An Analysis Of The Term 'normal,' According To Michael Warner And Mary Douglas

1286 words - 5 pages

An Analysis of the Term 'Normal,' according to Michael Warner and Mary Douglas"Normal is not something to aspire to, it's something to get away from."-Jodie Foster"First, the categories need to be distinguished. Norm is a broad concept, quite different from law or power. To resist or critique law, rule, authority, or power is not the same as to resist norms. In fact, doing so presupposes or implies an opposing norm. There is also a tendency to conflate ethical, practical, and social norms, which might be different in kind and valence. And normalization is something else altogether: a phenomenon characteristic of modern, mass-mediated society…. [N]ormalization results from the way modern society is organized around distributional norms that are silently understood as evaluative norms. Just because something is statistically normal doesn't mean it should be normative, but that's the way much modern culture works."-Michael WarnerIn his book, The Trouble With Normal, Warner questions the very definition of the word 'normal.' He observes that "[n]early everyone, it seems, wants to be normal" (53). Simultaneously, though, people also seek individuality, as long as it is of the normal kind, and given a choice between being labeled as normal or as an individual, most would choose the former. So what is normal? Warner recognizes a widespread acceptance of normalcy as being something to aspire to, and he blames this on statistics.[P]eople didn't sweat much over being normal until the spread of statistics in the nineteenth century. Now they are surrounded by numbers that tell them what normal is: census figures, market demographics, opinion polls, social science studies, psychological surveys, clinical tests, sales figures, trends, the 'mainstream,' the current generation, the common man, the man on the street, the 'heartland of America,' etcetera. Under theconditions of mass culture, they are constantly bombarded by images of statistical populations and their norms, continually invited to make implicit comparison between themselves and the mass of other bodies (53-54).He realizes that the form of statistical information convinces readers that they are normal; it allows for evaluation "that makes people who belong to the statistical majority feel superior to those who do not" (54). This raises the question for Warner of why anyone would want to be normal. "If normal just means within a common statistical range, then there is no reason to be normal or not. By that standard, we might say that it is normal to have health problems, bad breath, and outstanding debt" (54). It would seem, at this point, that Warner would most likely agree with Foster's statement. However, he goes on to explore the impossibility of ever achieving normalcy. "[T]o be fully normal is, strictly speaking, impossible. Everyone deviates from the norm in some way. Even if one belongs to the statistical majority in age group, race, height, weight, frequency of orgasm, gender of...

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