Archive for Culture

You Are All Weirdos

Posted in Cultural Trends with tags , on January 6, 2010 by brigidduffy

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Tolstoy got it right, but he failed to top off his aphorism with one final nugget of truth: All families—happy or unhappy—are pretty ridiculous.

We’ve never needed the internet to validate this for us; all we need is a family function. I can recall various instances of family ridiculous throughout the year—my uncle sporting a kilt on Thanksgiving, multiple mullets at the Christmas dinner table, my sister’s “collection” of empty plastic water bottles under her bed. We all have those weirdos in our family, and let’s face it: we’re usually one of those weirdos. Sam the Eagle says it best:

(that little grunt of disgust gets me every time)

Like divorce and Transitional First Grade, (a phrase taken from my own dad), awkward family photos have always been something that remain behind closed doors—until now. There is an upsurge in blogs that celebrate dads in all their short-shorts glory and moms rocking that bouffant. And it appears that we can’t get enough of them. This is a curious phenomenon, considering that many people don’t even have the patience to feign interest in their own family albums.

When I first discovered two of my favorite family album sites, Dad’s in Short Shorts and Awkward Family Photos, my genuine interest in these strangers surprised me.  Why is that dad holding a violin in a wetsuit? Where the hell did that walrus come from? What kind of a situation demands the presence of a riffle and a parrot? These photos were so remarkably real. And ridiculous. Unlike the plethora of “reality” family tv shows out there, many of these photographs capture candid family moments. And you couldn’t script them any better.

But these sites aren’t all mockery. Sites such as My Parents Were Awesome and My Mom, The Style Icon  illustrate that some people actually—gasp—admire the generation that precedes them. The range of these websites is an accurate reflection of how we all feel about our family members at times- usually somewhere around three parts humiliation, one part pride. Margot Nason, editor of the trend forecasting newsletter Trend Central says, “Similar to the way that young people look to celebrities as style icons, more people are looking to these attainable vintage fashions from their parents and there is a growing population of people who prefer these classic looks.” I’m not wholly convinced that the world needs to revisit three-inch cutoff shorts. I’m also not wholly convinced that the new generation is looking for an excuse to wear three-inch cutoff shorts. But fashion aside, these blogs are not so much a celebration of mom and dad’s style. Rather, they server as a reassurance that our parents were really people once too. And maybe it isn’t all bad that we have their genes. Ok, maybe dad didn’t look so bad in that bow tie. And maybe mom really rocked the flowing hair and elbow-length gloves.

As a whole, these family photographs expose an inexplicable sense of “momness,” “dadness,” “bratty little sisterness,” “grandpaness” etc. And the beauty is, they aren’t characatures of the real thing- they are the real thing. As different as our families may be, all of us play some of these roles, and that in itself makes family photos so intriguing. They may not depict the totality of family experience, but it certainly reminds us that our own families might not be as strange as we think.