Every self and were therefore free to

Every period in history impacts components of everyday life and then the following generations changes their original ideals into something new or adapts them for their current time. For instance, the renaissance was a period of rebirth and intellectual curiosity and creativity that then gave birth to the Reformation which then used this curiosity to challenge the ideals of the Catholic Church and so on. Romanticism emphasized emotion and imagination, rather than logic and scientific thought which was a response to the Age of Enlightenment. Prior periods leave imprints on future cultures and practices which are morphed into societal norms of the day.

As such, the romantics took the enlightenment’s logic that each man is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and tweaked it to emphasize the individual and included the importance of expressing the individual’s emotions. Romanticism started in the 18th and 19th century and throughout the years has morphed and changed as technology and society altered. The period “flowered originally from a violent backdrop of political and social transition” (Legacy).

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It was a time that people were encouraged to promote the individual, express emotion, and refuse to conform to societal conventions. In the beginning, this movement was expressed through literature and the arts but became so much more. Strains of romanticism are powerfully present in American culture today as people strive to demonstrate, be accepted for, and become famous because of their individuality and rail against societal norms through the use of various forms of media particularly social media. Romantics like to think of themselves as unique individuals who have the strength of character to fight against the flow of which society has deemed to be “normal”. Anyone who stays in the mainstream is a “conformist,” a word that evokes negative connotations. The romantics strove to allow a person to challenge or condemn the beliefs of mainstream society.

Their aim was to make themselves standout by taking up a role in favor of primitive nature and passion instead of adopting conservative, manmade civilization. This “anti-role” favored imagination and emotion over reason. To the romantic the “anti-role” is the true self. In other words, only romantic non-conformists could claim they had a true self and were therefore free to be individuals. Romanticism was a way for people to express themselves completely and provide an avenue for freedom.

Frederick Douglass is quoted saying, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” For Douglass, freedom isn’t just getting away from slavery it’s about finding and being your true self to become who you truly are no matter what others think of you. Douglass’s narrative is a romantic piece because he shows the reader his emotions, his complete desolation, and anger with being a slave. He openly expressed his love for liberty and it can be seen that Douglass spends his life fighting for his right to freedom. He knew that his narrative could put his life in jeopardy because he directly accused people by name and included his real name in his narrative. However, Douglass preferred to face the wrath of others than be untrue to himself.

Today, television, the internet, and social media allow people to express their true selves, much like Douglas did in his narrative. They put their point of view and beliefs out to the world, thus fostering a greater knowledge of societal issues and personal struggles. Some feel trapped and unaccepted in society because of who they are but various forms of media has helped them and provided a platform to express who they are and their beliefs. From Ellen’s first kiss on her sitcom, to Modern Family, to I am Jazz society has come to understand the struggles that the LGBTQ+ community deal with, the fears they face, and the acceptance they rightfully demand. For the LGBTQ+ community “the rise of social media such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and the continuous connectivity via smartphones have only accelerated the decrease in the isolation that has long been a part of the LGBT experience” (Huffington). Social media and the internet has allowed this segment of society to express their individuality and help them become part of society as a whole. They no longer have to hide who they are and conform to what some believe is “normal”.

The LGBTQ+ community has fought for freedom and acceptance within society for decades and much like Frederick Douglass have expressed themselves with passion and emotion which represents romanticisms ideals of individuality and being true to oneself.  In I am Jazz, a young adult, Jazz Jennings who was the youngest person diagnosed with gender dysphoria lets society view her narrative as she struggles to be freed from societal judgements. Jazz, much like Douglass, passionately details to the the world their true self and fights societal close mindedness to be free of the bonds that world has placed on them.

Jazz’s narrative can be viewed via social media and reality TV.  She not only struggles with being a teenager, but struggles to be accepted by society for the human being she is, without disdain and condemnation. Like Douglass, Jazz does not hide her identity and because of the communication medium of TV and social media her face is more recognizable throughout the country than Douglass’s, making her an easier target of hate and ridicule. Jazz’s narrative chronicles the harsh reality of being a transgender teenager in the 21st century. Viewers and followers are allowed a glimpse into her reality and feel her pain and frustration with naysayers much like readers of Douglass’s narrative feel his pain of being a slave and not being recognized as a valuable human being despite the color of his skin. People may become more compassionate to the plight of others when shown the effects of hate and discrimination. Social media and certain reality TV shows allow society partake in individuals narrative real time and in a much more personal manner.Romanticism was expressed through emotional potency in paintings.

Romantic self portraits detailed the artists emotions and how they thought of themselves. Theodore Gericault’s self portrait portrays him as sad and morose. His garb is dark, he is slouched down in his seat, and in the background he painted a skull. All of which elicits a sense of desolation and despair.

In contrast, the portraits painted during the enlightenment rendered each subject in a thoughtful poise or in a pursuit of learning. Little emotion can be elicited from viewing these portraits and paintings. The romantics of today have replaced formal self portraits with “selfies” and post them to snapchat or instagram. Young adult and adults alike post pictures of themselves detailing their every motion and emotion. For example, Snapchat allows a person to post a story about what has happened to them over the course of a day.

People post their most intimate moments of joy and sadness for all to see which is reminiscent of the romantic time period. The 21st century enables the individual to celebrate their successes and failures immediately and elicits response to the instantaneously. Has American society taken individuality too far? Has the aspiration to become “immortal” surpassed the reality of life and interfered with the individual? The desire to have everyone know your name and the desire for people to follow you has quite possibly gotten out of hand. In the New Yorker article entitled, “Are Smartphones Ruining Distance Running?”, the controversy of running and selfies is considered. Perhaps peoples all consuming passion, with their individuality and their ability to update the world on their activities on a real time basis, has gone too far and moved away from the original intent of the romantic era. As said in the article, “It’s not uncommon for runners to slam into one another when one stops, mid trot, to capture a smile, covered in sweat and Gatorade” (New Yorker). The importance for everyone to know immediately where a person is and what they are doing interferes with what is truly happening in the moment.

People seem to be looking for validation rather than acceptance of who they truly are. This seems to be the antithesis of what romanticism is. Certain aspects of individuality and the freedom to express one’s true self has taken on new meaning for some and takes the romantics ideals to a new level, thus showing that every generation takes the ideals of the past and creates a new meaning out of them. Generations to come will look at what romantic individuality meant to 21st century America and will criticize and applaud various aspects of it and then make it their own, adding new meanings and interpretations to it. Expressing individuality is the fabric of American society and embodies a new version of what the romantics of the 18th and 19th century espoused.

What will the future bring?


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