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The Vacuum Issue 11 spacer Issue 11
Gap Clones And Studded Leathers
by Chris Magee
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The mundane necessities of everyday life are not in and of themselves exciting or interesting or thrilling. A pair of trousers, a t-shirt, a pair of shoes, a haircut - none should carry anything within themselves except their functionality. That said, they can all be invested with something far more profound. The way in which they are presented to us, along with the cars we drive, the food we eat, the books we read- the way in which everyday life in general is presented to us often comes wrapped up in dreams and wishes. We have our aspirations and urges laid out for us, for our easy selection. This shouldn't surprise anyone. That consumerism chooses quasi-religious imagery and language is understandable. When we are offered a television, we are as much being sold the idea behind it as the physical reality of it. The process, the transaction, becomes spiritual.
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In the same way that religion frequently carries along with it the idea of salvation, and in it's more extreme forms seeks to establish a heaven on earth, consumerism often wraps itself in the glory of rebellion or of revolution. The glamour of the outsider or of contra-cultures is sought in the hope that some of their cachet may be expropriated, stripped of their true meaning and cheapened. That it is stating the obvious to say this is an indication of the way in which on one level the whole system maintains itself on the shoulders of our gullibility, our naiveté, our disregard.
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We are presented with trainers which are promoted with the borrowed quote, striped in Rastafarian red, gold and green, 'emancipate yourself from mental slavery'. A new family saloon is presented as a start to the revolution. Row after row of mannequins in shop after shop are hung with mass-produced faux-punk individuality. And yet we buy into it all. In the middle of everything, after everything, the momentary release of a purchase can offer relief from the mundanities of everyday. No-one can really escape from it. The way we present ourselves to others can be categorised all too easily.
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Even those who seek to step out of the whole silly game step into another category in their refusal to go along. And in doing so their rebellion - against the theft of rebellion - appears irrational, futile or absurd. Those who protested at world economic forum after world economic forum were often criticised for their criticism of globalisation when they were clad in the same 3-stripes and swooshes as the rest of us. As if they all should have been clad in sackcloth and ashes. Frequently the refusal to go along - the decision not to become a Gapped clone - manifests itself in the construction of another identity just as stereotypical. The massed ranks of punks all echoing back, 'yes, we're all individuals' in identical boots, combats, studded leathers.
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Again, this is obvious to all. But, our naiveté only operates on one level. We may be rushed into purchases because of the way in which they are wrapped up for us. But the relationship which we have with the way we present ourselves is not always so straightforward. We may acknowledge the official branded line but make the purchase for a different reason and offer a reinterpretation of our own. A pair of shelltoes, lo-top Pumas or Nike Airs may mean one thing when teamed with a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a football top, another thing when worn with saggy jeans and hoodie. In doing the latter there is a referral back to something else - an urge to associate with the old school. That's distinct again from the initial spark within a culture which for one reason or another sends individuals out to look for obscure labels and brands to claim for their own. The half-forbidden thrill of expropriating the expropriators.
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Of course when that does happen, when Tommy ceases to be just how you spend your summers in upstate New York and is about something else entirely, then the producers themselves are on it like a shot. In their struggle to survive economically they are always going to be one step behind theidea of what is cool. They will fight. They will create front companies to target specific areas or activities if their initial assaults are viewed with displeasure or, worse, are not accepted. Nike got it's fingers burned when it invested in skateboarding only to have counter campaigns launched against it by micro-companies who pointed out it wasn't just another sport they could subsume and control - hence Consolidated's 'Just Don't Do It' slogan. It then constructed a front company to avoid being perceived as being an interloper. And then it edged itself as itself back in again.
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They don't mind stepping out of the boundaries of what is legal - the use of stickering and stencilling and other 'street' tactics bring fines which are a fraction of the costs of billboards or tv. And besides, there is legal and there is legal. There is the morality of illegally spraycanning something and the reality of sweatshops in the developing world. They operate on a different plane from us. They will try to identify trends at their inception in they hope that they can exploit it, mass-produce it, market it. From the moment they step in to institutionalise a subculture then the originators have already hit the ground running, moved on to something else, already having fled the scene.
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So what do we do? Nothing can be done. An immediate reaction is to laugh because, after all, it is funny as hell. No-one is immune from it. Not for good anyway. Even if, for example, you wear what you wear and try to avoid the vagaries of fashion. Periodically no matter what you wear, it swings around into style and it forces you into the awkward position of justifying your choice of shoes or jeans or whatever. I walk past the rows of identical fake thrift store t-shirts in a thrift store t-shirt and feel slightly odd. Wearing a pair of Dickies meant one thing then, another thing now. And I’m still trying to understand how I felt when I saw David Beckham (Real Madrid, England) in a Conflict t-shirt.
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The whole sorry thing operates with the subtlety of a snake eating it's own tail. Increasingly desperate to reinterpret and justify itself, it turns back in on itself forever looking back and gorging itself on it's pasts. At the moment, the new wave of the new wave of the new wave. Another punk revival. Army jackets. No-one has jeans which seem to fit anymore. I've looked like a sixteen year-old gangbanger for most of my adult life. I guess everyone else does now too. It's one of those things.
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Anymore than we can't actually emancipate ourselves from mental slavery simply by buying Adidas, we can't take ourselves out of the process. We live in the west. It's a given. If we all took to Mao suits and worker's caps it would be just as nonsensical. And within the month you could buy them in XXL at Cult. The best we can do is understand that what Che fought for was not to be immortalised on a vodka bottle. That someone in a suit is not necessarily the enemy any more than someone with a Crass patch is necessarily a free-thinking dilettante. And all those kids looking exactly the same assuming that how you look tells you something about yourself or others? All lost in oversized hoodies and bowed down with chain-wallets? Let them have a little fun. If only because it's a lot more fun for us laughing at them.
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Gap Clones And Studded Leathers
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