Monday, August 28


David Brooks, "Nonconformity Is Skin Deep", August 27

Last week we asked--without really expecting, or needing, a response--whether there really was a time when Brooks' pseudo-pop sociology was ever taken pseudo-seriously. This week Brooks does his best to provide an answer.

Tattoos! He's ripping on tattoos! Okay, I know it's August. Just take the fookin' week off, already.
We now have to work under the assumption that every American has a tattoo....that under each suit, dress or blouse, there is at least a set of angel wings, a barbed wire armband...We have to assume that any casual antitattoo remark will cause offense, even to those we least suspect of self-marking.

Really? Madeleine Albright? Debby Boone? Ben Shapiro?

Sure, that's the mere comedy version of hunting quail over seed, but how about this: cause offense? In society David Brooks is careful not to cause offense, however inadvertently, by making a chance remark of the sort of thing he puts in his column every week? David Brooks is concerned that a stray antitattoo remark will dismay his companions, result in some lowering of his esteem on the cocktail circuit or perhaps actual fisticuffs? What sort of antitattoo remarks is he prone to make?

Dear reader, I'm going to risk our friendship here, just to make a point. Although I've known you only a brief time, and I have no idea what's under your suit, dress, blouse, or (more likely) bathrobe, I suspect you might be open-minded enough to learn that I don't particularly care for tattoos.

Whew! Now, those of you who haven't run immediately to Comments, stick around so I can offend you, too. I don't like those Melina Mercouri glasses. I've never liked sandals. Can't abide wing-tip shoes, tie-dye, or those suits that look like they were made from petroleum. I don't own anything plaid, aside from a blanket, and that's in the basement. I've been alienated from every major trend in eye makeup for at least a decade, and I think that woman in the Black Eyed Peas looks like she could use a bath. I don't think I should be able to read your watch from a distance of 50 feet. I don't trust anyone who looks as if he spends more time grooming than reading, and if you smell as though you believe the one thing that improves cheap cologne is using a whole lot of it, and you get on my elevator, I may ask, politely, where you contracted the gangrene you're trying to cover up, even at the risk of causing offense.

And so fuckin' what?

But wait, the middle-aged man is just warming to his task:
Pretty soon you'll go to the beach and find that only the most hardened nonconformists will be un-marked.

And there--though we've had to amputate a bizarre phantom appendage from that thought (we'll get right back to it, promise)--there, I say, is David "Bobo" Brooks, the carnival shill who walks like a Times opinion columnist.

David Brooks was born in 1961, and we promise to stop talking about him as if he were still a high school AV nerd huddled with other AV nerds in the cafeteria as a talisman against roving jock bullies when he promises to stop writing like one. By the time he got to high school, in the latter 70s, this "If you want to be a real non-conformist you'll dress like a normal person" schtick wasn't just patently ridiculous and old hat, it was already part of the public school curriculum. The armies of L7s, Brooks included, were being given daily affirmations on the subject, the same way that today children are praised for swearing to their easily-placated parents that they (the children) won't have sex until they (the parents) have gone to their Heavenly Reward. Or gone blind.

What had really changed by Brook's schooldays was that conformity had a new uniform, a new 8 Track player, and better access to a range of intoxicants beyond sloe gin and 7-UP. Schoolmarms didn't like it. But schoolmarms didn't like the long sideburns and comic books of twenty years previous. You might imagine a pseudo-sociologist would pseudo-recognize the point.

Instead we get this rehash of the weird disconnect with the reality of the 60s which is so instructive of public right-wing arguments in general. The 60s are now an era of simultaneous social conflict and cultural hegemony, with hippies in the role Communists played on the international scene, somehow astride the divide like an evil Colossus and a mouthy minority full of shallow, desperate trend-followers soon to be run off by the real folks.

And just as we knew by the late 50s that the Soviets and the Chinese weren't getting along, yet continued to play International Communism as monolithically intent on world domination, so too must Brooks have known actual people in the day, known each as a writhing mass of contradictory rugged individualism and craven conformity and not pseudo-sociologic ciphers, known or realized shortly thereafter that the whole conformity/rebellion thing was a phony construct, that the social revolutions of the 60s were in fact genuine, for all their susceptibility to mass-market trivialization, that the cracks in American backwoods Calvinism were widening, and that young people were dancing to that racket coming out of their transistors, and having sex with the coloreds, because they enjoyed it, not because some Berkley prof hoodwinked 'em. And, perhaps most disturbing of all, that many people were thumbing their noses at Authority because Authority deserved it.

And this is the David Brooks who's apt to grab any "positive" Gallup poll result about teenagers to insist they are throwing off the shackles of hippie immorality. That brand of conformity doesn't bother him, apparently.

Sorry, I promised you that was just half the paragraph. Behold, the real wonders of self-hypnosis:
Everybody else will be decorated with gothic-lettered AARP logos and Katie Couric 4-EVER tributes, and Democrats will have their Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers scratched across their backs so even their morticians will know which way they voted.

Har har har. Maybe that's the cocktail party antitattoo riff that insulted people. Maybe he didn't inadvertently offend someone with a secret inking. Maybe he just happened to find himself addressing someone with a sense of humor.
The problem is that middle-class types have been appropriating the symbols of marginalized outcasts since at least the 1830's.

e.g. The great "Let's Talk Like Australians" craze of the early frontier.
This is no longer a way to express individuality; it's a way to be part of the mob. Today, fashion trends may originate on Death Row, but it takes about a week and a half for baggy jeans, slut styles and tattoos to migrate from Death Row to Wal-Mart.

Y'know, it just goes to show that if you wait around long enough, huge, rampant African appendages will turn up and get shoved into every orifice of young careless white girls. Death Row? I thought white rockers started the tattoo rebirth in the late 70s, and if "slut styles" and Madonna don't go together like peanut butter and jelly, I'll have a ketchup soda.
And that's the most delightful thing about the whole fad. A cadre of fashion-forward types thought they were doing something to separate themselves from the vanilla middle classes but are now discovering that the signs etched into their skins are absolutely mainstream. They are at the beach looking across acres of similar markings and learning there is nothing more conformist than displays of individuality, nothing more risk-free than rebellion, nothing more conservative than youth culture.

Hey, David. Mr. Keller says you should go pick up the projector in B238.


jp said...

Jeeezus, 1961? I can't believe this pantywaist fuckwit is actually YOUNGER than me.

What. A. Tool.

Marion in Savannah said...

The only thing that makes cringing over Bobo's natterings in the Times bearable is knowing that I can come here and have them split open with a gaping Y incision and dissected. Don't ever stop (unless, of course, Bobo does...). And JP is right — how did someone so young get so pompous and constipated??

MikeEss said...

So, if Brooks doesn't like tattoos, DON'T FUCKING GET ONE! Otherwise, STFU...

BTW, I don't have any either...

harry near indy said...

btw, brooks is jewish. and somewhere in the torah, or the first five books of the old testament for you gentiles, jews are forbidden to get tattoos.

D. Sidhe said...

In society David Brooks is careful not to cause offense, however inadvertently, by making a chance remark of the sort of thing he puts in his column every week?

Um, have I told you already in the last week or so that I love you? Probably. It stands. Day by day, it grows.

Brooks, on the other hand. Jesus. This really is the editorial equivalent of "You kids, get off my lawn!"

This isn't even phoning it in. This is some eighty year old copy transcribing it through "remote viewing".

This guy has a reputation for social dynamics analysis *how*?

fiver said...

I have this secret dream that someday Mr. Brooks and Mr. Riley will trade places someday. Bobo will be relegated to the fringes of the blogosphere, where he will rant about the kids these days and the music they listen to and their baggy pants. Doghouse will go on to write prize-winning columns in the New York Times and hobknob with the cocktail crowd.

Anonymous said...

I suddenly feel ill. Not because I have two tattoos but because fucking Bobo is *my* age. That hurts. I assumed he was Riley's age.

HP said...

Oh, man, I remember the 1830s. There's nothing more scandalous than the sight of a group of middle-class "Whottentots" wearing grass skirts over their linsey-woolsey, while taking a polished cabriolet to see the latest divertissements from Mr Christy's troupe.

(By the way, Madeleine Albright has a single tiny rose on her right hip. Jus' saying.)

Chris Vosburg said...

Riley: I don't like those Melina Mercouri glasses.

Were you thinking of Greek singer Nana Mouskouri, who made smallish heavy-framed rectangular glasses her trademark?

TattooT said...

Hillarious! I just have this site of an 80 year old woman at the beach who strangely had a few tats ... man, had they sagged! Not a pretty site.

Instead get a few tattoo t-shirts and realise that many people who want tats also like to change their minds ... so you don't have to pick one and you don't have to scar your skin... that way you can be cool and stick to your faith / beliefs / attitudes / whatever ;)