My Problem: I'm Charming
But can I buck the rampant "sameness" trend?
There’s a beautiful, huge old house in my neighborhood, at least 120 years old, that I have long admired, even thinking on more than one occasion over the years that if it ever came on the market in something close to my price range, I would be the first to call. It recently went on the market – out of my price range, alas – but it was priced surprisingly low compared with all the new monstrosities going up all over the area. I ran into some people who toured it, and it was their take that the sales price was low because “you’d have to put in about a million dollars to make it livable.” Never mind that the people selling it have been living there for over 40 years. Kinda irked me, really, because I live in an old, un-remodeled house which, I guess, is unlivable.
The basic point was that the old house needed upgrades – the kitchen was too small and not “updated,” walls would need to be torn down and rooms reconfigured. In other words, to make it livable, the modern buyer would have to make the interior look and feel like all of the brand-new houses: quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances, a great room, a huge master bedroom with a bathroom the size of a 1950s six-person family home, and probably a dig-out of the basement to make it large enough for a precinct caucus.
For my money, that would take away all of the charm of the house. I suppose that’s the point: “Charming” in real estate these days means “dated” and unacceptable. The problem is, the opposite of charming is sameness.
I often watch “Property Brothers” on cable, and I am struck with that sameness reality. It’s so predictable. Every couple on the show wants exactly the same thing, and once the renovation brother gets done with the remodel, that’s what they get: the same house, whether it’s in Nashville, Denver, St. Louis or wherever.
This isn’t the first time that sameness in modern life has come within my radar. I used to travel a lot for business, all over the country, and I came to be confused where I was. Newer developments, no matter that you were in Charlotte or Orlando or Orange County, look exactly the same, with the same restaurants. Chili’s. Olive Garden. P.F. Chang’s. California Pizza Kitchen. The list goes on. Denver has many of these developments, too. If it weren’t for the Rocky Mountains to the west, you could easily be in Minneapolis.
This sameness trend is probably nowhere more apparent than in automobiles. Except for a few exotics, just about every car on the market – American, Japanese, European, Korean – looks like a Toyota. This is no mistake, given the long-term popularity of Toyota (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery – and profits), but it has taken the distinctiveness out of the classic cars we all admired so much back in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60’s. Many cars back then were “charming,” and the appeal of each was the sense of individualism they projected. Today, what we say to each other with our cars is, “I’m just like you – or at least I aspire to be just like you.”
The problem with sameness is not just the boringly similar things we all have or aspire to, but it extends into our thinking and beliefs as well. It’s very difficult these days to find a truly unique individual, a person who inspires in a distinctive way. I’m not talking about eccentrics – we’ve always had them. But we used to have more people who had interesting things to say; often when I meet people now, all I recall hearing them say is “blah, blah, blah,” all predictable, stainless-steel-appliance stuff I have heard a hundred times before. It’s no wonder, since in our social-media obsessed society, anything varying from the norm by a millimeter is subject to immediate excoriation. The threat here is that people who subscribe to sameness and conformity are easily manipulated.
This drives me crazy and also scares me.
It scares me because I have finally discovered my problem: