Thursday, October 23, 2003

Smoking the Wacky Weed in the UK?

Carrie Gibson writes in The Guardian today about a bizarre new fashion trend in the UK: dressing like American...um, I don't know a polite word for "white trash." Sorry.

It can be somewhat disconcerting to walk down my high street. Men stroll past wearing US-style gas station attendant shirts with round patches that say Ed, or Bubba. Or some have T-shirts that say "I Love Daytona Beach" or "Eat at Jimbo's BBQ". These guys all seem to have baseball caps on, too, usually advertising something like a fishing tackle shop on the front, with camouflage around the side. And the hats, more often than not, sit on top of mullets that look straight out of 1979.

But it's not just the men. Women totter by on 1980s, brightly coloured high heels, and I hear the clank of chunky, cheap plastic bracelets. It's not unlike finding yourself as an extra for a film set on a trailer park in the US. Except that I'm not in Redneckville, Georgia - I'm in London's trendy Shoreditch.

And this is what passes for "fashion" in Tony Blair's smoking remains of England, eh? Gibson goes on to note:

The landscape of the deep south - where I grew up - is dotted with trailers standing alone or grouped in parks, with painfully optimistic names such as Green Meadows or Happy Valley. In these often tattered, tired rusty boxes you find people who live in the richest nation on earth, but are relegated to living in a tin box, ostracised by their poverty in the land of plenty.

Even in the US there is a smiling contempt for the underclass. There is a whole industry based on being poor, uneducated and naff, with trailer-park spoof websites (jolenestrailerpark.com) and cookery books: try Ruby Ann's Down Home Trailer Park Cook Book. And, of course, country music - how about Sammy Kershaw's She's the Queen of My Doublewide Trailer?

Rather than demand that the US government try to provide a decent welfare state for its poorest people, it is easier for the middle classes to mock them simply because they have failed to attain the American dream of a house, a couple of nice cars and well-dressed children. They are poor, and powerless; hence they are fair game for our contempt. We also inflict this mocking attitude not just on Americans but on ourselves, too. For instance, the scally craze, with its council estate chic - white trainers, gold jewelry and a shell suit - is set for a comeback.

There seems to be some sort of assumption that these unfashionable, poor people have chosen to live in a house on wheels; to drive clapped-out Camaros; to wear tacky clothes; to have out-of-date hairstyles. But here, we choose to don a costume of poverty because we can afford to, and we don't even consider what it must be like for those who can't.

How come that it's socially acceptable to emulate the struggling poor of America, or even Britain? And why stop there? How about even more destitute people? Maybe a warzone look. Or refugee chic? Could be the thing for next spring. Some torn and tattered clothes, with shoes optional. Perhaps a rusty AK-47 as the perfect finishing touch. What next: an ironic dinner party serving up Red Cross rice?

Strong writing. This is almost as cracked as the charming habit of wealthy white kids in this country to emulate hip hop gangsta style and its contempt for law and learning. Once upon a time people wished to emulate the wealthy and successful. Now they ape society's losers. Why? Because it's so much easier to fail?

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