Dumbo Feather: On bananas and banality

Dumbo feather, pass it on – Issue 23, Autumn 2010

The humble banana was once a biologically diverse fruit that grew wild in the fecund jungles of South-East Asia. There were sour bananas and sweet bananas and they came in a variety of colours, such as purple and green and yellow. However, the fruit’s diversity was forsaken long ago and the bananas we know today are a mono-cultural crop.

The fruits of the wild banana once contained seeds but now, bred for mass consumption, they are sterile. Banana trees are clones grown from the rhizomes of other trees, leaving the fruit at risk of obliteration by a fungus called Panama Disease. In 30 years’ time the phallic, yellow, fruity favourite, as we know it today, could cease to exist.

Uniformity and the strive toward monoculture pervades many areas of our lives. Those who call for migrant assimilation are really calling for the absorption of diverse cultures into the mainstream. Plurality is discouraged in many spheres –  suits populate the CBD, women covet the perfect figure, social mores dictate how we behave in public and gender is still an either/or existence.

Uniform identities were inflicted upon us at the earliest stages of our lives. For 12 years at school we dressed the same as our peers. They told us uniforms (hemlines no more than seven centimetres above the knee, white socks, black polished shoes, no ostentatious jewelery) were a way of preventing exclusion and discouraged markers of class. School uniforms enforced sameness and theoretically allowed their wearers to camouflage into the social sphere. This was the ideal but of course social difference manifests itself in other ways. We stake out our identity in the music and television we consume, the food we eat, the family we come from and the environment we inhabit.

In my own school years the rebellions against uniformity were common and clear. Wearing jeans led to punishment but we did it anyway, the hemlines grew ever-more-upwards, eyeliner and nail polish were never technically against the rules and Doc Martins with colourful shoe-laces were still black and still polished.

Blame for the implementation of uniforms in schools throughout the world can be laid squarely at the feet of the British. Not only did their colonialism create conflict, dispossession, displacement, slavery and genocide but it also caused the spread of school uniforms from the Motherland like an all-consuming beige revolution. England first introduced school uniforms during the reign of that famous wife beheader and Vatican separatist, King Henry VIII, in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

The communists were also big on uniformity. In Mao’s China many people wore a simple green button up tunic shirt with green trousers, dubbed the ‘Mao suit’. Twenty million people starved due to Chairman Mao’s agricultural reforms. Coincidence? I think not.

Nazis wore uniforms too, and we all know what happened there.

The simple uniform, despite all the good intentions and rhetoric from the Department of Education, has a dark past. You heard it here first – school uniforms were borne of a banana-killing, wife-beheading, imperialist, Communist, Nazi, Taliban culture and we should end it here and now.