Speaking of conservative critiques of hipsterism: George Will’s column about the evils of wearing denim is one of the greatest things I think I have ever read. It seems as though it could have run in The Onion without a single word changed. It reads like some bizarre and awesome parody of Adorno—“denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults”—made all the more hysterical by the assumption we must make that he is serious. Presumably Daniel Akst wasn’t also actually serious in the WSJ editorial that Will cites, in which Akst declares of denim that “despite its air of innocence, no fabric has ever been so insidiously effective at undermining national discipline.”
He states that denim is “a powerful force for evil” and urges that we tax jeans to discourage their being worn. I assumed that Akst was parodying ” ‘soft paternalism’ ” (double scare-quoted here for extra terror) the nannyish imposition of sin taxes, but who knows? It’s sort of hilarious to imagine Will reading Akst’s column, nodding his head furiously, and thinking to himself, “Yes! I need to take this grievance and air it to a wider audience! This fiendish spread of denim is nothing short of a national-security matter.” After all, as Akst says, denim is a “sad disguise” that functions like “Mao jackets”—rendering us into servile socialistic pseudo-rebels. Will goes so far to suggest that Akst should be given the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” for his “constructive conniption.” (With diction like that, who can tell if he’s joking? The ambiguity is sublime.)
Will, glossing Akst, writes that the “ubiquitous fabric… is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche” and calls it “the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy’s catechism of leveling.” Since everyone wears denim now, apparently, it’s harder for Will to identify who the important people in society are so that he can lick their boots: “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.” In other words: “Waah, I want sumptuary laws!” After all, “it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim.” Better implement those aristocratic codes for sartorial conduct before all of our betters end up garrotted.
I’m glad Will had the courage to speak up against this Lucky Brand reign of terror. The dangerous leveling effects of denim has apparently led some rogues to derive the “universal appropriateness of everything.” That simply will not do—sounds supiciously like the Universal Rights of Man. Next thing you know, there will be women in slacks, and men will be spotted wearing their tennis shoes, their “sneakers,” to board meetings. When the man in the gray flannel suit shakes hands with the man in the denim overalls, won’t both their heads explode into flames?
By all means, let’s put aside our “jeans,” unless, that is, we are fortunate enough to get to go to Jack Danforth’s birthday party. (Definitely read Will’s column to the end, the concluding parenthetical, in its titanic lameness, is the best punch line imaginable.)
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.