Rants & Essays

What Are You Supposed To Be?

By Jean Croix

"What are you supposed to be?" was the question the average-looking mundane man asked me while I was standing in line at KFC tonight. Being somewhat surprised that someone even spoke to me (it doesn't happen often, due to my intimidating demeanor, I suppose), I still managed a quick comeback:

"A damned weirdo - isn't it obvious?"

It didn't seem to be the reply he was expecting or even hoping for. Looking somewhat confused, he said, "Oh," and left with his dinner in hand. He seemed disappointed that I didn't attempt some longwinded explanation, and also that I didn't appear flustered by his big "confrontation." Verbal jujitsu is effective that way.

As I sat eating my dinner, I started to seriously ponder his question. Just what the hell am I supposed to be, from the perspective of J. Random Mundane?

I'm a bit of colorful (not literally) background to their otherwise drab and routine lives. Wouldn't it be that much more boring if everyone they encountered looked, acted, and spoke pretty much the same way they do? I'd imagine that's kind of how communist China is. An encounter with me provides their day with something memorable; they can say to themselves, "Oh yes, I remember last Wednesday. That was the night I saw that tall weird guy in KFC."

I'm an example. An example of the kind of person they don't want to be. I provide them with some concrete contrast to which they can measure themselves; a sort of zero-level benchmark for their personal morality meter. They can look at me and be thankful they're not weird like me; that their god made them and their family and their children good, wholesome people, and not some black-clad deviant who probably drinks blood and does drugs and worships Satan. Just by looking at me, they can feel superior, and this makes them feel good about themselves. They can pity me, and pray for my soul, and be all the better for it.

I'm a scapegoat. I, and those like me, embody everything that's wrong with the world these days, all rolled up into one convenient, evil-looking package. Drugs, violence, AIDS, moral decline - all the fault of people like me, and nothing to do with them. They're just the victims, the poor innocent citizens whose world I'm ruining.

I'm the villain. They're frightened of me; I might attack them at any moment. Or their children, or their spouse, or someone else they know. So they're cautious when they see me, wary of the crimes I'm going to commit, of the killing spree I'm about to go on. They don't stop to notice that most such crimes are perpetrated by people who look a lot more like them than like me. When the evening news interviews the killer's neighbors, they rarely say, "He always wore black, listened to strange music, and was really peculiar." It's always, "He was so nice and quiet. We never suspected he could ever do something like this. He seemed so normal."

So, Mr. Flannel-n-jeans, that might not be what I'm supposed to be, nor what I intended to be, but that's what I am to you. I'm more purposeful than you even realize.