Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


If you're 50, please, buy a painting.
January 10, 2014 10:19 AM   Subscribe

John Waters: Subversive Success When I was young there were beatniks. Hippies. Punks. Gangsters. Now you're a hacktivist. Which I would probably be if I was 20. Shuttin' down MasterCard. But there's no look to that lifestyle! Besides just wearing a bad outfit with bad posture. Has WikiLeaks caused a look? No! I'm mad about that. If your kid comes out of the bedroom and says he just shut down the government, it seems to me he should at least have an outfit for that.
posted by KokuRyu (61 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
John Waters remains one of my absolute heroes.
posted by xingcat at 10:26 AM on January 10 [5 favorites]


If your kid comes out of the bedroom and says he just shut down the government, it seems to me he should at least have an outfit for that.

They do. Usually it's cosplay or a fursuit. The future is stranger than he'd like to admit, and that's saying something pretty intense about the future.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:30 AM on January 10 [12 favorites]


Surely he's seen the Guy Fawkes masks? Is he being too ironic for me?
posted by LogicalDash at 10:32 AM on January 10 [5 favorites]


I think he means that there doesn't seem to be a "look" for young anti-authoritarian types these days, there's no gestalt aesthetic which encompasses more than just how one dresses. Being a beatnik or a hippy or a punk or a gangster is more than what you wear, they're ways of being alive in the social and historical moment when your life happens, they're orientations toward how other people live too. But they're signaled with dress and mannerisms and such, and I think he means that Anonymous-types don't seem to have that. He's partially right, but I think he doesn't know a lot about the culture of online interaction, which perhaps obviates the need for non-computer-mediated external social signalling.
posted by clockzero at 10:39 AM on January 10 [7 favorites]


John Waters, in the Wall Street Journal.

The man is an absolute genius, even at selling out!
posted by chavenet at 10:40 AM on January 10 [5 favorites]


Whatever that outfit is it's gotta include these!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:46 AM on January 10


The problem with cosplay or fursuits or Guy Fawkes masks is that no one -- or at least far, far fewer than a critical mass necessary for a subculture existing beyond cons and protests -- wears them on a daily basis as just their clothes. The punks, the beatniks, the hippies (at least the ones Waters means) were all doing their thing 24/7. Putting up a giant mohawk and wearing a leather jacket covered in chains on a daily basis is a pretty fucking solid commitment to a look. But all the looks have been co-opted and nothing's really sprung up to replace them.

But at the same time, looking kinda weird in daily life is more acceptable now than ever. Maybe that's the trade-off, and the beatniks and punks and hippies won that battle because the streets and offices and so on certainly don't look how they did when the first rebel kids were growing their hair and refusing to shave.
posted by griphus at 10:47 AM on January 10 [20 favorites]


Surely he's seen the Guy Fawkes masks?

The irony is wanna-be anarchists wearing identical masks mass produced by corporations based on a heavily marketed Hollywood film. That it started its life as a slightly-out-of-the-mainstream (but not too much) comic doesn't quite absolve them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:48 AM on January 10 [8 favorites]


His comment about being unable to get his films made any more and not being interested in $0 budget movies mirrors what Lynch has said about the topic.
posted by codacorolla at 10:49 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


The irony is wanna-be anarchists wearing identical masks mass produced by corporations based on a heavily marketed Hollywood film.

That's not irony. That's d├ętournement.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:49 AM on January 10 [12 favorites]


(And, also, just because the looks have been co-opted doesn't mean there's no longer any wear-it-on-the-sleeve hippies or punks or maybe even beatniks. It's just that they're no longer as in-your-face weird as they were in 1950 or 1965 or 1977.)
posted by griphus at 10:51 AM on January 10


The problem with cosplay or fursuits or Guy Fawkes masks is that no one -- or at least far, far fewer than a critical mass necessary for a subculture existing beyond cons and protests

Plus cosplays and the Fawkes masks are all based on mainstream corporate properties. If you are going to make a statement, be creative and make your own...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:52 AM on January 10


In my day, we cared about our appearance. We had pride. Self-respect. Kids these days are too lazy to even come up with a distinctive look. How am I supposed to program the robots to tell who on my lawn they're supposed to shoot?
posted by straight at 11:00 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


If you are going to make a statement, be creative and make your own...

Eh, some corporation will always find a way to make money off the thing you love. It's about enthusiasm and creativity as much as whole-cloth originality. Particularly good cosplay is still good regardless of whether it's based on Superman or some obscure anime or an original creation.

Like anything, it's the work put into it that matters, just as a punk jacket painted with "Dead Kennedys" and "Ramones" isn't any less creative than if you painted the names of your friends' local punk bands. It's about the fact that some kid sat on their bed and sewed it together with their free time, just like the punks put studs in their jackets after having very likely purchased both at the store.
posted by griphus at 11:02 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]


That's because they're cleverer than we were John.
posted by fullerine at 11:02 AM on January 10


So he's saying they dress like students
Dress like housewives
Or in a suit and a tie?
posted by The Whelk at 11:10 AM on January 10 [17 favorites]


I wonder what Waters thought of the Grunge look?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


The grunge look wasn't anything but Neil Young circa 1970.
posted by rocket88 at 11:16 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]


all the looks have been co-opted and nothing's really sprung up to replace them.

I think it's because they've been so easily co-opted that nothing is springing up to replace them. What point is there in developing a unique, weird aesthetic when it'll be blatantly copied by everyone in a year and regarded as retro fashion after that? If you want your movement or subculture to survive, you have to base it on something that can't be co-opted by the culture at large for a brief thrill. So there's no hacktivist 'look', because being a hacktivist is based on your opinions and favorite news sources and the methods you use to achieve your ends. If it was, I don't know, sport jackets with the sleeves rolled up, that would appear in a dozen movies and music videos and ad campaigns. You'd be able to buy jackets with pre-rolled sleeves at Kohl's, and it would cease to mean anything.

Our habit of co-opting subcultures' styles and attitudes has rendered those attributes useless for determining much of anything else about a person. You can't assume that someone with dreadlocks is a Rastafarian, you can't assume that a crucifix means a sincerely religious person, you can't really assume much of anything.* So it kind of sucks if you want to visually stand out from a crowd and proclaim your cultural identity, but it's kind of nice if you just want to shake up your wardrobe and not be judged too harshly for it.

* There are a few signifiers that are still unco-opted, I suppose. Saffron robes still pretty much mean Buddhist, yes?
posted by echo target at 11:27 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


The grunge look wasn't anything but Neil Young circa 1970.

I was always weirded out by his dress style on Ragged Glory. Old guy doing the Grunge look!
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 AM on January 10


If he show'd up at DEFCON he'd see a 'hacker uniform'. It pretty much looks like the 'heavy metal uniform', but instead of images of $YOUR_FAVORITE_METAL_BAND on the black t-shirts, it's clever geek wittiness or code or the like.
posted by el io at 11:34 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


What if all he 20 year olds are making shit?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:36 AM on January 10


Hey Grandpa, the tools of your rebellion are obsolete. That's your fault, not ours.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:36 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


all the looks have been co-opted and nothing's really sprung up to replace them.

I think it's because they've been so easily co-opted that nothing is springing up to replace them. What point is there in developing a unique, weird aesthetic when it'll be blatantly copied by everyone in a year and regarded as retro fashion after that? If you want your movement or subculture to survive, you have to base it on something that can't be co-opted by the culture at large for a brief thrill.


I think you're both right, but there's an interesting reason why it is so which occurs to me: people dress the way they do to signal aspects of themselves, identity and social position and things like that. And people such as hippies or punks also signal, but not only because they want to freak the squares out or be natural.

People also dress, talk and act in a certain way to enable them to connect with strangers who share their sensibilities and ideas about society and the world. They do it to be able to know others of their kind if they should meet out in the world, in some context that may be unrelated to what they value. With the internet mediating the interactions and communities John Waters is talking about, there's no impetus to develop that visual or aesthetic aspect of a subculture because they can easily find each other and congregate electronically. For such groups, one doesn't need to try to make one's ideology somehow outwardly instantiated in dress or behavior when most important social behavior is through computers anyway.
posted by clockzero at 11:41 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]


But they're signaled with dress and mannerisms and such, and I think he means that Anonymous-types don't seem to have that.

By definition, "Anonymous" would suggest that not signaling their status is part of the movement's point.
posted by davejay at 11:46 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Really like this bit:
I like rap music. But bragging about being rich to poor people is really offensive. I want to hear a gangsta rap song about buying a Cy Twombly painting or dating a museum curator. I want to hear about that kind of rich. Of course, the worst is having a convertible if you're over 20 years old. If you're 50, please, buy a painting.
posted by larrybob at 11:52 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


For such groups, one doesn't need to try to make one's ideology somehow outwardly instantiated in dress or behavior when most important social behavior is through computers anyway.

That's true, but I think Waters' lament is that the lack of need to do so -- Waters' is a smart and observant man and probably understands better than most people how the baseline weirdness of the world has risen -- seems to have eroded the want to do so. And certainly everyone has a say in the matter and there are absolutely people still dressing how they want and freakin' out the squares and now more than ever they can be people of color and openly queer and all sorts of things that the hammer of conformity would've been brought down on a lot harsher in Waters' Pink Flamingos days when he was trying to open up eyes and minds at the variety and intensity of human being in the world.

And I mean, at least how I interpret it, Waters' mention of it isn't a KIDS THESE DAYS sort of complaint that the youths aren't dressing weird enough. I think it is, like I said, a lament for a passing burst of weirdness that had a time and a place. And it's a different time and place now, but I can't help but also feel a little wistful that seeing twenty punked-out kids hanging out on a stoop in the East Village is an increasingly rarer sight.
posted by griphus at 11:52 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]


Great article, but note it's from March 2012. And just today I was thinking "I wonder what the culture experts at the Wall Street Journal think about John Waters?" It feels a little like that first time the NYT ran a style article about hipsters in Williamsburg. Still, good for Waters, and I hope the exposure helps him find funding to make another movie.

Speaking of which, how much money does he need? I don't know anything about film budgets, but his last few movies had budgets of $6M to $15M. Surely at that price they were profitable?

Google Image search for John Currin (NSFW), the artist Waters mentions. No weird gay couples in evidence.
posted by Nelson at 11:53 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Well, there are these two chaps.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:12 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


suggestion: flowing wizard robes.
posted by The Whelk at 12:14 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


That's literally your suggestion for everything.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:21 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]


then how come it hasn't happened?!
posted by The Whelk at 12:28 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


That's true, but I think Waters' lament is that the lack of need to do so -- Waters' is a smart and observant man and probably understands better than most people how the baseline weirdness of the world has risen -- seems to have eroded the want to do so.

Yeah, I think you're probably right in that interpretation. It's hard to rebel against a world that refuses to be shocked by anything and seems to turn anything special into just another content-evacuated pose, and it's not clear to young people now why they should try, perhaps.
posted by clockzero at 12:30 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


then how come it hasn't happened?!

See, I've already waited too long.
posted by clockzero at 12:32 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I think I like the new weird better, it's more serendipitous. Yesterday evening, I ran for a train in my raggedy clothing (have been refusing to buy new clothes for a while, and trying to get as much of my wardrobe as possible for free), with my 4-month old dogo puppy in tow, jumped on at the last minute, it was quite full, scanned the faces (faces can't be co-opted, by the way!) for someone who wouldn't mind if we sat next to them, saw this guy in a faded pink shirt, loosened tie, black pants, shiny black shoes, a guy in light-industrial logistics management on his way home, but somehow with a poise that was promising, so we sit down, he doesn't mind the dog at all but uses the formal form of address (it's kind of on the way out among people under forty in Hungary) - then as we settle, and I pull Jung's autobiography from my home made bag, he opens his laptop case and pulls out... On the Road, the new "original" edition, in Hungarian, I tell him I really liked that book, we have a bit of a chat... or in a suit and a tie indeed.
posted by holist at 12:43 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


They do. Usually it's cosplay or a fursuit. The future is stranger than he'd like to admit, and that's saying something pretty intense about the future.

If he show'd up at DEFCON he'd see a 'hacker uniform'. It pretty much looks like the 'heavy metal uniform', but instead of images of $YOUR_FAVORITE_METAL_BAND on the black t-shirts, it's clever geek wittiness or code or the like.

I was about to say: Black t-shirt, something written on the front in big white letters, slacks or jeans. Large black laptop bag optional but common. Geeze, when my Dad and I went to Gencon in 06 we were able to spot the convention goers the night before the con without any trouble; From what I've seen, `hactivists' wear pretty much the same thing.
posted by Canageek at 12:55 PM on January 10


There's one look that's not so easily co-opted & commodified. Body mods. I'd love to see corporate marketing sell tribal earloops, subcutaneous implants & forked tongues to the masses. It's a look you can't just hide away in the closet during the workweek & take out on the weekend when you want to look like a rebel.
posted by scalefree at 1:00 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Honestly, I felt like in the 90s that geek cuture was getting an aesthetic. Look at the movies, look at Hackers, look at the Matrix. And then a couple weeks after the latter came out, a couple kids shot up a high school and suddenly teachers were acting like wearing lots of black to school was kind of like showing up to class with a loaded weapon, and dear lord heaven forbid there be a trenchcoat involved. I think that pushed a lot of people back towards sticking with things that were a lot closer to "normal". So we all ended up with t-shirts that said funny things on them, which were less threatening.
posted by Sequence at 1:01 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


With the internet mediating the interactions and communities John Waters is talking about, there's no impetus to develop that visual or aesthetic aspect of a subculture because they can easily find each other and congregate electronically.

And more importantly, in most types of interactions online it's not possible to see what someone looks like or is wearing from day to day. Online subcultures develop styles but they are mainly around communication and other aspects that are part of how they interact together. People in online communities wear all sorts of different clothing for the same reason that they pronounce Internet-only words differently, because it's hard to converge to a common style if everyone is acting in a vacuum with little or no outside cues.

If there's any fashion style that came mostly from the Internet I would say it's "scene kid" style, which came out of communities like MySpace, cam sites, and YouTube where there was much more emphasis on projecting your personal physical image out there.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:29 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I felt like in the 90s that geek cuture was getting an aesthetic. Look at the movies, look at Hackers, look at the Matrix. And then a couple weeks after the latter came out, a couple kids shot up a high school and suddenly teachers were acting like wearing lots of black to school was kind of like showing up to class with a loaded weapon, and dear lord heaven forbid there be a trenchcoat involved.

I was teaching high school (in Canada) when Columbine happened, and, yeah, there were clueless kids coming to school wearing black combat boots and black trenchcoats and carrying these large briefcases made out of ballistic plastic.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:36 PM on January 10


Yeah - I think trenchcoats were pretty hip in the 90s amongst a lot of my friends. Those fuckers ruined it.

I think geek t-shirts are pretty much "the thing". We're a lazy bunch. I don't mind. I keep thinking I want a burgundy velvet smoking jacket, a top hat and a cane with a skull knob/handle. Then I realize I'm lazy and it would be full of cat hair, and ...

So I sit, in my Optimus Prime T-Shirt.
posted by symbioid at 1:41 PM on January 10


Amen symbioid, amen. I'd totally love going around in a 3-peice suit with a silver-headed cane, then I realize I'm cheap and like comfy cloths that don't need dry cleaning.
posted by Canageek at 2:29 PM on January 10


Yeah - I think trenchcoats were pretty hip in the 90s amongst a lot of my friends. Those fuckers ruined it.

A couple hours after I bought my trenchcoat I heard the news about Columbine. A little while later I learned from family that Columbine was the high school a cousin of mine was attending. So much for that purchase.
posted by scalefree at 3:00 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I wonder what Waters thinks about Juggalos?
posted by KokuRyu at 3:15 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Oh man, imagine a John Waters film set in the Gathering of the Juggalos. Where's the Kickstarter already? Take my money!
posted by Nelson at 3:29 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


I wouldn't say that Wikileaks or hacktivism has inspired a specific look, but techwear is definitely what I would consider to be the closest thing to that sort of Matrix, hacker, Neuromancer style. Stylish, pseduo-militaristic, functional. The whole techninja image jumps out to me as something I would wear if I were some hacker whose compound just got infiltrated by a CIA cleaner unit and I had to run across rooftops to get away from them.
posted by gucci mane at 3:32 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately it also costs a vajillion dollars otherwise I would be all over that techninja shit.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:19 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I mean I would love to dress like Jonny Lee Miller in Hackers but unfortunately it doesn't work so well if your body type is more Skeletor than Halliburton Teen.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:24 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Much like how regional accents develop from regional isolation - a group that talks primarily amongst itself, subculture dress-styles also develop from isolation, the kind of cultural isolation we had in the 70s and 80s.
The internet has every person in every sub-sub-sub-culture constantly cross-pollinating with everything else. Culture today is a giant blender in a way that it wasn't back in the 70s. That massive engine (cultures being islands) is simply gone.
(And good riddance)
posted by anonymisc at 5:16 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


The problem with cosplay or fursuits or Guy Fawkes masks is that no one wears them on a daily basis as just their clothes.

If I could wear my tail everywhere, I would.
posted by hippybear at 5:34 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


If I could wear my tail everywhere, I would.

Yup. One thing I learned from "People of Walmart" - tail competitions are A Thing. The bigger the better, boys and girls. This is actually awesome, and one of the reasons I love a blog otherwise devoted to mocking to poor - we get to see what goes on in America as it actually is. People surprise me everyday, and that makes tomorrow worthwhile.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:29 PM on January 10


en forme de poire: Unfortunately it also costs a vajillion dollars otherwise I would be all over that techninja shit.

Yeah that is for sure the biggest downside. I don't doubt the quality of the clothing at all, and a lot of it would come in handy for wintertime weather with the rain and all, but it's so far out of my budget I'll probably have to work for some crazy Wall Street firm in order to ever afford any of it. Some of the Acronym stuff is really cool. They have a jacket that is set up in such a way where you can wear a messenger bag over it and the bag's strap doesn't impede you from taking the jacket off. I think the same jacket has a secret cell phone pocket where you can have your phone in the sleeve and then flip your hand out and the phone comes out into your hand. It's seriously stuff that is right out of the Matrix and it's so cool and geeky and fun but just so expensive.
posted by gucci mane at 7:16 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


yeah, oh god, Acronym. I would love some of their ideas to filter down to a more "accessible" price point, but it'll probably be years or never with my luck. You can bet when Uniqlo goes techninj I will be buying most of the store in every color (well, it's mostly black anyway).
posted by en forme de poire at 9:00 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


There's one look that's not so easily co-opted & commodified. Body mods. I'd love to see corporate marketing sell tribal earloops, subcutaneous implants & forked tongues to the masses. It's a look you can't just hide away in the closet during the workweek & take out on the weekend when you want to look like a rebel.

This comment made me think of the Judge Dredd story Blobs.
posted by Anything at 4:12 AM on January 11


MetaFilter: People surprise me every day, and that makes tomorrow worthwhile.
posted by ostranenie at 5:23 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


There's the hacker t-shirt/greasy hair thing, and then (almost like the mods to their rockers) there are the plaid-shirt boots scruffy types, another very identifiable look. I'm talking about men here; there are corresponding fashions for women (like I think high-waisted skirts?).

And if you want to talk about radical political movements, I think both have one, arguably -- there's the techno-libertarian Wikileaks anarchist thing for the neckbeards, while the hipster fashions are pretty much a uniform for young social-justice tumblrites. Sure, people outside the movements dress the same, but then not every dirty long-haired hippy was going to love-ins. There are also bros, who skew conservative but definitely also have a look, as do lady bros.

Basically, I think there are plenty of identifiable and politicized youth subcultures, all of which have a "look". If people aren't seeing them I think it's because 1) there's not as much conformity in general so things don't stand out, and 2) hair is smaller across the board than it was in previous decades, and things like afros or superglue mohawks were the most eye-catching part of a lot of subcultural styles, and the part that most annoyed the squares.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:44 AM on January 12


The decades slide by and I'm still waiting for the codpiece to come back in.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:34 PM on January 12


we get to see what goes on in America as it actually is

... minus the urban centers where most of the population live.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:43 AM on January 13


If you think that there are not WalMarts in many of the population centers in the US, you are mistaken.
posted by hippybear at 5:19 PM on January 14


If you think that there are not WalMarts in many of the population centers in the US, you are mistaken.

Yes, since 2006 when they began the initiative to move into urban markets. But if you think that Wal Mart shoppers is a true representative cross-section of America, you would also be mistaken.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:45 AM on January 15


This is true. I have a short-list of 4 items I go to WalMart for (because of price), and make surgical strikes to get them. In the store, right to where they are located, grab, check-out, and leave. This is how I shop anywhere I go. I don't view shopping as a pasttime -- it's a necessity for getting on with the rest of life.
posted by hippybear at 6:34 PM on January 16


« Older On The Media meets Matt Farley, who earns around $...  |  OK, Cupid: giving your love li... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments