Clive Martin’s essay on the “sad young douchebags who took over modern Britain” is a fascinating dissection of a generation of young men brought up on porn and the Premier League. They are the tanned mutants of the high street; stalking the nation in their 40-quid Urban Outfitters vests. They know no better because they were taught economics on Pro Evo Soccer and learned about girls on a mate’s sticky laptop when they were 12. Embed from Getty Images But haven’t we been here before? I’m thinking of post-Beckham metrosexuality; the Havaiana flip-flops, the Chinese zodiac tattoos and the general Abercrombie & Fitchisation of society. Since the 1990s it has been unremarkable for (straight or gay) men to shave their armpits, GHD their hair and parade around in tight T-shirts clutching shopping bags featuring the torsos of other tattooed, barely-clothed men.
Take That and Robbie were at it before today’s lubed up little douchebags were even born. Having arrived on the pop scene looking like male strippers they soon adopted the wooden beads and loose shirts of the indie scene, known at the time as “baggy”. And so the scruffy little bands playing pier ends and pubs influenced the glistening stadium-arousing pop giants of the day in the ever eroding circle of hip.
This always happens and always has, from greased teddy boys to the Mods and football casuals. Working class men have often been vain – like many humans. And the short trip from art school to catwalk to Tiger Tiger in Vans trainers, Roxy Music (“who? I just liked it”) T-shirts, Jack Wills knits and ironic gold chunky Casio watches (£12 on eBay, £40 in American Apparel: paying more makes us feel better) is just part of the process. Without fail, elite trends end up in the mainstream and then the elite gets mean. It’s FINE for the urban middle classes and students to play about with image, style and vests in Aztec fabrics. It’s MUCH LESS FINE when the boys who bullied us in year 11 fancy a crack at being cool.
Take Britpop (yes, I know I always “take Britpop”). One minute it was all Good Mixer feathercuts and knowing worship of cheap sports brands, the next time you blinked the nation was brimming with towny lads in Liam cuts spending a week’s wages on the “right” cagoule.
It’s MUCH LESS FINE when the boys who bullied us in year 11 fancy a crack at being cool.
Hipsterkind hated it – and the movement died, but not without first cementing the “Oasis look” into generations of working class lads. And now the little brothers (sons?) of these lads are mainlining creatine and waxing their chests. The difference then was the idols did something *apart* from ponce about in front of the mirror. Y’know music or football. This new generation of image-obsessed males seems derived purely from previous, slightly hipper, forms of narcissism, in a churning spiral of self-adoration. These boys have been weened on the teat of naff celebrity as a means to an end. Poor pumped-up lambs with lifetime debt. (The Slits: the 70s punk band unwittingly teaching girls how to dress in 2014)
But it’s not all the end of days via Topman. Let’s consider the douchebags’ female counterparts, the girls calmly checking their hairbands on the reverse camera of a lime green iPhone 5c. Because falling down drunk outside provincial nightclubs in heels & spray tans is as last century as happy slapping. If, as Clive puts it, the boys are a bad Calvin Harris remix of Springsteen, then the girls look like Katy Perry covering the Slits. Which is kind of great, right?
As far as I can see, perhaps through a London art school lens (I live in Camberwell), the world is now awash with young ladies in loose 90s patterned shirts, with Heathers-style accessories & punky wedge shoes. I come from Leeds & go back there regularly – I see the same there too & not just among students. Could there be an apocalyptic shifting of plates between teenboykind & their female cohorts? In that the girls are rehashing the past marvellously while the boys look like Jason Orange drunk in a tattoo parlour? I may be guilty of positive discrimination here. Either way, I look forward to the wave of tattoo removal articles on Vice.com in 2030.