The Fashion of Fascism
"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, October 2005
I'm talking to this guy on the phone sex line, we're making plans to get together, he wants to know if it's safe to park his truck in my neighborhood. I live in the Tenderloin, an area of San Francisco known mostly for drug addicts, trannies, old queers, hustlers, homeless people, crazy people, hookers, and immigrants -- now rapidly gentrifying into a hot destination for partying hipsters, office drones, suburbanites and fashionistas. As a white kid who moved to the neighborhood at the height of dot-com real estate speculation, I'm well aware of the role I've played in this gentrification, yet this knowledge doesn't stop me from feeling helpless, hopeless and homicidal.
But back to the phone sex line, this guy wants to know if it's safe for him to park his truck in my neighborhood. I say what are you worried about-it's not like it's a Mercedes. He says: oh, it's much more expensive than a Mercedes-I've never bought anything so expensive, it's how I make my living and I'm worried about it getting damaged.
What kind of truck is more expensive than a Mercedes? Oh, no -- it turns out the guy drives a Hummer, he says everywhere I go, people give me the finger. I say: that's because you're driving a symbol of US militarism, in the middle of a war. He says: I'm an organic farmer, a Hummer can haul a 3000-pound bag of fertilizer like nothing else-I'm building a road through a mountain.
I don't think I'm gonna hook up with this guy. Not like I haven't had sex with the enemy or anything -- I mean, that's how I've made my living for the past 12 years, but it's not recreation. And what kind of organic farmer builds a road through a mountain? This is just some straight-acting faggot who wants to drive around in a tank, and he's worried that someone's gonna scratch an anarchy sign into one of his bulletproof windows.
I remember when camouflage got really trendy in the mid-nineties -- club kids started sporting mini camouflage backpacks and short-shorts, and pretty soon joggers and mall rats picked up on the look. Then khakis became the dominant fashion trend, from The Gap's "Khakis Rock" campaign and Banana Republic scenes of multiracial beige bliss, to Levi's military posters and designer runway khakis in the latest new plastic fabrics. Khaki cargo pants, khaki denim skirts, khaki sarongs, khaki baseball caps , khaki raver jeans...
But that was nothing compared to now, when a quick glance will reveal an infinite number of fascinating new ways to use camouflage. How 'bout some fierce fleece baby booties in calming desert hues? A Jackson Pollack-inspired splatter paint aqua camo parka for the sensitive art student? Fuchsia camouflage overalls and matching bandannas for those cute little twins? An elegant and understated grey-and-charcoal camo-printed silk ball gown for the society doyenne? A snazzy camouflage cellphone case for the businessman on safari? And, of course -- for the real man -- old-school army green from head to toe -- though is that a hint of burgundy for Fall 2005?
Even worse than the camouflage cabal is the trend of wearing NYPD accessories. This trend started way before the Twin Towers went down, and in the late-nineties, at the height of nationally-publicized NYPD murders of unarmed people of color I witnessed guys all over the country proudly showcasing their NYPD blue. You might as well wear a hood over your head (I mean a Klan hood, honey, not your American Apparel hoodie). I witnessed one of the worst cases of this phenomenon when a friend attempted to enter an anti-police brutality meeting here in San Francisco while wearing an SFPD baseball cap. Apparently he thought this was ironic -- luckily a few of us apprehended him before entering a roomful of relatives of police murder victims.
Then there's the I ? New York t-shirt trend. It started just before 9-11 as the ultimate ironic electroclash fashionista statement -- I remember going to some terrible Brit-pop club where some silly boy I had a crush on was deejaying, and an emaciated, pale Vidal Sassoon hairstylist fag was fully working the asymmetrical hair with bondage pants, pointy shoes, and... an I ? New York t-shirt. But I'm sure she shelved that outdated tourist trinket as soon as suburbanites nationwide threw one on as a closet statement of unquestioning patriotism. And speaking of patriotism, no one could have missed the re-remergence of the good ol' stars-and-stripes-I'm gonna have to save that for another column.
Just the other day, I caught myself staring at some cute femmey boy with soft eyes and wispy curls in a pastel pink t-shirt. He was wearing a camouflage baseball cap with the John Deere logo imprinted on the front -- the military and a tractor company, what a great way to prove your masculinity! If I knew him I would have read him, but instead I just imagined him taking off the baseball cap so we could make out. He reminded me of yet another tragic boy who I had a crush on, when I lived in New York, and I went to his birthday party with two dozen roses and four guys were wearing the exact same Nikes. I said: that's enough to fund an entire sweatshop. One of them looked at my footwear selection, and said: you're wearing a whole cow on your feet. But I was prepared, I said: these boots are vegan.
But they were combat boots.