Friday, April 17

For The Umpteenth Time, I'm Sorry Your Mommy, Your Holy Mother, And Some "Celibate" Pervert In A Dress Forbid You To Have Sex, Even With Yourself

George Eff. Will, "Demon Denim". April 16

REALLY, Demon Denim. That is the piece. The whole piece.
Writer Daniel Akst has noticed and has had a constructive conniption. He should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has earned it by identifying an obnoxious misuse of freedom. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he has denounced denim, summoning Americans to soul-searching and repentance about the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche.

And which goes a restrained 600 of its 725 words before name-dropping Edmund Burke, and makes its case without ever relaying what Clemenceau said to Woodrow Wilson. Apparently "Rejected" is not a category WaPo is contractually allowed to apply to its stableboys' copy. And by the way, if you do make it through the first 692 words there's a sort of coda of Obviousness, like licking your way through some godawful Tootsie Roll Pop to get to the coprolite in the center:
(A confession: The author owns one pair of jeans. Wore them once. Had to. Such was the dress code for former senator Jack Danforth's 70th birthday party, where Jerry Jeff Walker sang his classic "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother." Music for a jeans-wearing crowd.)

Youth is wasted on the Young. Snobbery is wasted on Snobs.

Before we go any further, let's mention something about that Akst piece which George Eff Will missed, probably due to a congenital problem: it's funny. Not roaringly funny, no, but funny, certainly as funny as something published in the Journal and dedicated to its notion of the innate superiority of rich people could be expected to be. And it's far from a conniption, George. Conniptions are rarely funny, and never in defense of the conniptionee's sense of What Is Or Isn't Done. Conniption is a dish best served from under the rock that's just fallen on you. Albert Brooks' nest egg routine in Lost in America is funny. Dick Cheney's reaction to, well, virtually everything, is not.

This is our clue that Will is not simply engaged in some sort of anemic leg pull. He runs--that's not quite the word--with the worst feature of Akst's piece: the insistence that Demon Denim is popular as some sort of Trendy Liberal Hypocritical Lincoln-Navigator-to-Whole-Foods Faux-Radical solidarity with the Sons of the Soil employed by phony Pinko CEO types like Steve Jobs as a badge of authenticity, and mindlessly adopted by the masses because their Lefty Hollywood Idols told them so, without their realizing they're helping to promote Socialism.

And Will treats all this like it's some sort of revelation, or rallying cry of Freedom, for chrissakes. Which would be bad enough in the first place, but coming from a guy who for three decades has employed patently anachronistic neckware as a visual shorthand for his protest against the Modernist excesses of the middle of the last century, and who enthusiastically backed not one but two US Presidents who pretended to be cowboys, in full ranch get-up, it's just, well, rich.
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.

And here's another thing about humor, or even employing the form of humor without even bothering to attempt to deal The Funny: it has to connect with people, even if that connection is "Boy, what a weirdo". Nobody in America dresses down out of concerns about Social Leveling; hell, I doubt two in ten could define the term, and they'd just laugh at you if you did it for 'em. You're a fucking hothouse flower, George, and, if I may say so, your bloom is looking a little spent. Was poshlost taste any better back when no gentleman would leave the house without his hat, or his spats, or unless his body servant had powdered his wig correctly? No. It was thirty decibels or so quieter, is all. (By the way, and I'm not recommending this to you, George, but if you spend some time among Our Most Slovenly--this would be one reality program I'd watch, come to think of it--you might note that while denim is employed by young males it is largely absent in the middle-aged colored; if you wanna see people dress, go downtown.)
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.

We? Who besides you? The guys in HR? If Americans are wearing denim everywhere, even somewhere where you spotted it (if at all, of course; this is, at its center, an homage) then they obviously don't believe it's a sign of immaturity or disrespect. In fact they obviously don't think about it at all.
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.

First: Fred could wear anything, just as he is one of the greatest interpreters of Gershwin despite a four-note vocal range. Neither should be urged upon everyone else based on his model. It is, by the way, always amusing to hear latter-day experts touting the tuxedo--and no one's ever worn one of those like Fred--as some sort of "classic" men's apparel when it began as a sort of shockingly casual alternative to full morning dress.

Second, and this has nothing to do with anything except that in a lifetime of keeping a quote book I'd never run into this one: Judy Garland apparently believed Her Future Royal Highness Princess Grace stole the Oscar™ Judy should have won for A Star Is Born. And she was asked, sometime later, whether she thought Grace Kelly was a nymphomaniac. "She would be," Judy said, "if they could figure out some way to calm her down."

14 comments:

arghous said...

I'm sorry, but you're wrong. George Bush stared down the communist/fascist/Walmartist menace by making sure he and his staff dressed nattily every freakin' day.

You never saw him riding his bike in those spandex monstrosities; his Kim Jong-Il jackets always had the CiC logo elegantly brocaded into them; his flight suits were ever so tastefully padded; his blue power ties could soothe the savage White House correspondent.

When he did wear jeans, it was when he as strugglin' mightily against some wild Texas thicket. In fact, his only wardrobe malfunctions were when his shirts failed to properly conceal the communications pods. You, sir, owe that man an apology!

Luckily for Will he has some keepers to take care of him in his delusions. Other folks with similar mental illnesses just get jettisoned out onto the streets, i.e., a place Will will never see to really learn about the slovenly.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Grace is wearing jeans and penny loafers at the end of Rear Window. And George would never have made it on a Navy destroyer or sub because they wore jeans in the Navy. He can go George Effin' himself.

TM said...

A man in a bow-tie denounces the childish dress of others... well, I got nothing to add to that.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

One more thing--Fred Astaire would take his neckties and wear them as belts. What would George Effin' Will say about that?

TM said...

Wait, I do have something to add: I wonder if, when he wore his jeans that one and only time, if he still wore a bow-tie? I bet he looked like Howdy Doody

map106 said...

You know what? Your grasp of everything just astounds me. And I'm just a year younger than you and have the temerity to consider myself relatively intelligent.

After reading your entry several times just to figure out what you were saying, I spent at least half an hour on Wikipedia (go ahead and laugh) researching the progression of white-tie, morning coat, tuxedo ad infinitum. Funny thing is, I wore a morning coat to my own wedding, but had the audacity to do so at 4:30 pm just cause I liked the look. What would Fred, Grace, and George have thought.

Hey, at least I didn't wear denim. 'Course that would have provided the "something blue" element, but dang, I guess that's only for the bride.

Point being, at heart I'm an Illinois rube who's just trying to keep up with you and your readers.

Keifus said...

Just wonderful.

I feel some mature response is warranted, but I'm just giggling that George Will (of all people!) wants to bring back lookism (as if it left).

zencomix said...

I try to wear my pajamas around town as often as possible. I sleep naked, so it's the only chance I get to wear them.

Do they make denim pajamas?

Joyful Alternative said...

If Will would grant me $100/week in dry-cleaning allowances, I'd think of upgrading from denim.

For those of us without that spare cash or spare hours to spend at the ironing board, the alternative is pastel polyester, which Will has apparently never seen.

Blistère de Sisteron said...

This George F. Will denim thing is a little over-hyped, Dog. Glib, high I.Q. academics at Edge of the American West have been deconstructing granpa's dungarees. But sometimes you got to just let George be George.

Nevertheless, here is how it all came down, unbeknowest to George F. Will:

I don't know what kids in Indiana did, but in California, in the '50's, we wore Levi's. God forbid sometimes Aunt Jane got you a pair of Gold Strikes with the bright orange stitching from Penny's and you had to wear them at least one day until you figured a way to get rid of them. These were real Levi's, straight in the leg, button down the front, red tag on the ass, hard as a rock when you bought them, it's the only kind they made. Years later, when I worked at Levi's headquarters in San Francisco people talked of visiting the old factory where they still had original Levi's that would stand out straight like a surf-board if you held them by the cuff end.

During most of the '50s you wore your Levi's with the cuffs roled up so the lighter back of the cloth showed. I think you can check James Dean on this. Big rolls three or four inches wide, that you could unroll and adjust as you grew longer and the Levi's aged.. Along about 1958 or 59 the vanguard started rolling the cuffs thin, into inch-wide rolls.. Then all of a sudden around 1960 all the guys were pegging their Levi's, cutting them to a determinate length and having their moms tailor the legs to fit tight. I never liked that look much myself, and was glad when it was identified as strictly grease and we could go back to normal.

No sexism here, by the way. Not many girls wore jeans. Ever hear of pedal-pushers? Capris?

At the same time actual cowboys, unlike California schoolyard kids, were wearing a lot of Lees and mostly Wranglers, but what did we know? We weren't trying to be cowboys, we were just trying to be the model for the the international future.

During this period I made regular visits to Duluth, Minnesota, which I took to be middle America, the functional equivalent of Indiana. And those people were wearing what could be described as plaid snow pants, and talking about this new dish called pizza that you could get down at Woolworth's.. George F. Will, in a closet somewhere practicing bow-tie knots would have dissed those people if he knew about them.

The reason you need to know this history, if you didn't already, is that California gave you the modern world. California gave you Levi's, the sweatshit worn as street apparel (although never with a slogan in those days), street crossings with "PED XING" written on the asphalt, the legal right turn against a red light, closing the nut-houses, passable blotter acid, Sonny and Chér. You name it.

Although by the early '60's Teen California was moving to pressed khakis, cardigans, and white overcoats, the purple-velvet bell-bottom revolution hit and we ended up where we are. Although the flowedy bead-necklace greening still echoes, I can attest that more than one hippie on a few hundred mics of purple haze looked down in horror at his purple pants and threw them in the ocean, going home bare-assed to his raggedy Levi's.

In 1966 I went to live in Paris and nobody wore denim, except that by the end of 1967 you started seeing posters in the métro for Rich Lewis pants, featuring a guy standing in corn-hole posture in a pair of Frenchified jeans with a stitched pattern across the pockets like the Levi's double swoop.

Right after that came 1968 and its hundreds of newspaper and magazine columns discussing not only the adoption of George Harrison moustaches by NFL linemen and place kickers, but the devolution of style down into denim. George F. Will was only 41 years late on this one, and the rest of us are only 41 years and one day late pointing out how fucked he is.

dave said...

When I first read the Will piece I was relieved in way I couldn't explain. I think I have it now: the denim piece is actually a retraction.

Will is apologizing for his two recent climate change pieces, the one in which he quoted scientists as saying things they didn't realize they'd said, and the other one in which he refuted the criticisms of the first piece by repeating it more loudly, with some snotty, just to more completely defeat his science-saddled, fact-addled critics.

The precise debunking just made him mad--but he got the message. The Post stood by him loyally, as they do for all of their journalists and George Will, who is just a guy they publish to make up for Woodward and Bernstein. When the sources for the original piece wondered publicly what kind of ganj George had made his assistants smoke, George stayed nobly mum. He has refused all calls to accept responsibility for his caviling, because he knows that if he falls, we all fall. He's doing the right thing.

The Denim piece is Will's way of admitting he was wrong without putting the West at risk. One must be subtle to understand the ways of the far-right punitocracy (sic). "I strayed. Allow me to return to my proper demesne," Will might be saying, in fact is. "I'm far more right when I'm grumbling about kids on my lawn and Krushchev and what Clemenceau said to his teabag." That the denim piece is even stupider than usual is, I think, an even deeper concession to his critics, a way of saying "My usual wizardlike precision with language has been relaxed; my usual laser focus on things that matter to real Americans softened; my usual aversion to zeugma suspended. Do your worst; I deserve it. The window of vulnerability is open only briefly, and only to the most perspicuous of observers, except Berube. Never Berube." Yes, that is it. I'm sure.

Well I for one appreciate the gesture, George. It's a sweet moment of reconciliation among the intelligent, a light spring breeze wafting a hint of the odor of common cause. And so subtle! Rush's lips would get tired; Beck's copy would be obscured by droolsplatter before he'd finished the first paragraph. Condi would get it, but she'd can be trusted to keep his secret, the same way she's kept the secret of the night George took her home to Georgetown and tied her up with his ties, Ty. No, it's for us. It's the love. He's showing the love.

ice

Scott C. said...

Taking the long view, as Will is wont to do, one can trace the decimation of our national slacks to a mésalliance with the jungle music that issued from America's corncribs and shantytowns in the post-war years. Specifically, to Christmas Eve, 1955, and the release of Eddie Fisher's smash hit, "Dungaree Doll."

Anonymous said...

re: Dungaree Doll:

And the second (arguably, the knockout) punch delivered by the Serious Cowboy, Marty Robbins, who made "A White Sportcoat And A Pink Carnation" the basic ensemble for clueless losers. 'Course, by that time, everyone from sad-sack pink carnation wearers on up, knew what bowties signified as a sartorial indicator -- a merde-de-la-merde creepiness, which hovered like a lingering cloud of H2S around those who of their own free Will favored them.

Me, I like aloha shirts.

Pookapooka

heydave said...

As soon as fedoras fell out of favor, we were all screwed anyway.