“There’s No Such Thing As Normal!”

In my years of teaching, perhaps no pop-culture cliché has annoyed me as much as this.  I’ve heard dozens of earnest, zealous teens announce this one with a look of holy glee on their faces, ecstatic at the chance to show off how well they’ve internalized this bit of media indoctrination.

Whenever this line gets repeated, I, in my role as a teacher of the English language, feel compelled to address the error:

Me: “Yes, there is.  It’s in the dictionary.  Look under ‘N.'”

Teen: “But it doesn’t mean anything.  There’s no such thing as normal!”

Me: “Since you won’t look it up, or consider my point, I’ll walk you through this.  ‘Normal’ just indicates the usual standard in whatever time and place it’s being used.  When you argue against it, you’re demonstrating your resistance to one iteration of normal, a conception of traditional American, Norman Rockwell-idealized society.  Even more likely, these days, you’re advertising your solidarity with some minority.”

Teen: “But normal has changed.  There’s a new normal now!”

Me: “So first there was no such thing, and now there is, but its nature is just fluid.  Never mind that, despite your combative tone, you’re actually agreeing with me now.  Look, in a room filled with Donald Trump clones and one guy with a mohawk, the clones would be normal.  If there were dozens of guys with mohawks and one Donald Trump  clone, the mohawks would be normal.  The specific application of the term doesn’t matter.  What matters is that your statement was shallow and false.”

If this exchange occurs in a class, I can usually see that some kids get it, but I don’t know that any of these normal-protesters has ever seen the flaw in their thinking.  It’s hard to do that when you’ve overdosed on the Kool-Aid.