Monday, February 20, 2012 at 09:18PM
We are by now all familiar with the concept of rebel consumerism: the way the desire to stand out from the crowd, to not be one of the masses, drives the increasingly rapid turnover of trends in consumer culture, from music to fashion to sports to social causes. But as the various strains of the counterculture congealed into the jello-mould mass mainstream consumer culture from the late sixties through to the late 1990s, it became easy to treat almost all forms of consumer-based status-seeking as variations on that same theme -- shoehorning the subversive political posturing of the antiglobalists, the mumbled ironies of the hipsters, and the earnest authenticities of Portlandia into the same explanatory schema. And it works, for the most part. But what gets lost along the way are the more wonderfully conceited variations on that general theme.
One such example is the phenomenon of radical chic. We all think we know what it means: the guy at the Santana concert in the Che t-shirt, or the dude who wears the kaffiyeh in your International Development class. But as coined by Tom Wolfe, radical chic had a more pointed reference. It didn't refer to your standard-issue undergraduate-level political agitation, but rather to the distinctively frivolous form it takes amongst the upper classes. For Wolfe, the point was to lampoon the especially preposterous ways the rich engage in radical chic only insofar as it raises their social standing amongst other members of Society. Wolfe's classic example was Leonard Bernstein hosting a fundraising party for the Black Panthers.
You don't get a lot of radical chic anymore -- the upper classes are too busy still trying to be cool. But every now and then something happens that reminds you that no one does absurd politics better than the rich.
Take a look at the top of this post of the Girl in the Green Hat, who became the poster child for last fall's Occupy Wall Street Movement. There's a lot to love in this picture: for starters, there's the who-gives-a-fuck smirk on the girl, contrasted with the grim, no-funny-stuff look on the cop's face. But most of all it's the goofball outfit on the girl: the hoodie, the hair, and that awesome hat. Thanks in large part to this picture, those hats became part of the standard uniform of occupy protesters around the world.
So you know where this is going. After all, it was Fashion Week in New York last week, where Rooney Mara and Emma Stone showed up in sleeveless shifts to watch models show off clothes designed by people who want to sell clothes to people who want to look like Rooney Mara and Emma Stone. But the best part was when a couple of Occupy Protesters showed to disrupt the Calvin Klein show. It didn't come to much, except that... well, I'll let Eric Wilson of the Times explain:
In other news, the reported plans of Occupy Wall Street protesters to disrupt the show turned out to be vastly overstated. It was never really clear why they would target Calvin Klein in the first place, given that the majority of the company’s business, like underwear and T-shirts, is solidly aimed at the 99 percent.
A crowd of two protesters who arrived before the show had swelled to four by the time it was over. And despite their antifashion stance, one of them was wearing a knit owl cap that looked almost identical to the ones that were in Anna Sui’s show last night.