But before you start tearing your hair out or accosting some stranger, consider this. Whoever it is who’s programmed their cell so it doesn’t sound like everybody else’s is just trying to be somebody. Somebody apart from the crowd. Somebody who’s an individual. Somebody who’s more than just a number.
Standing out is getting harder and harder to do. Sometimes I think we are our Social Security numbers. That’s how our banks think of us. That’s how our schools or jobs think of us. That’s how the Internal Revenue Service thinks of us.
Our names, our personalities, our faces — they all mean something to our friends. But no matter how likeable you are, how many people is that, anyway? To the rest of the world, we’re just nine numbers. Or, for credit- and debit-card purposes, 16 numbers. Plus an expiration date. Get one of them wrong and poof, it’s like you don’t exist.
I thought about this the other day when I saw a credit-card commercial on TV. The selling point was that if you sign up now, the company will put any picture you want on the card. Not just a thumb-sized ID image, but one that fills the face of the card. It could be your picture, or your dog’s picture, or your cat’s, or your kid’s — anything you want. Just think about the awww factor. “Hey, that’s you!” says the cashier at Bottoms Up when you present your credit card to pay for your pizza.
“Is that your cat?” the clerk at Target asks. “What a cute puppy,” says the front-desk manager at the Marriott.
Bingo! You’re no longer just a number. You’re the guy with his golden retriever on his credit card. It’s all in the cause of distinguishing ourselves from the rest of the masses. We just want to be noticed.
It started with vanity plates, I suppose. Some people wanted them because they’re easier to remember than a randomly assigned license plate number. But now most of them seem to be determined to draw attention to us. My favorite on the cleverness scale was one I saw in Washington: PP MD. It took me a minute or two to figure out it must belong to a urologist. I’m still trying to figure out why one plate I saw read FUNGI. Was the owner a microbiologist? Or maybe he thought he was a barrel of laughs, but he just couldn’t spell. Or maybe FUN GUY was already taken.
Hey, notice me. I’m somebody.
Almost anything can be personalized nowadays — because we all want to be memorable people. Standard checks are almost gone with the wind — so much so that they’ll probably return soon because they’ll be so ... um, retro. Want your own picture on your coffee cup? There are dozens of Web sites that will help you achieve that kind of memorability. Want to decorate your cell phone with smiley faces? Nokia has a faceplate just for you, or you can choose American flags or pink pigs if you like.
“Yeah, I remember her. She had a cell phone with pink pigs all over it. And it played a Sousa march when she got a call.”
A mug with my mug on it? Fluffy or Fido on my credit card? FUNGI on my license plate? Pink pigs on my cell phone?
Oh, well. Individuality doesn’t come easy. And some people might think it’s all a bit unseemly. But sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and go for it.
Back in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev told a meeting of the Communist Party, “We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all.” Yeah, right.
That dog sure didn’t hunt.
I prefer Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s take on it: “What is genius – but the power of expressing a new individuality?”
It kind of makes you wonder what tune her cell phone would play, doesn’t it? Something really classic, no doubt. Like one of the Brandenburg Concertos. And she’d probably have a picture of Robert Browning on her Visa card.
But it was Gladys Glover who took memorability to the max. Judy Holliday played Gladys in the 1954 movie “It Should Happen to You.” Gladys had lost her modeling job, but she had what she thought was a great idea. She spent the last of her savings to plaster 10 billboards all over Manhattan. “Gladys Glover,” they said. That was all, just her name. And everybody was talking about her. They didn’t even know why. “Who is Gladys Glover?” they all asked. And her whole life was turned around. Suddenly, she was somebody.
Laugh if you will. But I say “You go, Gladys!” On the individuality scale, it beats the hell out of a cell phone that plays the theme from some TV show. S
Don Dale is Style Weekly’s television critic.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.