Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Clothes May Make a Man

I've titled this post off a line from a song in The Producers but it's going to take me a bit to get to what initially triggered this bit of randomness. Because, for the umpteenth time on this blog, something from Tumblr instantly relates to something I've written. And once again, it's something Mr. Cumberbatch is said to have... said.

This is getting really weird.

Anyway, the quote I saw mentioned comes from this article in the Telegraph.  Of course, it's an interview and I'm rather wary of interviews these days (looking at you, Daily Mail). Especially as I've seen people say before on Tumblr that Herr Cumberbatch doesn't intend on leaving the UK. Apparently this article went viral earlier today because I originally found it on the Huffington Post and I couldn't get the link to load and the comments on Twitter shown on the bottom of the page were really starting to pile up and people were beginning to comment about it all over Tumblr, debating about whether he's being serious, about whether he's being tongue and cheek, whether this is a misquote... et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Oh, the internet...

 (What did I do before I had this line to express my doubt in internet sources? Really, I love this so much.)

Anyway, I'm not going to ponder whether or not what Cumberbatch is alleged to say is actually what he said and in what sort of tone and so on because why in the world would I know that? (Besides, there's enough people scrutinizing this, I don't need to jump on board and nor do I want to... even though I kind of already have by writing this. Damn) I wouldn't know what he actually said unless I was psychic... which would be terrible for the world. Instead, I'm going to marvel in the weirdness of the publication of this article right after I had my post on wealth and clothing. The universe is a funny, funny place.

And it makes me feel very funny as well. After the post mentioning the Westwood jacket, I feel like a bit of a tool for being wary of expensive clothing. Because, as I was later discussing with one of my friends, if I were wealthy, I'd be buying clothes like that too. The weirdness of it is all rather relative (and partly due to the fact that I'm incredibly cheap). But the fact that I would be somewhat nervous around wealth makes me feel somewhat like a jerk. Especially in light of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

So generally I don't talk much about completely outwardly political things on here (other than feminism, of course). Mainly because that's not the intent of this blog; there a hundreds - nay, thousands - of political blogs out there, especially in regards to the Occupy movement. This is not one of them. Especially as, when it comes to politics, I don't seem to fit with any existent American political party. In general, I actually don't like politics much at all - I care very deeply about the issues but the hullabaloo around it is mostly unhelpful. Politics has become all about telling other people you're right and disagreeing when you think they're wrong and arguing the rest of the time, when trying to see from other points of view and leaving things open for discussion would probably be far more helpful than yelling and name-calling. But in the current political climate, at least in America, having a discussion is nearly impossible. So, today I get to be political despite the little voice in my head calling, "Noooo... this is a terrible idea...you're going to piss everyone off." Because that's where discussing politics gets people most of the time.

Yes, thank you for your insight. (http://static6.businessinsider.com)
Which is exactly my problem with Occupy movement. There is no room for discussion. The 1% is wrong, the 99% is right, all the complicated nuances going on in both sides and the fact that it completely eliminates the opportunity for one to be in-between the two groups disappears. (Also, I'm rather confused how a group representing those who are out of work and have low-paying jobs could demand that people bring tents to camp out on Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis to protest. Yeah, I'm a college student with a limited income - I definitely own a tent that can withstand cold Minnesota nights.) While I agree that class disparity sucks, I don't think that getting pissed off at people who are wealthy is going to do any good. It's not the people, it's the system. What can you do when your starting salary happens to be high above that of someone else's? Are you going to refuse it and demand to be paid less? Probably not. I wouldn't. Money is a sign of success in our culture and that's going to take more than demanding equal distribution of wealth to overcome. Because as long as we still have concepts of wealth, I don't think moving money around is going to help much.

Of course, this is just my opinion and it has certain weaknesses. But I just don't think getting enraged at the wealthy is going to do any good. It certainly doesn't do any good for me. Because I'm probably one of the 1% myself. I don't have to pay for my college education - my parents are paying, because they set up an account for me when I was really young so I wouldn't have to worry about student loans. Yes, I am incredibly fortunate for that and I am thankful for it every day, but I've gotten some snotty reactions from fellow college students about it that are not as fortunate as myself. I don't like that I'm being criticized for something I didn't do; I didn't even know I had the college account until a few years ago, when I started school. It's not like I rub it in other people's faces. It's not like I suddenly have it easy because I don't have to pay tuition (dear God, why are psych textbooks so expensive? Why is rent so expensive? Why is milk so expensive?!). It really isolates me from my fellow students when suddenly they view me differently because of my monetary standing. But it gets weirder for me. My grandfather (who died before I was born) used to work for the county REMC, the electric company for rural areas in Indiana, and used to climb telephone poles year around to fix electric lines; quintessential blue-collar work there. My great-grandparents were Italian immigrants. My parents didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up - it's not like we had serious financial issues by any means, but there was a definite presence of fiscal conservativeness in my younger years. And by tossing me in with either the 1% or the 99%, my experiences are blurred into extremes. It divides where I've come from with where I am, and divides me from others, by forcing me to choose extremes, rather finding what I have in common with other people. I feel like we should be bringing people together, while the Occupy movement is simply driving people farther apart.

So if you're still reading and haven't decided that I'm either a Communist or a bourgeoisie pig, congratulations. You stuck it through that little soap box and I appreciate it. But I feel like I need that background on the Occupy movement and my opinion on it to illustrate why I'm interested in this article from the Telegraph. Being a college student at a liberal state school in a big city gets a lot of influence from position like these. And so this has weighed heavily in my mind over the last year and a half or so.

I have one more random antidote to suffer you through before getting back to where I started. And that is the very peculiar dream I had after writing the post on the Westwood jacket. I dreamt that, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the actor Daniel Day-Lewis had suddenly decided that he was going to refuse to take the salary offered to him in the next film he was acting in. This was probably influenced in some way by the mention in my cinema class after watching My Beautiful Laundrette that Daniel Day-Lewis actually taken time off to become a cobbler in Italy for a while and had to be persuaded to come back to work in Gangs of New York (found mention of this under the trivia section of his IMDb bio, so might be legit). Somehow my addled subconscious got a hold of this and warped it after writing about celebrity wealth.

So with all of this weirdness in my head, I stumbled across the Telegraph article today and thought, "Shit." Really, if I think the distinction between social standing is bad in the States, a place where class standing is expressed differently, I can't imagine how pronounced it must be in the UK. Britain has often been perceived as a clearly class-based society. Writers like Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackery, Charlotte Bronte, and Ford Madox Ford show this prominently in their writing and... well, it's what we learn a lot about in Cultural Studies. And so this shouldn't surprise me if this is such a problem.

But the aggressiveness and the timing of all this surprises me. It seems like now that Cumberbatch is famous, it's a bigger deal that he also went to private - I mean public - I mean private school. Because now he's wealthy and had a privileged background and so on and so forth. As if that was his fault and something to be blamed for.

*sigh* This is why I don't like this crap. Blaming people because they have a different background than someone else. Because they had certain "advantages" and therefore deserve to be punished for them or something. Somehow, I fail to see how treating people who have had more "privileged" or wealthier upbringings or showing a prejudice towards them is any different than showing that sort of prejudice towards people with poorer upbringings. You know, if people hadn't mentioned online that Cumberbatch had attended a private... a school that costs money to attend (really, what is with this total backward meaning of public school between the US and the UK? It's a major pet peeve of mine) and that people teased him for going to "Hogwarts," I seriously would have had no idea that was the case.

And really, what does it matter? When it comes to acting, backgrounds vary dramatically. Tom Cruise initially was enrolled in seminary school. Kristen Stewart and Kate Winslet were both child actors. Brad Pitt dressed up like a chicken selling Mexican food until he got his break (no, seriously, he did). Acting might be one of the few careers where having training isn't always necessary. Not to impugn Mr. Cumberbatch's work by any means of course, but classical training doesn't mean instant success - what matters is the what you do with the training.

And of course, there's the issue of the salary, as my weird Daniel Day-Lewis dream highlighted. Actors get paid a crap-ton of money. But would I refuse that salary if it was offered to me? Nope, probably not. Is it their fault that they get offered such high sums? (And may I note that American's two highest paid actors - Tom Cruise and Kristen Stewart - happen to have far different training than Benedict Cumberbatch?) It also doesn't help anyone either that the media is intent on focusing on the glamour and expensive lifestyles of celebrities and reacts in shock when they're buying eggs in a grocery store or walking around in sweatpants. And there was some freak-out on Entertainment Tonight the other day about some celebrity wearing clothes from Kohls, a department store, and I just sighed.

And now we're back where this post initially began. To think this started out as a post about clothing...

I was having a text conversation with my friend Ashley the other day about wearing nice clothes to boost confidence. Which led to a long philosophizing on style and appearance in reference to people we know who don't dress that well and act odd about people who do dress up. For instance, I said an acquaintance of ours, "always calls me a hipster in a backhanded way and I just ignore it as best I can" and "does this whole 'dressing nice is so bourgeoisie' thing that makes me feel like a jerk." And the rest of the conversation went something like this:
Ashley: Everyone can find clothes that look great on them and they don't have to cost a lot of money. It just takes more work for some people than others…
I am mean when it comes to people I don't like though. It's my brainwashed "woman" side coming out or something…
Me: That's ok. I find it really hard to treat people I'm mad at nicely. I'm friendlier with perfect strangers :P
Ashley: Sorry about the clothes rant. I've been watching too much What Not to Wear* this summer and they're all "what you wear should reflect who you are on the inside"
Me: It's fine. I love what not to wear. Most of the time they're really nice about advice. I just feel like clothing is a way to respect your body and show you care about it (as nudity is frowned upon in this establishment :D) thus people don't have to be fashion geniuses but trying and caring is important. It isn't a monetary statement but a show of respect for yourself (end of my philosophy of clothes)
Ashley: That's exactly how I feel. Yea, people don't always know what looks good on them, but your clothes should make you happy when you put them on. Otherwise, why are you wasting money on them anyways?
Me: Exactly! I 100% agree!
Ashley: See, I always like your clothes because when you wear them, you look so confident and happy!
Me: Aww thanks! That's what I try to do and I'm glad it's working!
* What Not to Wear is a sort of fashion reality show where two experts are brought in to throw out the entire closet of a person who has a very questionable wardrobe and helps them to find clothes that look good on them and make them feel good about themselves.

And thus you have it - my philosophy of clothes. This is one thing I like about What Not to Wear - it's not about wearing clothes to express class or status or to show you can afford a Gucci handbag or whatever - it's about buying things you like because they make you feel good about yourself and express who you are. In a world that's so image conscious and appearance focused, it's a way of keeping tabs on who you are amongst mass-produced clothes and reclaiming uniqueness amongst certain fashions that seem focused on sameness. It's compromising between what society wants us to be and what we want for ourselves. Which is why if people actually enjoy wearing Crocs, then I'm not going to stop them. And it's why I hate it when people say you can't wear denim on denim - if you are happy wearing denim on denim, wear denim on denim. It isn't about the money. I buy a ton of my clothes second hand and I apparently look decent.

But then I thought about something else - men's fashion. It's not exactly easy for men to buy nice clothes at resale shops. I mean, I've seen my friend Kevin's polo shirts after he's had them for a year - they wear out really fast and get holes where they rub against belt buckles and these are Hollister polos. Not exactly a cheap store. And considering Kevin is like 6'3" or some crap like that (weird, tall people :P) his clothes probably wear out faster from twisting and turning and ducking under things (while I just trod on the hem of my own jeans and that's the only part of my clothes that actually tend to wear out fast). But I've looked at men's clothes (okay, I have a thing for three piece suits. I can't help it) and they are not cheap. And if they are cheap... it utterly shows. Which is probably why men rarely wear suits to work now - they are pricey (and overly formal. And probably really warm. But look at Gatiss over there! With the vest and the pocket watch and the...ugh. Sorry, I'll shut up).

Also another draw back for men: unbeknownst to me, apparently they have to care about money more. We discussed this quite a bit in my psych class this summer. There is an expectation that men are meant to be well-off and have a good career and money in order to support a family. This is less of an issue for women because men are expected to be the bread winners and women are supposed to rely on men (yay patriarchy). There's this pressure for men to have high-earning careers and be well-off to entice women. Which is something that for women seems to be a total non-issue.

That kind of sucks, guys. That really kind of sucks. You have to have money to impress. But if you have too much, you're criticized for it. If you don't have money, you can't make the same impression with either your suit or your reputation or your freaking business cards. Which makes me think of this scene from American Psycho:


Well, no happy, neat bow-tie ending tonight. Alas. Better luck next time.

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