same. I dress the way I do because I like the way it looks and it identifies me, to some extent, as a member of the “rock” sub-strata of society. Emos, goths, punks, chavs all have their own unique signifiers. They might object to being labelled in the way I just did, but most outside observers would concur that a goth is a goth. And they dress in a certain way purely out of personal belief; belief that it looks good (or bad), that it makes a statement, that it identifies them . . . whatever. If I think someone looks stupid because of that, it’s partially because of an ideological bias (ie, I think they’re whining posers) but mainly because - purely on aesthetic grounds – the way they look clashes with my own personal choice in style.
So why do the trappings of outward religious belief – all the multi-faceted arrangements of jewellery, makeup, clothes, hair – somehow become untouchable when they are merely outward manifestations of exactly the same kind of belief exhibited by a goth? The belief that these exterior physical attributes publicly advertise you as belonging to a specific group, secular or otherwise, and as such someone who has their own developed system of beliefs, morals and ideologies. It’s no different. One is secular, one is religious. Both just personal perspectives.
And yet you can find countless examples of outrage when the restriction of religious ornamentation or affectation is introduced in the workplace or schools. Because to insist that a christian take off their crucifix, or a jew shave his payoth, or a muslim woman remove her birka . . . that becomes religious intolerance, the suppression of someone’s right to express their religious convictions. Religious convictions that are nothing more than a personal and subjective bundling of beliefs and notions.
If you are in a place of work or education, those in charge have the right – or should do – to control how their underlings dress. I wish I could wear my hair down at work, but I have to tie it back; that’s fair enough. If I was asked not to wear my various jewellery, I wouldn’t. Likewise in a school, boys are discouraged from growing their hair too long; there are generally dress codes set up to maintain a homogenous image of decency and smartness.
At what point it became religious intolerance to ask your employee\pupil to dress appropriately, I don’t know. But religious intolerance it is. The fact that these matters are often based on aesthetic or social considerations (like Jack Straw wanting some of his muslim women employees not to cover their faces as it potentially alienated constituents) is ignored, bulldozed by the thudding juggernaut of "OH FUCKS IT'S RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE"
If you can find a goth amusing because of his adopted stylistic tropes, you can find a jew amusing for the same reason. There should be no distinction at all between styles adopted out of a secular ethos and styles adopted out of a religious ethos. I’m intolerant to all religions, but only on the grounds of their faith; my amusement at the way some of these people dress has nothing to do with the religious connotations. Just because it looks stupid, sometimes.
See this guy? I think he looks pretty stupid.
Likewise this guy. Which is me, in case you didn't know.
And I think this guy does as well . . . but instantly, my criticism takes on a darker form. Since everyone will assume religious intolerance based on dress codes rather than on belief, which is how I base my intolerances.
These guys can dress how they like, but I'll still giggle.