April 16, 2009

George Will, Snob

George Will shows how much of a snob he is today in a column devoted to demonizing (of all things) denim jeans. More comments below.

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves.

Do not blame Levi Strauss for the misuse of Levi's. When the Gold Rush began, Strauss moved to San Francisco planning to sell strong fabric for the 49ers' tents and wagon covers. Eventually, however, he made tough pants, reinforced by copper rivets, for the tough men who knelt on the muddy, stony banks of Northern California creeks, panning for gold. Today it is silly for Americans whose closest approximation of physical labor consists of loading their bags of clubs into golf carts to go around in public dressed for driving steers up the Chisholm Trail to the railhead in Abilene.

This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.

I came across this article through the blog Moon of Alabama, where I made the following comment:

On the one hand, Will has a point about how badly most Americans dress. This point was driven home to me when I lived in South Korea; Koreans dress extremely well, even on occasions when one might not expect them to. In short, Koreans make most Americans look like slobs.

On the other hand, Will only shows himself to be out of touch with the public by writing such a column. Most people will give a rat's @$$ about why people like Will think they shouldn't wear jeans or what clothing Astaire and Kelly wore.

(And, for the record, I gave up jeans long ago, when I lived in Arizona, but that was because it's too hot there to wear denim; I prefer khakis, myself. ;) )

One other comment at M of A was very interesting, where anna missed wrote:

This is one of my favorite and insightful passages by Guy Debord:

The root of the spectacle is that oldest of all social specializations, the specialization of power. The spectacle plays the specialized role of speaking in the name of all the other activities. It is hierarchical society’s ambassador to itself, delivering its official messages at a court where no one else is allowed to speak. The most modern aspect of the spectacle is thus also the most archaic.

Of course what Will is ranting about is the "absurdity" of the elites masquerading as commoners wearing blue jeans as a signifier of our wonderful egalitarian society, when nobody, especially himself, really believes it. And, as the veneers of the great society of spectacle continue to delaminate like cheap plywood in the rain, people like Will gaze wistfully back to a 19th century Dickens world where instead, the poor imitated the rich, wearing filthy collars and threadbare top hats, and not the reverse - thus broadcasting their class. Nonetheless though, like Debord says the grand illusion of modernity is in fact archaic at its root - some of which we are now beginning to witness. And it ain't very pretty.

Update: BTW, did you notice this little gem in the first paragraph I quoted above?

Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote.

Apparently, in Will's Bizarro World, if you play video games, you're much too immature to be allowed to vote. I guess it's not only "George Will, Snob," but "George Will, Closet Aristocrat" as well.

George, why do you hate democracy?

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