This summer when I took the train up to Montreal for a conference, I sat next to a scruffy hipster dude in his forties who told me he was from Brooklyn. The whole ride he lamented the lousy hipster kids who had moved into his ‘hood, saying they turned a dirty patch of city space into a slice of Martha Stewart. He told me the real people in every city hate the gentrifiers, but no one knows how to stop them, and he never realized I thought he was one of them, before he started talking.

The idea that the “real” world is something other than the one in which we are actually living seems to be at the heart of the counter-culture American experience and, like most American desires, this one too has been co-opted by corporate America.A recent Urban Outfitters store which opened inNew York Cityharkens back to the good ol’ days of neighborhood mom n’ pop stores, its outdoor facade shows a hat store and a bodega, as well as numerous other shops that would possibly be around today, were it not for stores like Urban Outfitters, which have ended up buying out the locals.

Much has already been said to criticize the hipster obsession with irony and how it often undercuts actual real world dilemmas. My point is not to ask whether or not hipster fashion provides a skewed view of reality; of course it does. My interest lies in whether or not it is ever possible to render the real world through art and why it seems to be so important to so many writers and artists to try. A recent article at Bitch Magazine called, “Feminist Intersection: On hipsters/hippies and Native culture”pointed out the problem with native fashions being co-opted for a predominantly non-native audience. The article argued that this co-opting was dangerous, in that many people using the fashions were unaware of the actual roots of the items they were wearing. The author argues that this type of appropriation rendered important symbols utterly meaningless. While I agree that the appropriation of Native American symbols is absolutely problematic, I also wonder at where one does draw the lines of demarcation at which things are real and which are imitation. Our obsession with authenticity is all the more troubling when one recognizes that the notion of cultural purity is in many ways a myth- cultures borrow from one another all the time. Oftentimes there is a distinct and specific power dynamic that renders that appropriation obviously reprehensible, but many times the co-opting of another’s reality may be seemingly benign, or, at the very least, made to seem less problematic than other types of appropriation. A religious Jew may view my wearing of a Star of David with a mini dress as inauthentic, since I am not a truly observant or practicing Jew, while I may view my wearing of it as symbolic of my cultural background. Likewise, when a friend of mine discovers he is 1/10th Jewish and begins to start to co-opt the symbols I actually grew up with, is this an act of sudden appropriation or reverence?

The seduction of the real is linked with the slipperiness of reality itself and the writer’s preoccupation with it is linked to the constant desire to imitate and display it. This is certainly not a new phenomena- the urge to showcase the real goes back to the Ancient Greeks. One new aspect, though, relates to how the use of technology currently filters the real. Is social media, like Facebook, damaging our capacity for real relationships? Many people seem to think so. In reality, I think the unease with Facebook comes not from the destruction of “real” social interaction, but the fact that Facebook behaves as a mirror to firmly illustrate just how paltry most of our relationships in a modern consumer culture are to begin with. Does the public display of the trivial ways in which we make or break acquaintances or friendships diminish it further? Or does it simply highlight how many of our social interactions are conventions, rather than built on genuine feeling? Is this a perversion of the real, or a complicated re-telling of it?

The process of rendering this type of “real” is always a process of distancing, of creating a kind of amusing other, completely content in the present moment of experience, for whom the experience of the world is fundamentally unchanging. For example, many talk of going to places in their “pristine” condition, as in, “Let’s all go to Cuba/Kenya/Vietnam before it changes!” as if the people who live in these places are all happy to retain the current status quo, to give us the experience of the realness of their lives we have all read about in books and seen on the travel channel.

Perhaps the problem is that our own realities never feel real to us. We’ve simply lived them for so long, they lose that essential “realness”. As a Latin American Jew, I never felt particularly mainstream American. Both my parents came from relatively poor backgrounds and for them the real world was the suburban lifestyle, the American dream they longed to attain. For myself, the dream worked backwards, and I was drawn into the real world of their youth, with the curiosity of a snobby 18th century explorer, eager to chart my course and capture the real lives of the people who came before me.And now it works the other way too- after years of living in Suburbia, my parents think fondly back to their youth and imagine that world as the real one, and I think back to my own childhood growing up and look around and think this suburban world has its perks too- free of the self absorbed artists, filled with people who have real lives, working in real places, using their real hands, their real bodies on sturdy little sunshine splattered hammocks. I tell this to my father and he laughs and gently chides me, saying that he can remember a time when, in my youth, I told him I wouldn’t be caught dead working an office job, being spoon-fed teaspoons of the American Dream. It’s a reality I can’t remember feeling, let alone saying, and it surprises me that a real aspect of who I am is no longer real to me at all.

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ARIELLE BERNSTEIN is a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at American University and also freelances. Her work has been published in The Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review, South Loop Review, The Ilanot Review and Press Play (Indie Wire). She has been listed three times as a finalist in Glimmer Train short story contests . She is currently writing her first book. She is Associate Book Reviews Editor at The Nervous Breakdown.

33 responses to “Suburban Fantasies: Bohemian America’s Preoccupation with 
Keeping it Real”

  1. This is an awesome essay, Arielle. Hm, true to America’s (well, this current U. S. America’s) Puritan roots, reality might be what makes us feel uncomfortable. As you say, once we’re comfortable, we don’t see our surroundings anymore, just the way we don’t recognize the love handles as such when we gain ten pounds because we’ve been such a long time in our bodies they can’t be fat. That maybe also why the more brutal a movie is (apart from slasher flicks) and the more pains the characters suffer, the more real and true it seems. And really, truth and reality are products of “distancing” and no more true or real than the truth and reality which came before. New words are needed to express a view of one’s life that doesn’t pretend to be more authentic than the other. Truth and reality have mainly been used to toss people aside and create elites (I don’t hate elites). The truth is dead. Again.

  2. I appreciate your embrace of negative capability, Arielle.

    That scruffy midlife crisis sounds very insecure.

    I think you should let the unreal seduce you. For instance: those fake shutters that frame the windows of nearly every suburban house. Don’t the owners see what a caricature they are? They don’t look nice and they serve no purpose. Take them down.

    I don’t know about bohemians in big cities, but for suburban America (which is most of America) things are getting very real very fast. Notice all the dead strip malls, the rising price of gas, the unemployment. Indeed, it’s a fascinating time to be on the lookout for the real.

  3. Richard Cox says:

    While your title addresses reality as interpreted by American counterculture, the actual piece also addresses a wider view, including the philosophical underpinnings of reality–specifically the paragraph concerned with Facebook. I believe Facebook, and the larger community of the Internet as a whole, does represent a retelling of reality as well as an expansion of it. I’m able to form and maintain more relationships online than I could in person, and the possible audience includes people from distant continents I would have never met otherwise. Certainly if and when I finally meet these friends in person, a more complete version of reality is formed, but that doesn’t lessen the previous reality. And if I never meet my online friends in the “real” world, and even if one of those friends turns out to be a fake profile, does that make the relationship I enjoy online any less real?

    One could also draw a similar analogy with recorded music. Many people profess a preference for “real” music, as opposed to a highly produced sound. But ultimately, if you’re listening to an electronic recording, the sound that reaches your ears from a pair of headphones or set of speakers is a reproduction of a captured performance. The distinction between “real” and “produced” is an artistic preference, but surely one recording is no more real than the other.

    Interesting essay. I like your take on relating cultural and artistic authenticity to larger philosophical ideas. Ultimately there is no objective reality, or at least not one that can be easily defined by humans, since for each of us the world exists in the subjective nature of our own minds. The search for authenticity is as much a look inward as an exploration of dark and different corners of the physical world.

  4. Don Mitchell says:

    This is an interesting essay, for sure.

    I’m always interested in the interplay between symbol and cultural identification, in practical, every-day terms rather than intellectual ones — your Star of David examples are excellent ones, nicely thought-out.

    Here’s my example. I grew up in small-town Hawai’i, and our most important gesture (apart from giving the finger) was what’s now called the “shaka,” (thumb and little finger extended, three middle fingers closed). We didn’t call it that, back in the fifties. We didn’t call it anything, as I remember. What we did was make the gesture and say “esalay, brah” or sometimes just “ezay, brah.”

    Now when I’m in Hilo, I don’t dress like a tourist, I don’t act like a tourist, but the truth is to somebody not looking closely at me (and not talking to me, because my local accent is just fine), I’m an old white guy, probably from the Mainland.

    When another driver does me a favor (common, in Hilo) I don’t offer a shaka, as most people would. I just wave. When somebody does it to me, I almost never return it, even though I was probably making that sign before that person’s mother was born. I just wave.

    Why? Because I figure the odds are that I’ll be perceived as a Mainland guy trying to act like a local. And I so don’t want that, that I abandon the sign of my youth and condemn myself to not being seen what I really am. Weird. I do think I ought to get over it, but so far I haven’t been able to.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      That’s a complicated thought process about the perception of others. Not that I’m a stranger to that. I say, offer the shaka. It’s such a cool name anyway. Wave or shaka? Shaka anytime!

  5. Arielle Bernstein says:

    Thanks for all the thoughtful responses, guys! It’s really a pleasure to be here! And yes, shaka all the way.

  6. Simon Smithson says:

    Interesting stuff, Arielle, and a great debut to make at TNB.

    I think the key here, as it is to so many things, is awareness. Who is the arbiter of ‘real’? Is it just a prevalent view? That’s just a subjective majority talking. Is it the original creators of an artifact? If I take that artifact and project a different intent on it, isn’t my interpretation just as valid?

    I’m not sure there’s an answer. Not without objective, agreed-upon structure. A flag, for instance, can be taken as a ‘real’ representation of a country, because the world has agreed to use this icon as a representation of a country, despite the fact there’s no inherent link.

    But wearing drainpipe jeans and cardigans? Who declared that the exclusive province of hipsters?

    To get back to my starting line, I think the key is to be aware of the subjective nature of reality.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

    And welcome to TNB!

  7. Gloria says:


    I read this yesterday and thought it was fascinating and really wanted to comment on it, but decided instead to chew on it for a while before I said anything (and if you knew me, you’d know how incredibly rare this is. 🙂 )

    First off, I’d like to echo what Richard said about online friendships; some of my most important relationships are with people I only know in 2D (some, 2 1/2D if I’ve spoken to them on the phone) – and I don’t feel that these are any more or less real than the ones I have with people I can borrow a cup of sugar from. Even if my digital friends turn out in the end to just be an algorithm created by some evil genius somewhere on a moon orbiting Saturn, it doesn’t matter. Because they’re brought just as much or more value into my life as the other people friendships. And life is totally, 100% what we choose to believe it to be. I firmly believe that. And if you don’t, I challenge you t prove me wrong.

    Second, as to the usurpation of cultural ideals and traditions, I say this:whether you’re motivated by xenophilia or some other less socially unacceptable impulse, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like these things are truly tangible, like a work of art, and you can protect them in a vault so that no one can get to them and so they are protected forever. And all the hemming and hawing in the world won’t prevent people from taking over certain things for a whole variety of reasons. I come from New Mexico and there are white jewelry artists who make a living selling turquoise jewelry in the “Navajo tradition” – which causes a big stink because the Navajo people (the ones who complain – I wouldn’t suggest that i can speak for all of them or all of anyone) get really upset because they have to compete against people who 1) are presumably afforded more opportunities for their livelihoods and 2) who are using native images and styles to make that living. And even though I can 100% understand where these native artisans are coming from, I’m also not sure that there’s anything they can do about it. What? Pass a law? I don’t know if there’s an answer. And, like the example above with online friends, it’s all in perception anyway. If someone’s grandma in Duluth gets a bracelet with Kokopelli on it and she’s told that it was made by a Navajo artist, then that’s what she’s going to go with and it’s not truly going to matter to her if the information is accurate or not. And does it make the piece any less authentic? How do you gauge that?

    I feel like I’m making no sense. But I will end on this: hipsters irritate me because the majority of the ones I’ve met are so damn smug and don’t even get the irony of their irony.

    Thanks for posting this. 🙂 Gave me something to ruminate on for 24 hours.

    • Gloria says:

      No! Wait! I’m not done (almost though.)

      The whole reason that I wanted to post a comment is to say that I use the words knickers and snog (among others) and I don’t consider myself an anglophile at all. (They’re just really great words that are better than their boring American counterparts.) I also use a couple of Spanish words that were common when I grew up in New Mexico – like chonies instead of panties. (Basically, I just want to avoid saying panties.) Anyway, I think these words are okay. I’m okay using them. There’s no pretense; I just really like them.

      • I’ll play devil’s advocate and challenge your Facebook thought, Gloria: All human relationships begin face-to-face, same air shared, same earth underfoot, exchanging real conversation, etc. That is the beginning. The Internet pretense–while it may enhance the experience of really meeting someone, and perhaps it’s entertaining–should be moot. Square one is when you are physically in the same space, sharing stories, inspecting body language, taking a chance and trusting another human being to accept you. I’m not anti-Facebook, and I sympathize with socially awkward people using social networking to build a social life that maybe doesn’t exist, but I have a hard time swallowing this fallacy that Internet friendships are equal in import to real, flesh-and-blood ones. Help me out here.

        Are you suggesting that even if an Internet friend were a false identity you would still feel content about having “known” that “person”? I can’t wrap my devilish head around that. That sounds incredibly disappointing and cynical.

        Your turn.

        • Zara Potts says:

          I’m going to intercept here…

          Part of me thinks the same, Justin – that real relationships are borne out of physical connection; face-to-face, shared conversations, body language etc. But in reality, this isn’t necessarily so.

          My ex (who I was with for a decade and who I met in the days before FB or texting) and I formed a connection that was at first ‘online’ so to speak. We were both journalists working for the same network but in different cities. Our first communications were across the computer system and although it sounds corny, we had actually fallen in love with each other before we physically met.

          It took us probably two years to physically meet and in that time we found out so much about each other, so that by the time we got together, all the awkwardness etc had gone. It felt like we had known each other forever and that starting a relationship/moving in/getting married was the only natural course.

          I think it is entirely possibly to have friends and true loves across the internet.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I took Gloria’s point to mean that these relationships exist in one’s mind, not a physical place. And even if you share the same air and earth, even if you are reading a person’s body language and smelling her breath, the relationship still exists in the minds of both of you. It doesn’t tangibly exist anywhere else unless you have a child or share property, etc.

          Saying that “all human relationships begin face-to-face” is simply not true. Many of my relationships have begun via the Internet. Some have migrated to the physical world and some have not. The question of “equal in import to real, flesh-and-blood ones,” in my opinion, is a personal preference, although I agree most people would probably state a preference for real world relationships.

          I had the experience of developing a friendship with someone online who I was fairly sure from the start was not who they said they were. Suspecting this was in a way liberating, because I could let go of preconceived notions about what I thought a friendship should be and simply experience it. During the course of this relationship I was able to confirm my suspicions about the person, but I can’t deny the pleasure I took from exchanging long, thoughtful emails and chat sessions with this person. She in fact helped me write my newest novel, though she has no idea in what way or how much.

          Of course meeting someone on the Internet does not necessarily mean you could maintain a relationship with that person in the “real” world, and certain relationships like marriages I think would be difficult or impossible to mimic electronically. But to presume because of personal bias that others cannot or do not experience equal emotion from virtual relationships is, in my opinion, a bit misguided.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I’ll play double devil and challenge your challenge, Justin –

          “All human relationships begin face-to-face, same air shared, same earth underfoot, exchanging real conversation, etc. That is the beginning.”

          Well… according to who? If I meet someone on the internet, and subsequently speak to them via Skype, is that a beginning, or not? We’re not breathing the same air, standing on the same earth, but we’re relating to each other and exchanging information, both actively and passively.

          And couldn’t the same points about false identities/personas be made about meeting people in person?

        • And out come the wolves.

        • Zara Potts says:

          That’s not nice.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Sorry, Justin – what was the point of your wolves comment?

        • Just checking to see if you three are real. A false Internet identity would not have reacted to that statement. Luckily, you all passed.

          But I still have my doubts about Cox. There’s no way he’s real. He’s just too good to be true.

        • Gloria says:

          Wait. Justin, if I answer your question, will that make me one of the wolves? I’m confused about whether you were opening a dialogue or if you were doing what happens whenever I talk to Republican, which is to wait for me to finish speaking so that you can just reiterate your point with an eye roll and an impatient groan. Are you here only to hear yourself speak? (Are you even real? I only know you from online, after all.) I just need to know which game I’m playing so that I can adjust my sails accordingly.

          That said, I’ll assume we’re a group of adults engaged in dialogue and proceed upon your invitation to take my turn.

          I absolutely meant that relationships exist in your head. All relationships. You exist in your head. It’s all perception.

          You write, “Square one is when you are physically in the same space, sharing stories, inspecting body language, taking a chance and trusting another human being to accept you.”

          How is this not applicable to online relationships as well? Physically in the same space? How do you define space? Is a chat room or a chat client a space? Sharing stories can be done online (and often is. See? See what we’re doing here? See where we’re doing it?) Body language obviously can’t happen online, but online relationships have been happening long enough that there are subtleties that we all know to watch for in that venue. I take a chance for other people to trust me any time I start a new relationship of any sort. I have a handful of dear, dear friends who I know online. I would say that I feel safe with all of my close friends, 2d, 3d, or otherwise – which is why I consider myself close to them. I am able to share really, profoundly personal experiences and thoughts with these friends. And the fact that I don’t have to see them or slink away in shame if they should judge me actually fuels me with a confidence that it takes longer to build up with 3d friends – especially women. I’m less insecure online, so I’m more honest sooner. Because of that, I’ve been able over the last few years to flex my honesty muscles, which has created space in my own head for me to be able to be honest with myself more, which has ultimately resulted in a rapid rate of personal growth that has been dizzying and tremendously rewarding. It’s a perpetual motion machine of sorts.

          First, I want to be clear that I have faith that these people exist in flesh and blood. But even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t feel the need to dispose of whatever growth I’ve experienced just because it was formed under false pretenses.

          This should answer your final question, which was:

          “Are you suggesting that even if an Internet friend were a false identity you would still feel content about having “known” that “person”? I can’t wrap my devilish head around that. That sounds incredibly disappointing and cynical.”

          Finally, I want to point out that I ended my intial comment with: And if you don’t, I challenge you to prove me wrong. I’m pretty sure you haven’t done so, Justin.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Well, add another “wolf” to the pack, Justin. It’s possible that they, like I, simply disagree with you without you clicked send without really thinking it through.

          “The Internet pretense–while it may enhance the experience of really meeting someone, and perhaps it’s entertaining–should be moot.

          Totally disagree. I maintain several friendships that are just as real as those I have with the people I can touch and see. They express an idea, and if that idea somehow moves me, how could it possibly be invalid? Just because that idea was run through a filter, like any other online idea, doesn’t change it in anyway.

          We do it every single day of our lives. In person. Standing in front of someone doesn’t remove their ability to lie to you, to smooth over their rough edges, to somehow edit the “them” that they give you.

          Internet relationships do exist. Take you and I for instance. We’ve never met. I couldn’t pick you out of a line up on my best day. Yet we clash somehow. Explain that. Furthermore, it extends past the virtual world and into the real world. More than just a little avatar with a lightsaber, I am real enough that you spent at least one night clipping lines from things I’ve written to create a new post. I won’t speculate on the reason for it, but it happened.

          Yet that’s not real?

          Clearly Internet negativity is “equal in import to real, flesh-and-blood” negativity. Why can friendships not be the same?

          Your turn.

        • Slade Ham says:

          PS – I have no idea what happened to that first sentence.

          “you clicked send without really thinking it through”

          That was part of something I was writing earlier. Disregard.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I think the most important aspect of this debate is the definition of ‘friendship.’

          Because I know a lot of people in the ‘real world’ that I spend a lot of time with and breath the same air as etc etc but I wouldn’t call them friends. They’re just people I know.

          Likewise on the internet I have a lot of contacts on Facebook that I wouldn’t call friends, even though Facebook insists that’s how I should refer to them. They’re people I have a vague connection with— sometimes from the real world, sometimes people I only know from online.

          I don’t define friendship as simply hanging out, watching films or eating ice cream or whatever else it is friends are supposed to do. I have a lot of ‘real world’ friends who I hang out with, watch films and, yes, sometimes eat ice cream with. But that isn’t the foundation of our friendship. The friendship comes from shared interests, talking to each other and sharing jokes.

          And of the many people I know via TNB, facebook and MySpace that I’ve never met in person, there are many that I would call friends because these are things easily done online. We just haven’t met yet. Until recently I’d share daily e-mails with a girl in the US. This was over a period of about two and a half years. I wouldn’t say that she’s any less of a friend than people at my uni who I’ve had a few pints with in the last nine months or so.

          My best friend from school moved to Australia a few years ago. I never see him anymore. I haven’t physically spoken to him in about five years now. But we’re always in touch via facebook. Should I no longer refer to him as a friend simply because it’s been half a decade since we breathed the same air?

          I care deeply about my online friends, people who I’ve never met. But I’ve invested just as much time on TNB comment boards and online messenger services as I have my supposedly superior real life friends. And a lot of those friends have given the same back, and are people that I’m glad to interact with on a daily basis.

          Or, to put it a much shorter way: when I look up friendship in the dictionary I get a definition that applies to all my online/2d friends.

        • Gloria says:

          @Irwin – everyone knows that real friends share sandwiches.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I don’t think anyone would argue that there aren’t certain relational aspects missing from online interaction.

          As a sarcastic person, I’m well aware of the dangers of absence of body language and vocal tone, for example.

          But pen pals 100 years ago would have had the same problem.

          I mean, are you prepared to blame the USPS for a denigration of human relationships as well?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I’d like to also note that the general theme of Arielle’s original post has been wonderfully addressed in this comment thread. The question of who is the arbiter of authenticity, or reality, seems to have been answered by the various opinions expressed above. We all are the arbiters, and clearly we do not agree.

          Especially with regard to the idea of the counterculture believing its taste is better. There’s a wonderful exchange in The Corrections where suburban Enid is professing her pleasure in overlarge desserts, desserts which her East coast daughter believes to be tasteless, and the generational, geographic, and cultural differences between the two women looms large. In another passage Enid laments the poor taste and decisions of some woman who buys one of her Chinese rugs, and you see how even one’s own interpretation of the authentic is not written in stone.

          Sweeping statements about what constitutes authentic human experiences, no matter where you stand on the matter, are always going to miss the mark. I also believe in the next few decades these questions will no longer be simply thought experiments. When humans are able to augment their brains and even consciousness with technology, the arguments will likely grow much more fierce.

          As we can all see from the varying opinions expressed in this post and the discussion below, the battle lines are already being drawn.

  8. Hey, way to come out of the gate howling, Arielle! I enjoyed this immensely. Look out TNB–we’ve got a live one.

  9. James D. Irwin says:

    Excellent essay.

    I think ‘real’ is overrated. The world is in a state of constant progression.

    What’s real now was new once, and what was real before that was new once and what was… well, you get my point.

    There is, I think, a difference between respecting, revering and paying tribute to culturally significant symbols and simply being stuck in the past. Especially when ‘real’ tends to equate more to a snobbish ‘I’m-better-than-you-because-I’ve-got-something-‘real.’

    Everyone is a gentrifier, because nobody in there right mind ever moves into an area and thinks ‘oh, this would be so much better if there was more urban knife crime, junkies on the corner and I didn’t have access to cable or running water.’

  10. Arielle Bernstein says:

    Thanks to everyone again for the warm welcome and thoughtful feedback! So many great comments and observations- I know where to turn to for my philosophical musings here on out : )

  11. dwoz says:

    Here’s a bit of mindbender. Complaining about the co-opting of cultural symbolism itself tacitly objectifies reality.

    Like it’s something that can be packaged and redistributed and repurposed.

    oh, hey, it CAN be!

    So, are those icons themselves the actual reality?

    is the Kokopelli glyph the capricious muse himself?

    This piece has a resonance for me, because recently, I found that I am not entirely of European ancestry…there’s some minor portion of Mohawk in me. Does the fact that I didn’t discover this until I’d lived 45 years make it any less “real” for me? I now check the “american indian” box on government forms for my ethnicity, even though you’d hardly see it in my face?

    So, do I feel justified in adopting Haudenosaunee iconology and cultural trappings? Damn straight I do! It’s not like I wear it on my sleeve in public, but in my heart, I feel there’s a relevance to the fact that some of my ancestral blood was here on this bit of earth for thousands of years, not just a couple hundred. Interestingly enough, before the europeans came to this continent, the indigenous tribes would make someone a member of the tribe by decision and decree, in addition to the obvious way of bloodlines. So does the person initiated into the tribe at middle age not deserve to display the symbols?

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