Mar 29 2010
By Peter H. Smeallie IV
In the last few chapters of his book, The Conquest of Cool, author Thomas Frank finishes up his discussion on the various outputs of the Counterculture movement of the 1960s and the marketers who followed & packaged those trends. He talks about the introduction of flashy, cool, young and hip menswear and the resultant Peacock Revolution it spawned, and notes that, while in the past, only women’s clothing had been colorful and stylish, in the 1960s, marketers not only tried to replicate those characteristics of fashion for men’s clothing, but also tried to mimic the turnover rate that women’s clothing followed. He also discusses the wild, flamboyant Mod fad, promoted by rock bands such as the Who, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, that had immigrated into the United States from England in the early 1960s, how men’s styles in fashion became popular through not only rock stars, celebrities, and movie actors, but also, and most pervasively, through commonly read magazines like Gentlemen’s Quarterly, and closes the book by recapping the broad, overriding theme it discusses: hip, youthfulness, and difference/individuality rebelling against the authoritative and bureaucratic “machine” of corporate America (and advertisers such as DDB marketing that image of “youth, change, and individuality” to the public).
In class on Tuesday, we watched an old, somewhat “tacky” (by today’s standards) video of “Swinging London,” during which various young, 1960s era Londoners try on and wear different hip, extremely lavish/colorful outfits and sport their individualistic apparel to society. Although many of these clothes seemed very extravagant and ostentatious, it was that type of clothing worn in England (Mod) that helped influence the “individual” focused, counterculture movement of fashion in early 1960s America. We talked about the Peacock Revolution, which was the name given to the wild, colorful fashion trends for American men, the power that magazines and TV had on fashion, and Levi Strauss, whose jean products were originally worn among marginalized groups of working class men but then eventually bled into counterculture suburbia. We watched a 1960s commercial for men’s fashion that used cool, James Bond-like slickness, prestige, classiness, and mystique to sell its product (flashing quick clips of shiny fast cars, jets, successful bachelors, attractive women, and alcohol), and, on a more comic tone, watched the introduction to Austin Powers: Goldmember, the third film out of a trilogy that satirizes the hip, Mod-influenced, 1960s culture of Britain and America. One of the outstanding points made during our discussion was that, like what the commentator in the “Swinging London” video said, “Don’t take yourself too seriously or you’ll miss the point.” The point of counterculture and being hip/young was to have fun, be free, and not feel destined to be a “desk job person” for the rest of your life. Despite that, and as the book seems to emphasize, most people did exactly what advertisers told them to do, and thus didn’t completely “rebel” against society. For counterculture, it wasn’t about tearing down the infrastructure of capitalism, but rather, about projecting a free, different, and “new” image upon society. We finished up the class by watching a few minutes of the French, Oscar-winning short animated film, Logorama. The latter, which takes place in a surrealistic, cartoon version of Los Angeles (one where in which the world is comprised of and/or inundated in thousands of iconic American logos), is an allegory about the mass, excessive, and careless consuming habits of America, and how they will soon drive the world to destruction.
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