The other day I was surprised to hear Pulp’s 90s British pop hit “Common People” on my indie rock station. I got excited-—it’s rare when I get to hear British pop classics in my car. And although I had heard “Common People” before, I had never really considered the significance of the lyrics—-the story of commonality. As I continued to listen, I was getting pretty captivated—-you want to live like common people? You want to do whatever common people do? My mind started to race as I did some major self-reflecting:
Hmmm. Commonality. Is that what I want? Well ya. I want to be common. I want to live like common people. I want to have basic human experiences. I want to be a part of the people. But…wait a second. No. I mean…no. I want to do something. I want to create something that has yet to be created. I want to exercise my individuality. Maybe I don’t want to be common.
Obviously I was uncertain, per usual.
Pulp seemed a bit uncertain on their stance, as well. In the song, a girl who lives a quite privileged life is searching for commonality. She makes commonality seem unquestionably desired and essential for human bliss. Yet, the singer seems to disagree. He doesn’t understand her need for commonality, which he makes apparent as he bashes the mundane and unglamorous activities one experiences in a common life.
My major self-reflecting led to reflecting on society at large. And although I promised myself I wouldn’t get philosophical when I started writing this, I find that it’s a bit necessary. Philosophy is Pulp’s point. We all want to be something. We want purpose. We want to know we have lived and that our life was worthwhile. This isn’t to say that we necessarily want fame or wealth, but it is natural—instinct, if you will, to want our life to have some form of meaning–whether that be to meet amazing people, produce beautiful work, gain knowledge and understanding, travel the globe, or, simply, to make that money. Regardless, we have intention behind our every action.
Intention. Rhetoricians love that word. That’s because our entire study is formulated and complicated by this single concept. We say, act, listen, think, do, and view with intention. Even if we don’t realize what our intention is, we still have one. Rhetoricians try to be aware of these intentions so that we can understand motives, needs, purposes, exigencies, and effectiveness. Intention, my friends, is everything. And artists are no different. They write, produce, sculpt, build, paint, or compose with an intention–a purpose to share some insight or thought with society.
So what was Pulp’s intention? To frame commonality as a desired quality? Or to address the socio-economic issue of commonality? I haven’t had my personal coffee chat with Pulp quite yet, so I’ll have to infer here. But I think Pulp has given us a chance to decide–to choose how to embrace commonality while still working towards individuality.
Commonality is actually a beautiful thing. It’s what connects us. It’s what creates a general basis of identity with others—-something that the late rhetorician Kenneth Burke studied and developed. We all want to connect and to feel a part of humanity. We navigate towards cities were we are surrounded by people. We join clubs with people who have similar interests. We date in order to find that special someone. We follow trends of some sort, whether that be ankle boots or joining Twitter. We all engage in daily activities that show our desire to be common, to fit in. I think the way society follows in each other’s footsteps is living proof of our desire to be common and to be accepted.
Yet, in the midst of striving for acceptance and identity, we still try to stand out. We want to be that one in a million, to invent something, to stress our uniqueness, to be the best (fill in the blank, friends). We want to stand out because it is also in our nature to be an individual. We try to be something different—-uncommon—-yet, we do this while engaging in very, very common activities. It’s so odd.
So what does this mean? Two things, I think. Commonality is necessary. We need commonality to connect with each other and to be a part of the larger picture of society. To help us understand our culture and also to understand ourselves. Yet, I think striving to be uncommon should also be of high importance. If we accept commonality too much, we may lack the ambition to progress and to produce. And who knows? Maybe you’re the next Einstein and the world is waiting for you to exercise your originality. A balance is needed here. A humble desire to be common. To understand each other. To remember that we are all human together. But also a unique ambition to strive for individuality. To be, essentially, uncommon.
Text © 2014 Kristin Agnes
Re-print © 2014 The Black Lion Journal
Re-printed with permission.
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