Wanted: Old World Charm.

On Art and Culture December 28, 2010

28 December 2010, a reprint from 16 November 2010

RyanAir Flight from Pisa, Italy to London, England

I have purchased just about every trinket, classy novelty, remembrance, and foodstuff I can possibly stuff into my already-bulging case.  Thanks to Santa’s generosity last year, the new jumbo Samsonite is the guy for the job.

I am seated comfortably between two gorgeous young men.  One reads an Italian novel, whilst the other has covered himself in a journeyman’s armour; eyes nestled into the womb of a mask, and u-shaped pillow already on duty.  A  polka-dotted neck scarf rests in a on his lap like a tissue.  It is perfectly normal that a handsome and progressive European man, no stranger to travel, would wear this.  I am amused, thinking that polka-dotted linen-weave scarf in the United States of Generica would likely beckon criticism or maybe even a pointedly homophobic remark.  I’m seeing that the role of street fashion on each continent is opposite of the other’s.

From what I have seen and known in Europe, fashion is an extension of one’s self, a voice that celebrates graphic innovation, symbols of origin, texture, and individuation.  Whereas in the United States, fashion is generally used as a type-stamp, a symbol of solidarity and belongingness to a certain class, ethnic origin (regardless of number of generations American) status, interest group, or fledgling identity.  Gender cues, seem to be blurring into a more masculine archetype, both sexes leaning.

It seems the psyche of the American “liberated” woman has become so adverse to the repression of last generation, liberation itself has affected the American dialect, the result of which is an overall loss of elegance.  I dare say that such a radical movement set a tone whose echo can still be heard today.  It is that subtle, combative undertone that reeks of an ongoing fight for equality.  This continuum of struggle is seen in inappropriately casual dress, vulgar language, forgotten grammar, and aggressive behaviour.  Perhaps in countries where liberation occurred in a less evolutionary manner, there isn’t such a cultural “line in the sand”  gender cue in men’s dressing. If liberation came less abruptly, the change would not blanch the population. Equality doesn’t mean less mannerly.

And then there are the races in the United States.  Not the nationalities.  The races. Within those subsets is a culture of fashion that clearly delineates one’s origin and life path, possibly education level.  With all the accusations of racism, sensitivity to political correctness, and the alleged-conspiracy to keep minorities in a fixed socio-economic state, it seems there is little or no effort demonstrated by said minorities to become, simply, citizens.  Is it possible to just be?  The fashion that demarks one’s identity in America, since it does not promote individuality, in fact, promotes solidarity… the sort of solidarity that seals a predictable destiny.

Indeed, there is a grand discrepancy between Europe and America in the use of cultural expression.  The United States has a short history, free from the instructive and formative afflictions of on-shore war, famine, government overthrow, and border re-establishment.  Surely the educational system that trains moneymakers and not freethinkers is partly responsible.  What is to become of a nation that prides itself on being the best, the strongest, and the richest?  How can a culture survive such ideals unscathed?  These are the archetypical masculine, the non-poetic.  These are the desires of a lonesome people, an isolationist society whose picket fences, rather than for the sake or ornamentation, are more likely designed to keep neighbors away from one’s bank-owned American Dream.

What is character in the New World?  And who honors it by definition?  Which philosophers are considered?  Which differences are condoned, much less celebrated?  There has developed a foolhardy assumption of national-born superiority.  Or is the nation too big, functioning as a giant hive of clueless worker bees in service to an elusive queen.  Memorize facts, but don’t learn to co-exist.  Forget philosophy, poetry, language (both foreign and proper native,) and gastronomy.   Exposure is the very fuel of true innovation, tolerance, solution, and a standard of excellence, but by all means let’s keep propagating its extinction!

My angst is for a young and uber-capitalistic land, bereft of culture and functioning solely in a manner congruent with its birth:  acquisition, domination, alienation, solidarity… achievement through single-mindedness,  a conquering spirit that leaves all riches without monetary value to fade.  This is discontent that keeps me searching for more.  It is instructive, a healthy stress.  Curiosity is the absolute freedom

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