Pin your identity to your backpack!

I wish I got in on the front end of this craze, because someone is making a lot of money selling buttons.

I don’t know whether it is simply the recent election or if there has been some sort of spell cast upon us, but the University seems to have gone button crazy. Everywhere I look it’s “I am voting for such-and-such,” “I listen to band ____,” “I gave a dollar for this homecoming button to support activities I probably won’t partake in,” “I don’t eat meat, and look like it,” “I love some Greek fraternity,” “My major is blah blah blah,” and the list goes on.

I understand that part of the college experience is to discover and begin to define oneself, but apparently I missed the orientation that set the expectation to capture it on a button once these revelations are identified. Apparently it isn’t enough to come to understand one’s self, but we must also proudly display these discoveries like badges of honor.

I cannot help but wonder if these button-wearers were, at one time, victims of strangers who repeatedly approached them and pelted them with inquiries as to their political affiliation, music tastes, personal choices, etc. Tiring of repeatedly answering these questions, they chose to display their answers on easily viewed circular billboards. Or, perhaps button-wearers have poor memories, and these displays serve as the proverbial string around the finger as reminders of who they are. Drawing a blank in the voting booth, they have the option to refer to their button as to who they decided they would vote for.

And what of those individuals that don’t display a button? Are they lost souls with no understanding to claim who they are? Do they perhaps have superior memories to their button-wearing colleagues? Maybe they tragically don’t know where the button merchants are.

I wonder if buttons are a formal branch of the bumper sticker or apparel industry, but I seem to note a difference that may make the market share unique. Buttons are certainly more personal than bumper stickers, as it can only be the wearer, or the backpack itself, making the stated claim. Bumper stickers might be expressing the beliefs of anyone in the car-owner’s family, and they aren’t always accompanying the vehicle, so we can’t immediately associate the statement to a specific person.

But, it seems to make sense that whoever the driver of that Cadillac is, they would be voting for Bush. There is also the risk that some deviant slapped the bumper sticker onto the car without the owner’s knowledge. This tactic would seem more difficult for a would-be “button graffiti-ist”.

Apparel appears a completely different vein. The fact that our society is such a willing participant to be the walking billboards for the clothing companies they choose to adorn themselves in is less and less a personal choice. If you want to wear this shirt, it comes with a built-in advertisement for Polo, and that’s all there is to it. With buttons, one must actually seek out the specific message before it can be displayed. Whatever the affiliation, formal or not, all the bumper-sticker makers, clothing marketers and button producers are probably in bed with each other on some level.

Lastly, I cannot help but think some button-wearers aren’t merely claiming their personal statements, but in some way they expect us non-button-wearers to follow suit, and this offends me. If it’s good for them, it should be good for us too? I imagine they hope we have thoughts like, “Wow, that student said something really smart in class and she has a Bush button. I want to be smart, so I’ll vote for him too.” Or, “That guy is really attractive, a sharp dresser, and seems really cool. Does he have a button revealing what band he listens to? Because I want to be cool like him.”

Or maybe it’s more of a mass hysteria, mob mentality approach they are attempting to force on us. “Gosh, there sure seems to be a lot of Kerry supporters and vegetarian proponent button-wearers around here. I don’t want to be lumped into yet another minority group, so I better vote for Kerry and stop eating meat.” I mean, why do they think I want to be like them anyways? I don’t know anything about them. I mean, it’s not like they’re Ashton Kutcher or something.

Whatever the case is for this recent button phenomena, there are only two things I know for certain. One, I wish I would’ve gotten in on the front end of this craze, because someone is making a lot of money selling buttons. And two, I haven’t found either of the buttons I would like to wear: “You know nothing about me” and “I am too complex a person to have it captured on this button.”

Dirk Hezlep is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected].