I suppose everyone feels like they were lucky in the education they got when it comes to matters of taste. But some eavesdropping I couldn't help but do yesterday, since it was carried out on a small gaggle young ladies who hadn't yet learned to modulate their post-pubescent voices in the grocery store queue, convinced me at least parts of my tasty superiority complex are founded on something.
Grocery store queues are the last-ditch effort, the final thrust, the veritable Little Bighorn of consumer temptation fighting back against budgets, diets, and common sense. So that's where they hawk the tabs and yesterday Britney Spears was on the cover of all of them. As far as I can tell (and I can tell pretty far despite having given up gossip pages, since even the BBC has been covering her lately), that's because she shaved her head. So these young ladies were treating themselves to a free read, looking at all the gross pictures and wondering with strident notes of betrayal in their voices what she's on, if Justin can help her, and when she's going to get better.
At first they just annoyed me like most young ladies do these days, with their cakey makeup, gouged pores and processed extensions yanked at a fraction of market cost from the scalp of desperate Moldavians, no doubt. But later I started thinking about the note of betrayal in their voices, and started feeling awfully sorry for them. They were a few years older than my niece, so they would have been impressionable right when Britney Spears was most popular. She was probably some sort of hero to them. In fact, their annoying aesthetic was pure 2003 Britney. What garden path had this woman led them down, they could have asked; what price will we pay for our respect?
So I felt sorry for them, and I felt lucky, because when I was their age it was different. Grunge had been a big force in music and fashion for awhile, and nineties Britpop was aesthetically interesting enough to go on posters and things. Those musicians were visibly and audibly full of heroin, cocaine, alcohol and Ecstasy, and it wasn't particularly surprising when one of them dropped out of the public eye for awhile or even - tragic though it was, and I remember crying for complete strangers back then - died in a more or less active fashion. So I grew up in a pop music environment that made clear pop music heroes were profoundly human; disreputable, angry, mentally unhealthy people who could have ended up dead in a ditch somewhere if they hadn't been musicians, and who sometimes did anyways. People who didn't promote a single fashion or physical aesthetic and who tended to look good despite themselves. It was because of this aesthetic that I could go through highschool wearing Docs and cotton nighties, without makeup and without brushing my head hair or removing my body hear, and fit right in. That was conforming back then. And that's how I'd be dressed right now if I didn't work in a business-casual office.
But more importantly, it meant that when, say, Kurt Cobain killed himself, I was sad but I didn't speculate about what other celebrity could have helped him. When Jarvis Cocker rushed Michael Jackson's twatty showpeice, I didn't wonder what he was on. And when Pearl Jam decided to hamstring their popular exposure by not doing music videos anymore and trying to duck Ticketmaster, I didn't ask myself when they were going to get better. I guess my point, if I have one, is that when I was those girls' age I didn't have to tweeze, diet and extend myself to participate in my heroes' aesthetic to the degree that when those heros had a breakdown, an overdose, or a scalp shave, I didn't feel betrayed or wonder at all what the implications of that event was for me.
It's hard for me to tell if I'm writing out of my ass or not, or if I've just turned into a curmudgeon who thinks pop music these days is hitting new lows because it used to be funny when one the Spice Girls popped out of her dress and now Janet Jackson's pastied nipple can cause legal showdowns. But I think it's a shame, what expectations young girls get stuck with these days.