December 18, 2005
Reading the labels
I was watching Starting Over the other day - you know, five women are picked to live in a house with life coaches and work through issues that would be dealt with at my house with either Chardonnay or Ben & Jerry's - and I was disturbed by the repeated use of labels. (I understand you being disturbed at my admission of watching Starting Over to begin with, but that's a topic for an entirely separate post).

"I was raised by a bipolar mother." I was immediately taken aback by the finality of this statement; it was as if this term alone defined the individual to whom she was referring. Forget that Mom nurtured contest-winning tomatoes in a backyard garden, taught her to ski when Dad deemed it too dangerous, and hand-sewed sequins on a dress until 2 am so her daughter would feel special for her first prom. But the label is all we will ever know of her.

Read any articles about the death of Pat Morita? It was apparently the booze that killed him, you know, a fact to which the authors devoted 3/4 of the article that I read. For my Canadian readers, I'm pretty sure he was an actor, as well - something about Wax on, Wax off? I wonder if People magazine would have focused on his Wendy's Single with Cheese and Starbucks Frappacino (with whip!) consumption should the cause of death been heart disease.

Less embarrassing is my obsession with true crime, a genre that tends to fall into the very same quicksand. Victims are strippers or drug addicts or otherwise undesirable. If they are PTA Moms, you hear about it down to the very last detail - how they made snow cones from actual atmospheric precipitation and subbed on occasion for Mother Theresa at the orphanage. Women who shop at Talbots should never be the victims of violent crimes.

Bigot. ADHD. Hysterical. I wonder if this makes us feel better somehow. Hateful. Schizophrenic. Disturbed. Assigning labels to others allows us to place people into categories of which we would never be a part.

I regret casting out a college friend based on high-school perceptions of her. I went through a stage of adolescent rage toward my mother in which I said things I still wish I could take back. And yes, I even have 1989 photo documentation of myself wearing a Coca-Cola sweatshirt out in public. I'd hate for some of my lesser moments to define me on a headstone or on a reality show in the future.


Blogger MemeStream said...

Promise. But I may not be asked. ;)

Blogger NARDAC said...

Nobody has any time anymore, except to talk about their problems with other people. We'd all have a better time if reality tv just stopped. But, I guess blogs are kinda the same way. I'll just pop back into my universe now, where there's a chorus of pigs doing barbershop improvs of The Magic Flute for old French dames wearing dresses made of red credit cards, and getting fanned by Egyptian older men with green leather chastity belts... oops... overshare.

Yeah, labels are bad. But, who really knew Pat anyways?

Blogger Danielle said...

Indulging in Ben & Jerry's and Chrdonnay while lounging on the couch watching Starting Over sounds like good therapy to me!

Yup, I'm with danielle. You just dissolve some Zoloft into it, and you're good to go.

Blogger MKD said...

I love labels!

I prefer Jewiehomobipolarack. It just has that ring to it.

Blogger Lulu said...

No matter what labels are bandied about in regards to me, all I have to do is watch an episode of Starting Over and I feel like a champion.

Blogger Sizzle said...

"actual atmospheric precipitation"

that kills me.

(you are totally right about all that other stuff. i just wanted to talk about snow cones some more.)

:) sizz

Blogger yournamehere said...

I divide people into four categories:

Total and complete douchebag
Mostly douchebag
Partially douchebag

I myself am partially douchebag. I'm working on it.

Blogger missbhavens said...

Labels. Can't live with 'em, can't stop using 'em. At work, no matter how hard I try to always refer to my pt. by name to other staff, by 6 am she all too frequently degrades to "Room 4" or "The hysterectomy" or "the aplastic anemia lady" or "4th degree tear gal". Also used a lot is "that crazy woman".

I hate myself.

(oh, I had one of those coca-cola faux-Benetton rugby jerseys because I couldn't afford a REAL bright blue & white Benetton rugby jersey. I actually could only wear it on weekends because if I wore it to school it would be too embarassing. It was so desperate).

Blogger Amber said...

I label people. I can't help it. I say that I do it because it helps people in my life remember who I'm talking about without my having to go into backstory every time. But I also do it because I like to think of the best possible label for someone. If someone were to label me, there would definitely be something in there about wine. And I would be just fine with that.

Have a GREAT mystery vacation!!

Blogger NotCarrie said...

Ha I like the douchebage labeling system;)

Blogger Finn said...

How would we know who to make fun of if we didn't label others?

My labeling system is simple, to the point and effective:

Everyone else

Have a fab vacation!

Blogger Megarita said...

I tend to label based on the Oscar Wilde dichtomoy of Charming or Tedious. I am obviously the former. :)

Anonymous Sanora said...

Oh Kris, you hit it on the head with
"Assigning labels to others allows us to place people into categories of which we would never be a part."
That's it exactly, we're safe... thank you for writing a great post today and you're right, we have way too many layers to cover with a single label.

Blogger Egan said...

I feel it is my duty to correct a misspelling. Starbucks Frappuccino™. Yep, my wife works there. Is there something wrong with whip cream by the way? Call me a sweettooth if you must. That's a label I can live up to.

Blogger A Unique Alias said...

Labels help us defend ourselves. Whoo for labels! Ladles, on the other hand, are just deformed spoons that help no one with nothin', never.

Blogger Jackie said...

Great post. It is too bad that we reduce otherwise (mostly) good people to labels.

Blogger Cheryl said...

I think people think using labels like that somehow simplifies things and makes it easier, but that is ridiculous because as you said, this is so much more going on with a person, in the world. People are too complex to be simplified.

Blogger LBseahag said...

I like label whores best!

Blogger JordanBaker said...

But if I don't label people, I might actually have to try and understand and value them as individuals.

That's too hard.

Well said.
Mark and I had a similar conversation this weekend. He always talks about what a lousy dad he has... but then out it came that his dad used to go to Indian Guides with him and they'd build box cars... and theirs would always win. And it made me realize the same thing you just wrote about -- that no one can be defined in one adjective.

Blogger JJ said...

True, true, and true but I've been in the unfortunate position of watching one of my daughter's friends grow up with the bizarre personality swings and acute paranoia of a bi-polar mother and I have to believe that that will be the one defining attribute of her childhood.

Blogger mrsmogul said...

I'm wearing a Coca Cola shirt right now!! HEHE

I'm actually A pepsi girl

Blogger Me said...

May Peace
Hope and Love
be with you
and Always

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous Jorge said...

We need to apply labels.
It seems to be what we do as a species.
Interestingly enough, this need is cross-cultural.

I have already labelled you as awesome so I have fallen into the trap already.

Blogger Bridget Jones said...

Labels and judgements in general suck big time.

Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Pat Morita died? That sucks. He was awesome.

I'd like to see him b*tch slap Claude Balletboy Van Damme. I guess it's too late now. Will miss you Pat.

Speaking of Ben and Jerry's, got New York Super Fudge Chunk in the freezer. Got salmon cooked with butter, rice, and Fuji apples. Hopefully my buddy will make a stiff drink too. If so, it would be a perfect evening if it weren't for the Packers looking like a !@#$%^& college team. Crap!

Blogger Keith said...

Does wearing my way-too-small, white "Choose Life" t-shirt from high school label me as a right winger or just gay for George Michael? I can't find my "Frankie Says RELAX" tee.

Blogger Lefty said...

Too often we are simply defined by our actions - generally we tend to focus on the negative ones. All of us have done things in our past that we are not proud of. I guess the trick is to offset the yin with a little yang: "Lefty may have been a drunk but he was sure nice to charities." I could live with that.

Blogger SugarHigh said...

love the post.
i think the only serious label i ever put on anyone is my ex who I will forever refer to as "the asshole". i guess you could refer to this as a title or name calling, but if I had my way the man would have the label "the asshole" permanently sewn onto his body as a warning label to anyone who gets close to him.
other then that, i totally agree with you. ;)

Blogger Aimée said...

perfectly stated, dear friend.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Life qupte that I like "I am not my sister's keeper, I am mysister. To see more of my life quotes and dish on Starting Over visit me at ##

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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