Have you ever had a friend who, during a moment when you were especially awkward or geeky, ever simply looked upon you an uttered with a slightly shrill voice “One of us, one of us!”
You ever ask where it comes from?
There are two potential sources for this particular phrase. Both, if you can believe it, take this mantra from a much earlier and incredibly poignant horror film.
Our first source is the Clerks Animated Series as created by Kevin Smith. This is also the most direct correlation to our source document.
In the final episode of the series Dante and Randall are (for one reason or another) unable to take part in a series of increasingly strange events happening outside the store. They can only have it related to them via a bevy of characters and the constant descriptions by Jay. Silent Bob as always remains mute on the matter.
During that scene two puzzling figures appear within the store and interact in ways that the two employees comment on. Dante and Randall come to the thesis that these two are truly pathetic and hope that they are so stupid that they are not aware of the sad nature of their own existence. In turn, a few seconds later the pair of strange individuals makes the exact same observation of Dante and Randall.
Before leaving the pair make a haunting statement as they point at the two.
One of us! One of us!
The statement is clear in its message. Whatever illusions of superiority Dante and Randall have of these two strange people are, in reality, illusions. However sad Dante and Randall may view their lives one can easily say the same of them; trapped within this store limited to impotent acts of rebellion that have no consequence or meaning.
This occurs a second time in the episode as a callback to that scene.
The other instance occurs within another, more famous, animated series: The Simpsons. In season one episode four titled There’s No Disgrace Like Home Homer is treated to a series of embarrassing events by his family. As Homer sees his family home he’s treated to a mental image of his family as a group of damned individuals and they indicate his place with him using that same phrase “One of us! One of us!”
In the end, of course, Homer realizes that despite his family’s faults he shares those faults and it creates a bond between them despite the outside world labelling it as unhealthy. Here too the metaphor is clear.
While we have two sources for this phrase which has since become a statement used for derision, both scenes are, in fact, derived from a single pre-existing work. This is not the typical vague connections that I typically make. These have more solid footing. In Clerks, the two strange figures are drawn in the likeness of one of the characters from this source work and with the Simpsons Matt Groening has stated in commentary (if my sources are to be believed) that his use of the repeated phrase “One of us!” is inspired by that same work.
So where does this come from?
I owe this discovery to an online web reviewer known as Oancitizen from That Guy With The Glasses. I’ve long considered him one of the most educated film reviewers by far and his research is worth high acclaim. During one of his videos he discusses the nature of the show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and he discusses the reason for the show’s success. The video is brilliant and I encourage you to watch it though I warn you now that some of the imagery within may make you uncomfortable if you have a problem with images of people who live with severe physical disability. These are people whose disability has had them put in so-called freak shows.
During the video I stumbled upon a remarkably familiar chant but in a much more complete form as one of the works Oancitizen was discussing. This was a film called Freaks. Directed by Tod Browning in 1932 this was released one year after his immeasurably successful film Dracula. Yes, THAT one. The one with Bela Lugosi.
In the film a trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) conspires with the strongman (Henry Victor) to marry one of the so called “freaks” (please internet, I beg you, see the quote marks) a man with dwarfism (That is the real medical term! I am not a monster!) played by Harry Earles. It turns out that Harry’s character Hans has inherited a sizeable wealth and Cleopatra decides that she wants it while carrying on an affair with the strongman.
The workers of the freak sideshow are depicted as honest and honourable people. They accept Cleopatra and during the wedding ceremony they decide to cement this by filling a large goblet with wine and passing it around. While this happens they chant the full cry of a very specific phrase. “We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble!”
I encourage you to watch a video snippet of the scene embedded because I don’t feel I can capture the moment with my own words.
Did you see the moment when Cleo’s mood turned?
Shortly after this clip ends Cleopatra reveals her affair and mocks the people at the table for being “freaks”. Still, Hans accepts Cleo until one member of the circus learns that Cleo has poised Hans and the wedding and has continued to poison him. Then… well, I won’t spoil it but this is a horror film and the fate that befalls Cleo makes the film earn that title in a way no simple slasher film ever could. I still can’t watch it.
I encourage you to read the wiki on this one if you are curious about the film but aren’t sure if you can handle it.
But back to the chant from which our infamous phrase was derived. What was once shown a ritual of outsiders to accept others has since become a phrase (occasionally in popular media) used to mock those who might be in any way slightly odd or different for being geeky. By their own fellows.
And that’s just a damn shame.
Let’s face it, just because we’re in this “geek is chic” phase in the media doesn’t mean it’ll last, or that any of us are less victimized for it. Stories are still making their way to me about how segregation among fandoms has escalated. Stories of women being objectified, fans of recently popular series being labelled as bizarre and strange (mostly the Bronies and Homestuck guys as I hear it) and a chant, a ritual meant to convey acceptance despite massive physical difference is now used as a fragmented term of mockery. That one’s indoctrination is not a thing of warmth and companionship but that the person has now lowered themselves and has somehow debased themselves for it.
I know it’s in jest guys, I really do. But I still see this as one of the ripples of the rock in the pond. Despite how many of us fill cons, post online, write fanfic, and tweet we still allow this self-image of outsiders. We are jaded by a long gone period of trial that is nothing more than an empty echo. We do not need acceptance; we already have earned it with love. Love of a medium and whatever it produces.
In our capacity to love a thing we are capable in turn to acknowledge that within others.
The war is over. Those we might view as our enemies either do not exist, or lack any ability to truly hurt us. We can find companions who will help us defend one another from enemies. We will call them friends. We will bond over what we love and that will give us character. That character will make us better and allow our greatness to flourish and our weakness to perish. It may take us time but we are growing as a people and these are the periods of adolescence where lashing out and anger occurs. This too will pass and we will age into adults, wise with experience and yearning for love. Our hearts will be ready and we will say it well:
We accept you! We accept you! One of us! One of us!
So too does this work exist.