Monday, September 27, 2004

Theater of Pain

In the offices of the magazine I work for, on the desk of the fashion assistant is a pile of heavy-metal T-shirts I remember from high school -- Motley Crue Theatre of Pain and Shout at the Devil tour shirts. Only these are not real, they are replicas made by some new fashion brand. I wondered at first who in their right mind would wear something so inauthentic -- how could they justify the many levels of phoniness involved in donning such a shirt (not being into the Crue, not having been at the concert where the shirt was sold, not even spending the time to hunt down an authentic old tour shirt in a thrift store or vintage shop, not even actually wearing the shirt enough times to give it the worn-out patina).

But then I realized that these questions of authenticity simply don't cross the fashionista's mind. Fashion revels in a kind of anti-experience, effacing the possible signs that one has actually lived though something by systematically making them available to everyone. Fashion, of course, supplants experience with appearances, destroying history and replacing it with a treadmill of trends. A collegue of mine opined that in fact, they revel in the destruction of integrity, delight in seeing a specific symbol, a signified, that actually means a great deal to a select group of people, be detatched from its signifier and deprived of its original significance in becoming an all-purpose signifier of youth or trendy up-to-dateness. Such appropriations make integrity impossible: With no integrity of their own, they don't hesitate to destroy the symbols other's use to try to advertise their integrity for others. (Sure maybe people with real integrity feel no need to advertise their identity, but we all know that in reality people need to have their self-concept validated by others). Imagine you're a thirty-five year old unrepentant metalhead and you walk out in your Armored Saint tour T-shirt and suddenly the world sees you as a fashion-victim wannabe. (Except the fashion world, who has seen you as fodder to be cannibalized). Your identity has been co-opted. Think of the ubitquitous Che Guevara T; the people wearing these are gleefully destroying a once potent symbol of revolutionary power, happily doing the establishment's work while thinking there is something neat and rebellious in what they are wearing.

I always thought the phonies who buy the fake t-shirts would be full of secret sense of shame, but the thought they might actually be gloating in their ignorance, and thriving on the way they are denaturing signs chills me to the bone. They flaunt their power of emptiness and make our world progressively, cyclically emptier and emptier. This is my theater of pain.


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