Monday, May 09, 2005

An Argument Against Inflation

This thing that happened last Saturday involved my being a jerk, and I am not sorry, not even one little bit. In my opinion, I was justified on a matter of principle. To put this anecdote in the proper context, you need to understand that I am rather particular and opinionated about music. I wouldn't call myself a snob, as I know a few people who are far more elitist than I am, but there are a few unforgiveable tastes as far as I am concerned, and a few practices that should at the very least be punishable by public ridicule. Some of this stems from some formative music experiences that involve punk rock; to me, punk comprises a pretty important chunk of popular music, and I am of the mind that one should know what one is getting into before claiming any sort punk rock boilerplate. In other words, just because you see someone famous with a CBGB's t-shirt doesn't mean that you need to go get one. Especially if you play in a band that cites Matchbox 20 or Train as an influence, if for no other reason than that if CBGB's was a real person, he (or really, maybe even she) would most definitely kick the living shit out of Rob Thomas and Patrick Monahan.

In the case of last Saturday night, a guy who plays in a band that does, in fact, cite Matchbox 20 and Train as influences, strolled into the bar I hang in while wearing a DEAD KENNEDYS shirt, which is even more egregious and offensive than if he had been sporting CBGB's-wear. You might say that I'm being too hard on people, and who am I to judge; I say to you, hold your horses--I've just gotten started. In any case, this guy, he's a nice guy. Never means to hurt nobody. But Jello Biafra does, not that this guy knows who Jello Biafra is. One person this guy does know is a fancy hairdresser, as he has one of those haircuts with the swooping bangs in front and the shotgun-blast in the back. It's the kind of haircut kids who listen to fashionable indie rock have. In other words, it's a girl's haircut. But I digress. I should probably save that rant for later entry.


So this guy, he's gladhanding at the bar, on his way to sit at a table with this other guy who he totally idolizes, who also has an expensive-looking girl's haircut (minus the hilarious shotgun-blast); he's not a terrible guy either, at least until I see him with a vintage punk rock t-shirt.. Before this guy (not this other guy) can get to the other guy's table, I waylay him.

Me: So, you like the Dead Kennedys?

This Guy: Um, well, I like a couple songs....

Me: Really? Which ones?

This Guy: Oh, the ones that are kind of punk, kind of grunge, with that early '80s thing going on...
(I don't think either of knew what he meant by "early '80s thing.")

Me: I'm not familiar with those songs.

This Guy: Well, you know, they're on that one album. You know that one I'm talking about?

Me: No, I don't. I don't know the one you're talking about.

Him: You know, the Christ one. Something about Christ.
(I'll give him credit here. He was trying to identify Frankenchrist*, which is the DK album you know if you know a little bit but not much at all. It's like calling yourself a Zeppelin fan because you've heard of "Stairway to Heaven," or claiming to be a Presidential historian because you know whose face is on a penny.)

Me: (deliberately feigning ignorance) I'm not sure--they made five albums.
(This remark, admittedly, was laying it on pretty thickly, for if I knew how many albums they made, then I surely would have known that he was trying to tell me about Frankenchrist. In other words, I was just being mean.)

This Guy: I'm sorry man--I've had too many shots. I just thought it was a cool shirt.

You just thought it was a cool shirt???

A couple of things:

I am, at times, a total asshole.

I don't even like the Dead Kennedys, and for that reason, I would never wear a shirt sporting their logo.

I do know where they fit into music history, however, and can identify, if quizzed, several tracks off of their most popular album.

Did I extract pleasure from making someone (potentially) feel small? Yes. Does that make me an icky person? Probably, and if not, it definitely makes me petty. For me, though, it's a matter of principle. You just don't wear the shirt of a band that you don't really like. Sporting a band's shirt is an expression of devotion. It is a badge of identity and a form of recognition between members of a club who may otherwise have nothing else in common. What it is not, is a fashion accessory. Certainly, combined with other elements, a band's t-shirt does make a fashion statement, but firstly and most importanly, it identifies you as a fan. Wearing it because you think it is hip and trendy is misrepresenation.

By misrepresenting yourself in that fashion, you devalue the currency of devotion traded by real fans. That may sound sort of sissified and fragile, but think about it: let's say I decide to start wearing a Tupac t-shirt. I like Tupac well enough, but I can't recall one word of a song that wasn't a single. If a real Tupac devotee sees me sporting Tupac's penitent-thug visage, he'd probably be pretty irritated. I'm sure it would have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I'm white.

Okay, maybe that's a bad example. But here is a better one. I've wanted, for quite some time, to get the Aztec calendar stone tattooed on my back. Really big. Do I want it because I'm Mexican? No, even though my ethnic heritage is such that I have a small but defensible claim (which is to say barely any) to a Mexican cultural icon. The reason why I would want a tattoo like that is because I think it's cool, but I don't feel that I have thoroughly legitimate motives in co-opting another's culture for the benefit (or detriment, if that is how you feel about sub-dermal ink) of my physical appearance.

You did, in fact, read that right: I did just compare a lousy shirt to the heritage of a magnificient (if a little bloodthirsty) culture which was exploited, decimated and oppressed by crummy old Europeans. But here's the thing: though the level of affront is not really comparable, the iconic DK logo (no, not Donna Karan) is a symbol of a particular culture, just as the iconic Aztec calendar is symbolic of another, and I don't believe in taking things that don't belong to you. If you persist in assimilating another's culture into your wardrobe, it would behoove you to be versed in the history of the elements you're stealing. You know why it's hard for us goyem to become Jews? Because Jews make you go all the way. You don't have the luxury of becoming a non-practicing Jew. I don't think they require you to get a black suit and a beard, but you have to learn Hebrew, and study the Torah, and on and on and on, until real Jews are convinced you are not just faking it because you read about Matisyahu in Spin.

All this over a t-shirt? Maybe, I have a flair for drama, and by drama, I mean righteous indignation. I guess it's just a matter of principle.

The Robo-pirate

*Frankenchrist came out in 1985, which makes his "early '80s thing" description even more perplexing; as far as I know, 1985 was in the middle of the decade--but now I'm fussing over semantics, and that's pretty much intellectual masturbation. Call a spade a spade, I guess.

1 comment:

The Stash Dauber said...

hahahaha. apparently the nice fella in question hadn't been briefed that the appropriate response when asked about a band t-shirt one is wearing is _always_ "oh really? it's a band? i just found it at thrift town."

the last time i went to sxsw, i stood right behind jello biafra at the sign-in desk. i was half-hoping the credential nazi would give him some shite, so i could spring to his defense: "there's _always_ room for jello."