What comes to mind when you think of the definition of an “eccentric person”? Back in the day, “eccentric” used to mean someone who performed feats of thrill-seeking debauchery, wore outlandish clothes, traveled in obscure ways to exotic locations, discussed groundbreaking ideas of insanity about their current obsession with every stranger they came in contact with, and made sure to host lavish events of informal purpose in order to display it all.
Now, the back-in-the day part of the definition instantly brings to my mind images of crazy Victorian-era daredevils who compulsively challenged people to duels in ridiculous top hats and raved about “flying machines.” Also, the word “steampunk” seems to creep up, and I’m sure many enthusiasts of the style and aesthetic would agree with me, since the era of steampunk was a time when the idea man and automaton co-existing in all aspects of life seemed marvelous and addicting.
Today, however, that definition of debauchery-obsessed individuals in strange clothes and crazy ideas seems like it could easily apply to any mainstream or Internet celebrity of the 21st century. The X Games praise and are dedicated around adrenaline junkies; MTV shows are centered around incredibly dangerous and stupid pranks just for the heck of it, not to mention almost every video channel on the Internet has some kind of clip centered around an attention-grabbing, self-injuring stunt in hopes of 15 minutes of viral recognition. Lady Gaga, with all of her “Twilight Zone”-inspired fashion statements, trends into mainstream because everyone wants a look that gets a “what are you wearing?” look. All the shows out there that are supposed to pimp your rides, jets, bikes and ponies set the bar for vehicle customization. You have innovative intellects like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs rivaling household-name attention against Snooki, the Kardashians and Charlie Sheen. And every promotional event in the star-studded universe is an end-of-the-world bonanza, even if they’re just celebrating the release of a company adding an extra color selection to its product.
The realm of the famous has always been one of eccentrics, but that what it’s always taken to stay in the limelight. You have to stand out, you have to be captivating, and you have to evolve from a one-trick pony into a chameleon, or you fade into the obscure darkness that is nowadays known as “normalcy.” How horrible is that thought?
Eccentricity has always involved going above and beyond the social norms, but now, with the excessive opportunity to be immortally recognized by people around the world via technology, our culture has become addicted to that lifestyle. Perhaps, then, the notion of eccentricity has become a paradox, forever in a karmic circle of the boldest ways to proclaim you are a novel individual against everyone else trying to accomplish the same thing.
I personally think this is a positive thing. The purpose of being a true enticing individual exists in that state with the constant need to reassert that lifestyle to everyone around you for survival. With everyone loudly marching to the beat of their own drum, I predict the clashing noises will drown each other out and eventually people will stop putting the focus on getting acceptance, and instead realize they like the idea of existing in their own skin just like everyone else is.
However, this hope can sometimes be diminished every time I see people trying to be a 24-hour-a-day fortune cookie philosopher on their Facebook pages, proving to their hundreds of anonymous Internet acquaintances just how “eccentric” their lives truly are supposed to be.