Sunday, July 01, 2007

Armed Biker

The narrative of adolescent development in the 20th century is inextricably intertwined with the concept of “Coolness” & its interrogatory & confrontational relationship to established cultural mores. For many teenagers growing up in the relatively static culture of southwestern Virginia in the late 60s, television & cinema & Mad Magazine provided models of Coolness, usually depicted as exaggerations & simplifications of codes of dress & behavior, that would allow avenues of escape from the horrifying probability of growing up to become one’s parents etc.

Depictions of outlaw bikers, pirates & Robin-Hood-like gangsters suggested romantic possibilities for lives to be led outside the constraints of existing local cultures. For testosterone-charged teenage males, it was natural to privilege “toughness” as a primary component of Coolness. I like the drawing below for its melding of pirate tropes with urban Black 60’s funk fashion.

Pirate Funk Gang

Television was actively bringing images of urban Black culture into homes far away from any actual contact with that culture. The politicized & interrelated discourses of civil rights activism, urban violence, race relations, popular music & fashion, all squeezed through a highly constrained but not-yet-overdetermined media (TV) into the chaotic brains of teens produced drawings like the one below, which depicts Black males looting, playing pool & barbequeing.

Look What I Got

As interesting an insight as this is into how Blacks were being portrayed & perceived by TV & its audience, I am more intrigued by the fact that these characters are dressed to the nines in styles that seem to come straight from Carnaby Street to the streets of “the ghetto,” and that a tremendous amount of work has been put into the depiction of the fashion details. The mis-en-scène here seems in part to be an excuse for showcasing the patterns, colors & cut of the clothes. And I am especially bemused by the fact that the television being looted is a console-type television. This is very much a drawing of a particular moment in cultural history.

Running Hippies

It’s not too far from the scene of urban looting to this scene of white hippies running.