Monday, October 04, 2010

tongue in chic

Video - Shindig Dobie Gray The In Crowd

MorrisBerman | The truth is that trying to be cool is a behavior that dates from the Paleolithic. When Paleolithic skeletons are dug up from roughly 35,000 years ago, and are found wearing jewelry–beads, pendants, necklaces–what else can this indicate but an attempt to say one is special–in fact, better than others? The same goes for “special” grave sites for the elite. Personal adornment and special graveyards are about status differentiation–Vance Packard in the Stone Age, one might say. All the evidence points to a new type of personality organization around that time, which made possible culture as we know it, and which also included the need to feel superior to others–in particular, wanting to be seen as superior to others. After all, being cool is something that has to be publicly agreed upon; it is essentially other-defined. Which means it is as insubstantial as gossamer; who or what is cool can change in the twinkling of an eye. But human beings pursue it as if their lives depended on it. In fact, very few human beings manage to escape the lure of superiority. When you meet Zen masters who are proud of their humility (an experience I’ve actually had), you know, as André Malraux once observed, that “there really is no such thing as a grown-up person.”

Chasing status may be puerile, said John Adams, but it nevertheless seems to be hard-wired. In his Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America (1787), he said that history makes it quite clear that man is driven by vanity, by a desire for social distinction. “We may call this desire for distinction childish and silly,” wrote Adams, “but we cannot alter the nature of man.”

As a result, literally anything can be made chic, even garbage. There is a famous scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up in which a band leader goes crazy and smashes his guitar to pieces on the stage. The central character (played by the British actor David Hemmings) leaps onto the stage, seizes the guitar “carcass,” and runs off with it, pursued by the crowd, who is convinced he is in possession of something extremely valuable. He manages to give them the slip, and standing alone in an alley, trying to catch his breath, looks at this broken piece of guitar. What is it? A useless piece of trash, really. He tosses it on the ground and walks away.

Even the anti-chic can be made chic. A Canadian magazine, Adbusters, became somewhat famous for ridiculing the need to be chic. It is now one of the chicest journals around–“underground chic,” as it were. If you are not aware of this publication, you are definitely out of it, and not as good as the people who are aware of it and read it on a regular basis. You are leading a diminished, unchic life.

This brings us to the causes of chic. If it really is as frivolous as it looks, why are we all doing it? Why does all of life finally boil down to high school? Alfred Adler, the psychoanalyst whose major concepts were “superiority complex” and “inferiority complex,” argued that the two were intimately related: the desire to be superior masked a deep sense of inferiority. If I care that much about being chic, it must be because I know, on some level, that I am terribly unchic. And this feeling of being inadequate, which dates from infancy, can finally never be overcome; which means that chicness is infinite: you can never be chic enough. Malraux was right: we never grow up.