The narcissism of small differences is a psychological phenomenon that happens amongst groups. Minute distinctions of groups are highlighted to show superiority against others who are exactly like them.
“We play rock music but in 7/4. We’re math rock, not rock.”
“We play hardcore but don’t drink or do drugs. Straight edge or die!”
Sound familiar? Music is chalk full of the narcissism of small differences. At times it seems like a necessity. How can I distinguish my rock music from all the rock and get people to listen? Sometimes all it takes is a small difference to get a band on the map: “Did you hear that new band on the radio? They’re like rock but man, they have something else about them!” That “something else” is the small difference.
While everyone being an individual snowflake is dandy, it accumulates to a life threatening snowball. Entire scenes are dismissive of people who don’t fit their mold. Bands are dismissed as “not music” when compared to others. Musicians are regarded and regard themselves as talentless in light of another. It has to stop.
But what should replace the narcissism of small differences? Why, the narcissism of big similarities!
Why don’t we celebrate, no, rub in the fact that all of us are in it for the music, how it enriches our lives for the better? That is one of the biggest similarities that we all share, whether we’re straight edge or hippie, classically trained or self taught.
English poet John Donne wrote that “All mankind is one author; and is one volume”. Why can’t musicians and listeners act as if they are of one author and volume? Why do we have to be individual snowflakes when we could be part of the same one?