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In this article I am going to talk about a disturbing recent trend that has been sweeping the globe. A trend that threatens our social order. A trend which, if left unchecked, could be very damaging to the American way of life we have enjoyed in the past.
What is this trend ?
Is it the proliferation of drugs in our inner cities ?
Is it the inability of our politicians to count ?
The trend is even more insidious that any of the aforementioned. The problem is what I shall refer to as the "Democratization of Status". Read on to find out more about this new threat to our society, and what can be done about it.
All societies need a social order. We need to know who is the boss. We need to know whom to listen to and whom to ignore, who is an expert in his field and who is a charlatan. Whose opinions are worthwhile, and who is talking junk.
The modern trend toward the democratization of status leaves us with no cultural clues, blurring the distinction between people of quality and breeding and barely-educated pond scum, making it harder and harder to assess an individual's worth (both intellectual and monetary). In scientific terms, we are left with no "socio-sartorial" cues to assist us in forming a judgement about an individual.
Before examining this further, I will explain what is meant by the "Democratization of Status".
Picture the scene. A trailer park near Kramer Junction, California. Joe Sixpack is slumped in front of the TV, brew in hand, watching the game. Its a scene repeated all over this great country of ours, and can be thought of as the quintissential American passtime.
"There's nothing wrong with that", you might say. But you would be wrong. So so wrong.
Take a closer look at Joe. In bygone days, Joe would have been happy to relax in the privacy of his home wearing little more than his soup-stained wife-beater vest and shorts. The cold beer he enjoyed would be an American brew (A Budweiser, or a Miller). And the game he watched would be Football. (Or possibly Basketball if the Joe in question was an African American).
Now, as a direct result of the democratization of status, Joe is watching Golf (a European, upper class game) on an imported TV set, drinking an imported bottle-conditioned ale, wearing 'Timberland' boots, a pair of 'G H Bass' pants and 'Polo Ralph Lauren' shirt.
Are you beginning to see the problem here ? A beer-swilling piece of trailer-trash is successfully passing himself off as a sophisticated East-coast ivy-league preppie. If you met Joe in the street, you would immediately judge him to be a man worthy of respect. His clothing is a sartorial shorthand that screams 'quality'. And yet, Joe is a loser who lives in a trailer, and has never held down a job for more than two weeks in a row. He is addicted to amphetamines, and thinks of little else than where his next 'hit' is coming from.
In days gone by, Joe's posturing would have earned him a well deserved beating from his close friends, or at the very least he would have been accused of being a 'pansy' for liking golf and drinking imported ale. He would have learned his place in the community, and he would not be sending out confusing status signals to all and sundry. Now due to the onward march of globalization, once-proud, exclusive, upscale brands are now marketed to any scumbag with a few dollars burning a hole in his pocket, with the end result that it is no longer possible to easily identify who is worth talking to, and who isn't. We are living in what John Seabrook called a nobrow culture.
Now let's change the scene. Its the height of presidential election fever in the USA. The candidates are doing their level best to convince us that their policies are best for America. But how do these world-class politicians choose to demonstrate their position and status in society ? Not by showing the public some respect, and dressing in a manner which befits their status. Rather they crudely insult the voting public by dressing in a wholly inappropriate manner, which can be seen here, by following these links first to G.W. Bush and then to Bill Clinton.
Now, some people will argue that it is good that the lower members of society can now have access to the same brands as the higher class people. But I ask you, where will it end ? How can we know who it is safe to talk to if anyone can dress like a well-respected member of the community ? How can we be sure we are treating people with the correct amount of respect if professionals like teachers and librarians are dressing like gang-bangers ?
In a topsy-turvy world where our leaders ape the lowest members of society, and the lowest members of society dress like the aristocracy, how can we make any judgements about the people we see from day to day ? Like it or not, appearence is one of the key tools humans utilize in order to classify other humans. With this tool gone, we are all in trouble.
Now, its easy to look for a scapegoat and blame the democratization process on the mega corporations in cahoots with the discount clothing stores. But this would be too simplistic. For many years people were content to dress within their class and not attempt to affect a higher class appearance. That was the good old days, when everyone was certain about their status. You physician did not dress like a plumber, and likewise your garbage man did not dress like the maitre-d of an upscale British restaurant. But something happened. Something which upset our collective psyches and sent both rich and poor alike on a quest to destroy their identities.
That something was rap music.
It is message of Rap that has corrupted our dress sense and led us into this no-man's land of uncertainty where any janitor could look like the Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 corporation, and any CEO could look like a breakdancing graffiti artist. Rap is to blame. (Rap is also to blame for many other of society's ills, such as drugs, gang violence, the dumbing down of America and mysogeny toward women but we will let that slide for the moment).
Consider some random samples of rap lyrics.
Dedicated to all of those with big egos
Dedicated to all of those with big egos
Here, "Dr" Dre talks about high status vehicles such as Benzes (Mercedes Benz an upscale vehicle favoured by world leaders) and Jeeps. Vehicles which were once the preserve of the middle and upper classes. 'Sip the Mo' refers to imbibing the alcoholic beverage 'Moet et Chandon' (a brand of Champagne percieved by some to be upmarket in the USA).
R: A-yo, Doug
R: A-yo, Doug
The Notorious BIG put it best in his track Playa Hater:
You see, there are two kind of people in the world today
As you can see, I have identified the source of the problem. The difficult question is, what can we do about it ? I am reluctant to advocate censorship since I support the constitution of the USA. However I do think that we need to take some steps to ensure that the lines don't become any more blurred than they are already.
I am having trouble thinking how we might address this problem, but I think a start would be for more jobs to require uniform. The current state of US officewear is in disarray and as such is unsustainable. Dress-down Fridays and in some cases permanent dress-down policies are in effect. These policies need to be reversed. Office workers must go back to wearing a suit and tie. This would be a great first step back toward some kind of useful indicator of status.
I'm interested to hear what you think. Have you been influenced by Rap music into living a lifestyle that is more upmarket or more downmarket than the one you would normally participate in ?
What brands do you think have lost the most cachet via their association with Rap ? I'm guessing its Louis Vuitton but I want to hear YOUR opinions.