I have a fear of labels. Not the itchy kind that bother the back of your neck all day as you walk around. Those aren’t great, but I’m not afraid of them.

No, my fear of labels is much more about how I label myself… or how others label me.

I don’t exactly know when this started, but I recall being asked a decade ago by a colleague if I would consider myself a gamer. She was, in the end, asking because she was my Secret Santa and looking for hints about what to get me. I responded that “I play videogames, but don’t really consider myself a gamer.”

Now, I seem to answer a whole variety of questions in similar fashion. I like Jimmy Buffett, but I don’t consider myself a Parrothead. I like Disney World, but I don’t consider myself a Disney-phile. I run, but I don’t consider myself a runner. I’m a massive fan of James Bond, but I wouldn’t consider myself whatever massive fans of James Bond call themselves. I’ve written about movies and television for almost a decade, but I only recently started calling myself a journalist .

The list goes on and on, and while there are changes from time to time, like the fact that I do now call myself a journalist, those changes tend to be built out of necessity. I have accepted the journalist label because all sorts of forms require that I list an occupation, especially when travelling abroad for work. I can’t exactly go to another country to visit a film set and say to the nice folks at passport control “Well, I’m going to write about movie X which is currently filming here, but, no, don’t say that I’m a writer or a journalist or anything like that. I’m just not comfortable with the idea.”

Why does this strike me now? It’s the running one. I still wholeheartedly eschew the label runner, but my wife would say that I’m being insane there. As evidence she would point out that yesterday morning, with the temperature hovering at 30 and the wind chill making it feel like less than 20, I was outside running. It wouldn’t matter how much I try to argue that yesterday’s running was entirely about wanting to have pizza and peanut M&Ms last night, I would still be referred to as a loon. I had this particular thought as I was running yesterday – did being outside, running, mean I had to accept the label. It was not the greatest of thoughts and I almost gave up right then and there, something that would have been problematic as I was several miles from my car.

And here’s where we get to the nub of the thing. Runners are people who go out to run more than I do, run further (farther?) than I do, and do it in less time than I take. Real James Bond fanatics can tell you the license plate number of his Lotus. Parrotheads attend multiple concerts per year. True Disney-philes have an annual pass which is well worn and a DVC membership. Gamers play more than I do. Journalists know more than I do.

I don’t see any of these things as negative. I would love any and all of these labels, but there is a claim of expertise to them that I do not take on; that I do not say I have and which I’m not sure how to get.

Well, there you are. Thoughts that may be interesting and a completely lackluster conclusion. No big answers. No wow moment. No ability to make anyone think any differently about the world at the end of the piece.  And, as it turns out, I started to talking about how it was a fear and it’s not a fear at all, it’s just something to which I don’t believe myself entitled.

That’s journalist out the window then.

Maybe I’ll just go and fire up Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and try to take on the mantle of gamer.

5 thoughts on “On Not Labelling Myself

  1. I've encountered this problem of labels as far back as I can recall. From the name-calling at school, to people seeing me as a go-to guy for certain subjects at college, to that geek, to more specifically, comic book freak, film geek, techie, foodie, the list is endless.

    Some labels were disparaging in their nature, some not. That moment I gave up on what I was being called is the moment I realised it wasn't actually about me at all, it was about them. They didn't understand who I am & realistically, why would they? They aren't me. Even the closest of friends/family know a part of you, a larger part but a part of you. It just can't be & so they resort to applying labels, for them.

    The agony of not knowing how to categorise someone, something is too high to ignore. I came to realise I do it myself. The travel blogger, that dude at the bus stop. I mean, I'm sure he's not always at the bus stop, but that's who he is to me.

    Coming to terms with living up to the label, I think the answer is in the problem itself. Admission of ignorance. I'm a film freak, I own over 2000 DVD's, my digital library even larger, I consume more films than the average person (whatever that statistic is) & enjoy doing so. People gave me this label & I accept, with the caveat, if I don't live unto their view of their own label, that's their problem. If they need to re-label or demote me to some other label when I admit to having only seen one Star Wars & one Godfather movie, that's their problem.

    I have no issue with labels any more for one reason above the rest, it does help open doors. Being labelled a foodie gets you access to well more food. Great. If it means someone must label you to get on that priority list, is that such a big deal? I don't know, it works for me (for now).

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  2. Hey Josh — nice piece. I think this speaks in a strong way to the mindset I believe a good subset of smart arts and entertainment writers share. The sort of introspection that informs their critical thinking also makes them uncertain of their own expertise-in-field, and/or uncomfortable with labels more broadly — because we recognize a lot of grey in the world, and arrive at concrete answers in a more roundabout fashion, I'd say.

    Like

  3. Thank you both for the thoughts! They're definitely appreciated… especially if they show I have a similar mindset to “a good subset of smart arts and entertainment writers.” 🙂 But, even skipping that bit, the logic makes a whole lot of sense.

    And, I have to also agree with the notion that a lot of labelling comes from the outside. Not all of it, and that labelling from the outside I think can be more problematic than what we would give ourselves, but it definitely happens and is worth considering when we apply (or contemplate applying) a label to ourselves.

    Like

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