By Dale Henry Geist, Editor
Katie Pruitt’s new video, “Normal,” does what all worthwhile art does: it reaches in and touches your heart with the unmistakable and unshakeable force of empathy. When the wide world affirms what normal looks like in a million subtle ways, every one of us whose authentic soul differs from it will, through the magic of empathy, respond to a message about being different, regardless of what that message looks like.
“Normal,” both the song and the video, is filled with images of one person, one specific person, whose individual experience cannot possibly be identical to ours. It kicks off with images from Catholicism, which is unlikely to be the lived experience of many, if not most, viewers. It’s soon clear that these are the experiences of the singer, shown in home movie clips as a little girl, many of them experiences we couldn’t possibly have had. The lyrics make it clear that she never felt normal.
Raise your hand if you can relate to that.
And that’s the paradox of empathy: when human experience is made specific, no matter how it differs from our own, we can identify. The paradox here is double: what we’re empathizing with is the experience of feeling different: yet we’re all of us empathizing with it. Feeling different: it’s what they like to call in college the human condition. Pruitt cannily taps into that.
Then comes the chorus, declaring that this girl, who has spent her life feeling like an outsider in every circumstance, longs to be “normal,” and if she could be, “trust me, I would.”
Why do we want to be normal? Because it’s easier. It’s less lonely.
So why can’t we? Because we aren’t “normal.” Because to pretend we are would be a betrayal and besides, we’d soon be discovered as imposters.
It becomes clear in the second verse that the locus of the girl’s difference is her sexuality, a frighteningly powerful, deeply-rooted and socially fraught way to be different. The power of this only increases our empathy. Yes, especially if we’re queer. But I daresay that it’s the rare human, queer or not, who doesn’t harbor furtive desires.
Here’s what Katie told us about where the song comes from: “’Normal’ was always a concept I fought against. I hated dresses, played with action figures instead of Barbies, I even cut my hair short. Kids aren’t afraid to be themselves which is something we lose sight of as adults. We all feel this pressure to conform when the truth is…there is no mold we need to fit, no script we have to read from, and no such thing as normal.”
The truth is there is no such thing as normal.