ON in the comics

A Zippy I’ve been saving since it came out on 11/25:

Another piece of what’s turning into a very large project on the English words normal (Adj), normality (N), and normalize (V) — plus related vocabulary — and the conceptual (and sociocultural) categories associated with them. The Zippy involves only long-standing senses of normal and normality — what I’ll call O (for old (senses of)) N (for the three normal-related words) — plus the Adjs abnormal and deviant. (The contrast is between ON and what I’ve called IN, for innovative senses of the words.)

Background. I’ll start with the three N words. (Forgive me the little joke.)

Old normal (ON) in OED3 (Dec. 2003):  ‘constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional’; vs. (not in OED) the extension to IN: ‘unremarkable, acceptable’

The derived noun normality has corresponding uses, ON and IN.

Old normalize (ON): ‘bring or return to a normal condition or state’ (NOAD2); vs. (not in OED) the extension to IN: ‘render normal that which was previously deemed beyond acceptable bounds’ (as the ADS put it in January)

Zippy and the Muffler Man. The figure of Norm is a Muffler Man (a roadside fiberglass figure seen in many Zippy cartoons), who in panel 1 points out (Muffler Men may not move, but they can talk, and with Zippy they’re usually quite loquacious) that Zippy doesn’t look very normal — well, he’s a Pinhead, which isn’t typical or usual — with which Zippy of course agrees.

In panel 2, Norm offers to help Zippy become normal, an idea that Zippy rejects; he’s happy being a Pinhead, and if that’s abnormal, so be it. He doesn’t want to change. Then in panel 3, Norm gives up on Zippy, abandoning him to his “deviant, abnormal ways”. But Zippy is happy in his deviance, his abnormality; why would be want to become a different sort of person?

It’s important that judgments of normality are always relative to a context, in this case to a sociocultural context. In Dingburg, Zippy is a typical, usual sort of person; outside it, he’s viewed as atypical and unusual, perhaps defective or dangerous.

Back in the real world, the normality discussions that come my way are almost all relative to American society as a whole. Here’s Andrew Solomon, in the New Yorker on the 3rd, referring to

this [US] Administration’s dark view of those who deviate from its narrow definition of normality — white, U.S.-born, heterosexual, able-bodied, and Christian [not to mention Roundhead rather than Pinhead] — which excludes the majority of Americans

Others would go even further in the exclusions, blocking out people in cities (recall Sarah Palin in October 2008 praising small towns as “the real America” and the “pro-America areas of this great nation”; no doubt under advice she walked back on that, but I’ll take her at her word), people on the coasts, the highly educated, artists, and so on.

So far we’ve seen two responses to the view of certain groups as abnormal. Norm the Muffler Man says they should change — something that’s not even imaginable for some of these groups: I mean, how would Zippy become a Roundhead? Losing the top-knot and the polka-dotted muumuu wouldn’t be enough, since there’s no getting past the physiognomy. On the other hand, [READACTED] and his associates would simply have the abnormals excluded, denied rights and privileges, perhaps literally excluded, physically removed to camps or another country.

Zippy’s way is to declare: I will not change, and I will resist exclusion. I will demand equal treatment. I will insist that you change, that you accept me. I may be different, but you must treat me as within the bounds of the acceptable and unremarkable — as normal (in the innovative usage). That is, I must be normalized (in the innovative usage). I’m here, I’m queer (‘odd, unusual’), get used to it.

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