Coy Categories

Our relationship to objects hinges on categorizations. Food is for eating, ice cream is food and therefore ice cream is for eating. A simple syllogism that automatically occurs, but what happens when the clarity of these categories becomes distorted? What about ice cream for dogs? Toys for boys or tea for weight loss? Suddenly these objects are different; though not by form or perhaps content, but instead by the suggestion by which we should interact with the product.

Is ice cream for dogs not for humans? Can a non-dieter still drink tea for dieting? Of course they can, but in consuming these products we take on the categorization. Eat the ice cream for dogs and we are a person eating ice cream for dogs? If someone were to observe us doing this we might be embarrassed. We are doing something wrong in consuming this product for another. We violate the category and bring about the reaction of one who violates. Rules are being broken when we consume products categorized as something beyond who we are.

While many categories are clearly established, ie by branding like “Frosty Paws”, the ice cream for dogs, other items are less distinctly categorized. Fashion is categorized far less loudly and many often err by donning the fashion of a different culture or group. Certain fashion items are distinctly “one cultured” (think kimono) while others breach all boundaries and have nearly global acceptance (think the hooded sweatshirt). These distinctions are less for the utility of the item and more for the associations that come from them. A culture possesses its fashion protects itself by controlling those allowed to wear the item. Insiders are those allowed to wear these clothes, listen to this music or even appreciate this food. Often it is the outsider whose lack of understanding or ability to properly utilize the item that perform this action of distinction. The individual unable to use chop sticks at an Asian restaurant is communicating more of his/her lack of belonging to the culture than a lack of awareness. Afterall, he/she isn’t from that culture. Is it offensive to even attempt to use these tools?

Objects are never simple items we encounter in life. Everything we encounter carries with it a load of meanings. Categorizations inform our relation to these items and when certain categorizations blend we may find ourselves confused. Imagine a freezer stocked with ice cream. Does anyone other than the dog consume the ice cream for dogs? Unlike the French Vanilla, which both human and fido enjoy, the dog ice cream will only ever reach the dog mouth (given normal, non-starving, situations). We’re far safer buying items of simplest categorization. Complexity comes with additional expectations and in many cases confuses how we interact and understand the objects in our world.


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