We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“How fashionable to wear clothes that are distressed. The young on the Westside of Los Angeles dress themselves in jeans worn, sanded, and razored to resemble something a six-month castaway might crawl ashore in. Why? They are trying to purchase a charade of victimisation, as the ethos of the Liberal West holds that these victims are the only ones of worth. but how to go about it? For the jeans can cost over one thousand dollars (one might buy them at Goodwill for two bucks, but, I am informed, they would be “seen through” and, though a closer approximation to true poverty, they are ineffective as a concomitant display of wealth.) It beats me hollow. Look at those Old Rich Guys in their Porsche, the young might say, but the Porsche is perhaps not an attempt to display wealth, neither to recapture youth, but to enjoy that which some years of labor have permitted as an indulgence.”

David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge, page 63.

29 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • eddie.willers

    ‘Distressed’ clothing is simply another manifestation of the ongoing cultural decline of the West. In years past, it was a point of personal pride (reflecting a true self-esteem) for folk, even the poorest, to appear in public dressed in a ‘respectable’ manner.

    Take a look at Ken Loach’s “Kes” from 1968 and pay attention to the scenes in the working men’s club – the men, rough hewn miners all, are all in suits and ties.

  • People are choosing to dress in the way that they want to, because they like to. Fine with me. Mamet is being an arse.

  • Laird

    No, he’s not. They “want to” because it’s the trendy thing to do, because they’re sheep following the rest of the flock, not because they “want to” for any individual reasons. Fashion, especially bizarre fashion, always merits ridicule, and never more so than when it’s fashion which purports to make some sort of social statement.

  • And this is a large bulk of the reason why most people do anything. So what. People are sheep a lot of the time.

    Mamet thinks he has better taste in the kind of sheep that he is. This is just snobbery, and a rather tiresome kind of it. He wouldn’t be nearly so critical if their behaviour in sheep-like terms was exactly the same, but if he thought they had better taste.

  • Alisa

    What Michael said. Fashion has always been synonymous with herd behavior by definition. Big deal. And his interpretation is wrong, too: distressed clothing does not say ‘I’m a victim’ – quite the opposite, it says ‘I’m so well off that I can wear trash and still look good’, or something like that (been there, done that, but have grown old enough to know better). Or it can also signify rebellion (yeah, I know, don’t shoot the messenger). Anyway, whatever.

  • RRS

    Aren’t we really focusing on a very,very thin slice of the “public” which makes up the “culture?”

    Aren’t we also looking at the slice which is largely fixed in adolesence and largely ineffectual (see, Occupy)?

    The U S “culture,” measured by economic demand is reflected in Starbucks, Dunkin DoNuts, Kourig Cups, Sushi, Pizza; its male adolescent fix in spectator sports and non-participant politics.

    Thank God for women.

  • RRS

    Not always with grace, often with sadness, women do mature.

  • Alisa

    No kidding, RRS…:-)

  • Laird

    Whatever. I still think that paying good* money for new jeans with holes, slits and abrasions in them is stupid, plain and simple. And deserves all the ridicule it can get.

    I also hate tatoos, and have a very low opinion of anyone with one. So sue me.

    * As good as we have, anyway.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    @Michael Jennings: no, I disagree. Mamet – as Laird points out – is expressing his totally understandable befuddlement at people who, sometimes out of a weird sort of “scruffy chic”, affect to look like tramps, at heavy cost, while the same people might sneer at a middle aged guy in a fast car. He’s pointing to the funny little hypocrisies and attitudes people strike in fashion. Mamet is hardly denying that people are entitled to spend their money how they want.

    Personally, the sartorial thing that really makes me take a double-take is guys who wear their trousers half way around their bums, showing off their underwear. I cannot imagine how any woman or indeed gay man would find that appealing. Someone explain that one to me.

    I must be getting old.

  • APL

    Laird: “Whatever. I still think that paying good* money for new jeans with holes, slits and abrasions in them is stupid, plain and simple. And deserves all the ridicule it can get.”

    Agreed, as does the recent trend to wear jeans below the buttocks.

    But we are discussing fad and fashion. By definition it is ephemeral and largely worthless.

  • Alisa

    What APL said (I seem to be in a me-too mode today…).

    Funny you should mention the trousers thing, JP: I was just thinking about it myself (easy, that, as the resident teenager has just emerged from his room – they too have to eat, you know), and in my mind likened it to the latest fashion in women’s decollete. Just playing the devil’s advocate there…:-)

  • Tanuki

    I’m reminded of a friend who unexpectedly came into a bit of money.

    One of his family said “you can buy yourself a really nice new car with some of that!”.

    My friend replied “No, I’m going to buy myself an oldish Bentley – then people will think I’ve always been rich”.

  • George

    The trousers round the bum thing is about looking like you’ve had your belt taken away because you’re in prison.

    I think this is the most pathetic fashion I have seen in my lifetime far worse than jeans with holes in which could imply you are a bit of a rough and rugged character (perhaps a cowboy).

    When fashion impedes a gents ability to walk and displays his bum crack it deserves only ridicule.

  • Sigivald

    They are trying to purchase a charade of victimisation


    It’s a mere continuation of the hippie era fashion for jeans that look like you didn’t just buy them.

    It’s trying to purchase authenticity, not victimization.

    Real poor people in the United States don’t wear distressed jeans enough for it to be a signal of poverty.

  • Sigivald

    (I should clarify, that it’s really more just a rote survival of that hippie-era authenticity desire; for quite a long time it’s been mere aping as a fashion statement, rather than an actual attempt at the above.

    It is now merely and purely “fashionable” to have distressed jeans, and has been so for ages – it’s not really signalling anything at all except that one is following that hoary look.)

  • Alisa

    Yeah, it suddenly sound as if Mamet has been living in a cave. Too bad, I like him.

  • James Waterton

    The only issue I have with the quote is Mamet’s declaration of what motivates people to wear the fashion he describes. One size doesn’t fit all, David. Ahem.

  • Richard Thomas

    Many here seem to be missing the point. If wearing distressed jeans or having them sag around your bum increases your implied suitability as a mate, it’s probably a reasonable investment. Might as well poke fun at the peacock.

    I write as a lifelong avoider of fashion myself but looking back with the wisdom of years, I think my calculations may have been askew.

  • I think we all agree that people are free to wear what they like and others are free to criticise them. What I do find interesting sociologically is why people choose to wear things that make them look either poor – distressed jeans – or criminal – the low-crotch look.

    I can understand the former; particularly for men. As George says it makes the wearer (or aspires to make the wearer) look tough and manly. It is meant to convey that the wearer is no city-bred dandy. But it really does say something odd about our society that people aspire to imitate the look of an arrested criminal suspect.

    While I was walking behind a guy a few months ago, his gangsta low-crotch trousers suddenly decided to go all the way – his trousers shot to his ankles as if pulled by an invisible hand and he practically fell over. The funniest bit was that there was no visible reason for it to happen at that moment. I had to overtake him while he was pulling them up but decided not to offer any words of sympathy in passing.

  • Alisa

    I don’t think that a certain fashion, no matter how ridiculous it may look to an older generation (and new fashions always look strange to older generations) says much about society, but it does say quite a bit about a person – in particular, their age and their social status. While very low-rise distressed jeans in a teenager may indicate anything from the desire for approval by one’s peers to the rebellion against one’s elders, in a slightly older person it can be, at best, a sign of gross immaturity. On the other hand, given enough time, these things have the tendency to climb up the generational ladder. So by the time today’s teenagers are my age, they may well still will wear those same jeans and there may be no eyebrows left old enough to be raised. Shudder.

  • Paul

    I work construction. I used to buy heavy, expensive, official(ish) construction gear. Heavy duck, etc. But I’d trash it. Now? Thrift stores. 2$ pants, hoodsies, 1$ tee’s. Any kind. Polo, Wal-Mart, whatever. I trash those too.
    Frankly, I think the street people, the homeies dress better( saving the skin oil grease ) then me..

    I remember when I first heard of Diesel Jeans, which I had never seen and didn’t know anything about, might be a type of industrial gear. Little did I know that they were for urbaniesta posers that wouldn’t ever know the joys of starting a diesel engine at 5 in the morning at zero degrees while standing in ice, mud and water.

    BTW, I remember when blue jeans used to be made of a waxed type cotton and would stand up by themselves and were real stiff, and if you didn’t wash them they would last forever. I wish they still made those.

    My nephew is a poser. Talks about feeding the poor. I’ll be at his moms house, shingling in light rain or snow and he’ll walk by with out a hello, or offer to make a coffee cup. He has what Dickens described as ‘telescopic charity’. He said he wanted to …’feed the poor’. I asked him if he knew who Norman Borlaug was and he had no clue. Of course we haven’t gotten too along since I suggest that the poor don’t just need to be fed, but that it would be nice if he wiped their asses and performed fellatio on them. The poor have more needs then just being served food by some wana-be Rastaman white boy and he should think outside the liberal box and make them truly happy, if only for a moment.

  • very tired

    Oh, Paul, what a great comment. I wish I could have seen the look on his face when you made your suggestions about what the poor really needed.

    When I was in college, my bunch used to laugh at all the rebels walking around in work shirts and jeans with heavy work boots. “Weekend revolutionaries”, we used to call them. Of course, it was all for show.

    None of them ever really worked a day in their lives.

  • Everyone’s saying on the thread about above vigilante movies that it is silly to draw conclusions about real life from movies and TV. Good thing I’m posting this on this thread where they can’t see me!

    I always used to find it interesting on cowboy movies how even the villains, dressed in the toughest of working clothes, would at least pretend to be respectable when they rode into town. “Yes ma’am”, “No ma’am”, taking off their hats in the presence of ladies, addressing men as “Sir” and so on. Assuming that bears some relation to how it actually was in the Old West, I imagine that the reason they wee so polite was (a) their manliness was beyond question (b) in a society where a stranger really might be an outlaw in the most literal sense, and where most people were armed, you needed to be able to convey that you were not a threat despite your rough appearance.

    In contrast the sort of young men who wear gangsta trousers have little scope or ability to prove their manliness by having a tough job and usually find they can get away with projecting menace with little penalty. The latter is true in most US cities as well as here in the UK.

  • ManikMonkee

    In Africa they have a real “bling” culture essentially everyone wants to look as rich as possible. I’ve always been a scruffy hippie tw@t, its just the way I am. Its funny cus you walk in a bar and you see people dressed to the nines in designer gear with their BMW car keys strategically placed on the bar nursing a beer or crap blended whiskey (with ice) for like two hours. Whenever I walk in my crappy ripped jeans and Tshirt and order a large amount of very expensive Isle of Islay single malts (no ice) I get some very confused looks. I figure the less money you have the more obliged you feel to appear as if you have it.

  • Alisa

    Natalie, I’m sure you know this, but just to make sure there’s no confusion in any conclusions made by anyone: gangsta trousers are very different from distressed jeans and are worn by an entirely different demographic.

    In any case, fashions, in addition to being fleeting, also vary along the lines of age, socioeconomic, ethnic, religious and other cultural groups within a single society. They also do not remain static within these groups, and tend to move from one group to another over time. For these reasons, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to make any kind of generalized, reasonably long-term conclusions about the nature of any such society, or even any such group. The only conclusion I can reasonably make is about the nature of a single person dressed in any particular fashion – that being done against the backdrop of wider fashion trends. Or, to be more laconic: it’s just fashion, people.

  • Alisa

    Oh, and if you throw gender lines into the mix as well, things get even more complicated…

  • hennesli

    They are trying to purchase a charade of victimisation

    Utter nonsense

    I have been to the Irish themed pub chain ‘Oneils’ where they paint the walls a waxy yellow/brown to simulate years of tobacco smoke accretion. Having a coffee in Costa the other day I noticed the faded images of card players in an Italian cafe framed by artificially distressed wood.

    wearing ready worn jeans and so forth is part of the same phenomenon – it’s a paradoxical simulation of ‘authenticity’ and history. It has nothing to do with looking like a victim: on the contrary it mimics the signs of status, since the authentic and the historical are generally now the preserve of the better off.

  • I dont think Mamet is being an arse; he is naturally doing what we all do in reaction to specific fashion statements. That is what fashion is, a statement. As a youth, I didnt spend one neuron on a concerning of myself with how I dressed, was what I was saying about myself. As a photographer, it is with surprise that I find keen awareness of fashion now intruding on my consciousness regularly.

    There’s different kinds of ‘ganstas’… when I think of Sinatra and his ilk, they were very focused on dressing up. Butt-Crack Exhibitionists dress down to impress…