Visors of apathy in a sociocultural clusterfuck

An essay about growing up as nonconformist children

A visor of apathy
Photo by John Benitez on Unsplash

A societal underbelly whose flesh we ate and regurgitated over the grey of the inner-city, while wearing its flayed off skin like some Lecter-esque visors of apathy.

The sociocultural context

We were boys in a world reduced to a few block’s radii of ethnic diversity edged with racism, clan feuds, tabbouleh, Donell Jones tunes and the odd hand grenade explosion or shooting.

Möllevångsgatan (aka Arab street) was an urban free-for-all; a cluster of clashing cultures, amid which we formed a brotherhood based on class and sentiments. Iraqis, Iranians, Somalians, Kosovo-Albanians, the list goes on. Our mother tongues morphed into a blend of native, immigrant and American slang and our boyish wave greetings into firm handshakes. We knew early on, from the looks of passersby, that we were the rotten apples of the orchard. So we cherry-picked our truths and ignored the smoking hookahs stuffed with hashish and remnants of our preadolescence.

We fought, laughed and kicked up dust. All the while, our fragmented notions led us forth to the unknown.

Our dialect was composed of multiethnic code-switching and urban idioms. A lingo, or curriculum, in which we shone brighter than our elders. We quickly understood the concept of division. Whether white, black or in between, we felt ostracised for not conforming to the conventional institutions. So we wore our branded identities as badges of honour.

Luckily for us, we found a well-established subculture welcoming of all the shit our anti-heroes did. And hungry as we were for belonging, we ate it all up like citified termites. Drugs were common, whether it meant lessening those impending bubbles of self-reflection or means whereby one could achieve financial freedom. So was violence, especially violence. As time went on, we dug deeper into society’s crust, where the lifeblood of the accursed ran in rivers, to bathe in its acceptance of the wickedest of things.

It’s not far-fetched to think of us as byproducts of social conformity. We went the opposite way, toward social groups and consequential values which were at best partly broken. Some bore the tragedies of their war-torn birth countries and others loathed the system for disrupting their identities — it varied, we varied, yet the same molten aggro-cocktail erupted from our hearts onto the world.

Amid Scarface’s maxim and rap lyrics that essentially glorified the toppling of the status quo (a hymn to our ears), we descended further into a chasm of quasi-antiestablishmentarianism. Which, when unclad, was nothing more than a life of crime and drugs with the occasional fuck you to the state, our parents… and in the end, ourselves.

In my attempt to romanticise such unruliness, I’ve thought of it as a dalliance with the rejection of conformity in the search for Utopian creative freedom or some form of envisioned originality. But I often arrive at the same conclusion: we were mostly disturbed kids who in true nihilistic fashion thought there was no such thing as a Utopia to begin with.

“Rebel without a cause” might be the coolest-sounding and still somewhat fair description I can apply to such a mentality without venturing too far into la-la land.

Disconnect and rigidity — a combo not made in heaven

So what went wrong? Well, disconnect and rigidity are two things that come to mind: a disconnect between our social environment and ourselves caused by an inherent pull toward the unconventional (arts or otherwise) in a fairly cast-iron state school system with rigid pedagogical methods by teachers with little or no relevant social skills. That’s a mouthful for ye! And, to tie an ugly bow on it, self-proclaimed do-gooders who effectively used nonconformist kids as lab rats for their “trial-and-error” social projects. Which, of course, increased the appetite of the cysts that fed on our already compromised identities.

These may be personal experiences, but surely not unique.

Not all children are created equal

There’s always that child who won’t accept being told when to write, or even worse, what to write; he just wants to write.

Let’s call him “Josiah.” Eight years old.

Josiah, who at his unripe age will struggle to identify such disruptive misguidance as pedagogical shortcomings, might start questioning himself instead, and, perhaps, ultimately rebel. Those pebbles of experiences (especially when combined with a polarising social environment) can soon cluster into a stepping stone toward antisocial behaviour. Teachers (an early representation of authority) rule his schooldays seemingly unchallenged, and his parents condone it. They don’t understand him (because he barely does) so they make him go back to a classroom of autocracy, cruel classmates and immense social pressure. With no applicable solution to any of it! Thus, he develops resentment toward those he feels are trying to control him. And when the offered explanation for why he has to return dismissively is, “because all children have to,” or “it’s for your own good,” it can kindle an early fuck you in him.

Those dark, dark provinces

It’s interesting how in the absence of a creative outlet, that excess energy often seeks embodiment in darker provinces. So it’s no wonder why we turned to crime. In a way, crime is the ultimate Rubik’s Cube whereby boys, or girls for that matter, can stimulate their creative muscles as well as reap short-lived rewards and recognition from their peers.

Years later, we found ourselves in the backroom of a two-bit pool hall (a polluted echo system of tobacco smoke, gambling and toxic ideas). People from all classes came to buy drugs from us inside an industrial elevator that led down to an old, isolated courtyard. We plotted and laughed and picked bones with each other all over the same things. An ethnically mixed bag among whom racial slurs and stereotypes, both as words of endearment or personal attacks, were commonplace. As we rarely shot pool, we justified our stay by purchasing copious amounts of cheap beer and munchies. Our eyes bled and so did our creativities; uncompromised at its core but then channelled through muddy streams into a clusterfuck of spitballing manifesting in bad fucking behaviour. It was our social club, sort of. Life was good… sort of. Like Cheers on a bad trip without a laughing track.

Visors were mandatory

Being able to withhold your emotions was fundamental to survival. If someone were describing, from a first-hand experience, a situation wherein a person had been brutally beaten, a “visor of apathy” would appear across your face like any natural, reactionary grimace. Either that, or one of fiendish enjoyment—both equally acceptable. It functioned as a safety measure by means of deception (most of us weren’t true psychopaths). There was, however, a need for, and often an attraction to, being perceived as one. Mixing indifferent with crazy formed dangerous on the palette, and if you didn’t draw the line pronounced enough, you risked being drawn over.

With so much masquerading going on, you sort of got lost in the role.

So we waded along the seabed of society, coexisting with ourselves. Some of us wearing a fuzzy helmet of cannabinoids and others jacked up on Benzodiazepines and vodka (a sinister combination, believe you me) to cope with what was left behind the visor.

I once had a friend, or more like an acquaintance. The type who would leech on to a group just as quickly as he would move on to the next and whose loyalty was as contaminated and fluid as sewer water. But despite being a pathological liar and a thief (to keep the list short) who saw not colour nor culture inasmuch as he cared not for it, he was at least on a good day quite entertaining. A child of förorten (the Swedish equivalent to “the projects”), he wore his visor with lifelong experience. But every once in a while, he felt the need of ramping up his image. And because he wasn’t all that he portrayed himself as (he wasn’t truly heartless), he supplemented his lack of evil by over-consuming Rohypnol, which turned him into a transient, shark-eyed psychopath. And thus, his legend was being written (that is, when he wasn’t doing short stints for pill-induced burglaries.)

One night after having gone missing for several days, he resurfaced as a wraith outside my friend’s home, stabbed up and covered in pus-soaked bandage patches. We gathered that he had woken up in hospital after being on an unearthly bender on every prescription pill imaginable with men from the darkest of hinterlands. As he stood before us, ashen and with a cloven nose, he reassured us with an unconvincing nougat-grin that he had never felt fucking better. Even in the aftermath of a near-death experience, he spoke through his visor with little regard to his own true emotions. He was, you could say, a master of his own bizarre masquerade ball.

But when you were alone with him; you know, just two buds shooting the breeze while submerged in an orange haze, you could detect some warmth behind his fleshly torture-mask. His heart was good. It had just sunken too deep into the mire of his persona. One that had come about long before his oeuvre had taken the form of inventive crime-sprees. In short: when all the pines have died, the barren land will do just as well.

That ol’ bone

Despite all the emotional baggage, some of us outgrew our visors. But like a mongrel who buries its bone away from man but close to heart, so did we. Our aversion to orthodoxies had taken such deep root that we carried on axing (always against the grain) through the bark and branches of Yggdrasil in search for prosperity and our authentic selves. And still are. Only now, at the expense of our own blood, sweat and tears.

Habits of old die a slow death; we had all been battle-scarred and each cut still runs deep today. So every once in a while when I feel challenged, I dig up that ol’ visor and wear it across my face, molars bare, hands clenched and eyes empty as ever, ready to bite. And there are a bunch of “Josiahs” out there, including my old friend, who would nod in consensus to that.

Essayist on Life | Viking — I replaced my axe with a pen, and now my bloodstained sneakers smell of lingonberry jam.

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