The uniforms on Star Trek were never up to much...
This is a “reprint” of a post I made in November 2006. I’m not saying I still stand by all of it, but I enjoyed re-reading it none the less. What do you think?
There is something about the word “uniform” which is simply filled with negative connotations. The answer is quite clearly that uniform means everything is the same. There is no independent thought, no creativity, just bland conformity. So why is it that the concept of uniform is giving me so much trouble on a bright Saturday morning, with the joyful haze of that Tuesday-Wednesday All Nighter for the US midterms still gripping my consciousness? Well, there’s only one way to find out…
In the UK, almost all school children wear a uniform. The idea is simple: that there is a certain “our school” way, that everyone is united in some manner. It also makes it very easy for people to complain, and the usual “you are representing our school” derives from it. In theory, these are generally good things. They encourage a sense of belonging, something which is rather lacking in society today. However, where school is involved, all of these ideals tend to be filled with a certain sense of naffness. I’m sure everyone can remember a school assembly in which the entire school was berated because of the activities of the usual minority who give everyone a bad name. After those we’d be given a lecture in all of the previous concepts about representing the school. No one ever listened, and no one really cared.
Everyone just hated the uniform. No one wanted to wear it, simply because a) it’s terribly uncomfortable and b) it made you stick out like a sore thumb. When the usual inter-school rivalries set in, the pupils of Our Lady of Religious School would often do anything they could to avoid the Evil and Wicked children (so the rumours said on the playground) of Inner City Comprehensive. At that age, if these concepts of belonging and representation work, then they only do so on the sub-conscious level. Otherwise, you spend all your time trying to evade the “benefits”, sometimes trying to express your individuality, which then gets you into trouble. On the conscious level, they are a failure. They actively encourage rivalry between children who otherwise would have no quarrel with each other.
To me, uniforms are a representation of something more sinister in society. The only possible benefit they have is that they remove the idea of a fashion war happening in schools. This is something I can’t deny, and I would have difficulty devising another system that escapes this. I hate the idea that a child from a poor family may have to suffer because they can’t afford to buy the best trainers on the market, while Rich Child with Inherited Wealth can.
But everyone remembers the moment in which they never had to wear their school uniform again. The shackles of conformity were broken; at long last, the freedom to wear whatever you choose.
Then, suddenly, you start in the world of work.
And then you discover that, in fact, uniform is still alive and well. Women have a little more flexibility. But men don’t. It’s either a suit, or… a suit without a tie.
Oh dear. It then dawns on you that, in fact, you haven’t left the manacles of conformity behind at all. Indeed, it was just a temporary slipping of the noose while the hangman adjusted his line. Worse, whereas before your parents ironed your uniform for you, now you have to iron a perfect crease in your trousers and take a terribly long length of time ironing your shirt. Then you have a suit jacket which needs dry cleaning every now and then. Oh, the extra effort and expense!
Then you ask yourself the question: why? Why the hell is it like this? Why do we trust the man in a suit more than the man in a tracksuit? Is there a proper reason other than the fact “it’s always been that way”? Isn’t the man in the suit just as likely to want to screw you over – in business terms – than the man in the tracksuit? Why does a suit give an impression of professionalism? Why does a strip of silk, or even polyester, around one’s neck give the idea that this person is someone who you can trust, and then, in all probability, stab you in the back at the first opportunity to enhance their career over you?
So we conform. We go back to our uniform days and relive them, again and again, until retirement. There are only a few lucky careers which don’t require people to conform to some kind of dress code. In many ways, it’s very similar to the argument we’ve been seeing this week over whether Jon Snow is right to receive the indignant protestations of the Poppy Fascists. Why are people so hell-bent on forcing their regimented ideals on each other?
I have always been of the opinion that just because something has always been done, that alone is not enough to justify it continuing to be done. Everything needs to prove itself in the here and now. If people’s opinions are dated back to the Victorian age, when Rich Businessman wore a black-tie suit and so was the right kind to mix with instead of the povvos in the slums, then they have no place in today’s society. And not just because any old, or even young, fraudster can now buy a cheap suit in Matalan…
Therein lies the problem. So many people, holding so many stereotypical values, socialised, even indoctrinated, upon them by a so-called tolerant society. It may not seem like a serious issue, talking about why we wear uniforms, but it’s only when you examine the subtle prejudices and assumptions that lie within – only when you scratch the surface – do you discover some very revealing, and equally fascinating, aspects of human psychology. The undercurrents of the argument run throughout many layers of society; and all emanating via an issue which I doubt very few people ever even consider.
So next time you stand there making a choice between the stripey tie, the dotted tie or the Father Christmas, all singing, all dancing, novelty tie… ask yourself: is this what expressing your individuality, your independence as a person, has come to?
Is that what we call freedom?