Momus has an excellent essay today about something I had felt vividly when I was back home in December: the U.S. Right has appropriated identity politics from minority movements. After the Republican’s total victory last November it has waned, but the Right Wing and their media spokesmen constantly make themselves out to be the victims of some imaginary Left Wing Conspiracy, when in fact, they are still strongly gripping the reigns of power. America’s demographics are changing, and in a very short time frame, WASP Americans will no longer hold a full majority. However, the other races and minority groups stand only as small fragments, and the Republicans can easily rule through a plurality of WASP support.
As someone pointed out in reference to my intentionally terrible “Trend Sheet” parody, an abundance of media naturally destroys “uniform culture.” But I would imagine that in both politics and consumer markets like fashion, the rate of subculturization increases as one approaches “liberal” or “fashion-forward,” respectively. In other words, the more you’re into fashion, there’s an increasingly better chance you’re into a different fashion than your peer with equal interest. This is in fact because people interested in obscure things tend to like them because no one else does, which means that a massing of likeminded people will lead to further fragmentation. There’s a lot of people finding culture on the Internet, but we’re all using it to do totally different things.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s also a lumpen plurality of “mainstream” consumers/voters whose tastes tend to be simple and unrefined and quite uniform.
And with it, there’s also a natural force pushing back to the middle. Fashion in 1980s Japan was essentially monolithic — one fashion code for one age group. If you weren’t wearing DC brands in 1985, you were not “cool.” In the ’90s, fashion became subcultural, but there were usually only 5-6 looks in the public sphere — Skater-kei, Uraharajuku-kei, Mode-kei, etc. — and most people could manage the information required to read others’ fashion tastes. Now, however, the number of looks has grown exponentially, but the adopters of each are proportionally lower. And as the information required to break the code reaches overload, most people find refuge back in the “mainstream plurality.” I see Japanese kids in Mod gear, hip-hop, skater-wear, NYC rocker, and ultra-punk all the time, but I’ve also never seen so much Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Men seem to overcome the info overload issue by buying generic brands like Uniqlo, but Japanese women buy those particular luxury items in the certainty that they signal taste (and ultimately, wealth) to the largest percentage of population.
I’m grateful for the variety of consumer lifestyle choices and free information in today’s society, but unless we on the fringes can band together to create a larger coalition than the mainstream plurality, we will be witness to the lowest point in mass culture history. In the 1950s, mass culture may have been vanilla, but they also had to attempt to please those with somewhat alternative tastes. Now that we’ve exited the main cultural spheres and are blogging to our 25-person audience, mass culture can just totally write us off and go on its way without us.