April 16th, 2009

No spin here

An open letter to George Will

Mr. Will,

On behalf of degenerate Godless left-wing libruls everywhere, I would like to thank you for your rich contribution to American conservatism's descent into hallucinatory self-parody. (TL;DR summary: He spends an entire column attacking jeans. I am not kidding. - Ed.)

As self-examination, it is hard to overstate the profundity of lines like "the plague of [denim] ... is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche." But even that overwrought prose is just a pale shadow of your inimitable phrase "authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil", with its vivid imagery of sexually tumescent, salaciously ungloved metacarpals.


... Excuse me for a moment, I must go occupy the toilette.

More seriously, the only response your article deserves is a snappy one-liner (like tilton's comment: "1952 called, they want their outrage back"). However, in a moment of misguided pity I would like to seriously address some of your arguments, in the vain hope that others of your ilk may note your shortcomings and overcome them, upping the ante of conservative crazy to previously unthinkable heights.


Jeans are, you quote approvingly, "a manifestation of 'the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby.'" You are packing three complaints into this single condemnation; let's examine them separately:

  • Jeans make parents and their children look the same. Your lead paragraph harrumphs disapprovingly that "Father and son are dressed identically"; later, "In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences ...".

    It's a good thing, then, that we have such models of civility and propriety as the Victorian era to aspire to, when little Lord Fauntleroy was stuffed into a tiny tailored suit and forced to stand quietly while his father shared tea and crumpets with men in large tailored suits.

    You exhort readers to consider St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians and "put away childish things." Sir, better men than you have quoted that passage, and until you can muster any sort of response to one of the 20th Century's most eminent Christian theologians, I suggest you go stand in the corner with little Lord Fauntleroy.

  • Jeans aren't appropriate clothing for the rich. "Denim on the bourgeoisie is ... discordant"; it is "silly" for "Americans (who ... load) their bags of clubs into golf carts to go around in public dressed" in jeans; "Silicon Valley billionaires" are posing when they "(wear) jeans when introducing new products."

    I agree, actually. I think the rich should wear clothes that distinguish them from the Little People. I think they should cultivate mannerisms and complaints that always and forever cause them to stand out from the undifferentiated rabble. Then the proletariat might realize how much they've been conned by the wealthy's "jes' folks like you" act and decide democratically to raise the top marginal tax rate back to 90%. American society rests far too much moral weight on the pretty, fragile fiction that somehow the $1,000,000-per-year crowd represents the best of American morality and unfairly overburdened entrepreneurship.

  • Jeans are sloppy dress. "[W]e all strive to look equally shabby." "Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances."

    Golly gee whiz, George, I get bouts of nostalgia for the 1980s too, what with the fad of pricey "designer jeans" that allowed denim wearers to rise above the shabby masses. And who wouldn't want to return to a time when the height of fashion was oversized sunglasses, a poofy mullet, and a tight leather jacket? But there's a time and a place for nostalgia, and that time and place is in the toilette, alone with a dogeared copy of Glam Rock Monthly and salaciously ungloved metacarpals.

    When you're done with that, Mr. Will, here's something for you to chew on. Stop confusing what people wear with how they wear it. If I stood someone who cared about their appearance next to someone who didn't, and both of them were wearing jeans, I dare say that even you would be able to tell the difference.

    What's your real beef? Are you lamenting the end of "business attire" and the rise of business casual? Clearly relaxed dress codes haven't caused worker productivity to suffer, so there must be some even more pernicious harm at stake here.

    Ah-hah: "The appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves." So the true evil is that you, George Will, and people like you can no longer make moral judgments on people based on egregiously superficial factors like the type of fabric in their pants. Mr. Will, I refer you to my first paragraph.

The richest irony of all this is that like you, Mr. Will, I am a denim abstainer. I too own only one pair of jeans, which I have worn only a handful of times, all out on hiking trips where the rugged fabric actually served a function. I don't like the feel of denim; I don't like the fit of most jeans; I don't like the microspaces that most jeans consider "pockets."

And you know what? Nobody gives me shit about it, and nobody has ever launched your style of blistering jeremiad at the non-denim heathens. At least, nobody has cared since high school. If your acquaintances are stuck in the "arrested adolescence" you decry, and goad you for not following the denim trend, get adult friends.

You urge people to discover "the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste." Let me go you one better: Learn to accept that there are some things that exist in a broad plateau in between "good" and "bad." If jeans aren't "good" taste -- and they're not; nobody is praised for wearing them -- it's because they're simply neutral: a default that people can wear without provoking judgment calls.

At least from the rational.

But hey, to paraphrase someone witty enough to be published in a syndicated column, seventy-five percent of American "conservatives" -- those with irrational sociopolitical neuroses -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote.

Go wipe the froth from your mouth, Mr. Will. My jeanless ass* has some video games to enjoy.

Yours in cotton-poly blends,


* Considering the amount of venom he has spewed on the subject of what covers American asses, I think I'm going to have to write George Will off as a victim of Tush Derangement Syndrome[*].

Edited to add: Not to break the mood, but keep in mind that the same people backing George Will's jeans jihad are the ones who defended -- and still defend -- the Bush administration for literally sanctioning torture. The fact that this movement has not been removed from polite political conversation -- much less the fact that those involved have so far eluded prison -- is a continuing embarrassment on the United States.
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