Personality Type: American?
I’d like to preface this by saying, upon review, this is an extremely Sagittarian train of thought.
Hang in there.
I found myself on a long flight with a neighbor behind me who couldn’t seem to get comfortable for pretty much 6 hours. He seemed calm enough at first but as soon as his friend (girlfriend?) arrived, he turned into something like a nightmare.
His incessant banging on my seat was so bizarre (seeing as how he was actually not a child) I started to suspect it would be more exciting for his narrative if I turned around annoyed or upset.
It was like I’d validate this inauthentic“trouble maker” thing and it wasn’t that serious.
I turned around once during the entire flight and said simply “ could you please be more mindful?” to which he responded by apologizing profusely.
Ok, I thought, he don’t want no actual smoke.
The Brooklyn in me lies semi-dormant.
Sometimes we find ourselves (unwittingly) the audience of various impromptu pedestrian performances in our every day lives.
This phenomena is one we all know well. I’m actually surprised we don’t discuss it more.
It’s like those conversations that you feel pulled into against your will.
You know, those exchanges between people we don’t know that are purely designed for us to perceive them a certain way, except (plot twist) we don’t care and all we want to do is watch our Netflix downloads of K-Pop Explained and Brené Brown elaborating on vulnerability and shame.
What struck me was the restless passenger’s outbursts of rap lyrics and Billie Eilish - on which his travel companion joined in on “I’m a bad guy, duh!”.
I get it. Traveling is fun. Love those songs too!
Now it’s worth mentioning that I am suspicious of my own thoughts but my suspicions were confirmed when they started practicing southern accents during our descent and I heard our main perpetrator jokingly say “I’m American bro.”
There was something very interesting at play here.
I was bearing witness to a performance of a copy + paste American-ness.
You know that moment right after someone says, ok I’m about to do an Instagram story and everyone kinda turns it on?
Well, this was that, except there was no WiFi and it went on for hours.
What was even more interesting? Neither of them was American.
Now let’s put a pin in that for a second.
While my in flight neighbors slept, I enjoyed the time that knees knocking into my seat ceased for a bit and watched K-pop Explained.
In it, there was a moment when music as an export was discussed. A lightbulb moment that seems to have started some time around the early nineties in South Korea, eventually lead to the factory “idol” making machine that breeds top K-pop groups.
It’s big business.
Somewhere in the maze of my mind, this connected the reality I was sitting in front of to my own in experience as a creative in the country I call home.
We’re leaving America and behind me, are two non-Americans vacillating between performances of a typical influencer type American personality, a rapper and an angst filled American teen.
Then I think I had a lightbulb moment.
This is what the business of music sells everywhere- aspiration, identity.
It sells someone to be, a place to dream of being or living. It sells the promise of cool, and of access.
It sells this mirage of access by being easily recognizable, by entertainers who don’t play “against type” and by being easily imitable.
This ease relies on at least these two things: repetition and stereotypes.
This is all observation btw, I feel inclined to mention that. There’s absolutely zero judgement here.
My mind was blown because suddenly it occurred to me why certain artists (cough* especially black creatives) tend to be boxed in based on what their physical characteristics seem to represent based on generations of stereotypes.
My mind was suddenly making all these connections.
This has to be related to why when an American artist goes against type, it’s truly an uphill battle.
Globally there is a notion of your type as an American and nationally you’re essentially going toe to toe with centuries of stereotypes assigned to your physical traits.
At home and abroad it’s like hey do that thing, you know “the black” thing, “the rapper” thing, that “ghetto thing”, etc.
Party tricks in the so-called “game”.
We are assigned “our thing” and when we greet the world not performing our assignments, it’s hard for the general public to process and harder for them to connect.
In my own work, when I’ve presented conceptual work that I dream up and feel inspired to create, I’ve been called pretentious. News to me.
To be fair, I felt mostly supported but when the criticism came it was the modern version of calling a black person uppity.
Like, who do you think you are?
In the minds of some, I was “doing too much” or not “being real”.
What I think they really mean is, I’m not “acting black” enough. Jury’s still kinda out on what that means.
So, when I roll my eyes or code switch - those are supposed to be my things as a black girl, and in the global business of music these “bad girl”/“ghetto girl” affectations are satisfying and entertaining for people to observe and imitate. I have to earn the right to experiment with sound by first “playing my position”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m from Brooklyn pre-deep gentrification and that is part of my code, but it’s not my code in its entirety.
I think I’m starting to have a deeper understanding how it all works.
We really take it too personally for the most part. It’s beyond us, really.
Now, is this something to fight or a major key to use to our advantage?
I guess it’s all in how you interpret it.
Ok, the snack cart is coming back around.