by Rhian Sasseen on May 27, 2012
There was a time in my more immediately-naive youth in which a good ninety percent of my wardrobe was culled from vintage sources. I told myself that I was green, I told myself that I was quirky; in reality, all I was doing was regurgitating the past in some awful amalgamation of supposed alternativity that really just made the Baby Boomers proud.
“Just like Twiggy!” my parents cooed when at fourteen I took to wearing kicky miniskirts and painted-on lashes. Yes, just like Twiggy – and the year after that was the fifties, and the year after that, the seventies. The Pacific Northwest was awash in vintage boutiques and I visited them all, convinced that by buying into the past I was avoiding the consumerism of my present. Alas, all I was doing was supporting an older generation’s insane self-magnification and obsession.
Early millennial indie culture, created by the first wave of Baby Boomer-born children, cannibalized our mid-century American past and birthed an era in which it was de rigueur for “sensitive” girls to start idolizing Edie Sedgwick and Anna Karina, or to at least steal their hairstyles and eyeliner. It continues today: why is it hip to worship a failed and irrelevant past? – Because it makes our parents happy.
The Baby Boomers are growing elderly and with this new realization of mortality comes a hurried self-mythologizing. Self-worship has always been a characteristic of that set, but now it’s not enough for them to merely cast themselves as history’s saviors; they want to poison our generation, too. Witness the near-ecstatic reactions that greeted the early millenium’s “rock revival:” the Strokes, authors of a decent if highly-derivative album, were lauded as heroes of rock due to their slavish devotion to a shaggy seventies sensibility. The trend continues: rock music, indie’s lifeblood, borrows relentlessly from the past and smears it all in Polaroid-hazy nostalgia, replacing any real intellectualism with a mere placeholder of ideas. Are ripped jeans, Ray Bans, and snarls truly rebellious if our fathers found them first?
A copy of a copy. If we continue in this direction, we will merely be pastiches of the past, with nothing necessary to contribute.
“Rebellion” is a difficult task these days. How do we revolt against a generation convinced of its own coolness? – Our cultural ideas of rebellion remain predicated on the Boomers’ earlier examples. Growing up, I never needed D.A.R.E. – I had my mother who, responsible as she had become by middle age, still delighted in recanting stories of all the drugs she had indulged in during the seventies in California, her memories rosy and my reactions horrified. Am I more conservative because of this? – No, not really. But perhaps more cynical.
The tragedy amongst contemporary alternative youth cultures – “hipster,” if you want to get pedantic – is that we have been convinced that by peddling dreams of the past we are engaging with visions of the future. This is patently absurd. All we are doing is worshipping a past that holds no meaning, a past that failed a prior generation and created the economic and cultural mess we’re now engaged in. The U.S. government spends $2.4 on the elderly for every dollar spent on a child, and $480 billion on Medicare versus $68 billion on education. And why? – Because we are the sacrifice for a selfish generation that can’t die soon enough. Our parents mean well, but they want to kill us.
Friends have tried to argue with me that by buying vintage clothing they are saving the planet. A better alternative, they claim, than consuming new items, even though they may indeed be contributing to cultural annihilation. I have a very simple answer to this: stop buying so much useless shit. This is a false choice, and one that is easy to remove oneself from.
Soon there will be nothing left to revive. I am already sick of all the pictures of Kurt Cobain currently crowding my Tumblr feed. Let the past remain in the past – reject this need to identify yourself with the easily-understood signifiers of a bygone era. It only makes you easier to sell to.
If you are buying vintage or selling vintage you are betraying your generation. Use your youth and your energy to celebrate and create new ideas, new musics, and new cultures instead of prostituting yourself to the whims of the Boomer authority figures that raised you. Demand new silhouettes, if fashion’s all you care about, but stop worshipping the past. If we continue imitating our parents’ era, so too will we end up imitating their mistakes.