Conformity in the Quest for Popularity
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Conformity in the Quest for Popularity
I became popular when I was nine years old, and I knew it. My father was the coach of the football team in Alto, Texas, and let me attend school where he worked. Usually, I had to go to the local school in my hometown, but for that year, I was allowed to attend school in a foreign district. Hailing from the larger town of Lufkin made me a "city-slicker," and because my dad was the football coach, I was considered especially manly. I did not contend with either charge, as both helped me in my quest for popularity.
Popularity is an interesting thing. It does not come upon you all at once; rather, it requires some time to work towards. There are little people you have to first befriend and then later belittle. That is just how the game works. There must be those who are in the in-group, and those in the out-group (Allport 40). Even to this day I remember the young man whom I sacrificed to make it to the top of the social ladder: Daryl Ragsdale.
We had been friends for some time before the day I offered him up to my friends as a token of my desire to conform. He knew me well enough to know what I liked most in the world. At that point in my life, it was the Sunday comics. Each paper has a different set, so I liked to read the funny pages from various publications in order to get a full grasp on the happenings of the illustrated universe. That day, Daryl brought me the comics from the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Allport states, "some in-group memberships have to be fought for" (36). So, on that day, Daryl stood with his hand outstretched offering this colorful extension of love and friendship, and his fight to gain membership into our elite band of popular fourth graders. To bring such a gift, he had to premeditate. He had to have been thinking about me. He had to seriously care. That gift was the substance of Daryl's desire to continue as my friend, and his concern for me as an individual.
I do not remember anybody in my in-group telling me any rules about conformity. According to the group-norm theory of prejudice, groups sometimes use subtle pressures to keep members in line (Allport 39). At the time, I felt that if I did not jettison Daryl, I could run the risk of losing several "friends." Without thinking much, I told Daryl that comics were for "babies." I remember my new friends breaking into a sing-song of "Baby! Baby! Comics are for babies!" I am almost certain that I could see tears welling up in Daryl's eyes. To me, at that moment, I did not care. My allegiance to the popular crowd required some sacrifices. I must not be inhibited by the childish, silly things such as comics. The reality is that at that point I probably had the power to bring Daryl into the fold, but I chose otherwise simply because of my perception of the group wishes.
I would never again attain that lofty height of popularity. Later, I got the chance to see Daryl's story unfold through a different set of eyes. As I vainly tried to regain my popularity in a new school district, I became the one often jettisoned at the sacrificial altar of others' popularity. The most interesting thing to me is the fact that of all the people I tried to impress throughout school, I can remember not one name. But, the young man that will haunt me forever is the one I shunned.
When I think back to that day, I realize I learned several lessons. The hurt that I inflicted upon Daryl taught me that sometimes we behave in morally disagreeable ways to preserve our group membership. The fact that I inflicted such pain without the group giving me concrete rules teaches me that in-groups by their very nature have unwritten but clearly understood rules of engagement with members of out-groups. Finally, I learned that having a common enemy in Daryl unified our in-group behind a cause. The in-group members themselves were actually less important than the member of the out-group that was receiving our negative attention. This is most likely because our in-group was defined not by mutual respect for one another, but by disdain for everyone else.
Allport, Gordon W. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison, Wesley, 1979.