Let’s hear it for the band! Scream if you want to go faster! Hands up if you hate forced participation!
Well, the last one on that list is the only one I think I would engage with. And even then, begrudgingly. Does anyone else actually despise forced participation? I don’t know what it is about it, but as soon as someone asks me to do something as part of a group, I immediately want to do the opposite of what I’m told.
The phrase ‘You’re not my supervisor’ is said in jest a lot in my life.
It got me into (understandably) a lot of trouble at school, as forced participation is kinda their whole schtick after all. I mean, if you break it all down and it was up to me there would be the most threadbare class schedule you can imagine. PE would just be a big game of Tag (you can really run anywhere you like or not at all as the freedom of choice remains), the only lessons would be art classes, and everyday would be Mufti day – but within that if you want to wear your uniform, go for it. Yes, clearly no one would actually learn anything majorly useful, save the best attire to disguise paint stains and sweat patches.
It carried on after school, to be honest. I found music when I chose to find it. Pop charts were a list of music to ignore until everyone else was bored with it. I went majorly into a weird crate-digging mentality, and the more the obscure the better. Although hugely expensive as Ninja Tune CDs were, who else my age was listening to Kid Koala? I was clearly the coolest person you knew.
Even when I did find a band or DJ that was ‘acceptable’, if I saw them at a gig I’d face the other way. I was there to listen to the music and dance with my friends, so I didn’t need to stare in awe at whomever it was – like some kind of god who has allowed us to view Them but for a brief moment. That guy’s probably called Steve and goes to Rowan’s bowling alley in Finsbury Park just like the rest of us.
I guess you understand my level of anti-participation now. It’s only been in later years that I’ve tried to break this pointless wall down. Imagine feeling this way and being at an esports event? It’s just stupid. I have overcome that, to the point where I lost my voice shouting at last year’s Gran Turismo World Finals. My raspy tone for the rest of the week I felt rather smug about, as if I’d just broken a life-long curse of some kind.
I mean, I thought I’d broken it.
Until Animal Crossing.
I played the last game, I loved it. But suddenly as we reached peak AC…
I stepped back. Decided I wasn’t going to play the game just because everyone else was. The more popular it became the less I wanted to play it.
Day after day my feed was consumed with jovial debates about just how Machiavellian Tom Nook is and just what his endgame must be. Problems with weird unsightly neighbours and Wall Street level stock market insider-trading conversations.
No, Nook. I will not be suckered in like those suckers all being suckered into that cute island having lovely times but NO FREE WILL.
And as the days passed, slowly I felt regret.
Yes, everyone was on the bandwagon being led around like a homogenous cute island-dwelling blob. But they looked like they’re having so much fun! At least they had embraced a community spirit. To be part of something. Even if it’s just for a moment.
I thought back to growing up and some of the decisions I made about my life. To always strive to be different is, honestly, exhausting. And there is so much joy that you end up missing out on.
I remember being really into Green Day in my pre-teens. I remember reading a letter written to a music mag, some arsey old-timer was bemoaning how Green Day ‘wasn’t proper punk’ and I thought to myself: Yes, they’re right. I shouldn’t listen to that rubbish anymore. So, I stopped.
Maybe ten-ish years later I remember going to art college and on the first day a guy was wearing a Green Day T-shirt and I was struck by how I had loved this band so much and stopped listening to them because of some stupid gatekeepery crap I’d read. I dug out my old music that night and rediscovered my love for this band. I bought new music of theirs and realised how idiotic I had been to give up on something that gave me joy – just to be different. Just to go against the flow.
You know what’s tiring? Swimming against the current all your life. Sometimes to relax into life you have to let it take you somewhere. Even if you have a lot of people along for the ride, at least you have company. At least you are part of something. A community, a moment, a game, a scene – whatever that is.
We can all look down our noses at people getting swept up in things. But they’re noses pressed against the glass. We’re peering into a fun place we are not partaking in. And if we are so fixated with what they’re doing to judge them – maybe that’s because we are sad we’re missing out. But something silly inside of us is stopping us getting involved.
Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, follow wherever your passion is. Even if it’s the dorkiest, nerdiest kingdom you wanna jump into – put on your swimmers, hold your nose and dive right in. Life’s too short to pretend to be who you’re not. Embrace who you are – whatever version you want to be. Guaranteed there’s a bunch of other people who’ll be there with you. A lot of them apparently trying to shift a bunch of turnips.