By Rawan Mostafa
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
When I was in high school, I believed that liking things that were mainstream would be the ultimate way through which I’d conform to my friends’ idea of a “cool person.” I wasn’t encumbered with ideas of individuality or choice. I was more focused on blending in rather than standing out. After all, consuming mainstream things is a social marker; it’s a foolproof way to signal my coolness. Besides, I was raised on the idea that I shouldn’t be too different, and that my gender was linked to consuming and liking certain things. Liking these things would make me fit in better, which would make me happier. I listened to Drake. I wore yoga pants. I drank Pumpkin Spice Lattes. I watched The Bachelor. You name it. I went on a search for anything that was mainstream and popular and completely devoured it. Consequently, I was more able to relate to my friends. We would laugh at the same jokes about the Kardashians. We would indulge in celebrity gossip and be up-to-date on who broke up with whom and who got together with whom. We would go shopping at Forever 21 together. Mainstream culture was the main way through which most of my friendships were consolidated.
Fast-forward a couple of years, I decided that I didn’t need to conform and that I would shun everything mainstream as silly, irrelevant, and “basic.” I would deprive myself of the joy and enjoyment of things simply because they’re basic. In retrospect, I believe I mainly did it to enhance my declining self-esteem as I was growing older; giving mainstream things up made me feel like I knew better, like I was superior. This change in my mindset coincided with the rise of the “basic bitch” label.
Noreen Malone highlights how “basic bitch” denotes a “woman who fails to surprise us.” In accepting this description, we accept a patriarchal culture (considering the term is almost never used when referring to a male) that judges a woman only based on the value of the good she consumes and makes women judge each other on those grounds as well. So evidently, this idea of basic-ness is rooted in a social anxiety, whereby we are afraid we’ll be judged as ordinary based on the kind of things we consume. Of course, at that point in time, I didn’t critically consider and understand all these connotations and bashed others as “basic” when they simply enjoyed the mainstream.
Once I got to college and became more invested in cultural and feminist critique, I recognized “mainstream” for the depreciating label it truly is. By labeling something as mainstream or basic, we are reinforcing an elitist culture wherein only high-end, hipster or weird products and media are seen as valid and valuable. We establish a classist system wherein we judge and are judged based on our perceived superficiality and basic-ness. What we often overlook is that the mainstream is mainstream for a reason. We like watching KUWTK, The Bachelor and other reality TV programs because we get to reflect on ourselves and our lives through these shows. We listen to Top 40 songs because they reflect our feelings and help us work through our emotions. We wear UGG boots and leggings because we feel confident and comfortable in them.
I refuse to believe that enjoying mainstream culture makes me dumb or naive. I am consciously engaging in and criticizing culture through the kinds of products I consume and the ones I don’t. I agree with Emma Teitel, who presents a different interpretation of basic-ness. She argues that women now embrace being basic. They took a devaluing joke and turned it around into a form of empowerment, which is what we truly need. We shouldn’t be belittling other women for the choices they make and things they enjoy. We should all have the right to enjoy the culture and products we relate to and identify with without fear of judgement. So, I will drink my Starbucks and wear my leggings and listen to my Taylor Swift shamelessly and fearlessly.