Is there a difference that matters between conforming and copying or mimicking? I would think that there is: namely, that in conforming there is a certain retaining of a prior identity even as one adapts to a new shape or circumstance. So, the idea is that the form is there and one wants to fit into it. The mime or mimic does something rather different, something almost uncanny such that it is clear that to mimic is not to conform at all but to do something strange, odd, outside the norm. The mime tries to replace the prior body or identity with a new one. It doesn't simply adapt the prior body; it seeks to efface its presence before the new one, the one that is mimicked.
But, this of course fails: for, it is the mime who draws our attention to the absorption to a form in conformity, as if to tell us that a conforming that understands itself as retaining an original element that does not conform, a specialness that is held apart from the form, a uniqueness that is retained, is, in fact, pure, complete conformity, conformity as such. Full and complete conformity is that conformity that thinks it is not full and complete. The mime, by virtue of the fullness of his mimcry, draws out the specificity in an individual's conformity: the specificity that, ostensibly precious, the mime demonstrates to be meaningless, idiotic. The mime, then, isolates as a meaningless kernel of enjoyment that sense of individuality constitutive of full conformity.
Through such isolating, the mime dissolves the social bond. More precisely, insofar as the mime alerts us to the sinthome of conformity--the meaningless idiocy that sustains it--he draws out the way people adapt to each other, to their form of being together just because they do, just because they enjoy it. He also highlights their anxiety before the threat of the loss or dissolution of this enjoyment.
The discussions of Hitler, assimilation, perversity and identification in this thread made me think of Zizek's discussions of Charlie Chaplain and of Roberto Benigni. And, they may likely be mixed up, but I imagine a scene/screen of jackbooted soldiers in lockstep, the quintessential image of fascist conformity. And, then, I think of Benigni and Chaplain whose mimicry exposes and dissolves the unity of the group.
These images complicate what I wrote above: there are glances and expressions that break the illusion of the mime and the sense of conformity, grimaces that tell "us" that the mimes are not really conforming. These grimaces, we might say, invite those who see them to identify with the grimace, the absurdity, the sinthome, and not with the overall form(ation). They say to us, the form is idiotic. Like the make-up and weird striped shirt of the traditional mime, the grimace sticks out to expose the ultimately nonsensical aspect of conformity--it doesn't mean anything; it is neither good nor bad, moral nor immoral, brave nor cowardly.
Might these ruminations on mimes add anything to the conversation about conformity? They suggest that conforming has little to do with affirming or accepting (points already well made in the discussion)--there is something ultimately meaningless about conformity.The mime exposes this dimension of the sinthome. We might say that there is a sense in which conformity is prior to meaning: that conformity has to precede meaning for discussions of meaning to take place but that conformity as such doesn't mean anything at all (I take Padraig to be suggesting something like this--the comments at his blog, by the way, have cool accompanying images.)
Yet, as I think of Padraig's remarks, I also think of the decline of symbolic efficiency and the matter of conforming in instances of complexity, fluidity, and relative formlessness, such as in conditions characterized by the superego injunction to enjoy. So, there are multiple little possibilities of conformity which function simultaneously as possibilities of transgression (a version of Keith's point). The mime draws our attention to this: what makes the mime in the square thrilling--fascinating and repulsive--is his ability to mimic very different people, to conform to very different styles/practices. And, perhaps this reminds us or at least enacts the doublet of conformity and non-conformity as a set of shifts through differing contexts. It could also be that the mime here asks Adam Roberts' question: Who are you? What does it mean if you are the one to whom I conform? I've never seen someone enjoy having a mime mimic them. I've never seen someone start to prance, walk more proudly, or even nod in acknowledgement that such following is their due--likely again because the mime isolates the sinthome in conformity, its substrate of meaningless enjoyment.
It may continue to be that these remarks fail to address Dominick Fox's distinction between conformism and conformity and the heart of the accusation of conformism: "a knee-jerk reactiveness against any non-conforming behaviour or expression" which appears as "pedantry and pack-behaviour" and may (particularly in the case of academics) extend "beyond etiquette into the region of a 'political correctness' of thought and gesture, and a compulsion to engage in rituals of exorcism and disavowal whenever this 'correctness' is perceived to have been breached."
I wonder, though, if the words "knee jerk" and "compulsion" get at the same level of the sinthome (meaningless kernel of enjoyment that holds meaning together) that I was trying to figure with the mime. For, clearly, what the mime does so well is exaggerate every so slightly those bodily, affective dimensions of everyday behaviors that expose their ultimate idiocy. The mime makes the commonplace look idiotic. If the analogy works, then maybe it suggests that the accusation is supposed to provide a kind of mirror or point of identification outside the structure or practices it reflects. Yet, it is more likely that the analogy falls apart at this point: a typical strategy vis-a-vis a mime is to give him some money so that he will go bother somebody else.