Saturday, December 8, 2007

Tuff Club: It's hard out there for the disenchanted

My boyfriend has been begging me to explain to him what’s up in the New York underground world these days. The truth is, despite the fact that subculture is my Gallatin concentration at NYU, I really don’t know. He's fascinated by (pretentious) photobloggers and the (throwback) fashion and the (ironic) music; I used to get it, but I don’t anymore. Such is disenchantment.

Last year I was all up in the scene. Though it was probably a slow descent into that maddening confusion, now it seems like it was slapboombang, me in the middle, all of those things ripening around me, taking root, pulling me down (or was it up?) with them. Everything felt so crazy, and yet none of it was real. The people in my New York life mattered nowhere outside of the Manhattan/Brooklyn/Astoria trifecta, and yet they were worshiped, absolutely worshiped, in the 212.

The strange thing is that now it is spreading. I remember once after a night at Misshapes over the summer, I went home and in both the fashion issue and regular issue of Teen Vogue that got delivered to my doorstep, there were 4 page spreads on the phenomenon of the Misshapes, and how it has changed New York City subculture.

I didn’t know how to feel. It was weird to see people Josh and I (mostly Josh) associate with in the pages of a magazine. And yet it was validating, somehow, like we made it to this unforeseen place, this hipster heaven where everyone was cool and perfectly awkward, but only in our little world. And yet I knew it was nothing. It was all fake, and in the long run, ended up getting me nowhere. But I was fascinated, enamored, thrown headfirst into it all. I was 18 and I felt like I was 25. So this is my best attempt at explaining it.

New York City subcultures are so enthralling to me. This particular one is borne of something that was already raging prior: the 80’s. The drugs are the same (cocaine to go out, weed to come down), the fashion is the same (might I direct you to The Cobrasnake) and there is a type of lifestyle that a person is expected to uphold that would coincide perfectly with kids who grew up in the 80’s. The only new advent of this modern day New York culture is the internet; because of the internet, the Misshapes can't stay under the radar: so their parties become too popular, and their goal to stay popular within groups of unpopular people completely blows up in their faces. Can they spin at a Teen Vogue party, or at fashion week, without sacrificing what gave them their namesake: being loners, rebels, misshapen?

It's all so confusing, the glorification of emaciated 17 year old girls with 25 year old pouts. But then again, I guess that's something that categorizes this subculture, as well. It sets it apart from other social (non)organizations like the Greek system, or club Plumm-attending whores: you don't have to be beautiful to be popular at Misshapes. But you do have to have a certain look about you. Vintage clothes are a must. An ivory yet sallow complexion, sunken in frame, like you eat nothing, and when you do, it's junk. There's something distinctly impoverished about the people who grace, like they haven't had a good meal in well, a couple of years, like they drink vodka and smoke cigarettes for breakfast, following up with a couple fat rails to get them through their dayjobs (shifts being 2-10pm) at thrift exchanges or poorly circulated art mags, so that they can come home, change into their daily procured new outfit, and hit the town, bleary eyed, hungry for the flash of a camera, the glimmer of recognition in the face of a pseudocelebrity who might step out of rank once, just this once, and swoop them up under their apocalyptic wing, whisking them into the darkened underbelly of what is quickly becoming the famed world of the underground New York hipster scene.

I am simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by what's going on in New York right now. Because it is nothing new, it is not fresh. It is void of the excitement that was built around Andy Warhol during his factory days, or the Tunnel/Palladium scene of the 80’s. There is still the narcissism, the bloodthirsty social climbers, the backstabbing and passing-out-drunk in alleyways and air kissing: but now it is all captured on film, for the ENTIRE WORLD to see. What happened behind the hallowed walls of Tunnel was a mystery, in those days, unless of course you were there, a blatant accessory to the crimes at hand. But with the internet, with photobloggers snapping your picture with powder under your nose or your top falling down or you engaging in one of your more clumsy dance moves, there is absolutely nothing you can hide. And yet, this world still births so many secrets with answers unable to be excavated from the dusty crevices of the bottom shelf of the Don Hills bar. These are secrets that the cameras miss: relationships don't develop as easily, as scientifically, as a roll of film. And that's what makes this whole thing so fake, I guess. Relationships borne from a camera can't flesh out with that kind of stark humanity we look for in each other.

So then what is it about the flash of a camera that feels so goddamn validating? Are we that easily tempted by the monster of narcissism, or is it something more? We want to be a part of this big, bad thing, because maybe we were all misshapen in high school: sliding down the fluorescently lit hallways with a sense of anonymity unappreciated by athletes or scholars, awkward until the very end, unfurling shyly, quietly, in the springtime of New York, a place where the misfits fit in better than the wholesome, tan, rich kids that haunt our pained adolescent memories. Could it be that simple? Square pegs raised in circle hole environments finally finding their square holes, even if those holes are filled with an aggressive keep-out attitude that ultimately mirrors the attitude of the popular cliques in high school?

So in the end, isn't it all the same? What's the moral of this story? Vanity, beauty (no matter how awkward), and a certain attitude trump all else in the world of the misshapen. A camera flashes in a dark basement in a club so deep in the West Village that the Hudson makes my hair smell like seaweed and exhaust; I strike a pose.



Anonymous said...

how different are teen vogue and getting on said photoblog sites in the end if the shallowness is there?

Jess and Josh said...

the only difference i can see is in the circulation -- more people read teen vogue so it perpetuates the shallowness more. but ultimately i guess there really is no difference.