Friday, May 18, 2012

The Dream of the '90s is Alive in Philadelphia. Well... Sort of — Tina, Walnut St.

I've been noticing earlobe-extending plugs a lot lately. They were big for a while in the early '90s then all but disappeared. I remember wondering if peoples' earlobes would ever shrink back to their normal size (Do they? I still don't know). A younger generation has since brought them back — and made them bigger and more aggressive than ever. They seemed, I imagine, like the logical place to go after we all got tatted up. RE/Search (does anyone remember that publication?!) called it "modern primitivism" back in the day. I hope we have the good sense not to call it that now. 

Tina, for me, exemplifies many of the youth subcultural trends I see at the moment: 1) Extensive arm tattoos worn with sleeveless or near sleeveless shirts; 2) Nose, lip, and cheek piercings (though noticeably fewer eyebrow and ear cartilage piercings than in the early '90s); 3) Genre-defying clothing combinations (I don't frankly, know what to call her look — and neither does she. Style labels are SO 1990s. Today we have subcultural style without subcultures to fit them into); and 4) Headphones worn as fashion accessories (and portable soundtrack). This happened once before, of course, in the '80s, the era of the Walkman. But now they seem even more ubiquitous.

I like Tina's updated take on the '90s. But I'm left wondering a couple things: 1) Have the '90s actually come back? Are we witnessing its cyclical return now that we've finished with our nostalgia for the '70s and '80s? I realized recently that that the '90s is to kids in their late teens and early twenties what the '70s were for me and my generation. Sega is their Atari 64. Nirvana is their Sex Pistols. They're too young to remember these things, but they're vaguely aware that they produced some significant cultural impact. 

And 2) Did the '90s ever actually go anywhere? I had been thinking that the whole urban farming/bee-keeping/crafting/locavore/insert-your-favorite-hipster-pastime-here thing was sort of a revival of early '90s indie culture, until I realized that all of these things have been launched by people in their mid to late-thirties, i.e., the same people steeped in indie culture back in the early '90s. Maybe this is just what indie culture looks like all grown up. 

I, for one, am glad to see the "kids" taking up some of the more in-your-face styles of the decade in which I came of age, the obnoxious hair colors, the extreme piercings, the crunchy punk meets hippy sensibilities. I'm glad to see a revival of veganism, left-wing politics, and circus freak sideshows. It feels all comfy and homey to me.  

These may not be original contributions to youth style, but the kids these days do it differently than we did. They have more tattoos for one thing. And their thrifted wardrobes owe as much to hip hop and Euro electronica as they do to punk and grunge. Their politics are less interested in labels too. Know any 20-year-old socialists? Libertarians? Members of PETA? No, probably not. It's much more in vogue to prefer horizontal, anti-essentialist political configurations. Good. Eclecticism and inclusiveness is in order. Early '90s indie was far too sheltered, middle-class, and white anyway. Maybe this new thing, whatever we call it, will move beyond those earlier, far too insular limitations.     

1 comment:

  1. Love this kid! Met her recently and knew immediately she was my next model for my portfolio!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.