Thursday, April 16, 2009

True Scourge of Western Civilization, Revealed

Quite often these days, probably more than is healthy, we find our self agreeing with George Will, nodding along as he harrumphs his way through a newspaper column or his Sunday morning television turn. This, no doubt, is another manifestation of our encroaching fuddy-duddyism, as Banjo Jones, our colleague in aging, puts it. But every so often Will gives us pause to consider just how sound of mind he really is---when, to cite one notable example, he turns to the learned fiction of Michael Crichton to underpin an argument against the existence of global warming, or, as in his latest newspaper offering, he fingers the widespread wearing of blue jeans as a sign of the culture’s deepening infantilization.

With his glasses and bow ties and the camera-ready professorial air, Will has always struck us as an amusing charlatan. His tendentious columns strive for the Olympian but mostly read as if they’d been hastily slapped together with the help of a research assistant, or three. His long-running shtick---and we’d assume it’s been a fairly lucrative one---is that he is much, much smarter than you, and much too busy grappling with the serious issues to sample the grungy pleasures of our quotidian age. He fancies himself the Burke, or maybe the Chesterton, for our times, and he well may be, although this speaks more to the attenuation of the times than his particular skill set. Every time we see him on TV chatting it up about his love of baseball---it’s the thinkin’ man’s sport!---the thought invariably crosses our mind: George Will probably throws like a girl.* We know we're not alone in this thought.

Will’s screed against “denim” finds him assuming the role of le provocateur, cut-rate Tom Wolfe division, which is not a snug fit. He approvingly quotes from a recent Wall Street Journal piece by somebody named Daniel Akst decrying the the “plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche.”
It is, [Akst] says, a manifestation of "the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby." Denim reflects "our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings -- the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure." Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not -- authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil. Denim on the bourgeoisie is, Akst says, the wardrobe equivalent of driving a Hummer to a Whole Foods store -- discordant.
That’s certainly the clearest explanation we’ve seen of the current economic malaise.

We found our self taking this much too personally, because we own perhaps too many pairs of jeans and wear them whenever possible, not out of some dopey nostalgie de la boue** but because they’re affordable (a pair of Wranglers can be had for less than $20 at Wal-Mart, at least the last time we looked), low-maintenance (run ‘em trough the cold-water cycle, hang 'em on the line and they’re ready to go again), durable (last for years) and---a most important consideration for us AARP members---comfortable (we really like the way our little pot belly pooches out over the waist).

Will’s column brought to mind a piece we saw last week on 60 Minutes that featured Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, who’s worked with the Defense Department to create a new prosthetic arm for wounded vets. We don’t think we’ve ever seen Kamen in anything but denim (in this video he's wearing not only a worn pair of jeans but a denim work shirt). The heart-warming 60 Minutes report portrayed Kamen as the embodiment of American generosity and ingenuity, but after hearing from George Will we realize our mistake in judgment and must conclude that Kamen is just another fraud, one of those who wears “the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves.”


*And by this we mean no disrespect to the many girls who do not throw like girls and could most likely whip our ass, if they could catch us.

**Elvis, who in his later years favored tight jumpsuits adorned with shiny stuff, long predated George Will in disdaining the wearing of jeans, which from his perspective as a rural Southerner he associated with the attire of the "field hand." But that's OK, because Elvis was a real person.


Banjo Jones said...

yes on what you said. they're comfy. end of story. i sorta think Mr. Will wrote that with, how do they say, with tongue in cheek? but i'm prolly wrong.

Slampo said...

yeah, on the one hand it's tongue in cheek, because obviously only an insane person would get het up about the matter, so he's gotta assume some heh-heh distance, but on the other hand it's not, because he clearly believes that you're advertising your immaturity and disrespect for others by waddling 'round in denim.

amism said...

growin up in the burbs of chicago, seed of a kentucky coal miner, i was forbidden to take part in the trend of denim overalls and painter pants, but jeans were grudgingly allowed. as a result i went wacky for a bit in college at uw madison and bought a white dinner jacket. slowly, very slowly, this bent has bent and I now feel liberated wearing golf shirts, though I play no golf. seeing George Will is best lately with Katherine VanderH or bearded nobel guy. He looks uncomfy like Churchill ready to kick uphill ass and caving all at once.

rickeaux said...

And this comes from a guy who wears a bow tie. Gimme a break.