On the problem of popularity
Perhaps it ought to be UNpopularity. I’m not quite sure. But a blog post needs a title and that will do well enough.
School days saw the problem rise first in most of our lives; hands up if you were the last or almost the last picked for teams? That was me, anyway. I don’t think anyone disliked me terribly much, but when it came to teams, there weren’t many who wanted me on their team. At least not until it became apparent (in sixth form) that I was an unerring attractant for balls. Get your mind out of the gutter; we are talking sports here. Baseballs, rounders balls, hockey balls. You name it, it smacked me hard somewhere on my body and I usually caught it as it fell in a sort of shocked reflex. Or in the case of hockey balls, deflected it either with stick or kickers. I got put in goal on the basis that I took up more of the goalmouth than anyone else, but I turned out to be quite a good goalie. It took till I was sixteen or so for my peers to spot that I got hurt a lot because the ball seemed to veer round specially to hit me; long term pattern recognition is not generally something teens tend to focus on. Regardless, I spent most of my school days feeling a bit left out and rejected.
Popularity among little girls is a strange thing and is based on attributes and skills I found baffling. What you wear, how you have your hair, having the right shoes (Start-rite or Clarkes didn’t cut it) and also having the right friends. But what I noticed was that the desire to be with the in-crowd skewed a lot of things. At junior school (8-11 years for non UK readers) there was a girl in my class called Lynn. Lynn was a very pretty girl with two sisters who all lived on a farm in the wilds of Cambridgeshire. The novelty of her living on a farm and her prettiness were two of the things that made her the Most Popular Girl in the Class. Other than that, I could see no reason why most of the other girls flocked to be her bestie. She wasn’t particularly kind, or clever or talented. But everyone somehow believed she was. Everyone copied the way she did things; they tried to dress like her and have their hair done the same way. She was supposed to be good at art; in fact, she’d probably have made a good cartoonist because she’d figured out a way to draw human figures quickly and accurately so that you could reproduce the same features over and over again. She was good enough to show me the method once and I used it for a while until my teacher Miss Barnes had a quiet word with me. “Why have you started drawing like Lynn?” she asked. I don’t remember what I said but I believe it was something in praise of how Lynn drew human figures. “Don’t,” she said briskly. “Draw your own way; be who you are. Your drawings are a lot better than hers.”
That’s the thing about that type of popularity: it changes how people do things, and most of the time we are unaware of it. We get suckered into an unconscious acceptance that if we do it THAT way, we’ll be in the popular camp. We’ll be besties with the most popular girl (or boy) and we’ll harvest all the benefits of that association. It is, of course, a big fat lie.
Recently my husband’s blog was nominated for a proper blog award, with award ceremony and all the trimmings. He was mildly pleased if puzzled. I voted for his blog (and yes, I did go and look at all the other nominations because I wasn’t just voting for him because he’s my husband) and I shared the call for votes once or twice. He was sent two tickets for the ceremony and gave them away because we were away at the time. Frankly, he wasn’t terribly interested. It meant very little to him. When we got back I had an email about the awards; he’d been named highly commended. I have no idea how the contest was run but usually with these things it’s about votes. So the blogs were judged not on their quality but on the number of people who had voted. I’ve seen plenty of this sort of thing for books, for book covers, authors etc and it seems to me that those who win are often those with the greatest ability to mobilise those around them to vote for them.
Being popular seems to create its own magnetic field, drawing in yet more acolytes. I’m not sure I’d ever want acolytes, to be honest, because there’s a cost to it. Time, energy, creative fizz all go into maintaining the persona that people are drawn to. That means less of all those things left to actually do something worthy of acclaim.
I don’t know what happened to Lynn. In our final year of junior school something went wrong between her parents and they split up, so she and her sisters moved away from the farm and left the area. I hope she became a cartoonist.