(picture courtesy to an undergraduate project “What are people really wearing?”)
A society involves a lot of agreements between people, and oftentimes we forget the actual reasons these agreements are in place. Like for instance, why people wear clothes. There’s an interesting conspiracy theory behind it, as presented in an anime Kill la Kill. Yet the common wisdom is that these agreements do not come from a conspiracy theory, instead they are posed as the definition of what society is. I feel that’s not enough to define a society, one needs to introduce an extra level of structure: the processes and phenomenons that are sustained within the society by majority of it’s members. Like fashion: the agreement which clothes to wear itself changes over time, but the mechanism that puts such agreement in place is sustainable. One can say “a positive feedback loop”.
Before I set out to describe fashion and consumerism, as well as their alternatives, it is worth to spell out my goals. I feel strongly against consumer culture. I’ve noticed that my peers seem to live in the world where looks just have to comply with certain standards. Like: you should use a styling gel on your hair every day. If there are hairs sticking up from your head, that’s a reason to worry. Other thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s hard for me to watch hollywood movies. All of the actors and people on screen comply with fashion standards, and some actors are even the tail of the distribution of handsomeness. Even the comedies that are supposed to make fun of the norms, still have a lot of assumptions in place that are immovable. It is hard for me to watch teenage comedies because of how many things they “program” us to do, how much they tell us what our life should be like. It is crazy because comedies are supposed to be light movies to watch. How much do they program other people? Is it just me? Would my life be different if the comedies I watched as a kid didn’t tell me that happy ending = having a girlfriend that looks like a hollywood star?
Those are simple questions with no easy answer. About comedies – yes, it is likely that only I respond to comedies in such a surprising way. But the consumer society in general is, I think, a greatest harm to humanity. The amount of people hurt (though indirectly) by American culture dwarfs the number of people hurt by American bombs. So the goal is to have a clear understanding how to live in a society like that, and how to express clearly my beliefs by my actions. I am not really going to provide a global alternative – that’s too ambitious of a goal. I’m contempt with a local alternative – something a person can do, and explain to friends, and still fit in and have a successful life. Maybe even that solution, once implemented, will add a certain charm to a person. So let’s start with a detailed description of consumer society, with clothes and fashion as example.
A technical reason to wear clothes, which will be a foundation for the society’s customs, is to keep oneself warm, clean, healthy, protected from sunburn. Shoes are to be able to walk far. That’s it.
Next society’s construct is the concept of shame. It’s a very powerful feeling, maybe even evolutionary imprinted into us to make violating rules costly. There’s a lot to say here, but let’s just keep to the point of needing to wear clothes that cover areas related to sex, because sex is shameful. And the need to be dressed appropriately to the occasion, i.e. not stand out from everyone else, because that is shameful as well.
The third step is a concept of beauty. We like to put effort and resources (money) into clothing that looks new, shiny and colorful… that’s basically it for the evolutionary structure of the society.
Now comes in fashion. We like to put even more money into clothes that are trendy/ make us look sexy. One can say that clothes were used as a discriminant between classes of society, so having clothes of a higher group makes us feel better. One can also say that looking like an idol (a role model) is part of imitating the idol and makes us feel better. But I feel like things are even more messed up, so before we describe why fashion works in detail, let’s back off and discuss how we even know what is beautiful.
We expect it not to be genetically encoded. Instead, the taste is something that you train. In adolescence, the teenagers “discover” their attraction to opposite gender. I assume that the specific details that are deemed most attractive are chosen from the pool of what’s around, but not easily available to look at. Like for boys, rare commercials of bikini swimsuits somehow made a woman in bikini an ideal of attractiveness. But then, there’s a general taste, like if you have to answer what’s your favorite color …