On Being Weird

A common refrain from the media is the nebulous directive for people “to be weird”. What does this mean, exactly, and why does it ultimately ring hollow?

It’s been the mantra for many Hot Topic type businesses catering to outsiders. It’s been declared in youth and young adult oriented television programming. It’s the premise of EVERY TIM BURTON MOVIE EVER. Music artists Imagine Dragons, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, and even tousled moppet Ed Sheeran have all implored their fans to “be weird”. It’s a statement that seems genuine, and there’s no casting aspersion on their noble intentions. It’s coming from a good place and they mean well. It’s a fruitless endeavour though, and to deconstruct that you first have to get to the root of…

…what is “weird”?

Being weird doesn’t automatically make someone a shining beacon of inspiration; it can be exactly the opposite! Calling someone a weirdo can be an endearing term of affection towards a friend or romantic partner with quirks. But in other scenarios it can be flipped right around and used on, you know, creeps and ghouls. There’s negative connotations to that label and they range from harmless eccentricities to outright lewd behaviour. Remember, GG Allin was straight up real weird- and he ate his own poop.

But come on, clearly this isn’t the context that’s implied by the media and celebs. Their word choice doesn’t help though.

Let’s quit swirling the drain and finally get to the main point here. When all these people and outlets tell you to “be weird”, it’s virtually the same thing as other motivational mantras such as “be yourself” and “be unique”, only packaged slightly differently.

It’s shorthand for “be an original, interesting, person”.

Here’s the thing though- you can’t just start being “weird” in that specific way that is being sold here. Yeah sure you can dress up weird and do hip artsy stuff but that still leaves you virtually unchanged. Being “weird” isn’t as easy as becoming a quirky hipster. That’s benign, but there’s probably going to be some secondhand embarrassment if it’s forced. The whole socially awkward persona might be sell on the screen, but it can be kinda uncomfortable in real life. Just try saying “lul so random penguin pancake” at a party and see if you get adulated for your contribution to the conversation.

Being “weird”, as sold by mass media, is a combination of a whole variety of traits, or a mix-n-matched assortment of them. It’s intelligence, charisma, innovation, artistic aptitude, creativity and a hundred other things. It also benefits from a great deal of self-awareness, which is one of the least championed virtues and should be the most.

Simply put, this celebrity lauded package of real weirdness is not something you can just be. It’s like saying “be strong” or “be smart”. You can learn aspects of it, you can grow and develop and be more original, but it’s like any other inherited genetic trait. Some of it is just natural and can’t be learned. It’s either in you or it isn’t.

W O W. P R E T E N T I O U S.

Who am I to say all this!? Some sort of high arbiter of “weirdness”, sneering at the “normies” who are appropriating “weird culture”?!

Yeah maybe I am a little. But in a good way.

A few years back Charlie Kaufman released a wonderful, albeit bleak, movie called Anomalisa. It wasn’t really about too much, other than the life of a “weird” man. One of the main ideas to glean from it being “good people are extremely rare in life, so hold on to any happiness you find.” It ended on a fairly sad note, but the real lesson should have been something like:

Yeah for real, I am countering an intellectual Kaufman movie with inspirational internet JPEGS. Maybe I’ll also throw in a little supervillain philosophy courtesy of Syndrome from The Incredibles: “If everyone’s special, no one’s special!”.

It doesn’t have to be as dramatic or polarized as that; there’s clearly no good or bad here. The fact is that being a unique, “weird” person is not some sort of badge of honour, it’s simply an inherent part of someone’s brain chemistry. It’s facetious for the media to try and create a commodity out of that part of human nature. TV can’t all be David Lynch or else NBC’s sitcom line-up would certainly be…something else.

It’s important to be confident with who you are and comfortable with your own personality (unless you have a rotten one, in which case get that checked). It’s also important to know who you aren’t. So when Katy Perry tells you to bust out and be a cool-freak, but you’re not, then don’t be. If you are weird, go for it! Only you know inside who you are. Don’t buy into the Tim Burton idea that you have to be wacky & wild or else you’re a miser. Be smart or jacked or helpful or if you’re blessed with all of those then be everything. Or just be a regular citizen. Own your normalcy. The universe needs a little bit of everyone in order to make sense.