I’ve been fascinated lately with our growing cultural obsession with the past, the way it’s twisting our memory and warping our relationship to time and space and permanence and impermanence. There are any number of working theories, articles, and books that take on the cultural toxicity that is mass-nostalgia, but the general idea is that with the Internet came an ever-increasing cannibalization and regurgitation of all things bygone.
At some point we stopped looking ahead and started almost exclusively looking back. It saturates nearly every corner of contemporary life, from pop culture, to fashion, to politics. Like the Tea Party’s notion that we can “return” to some idyllic time in American politics where individual liberty is somehow twinned with a personal freedom based in unquestionable morals.
There’s a lot of talk about how nostalgic distraction is impacting and impeding innovation, both on a cultural and on a business level, but I’m more interested in WHY we stopped looking forward. Sure, the Internet makes all information ever recorded available at lightening speed. If you decide that you’re interested in 1920s Germany, you can read all about it, learn to dress like it, listen to the music of the day. You can identify with it without ever having experienced it directly. The misguided perception that by draping yourself in the warmth of perceived better times, or simpler times, you can somehow will a return to manifest: that’s the real face of time travel. And it’s disturbing.
But why stop looking forward? Presumably because you don’t think that there’s anything to look forward to. Looking at it through that lens, the nostalgia phenomenon is even more intriguing, particularly when coupled with the fact that more than 60% of Americans think that our best days as a country, as a culture, are behind us. Depressing, given the short time that we’ve even been a country. It’s like peaking in high school. Yikes.
Which is part of why I think Occupy Wall Street is the best thing to happen to this country in my lifetime. It’s about the now. It’s about taking control of the now and it’s about investing in a future, in one another. It’s not about slinking into the soft oblivion of eras to which we can never return.
Just like Carrie Leilam Love, all I can think about is the OWS movement right now, but since she already brought you protest wear last week, I had initially intended to go with something more lighthearted about the evolution of the confounded “quirky girl” style and about how Zooey Deschanel has officially screwed the pooch with her new series “The New Girl.” But I don’t really care about that right now. Because I am so completely intrigued by OWS. Because it is AMAZING.
I thought maybe we could look at past protest fashion, but that just loops back into the nostalgia problem and beyond that focusing on the fashion of what feels like the beginning of something important feels trivializing. Instead I thought we could create a sort of “people’s protest continuum.” A family tree of sorts, linking what’s happening now with a grand tradition of humans getting fed up and shaking off the chains of the unjust, the unethical, and the elite.
So this might not be a post so heavy on fashion, but it’s definitely a post heavy on style, because what could be more stylish than a global movement bent on changing the values by which we live?
And so here is the “Trying to Change Shit That’s Fucked UP” tradition in images:
What’s happening right now has a lot in common with the labor protests that swept through the Gilded Age, when the likes of Rockefeller and other “robber barons” were taking advantage of workers, women, people of color, CHILDREN, and pretty much anyone they could. Like today, they had their hands deep in the pockets of politicians and our government worked largely for them, rather than for the people. This is what the people looked like (above and below):
This is what the Robber Barons looked like:
Then of course before the Gilded Age there was the abolitionist movement. You know. To free the slaves from their wealthy landowners? Those wealthy “landowners” also had their hands deep in the pockets of politicians and half of our government worked for them, not the people.
This is what the people looked like:
This is what a “landowner” looked like:
It’s not always about rebelling against unethical big business, though. Sometimes we need to yell just to be treated like equal humans. Sometimes we need to yell because our government is too busy upholding unjust social prejudices. Sometimes we yell because we simply look better yelling. Like Stokely fucking Carmichael. I mean, he also had some really interesting things to say and he was pretty conflicted about the whole Black Panther separationist thing. Fun fact about Stokely: he answered the phone for his entire life by yelling “Ready for the revolution!”
This is what the people looked like:
This is what the government looked like:
The rest of the world also protests when their governments stop paying attention to them:
So enough with the looking back. Figure out what’s ahead, help make it something that some generation somewhere in some future will look back on get obsessed with and mistakenly identify with. And dress to protest–dress for success–as they say.
Next week: Back to our regularly scheduled program where I rant about Zooey Deschanel’s infernal sundresses.