Some musings on status

Recently, I was contemplating on the irritatingly-catchy lyrics of Macklemore:

Onesies, believe it or not, can be very high status…

“Walk inta the club like what up I got a big cock
I’m so pumped I bought some shit from a thrift shop”

Whilst one would be hard pressed to describe these lyrical ramblings as aural poetry*, I did start thinking about status. These lyrics, and indeed, much of modern culture, is about projecting an image which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you stride into a club full of exuberance and confidence, then you will be perceived as being exuberant and confident. Those who find themselves at the centre of attention are those with the confidence to step forward, to be exciting – and to portray themselves as high status.

We all know a few people who, through their own self-belief, elevate their status. This does not preclude them from being genuine, loving, human beings. It does, however, govern their interaction with the rest of the world. They’re not late – everyone else is early. Meetings will be delayed for them, but will start early if they are early. They are the people that can walk into a conversation, and it will stop for them. The notion of status (portrayed through the British notion of class) is portrayed fantastically in the following sketch.

In fact, status is an integral part of comedy. When I taught improv comedy, I was always fascinated by a typical “master and servant” sketch could be subverted if status was switched (one of the oldest tricks in the book). Nothing delights an audience more than the underdog gaining superiority – whether it’s an arrogant school bully being picked on, an army trainer being forced to do push-ups, or a teacher being taught.

Build a home in the Country like what up I got a big cock

Status also has more sombre overtones. When I first heard “Thrift shop”, my immediate reaction was to think of a conversation I overheard in Penrhyn Castle back in my first year. The modern Penrhyn Castle was completed in 1837 for George Dawkins-Pennant. The Pennant family pretty much personify 21st century notion of Victorian capitalists – they made their money in sugar and slate – one relying on slave labour, one relying on an exploited workforce. When I first visited the castle, I heard one of the English guides commenting on the disdain she had faced from local neighbours when she had mentioned her intention to volunteer for the castle. To this day, the castle is viewed as a symbol of oppression, a visual representation of status that was used to dominate the local area.

At the same time, status can also be used for good. Take charity gigs. If we take celebrity to be a form of high status, we can see that those who use their position to make the world a better place. Whilst it would be quite possible for those who have accumulated status, power, and money to retire to a world of luxury, they instead choose to use their influence to highlight the wrongs that exist in the world. In much the same vein, the excellent work being done by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation exists because of their status – their ability to generate income, and to speak to the most powerful people in the world.

Status, then, can be used both for good and for bad (and everything in between).

Now, that’s all fine and well, but what does that mean for us? I’d like to leave you with three thoughts.

  • Next time your interacting with other people, contemplate your status, and experiment with trying to raise and lower this. What happens? What responses do you elicit? Does high status allow you to have more impact? Does low status make people more trusting of you? Utilising status is a great way to influence a decision making process.
  • Secondly, if you find yourself in a position of high status, make sure each and every day that you are using this status for good, and not casually resting upon your laurels.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, bear in mind that when you are in a situation where your status is elevated above someone elses this can be intimidating. Status is a tool, not a weapon, and should never be used to belittle others.

And with that, I’m off into my tiny bedroom to catch a few winks of sleep!

*Incidentally, whilst I was digging up images for this post, I came across the following blog post, which extols the virtues of Macklemore, highlighting his inherent honesty, and praising the fact that his songs are based on his personal beliefs – http://blogs.kqed.org/pop/2013/04/03/macklemore-is-a-feminist-who-proves-conclusively-that-irony-should-be-dead/ (although I’m not sure that the title will catch on).


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