24 February 2010

While Baudrillard Gently Weeps

Murketing | Rob Walker | The worst Olympic uniform

This is what members of the U.S. snowboarding team — men and women — are wearing. Back in December ESPN dubbed this lame grunge getup an “(anti) uniform.” Riiiiight. Super-”anti.” It’s as transgressive, subversive, threatening, and spectacular as, um, stuff half the kids at the mall have been wearing for ten years, and that nobody really notices anymore.

The mission statement for this supposedly radical outfit comes from the “vice president of creative” at snowboarding megabrand Burton:
The inspiration behind the U.S. Snowboarding Team outerwear for the 2010 Olympics is classic Americana, Although we are creating a uniform, our first objective is to express the individuality of snowboarding. As such, we are taking vintage American looks and interpreting them in a very unique and unexpected fashion. Finally, we will ensure that all of the highest technical attributes are maintained in the pieces, so that performance and function are not jeopardized. The result will be a progressive and fresh look that challenges the former conservatism of the Olympics.
Oh really? A challenge to conservatism? Via "classic Americana"? Yes, nothing challenges conservatism like classic-ness. [...]

For years the hollow claims of every marketing guru who insists that consumers “demand authenticity” has been neatly debunked by the success of the high-end “distressed” denim phenomenon. Buying jeans whose wear-and-tear is implemented by far-flung factory workers and machinery, according to specific standards devised and overseen by layers of corporate design-management — and in fact paying extra for such jeans, and pretending that this somehow signals rebel style — is a capitulation to simulacra-culture so Xtreme it would make Debord giggle and Baudrillard weep. Or vice versa. Whatevs.

The point is that characterizing these monotonous garments as “a uniform” is an essentially redundant act. Nothing here “expresses the individuality” of the wearer. That rather simple assignment could be fulfilled by simply letting the individuals wear whatever they wanted to! Instead, what is being “expressed” is the market research and trend forecasting of a large retail brand.

All of which just makes me appreciate those Norwegian curlers even more.
I watched a few episodes of some video blog whose name I now forget, and their thing was going around to different cities and pulling aside people they considered to be stylish and asking them about their clothes. A lot of those episodes were dominated by interviewees wearing what was obviously standard-issue contemporary hipster garb, in all it's quasi-ironic glory.*  I loved that when asked to describe their style these people said, to a man, something like "oh, I don't really have a style or follow trends, I just pick out whatever I think is interesting and do my own thing be different." The only defining aspect of their personal sartorial expression was an attempt to be individual, and they all ended up wearing the same things.

But blah blah blah you've heard this kind of thing before. Let's have some related thoughts from Monty Python.

(* At least the episodes in places like Austin and Madison and Philadelphia and London were populated with those folks. There were actually a few interesting characters in places like Dubai and Kiev.)

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