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Conglomeration of Cool

It seems funny how a popular soft drink is advertised with an emphasis that "image is nothing," therefore one should obey their thirst. Regardless of what the advertisement says literally, it still conveys an image, and makes us think of that soft drink when we hear that saying. The image it conveys is one of a person who, upon drinking this soft drink, is not conforming to the rites of passage for popular and "in" products, making this person appear to be a different type of "cool." However one may think of it, an image is produced. Maybe images are really nothing at all, or are everything, at least, that is what I thought while growing up.

Advertisements that produce images can be found everywhere. When I was growing up, the advertisements that I can remember which affected me most were those found in music, commercials, and in advertisements (for example in magazines.) When I was five, my family moved into our second "low income section 8" housing complex. At the time, I thought it was great, and had no idea that some people lived better than us. There were so many kids to play with, and all though there was no playground, it was as if we had this huge backyard. My parents were always at work, my mom worked two jobs, because my dad was still in school, and they wanted to send me to this "nice" school a few blocks away.

My first day of kindergarten was horrifying, and not just because my dad dropped me off and then left. It was here that I have my first memories of popular culture, and how I didn't own any relics of it. My shoes looked like the boys shoes. My book bag wasn't Holly Hobby or Sesame Street, or anything of the sort. I remember I didn't fit in with the girls, and all the kids looked the same. They were all white, and all had in some form similar icons of popular culture. The older I got, the more I wanted to become assimilated.

When I was ten, we moved out of the apartment complex and into our first house. This is around the time I really felt like image either made or broke you. My new best friend was into Madonna, and soon enough she had me dressing up with her so we would look like Madonna wanna-be's. I collected every magazine that had Madonna in it, every tape, every soundtrack that she had even one song on, and any other material item I could get my hands on. By eighth grade, I had become obsessed with doing and saying all the "in" things, just so I could one day become accepted by the entire group of "cool" girls at school.

I clearly remember trying to get my lip gloss to look just like the girl on my favorite sitcom, "Who's the Boss." By the time I was twelve, luckily I had collected the pins of all the "cool" bands I would hear on the radio, and that were popular with the "in" crowd at my private Catholic school. I remember stealing money out of my father's wallet just so I could collect more icons of pop culture, and I even had the nerve to always want more, and I would beg and beg for the "Guess" jeans, and the "Converse All-Stars," with the justification that I needed them because Jenny, Alicia, and Courtnie all had them. By the end of eighth grade, I had finally been accepted in the group, and had finally perfected the big hair do's I so admired on television and in magazines. I remember feeling a sense of popularity and a sense of power.

The first day of high school was not much different from the first day of kindergarten. Only here, we were much more aware of why we chose to hang out with certain people. My little group of girls ( I went to an all girl private Catholic school) sized everyone up to decide who were going to be the "cool" people we hung out with. They had to wear their hair the same, like the same music, watch the same television shows, etc. Soon enough we had our clique and the strength of twelve cardboard cutouts.

We were so obsessed with image that we did not go anywhere or do much unless we had dressed ourselves up into the people that sported the latest fashions as dictated to us by television or print. We also had to carry the image so we would retain the "power" of getting attention from people of different schools, not even caring if the attention was good or bad, as long as we got noticed. Soon enough, we got involved with many different crowds, and got into many things considered a parent's worst nightmares. We started listening to music that we thought highlighted our "cool" and "tough" image. We started going to parties and hanging out with gang bangers, because, this added more to our image and got us more notoriety. In short, we did a lot of harmful and destructive things, which really got us nowhere.

After high school is when my two best friends and I realized just how destructive images can be, and decided to stop being so damn brainwashed by popular culture, and the real thing of importance is to retain your own identity. After all, why should we starve ourselves if we are hungry? Why should we listen to music we aren't sure we really like? Why should we dress up in the latest fashions every time we go out as if there was really someone to impress? Why should we hang out with people who were no good for us anyway?

When I moved to Chicago I realized that images do still exist, but in many forms. These forms can be very individualistic, as well as very pop culture. Just last week I was out with friends from high school and we got on the subject of how foolish we were in high school. The funny thing is, what ever happened to all those "cool" people? I realize now how superficial it all was, especially when I see people from high school whom I haven't seen since high school and they tell me "Damn...you've changed!" In a way they are right, but not just in appearance. Now I am a lot more open minded and not brainwashed by that one way street of pop culture. I realize people still are affected by and still carry images, and I realize I am probably still one of those people. However, I do realize now that it is up to us to let, or not let, these images take precedence in our "modern day" lives.

February 1999

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