What is Normal Anyway?

"Normal is just a setting on my washing machine." While these hot topic cliche's get under my skin, that doesn't make them any less prevalent. This misconception about culture is understandable, it's a sentiment which comes out of frustration with hegemony, and a priggish promulgation of mass cultural norms upon those who feel inclined towards a transgressive or artistic identity expression.

So let's tease apart the complexities of normality, and try to understand how this cultural framework works. I can think of no more appropriate example than this meme I have seen floating around for years now. 


This meme is a great example of the tu quoque fallacy (translated 'you too'), and something that should be preferably avoided. Rather than addressing the argument, this fallacy is employed as a distraction. This is an attempt to turn the argument around on the opponent, thus taking the spotlight off the validity of your own claims and attempting to force your opponent into explication. This fails as a defense because the original claim does not apply equally and it reveals an ignorance of the subject. This particular version of the fallacy positions "normal" as incommensurable or inscrutable, which I will show is not the case.

While it's important to avoid fallacies, I'm not here to give you a lesson in argumentation or even cognitive biases. So let's start with some delineating of the various applications for normality.

The argument in the photo conflates individual or subcultural normality and a socio-cultural framework of normality. For example: while my personal normal might be to wear a leather thong and a gimp mask each afternoon, the cultural and social normal, certainly is not that. So while calling me a "freak" would certainly be pejorative, it would still be safe to claim my style of dress was abnormal.

When the average person uses the word "normal", often this is conflated with some generally accepted moral standard. For example, interacting socially at a party in a "normal" way would be understood as a good quality. On the other hand, someone who has social anxiety, may have their behavior labeled as "abnormal", which is implicitly bad. These standards again, are understood to be those of the predominant mass culture, not of the individual, or a sub-group.

Furthermore, in academia there is a distinction of terms which is generally not understood colloquially. Those terms are Norm, Normal, and Normative.

A Norm, is simply a behavior that is performed by the majority of a culture. This functions as a reinforcement as well; when someone learns of a norm, the social pressure generally causes them to conform to that standard.

Normal, is generally defined as the opposite of abnormal, or as deviant behavior. Submitting to a cultural norm is considered a normal behavior, however some accepted normal behaviors do not follow from a norm. Often normal is considered an ideal, which can then lead to derogation of those who openly embrace their abnormality.

Normative, is a morally endorsed ideal. "Americans may think that you should celebrate the Fourth of July because it is patriotic to do so.  Celebrating U.S. Independence may be both the norm and normative in the U.S. "
While these terms aren't mutually exclusive, they often do not function conterminously, despite being used as such in a colloquial setting.

Armed with that knowledge, I'd make one final point. While this is a sentiment often voiced by baby bats, it's not completely uncommon to hear subculturalists rail against normality, for no reason other than it's ubiquity. Identifying what you don't like about mass culture can be a useful first step in identity construction; simply resisting for the sake of resisting is ineffectual. This is a kind of inverse determinism, in that who you are isn't defined by anything of substance, rather you are defined by the mainstream you claim to hate, and are thus just as vapid.

Normality is not intrinsically pernicious, and abrogation is not a viable solution. If we were to normalize racial tolerance, would this not be positive for society? To despise or reject normality totally is myopic, rather we should scrutinize cultural, subcultural, and personal ideologies by their substance and effect, rather than reject the framework outright. A subcultural norm can exist either in opposition to, or in concert with, a greater cultural norm. The goal here is to tease apart what we believe, why we believe it, what evidence there is to the contrary, and then update our behaviors accordingly.

This embrace of a skeptical mindset will enrich your life and keep your mind from ossification. In general, I have found this type of questioning and pursuit of knowledge to be implicit to goth, and has personally served me well over the years. I don't view goth as a cognitively lazy culture, which is why I feel striving for a critical mind, rather than the accepting logical fallacies or dearth of knowledge, is something many of us can embrace. We are an intellectually discursive community, and I hope this information will do you well in the future.

-The Count runs the Cemetery Confessions podcast and The Requiem Podcast. For more info on The Count, click here.


The Count

I have been a part of the goth subculture since I was 16. I am the owner and creator of The Requiem Podcast which has been around since early 2008 and also podcast award nominee Cemetery Confessions. I am also known as DJ Count. I am married, and a father to a beautiful baby bat named Link.