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The Politics Of Style: Reading T Magazine


Men’s fashion mags make my left knee jerk.

Then again, why should fascists have the best boots?

The Politics Of Style: Reading T Magazine.

Historically, the Left, in postwar America, has sneered at fashion as frivolous, fatuous, and irredeemably bourgeois, embracing body hair, B.O., Salvation Army schmatte-wear, and a determined frumpiness as tokens of anti-establishment authenticity, clenched-fist solidarity with the working class, and conscientious objection to the Beauty Myth propagated by women’s magazines, Mad men, and Hollywood. (Think of John Lennon in his U.S. Army jacket, at the height of his rumpled, power-to-the-people earnestness; now think of John cutting the dash in a mod suit and fur jacket at the opening of Apple Tailoring in London, 1968. Think of Bob Dylan in dustbowl-Oakie drag; now think of Bob in his Don’t Look Back days, licensed to kill in skinny jeans, Italian boots, and dark sunglasses. The prosecution rests.)

To this day, my leftish friends of a certain age define fashion as any investment in appearance whatsoever, and view it with deep suspicion as clear evidence of counterrevolutionary tendencies.



My essay “England My England: Anglophilia Explained” is now an audiobook, listed under “humor” (shouldn’t it be “humour”?), at Buy it here.



A BEACH READ FOR SURREALISTS. Just the thing to tuck into while nibbling your lobster-telephone roll. “Blood Sports In A Starched Collar: Surrealist Etiquette.”

TIME CONSERVATION KEYWORDS: Rimbaud’s table manners, Emily Post, anarcho-dandyism, The Chap Manifesto: Revolutionary Etiquette for the Modern Gentleman, the death of manners, “mental hygiene” movies in postwar Amreica, the political history of “please” and “thank you,” when to make fun of people who doff their hats at passing funerals, how best to inform the host you regret you have no intention of sleeping with him/her, the dinner party as revolutionary cell.



Lloyd directs our attention to Arthur Rimbaud, the wild-haired feral child of Symbolist poetry who “made himself immortally insupportable”—summa cum laude, in Surrealist charm schools. Invited to sup with his mentor and sometime lover Paul Verlaine at the home of Verlaine’s biographer Edmond Lepelletier, the poet earned his reputation as an enfant terrible—and then some. Sitting tight-lipped, he broke his sullen silence only to snap orders for bread or wine, as if he were in a restaurant. When the burgundy took effect, he grew combative, baiting his companions with “challenging paradoxes and apothegms purposed to provoke contradiction,” in Lepelletier’s account of events. A funeral passed, and Lepelletier doffed his hat in respect, which elicited a punk-rock razzberry from the vociferously anti-bourgeois Rimbaud, who mocked his host as a “saluter of the dead.” An incensed Lepelletier, whose mother had died recently, told Rimbaud to “keep silent on the subject” (translation: shut up), a reprimand his obstreperous guest “apparently took in bad part, for he arose from the table and advanced towards me in a menacing fashion, nervously and senselessly holding a dessert knife, no doubt as a weapon…” For the Surrealist, table manners are a blood sport, it turns out; knowing which knife to use may be a matter of life and death.

Read HERE.



If you read *anything* by me this long, hot summer, read this: “Skin in the Game: An American Gothic in Black and White,” my essay on the murder of Trayvon Martin. It’s a polemic, it’s cultural criticism, it’s personal history, it’s Southern Gothic in the greasy faced, lynching-postcard mode, it’s the muck that came up when I dredged the deepest, darkest places in the river bottom of the American psyche.



Photo: Claude Neal, lynched, Florida, 1934.



Zaniest. conversation. EVER. Mark Frauenfelder, the Dick Cavett of Nonlinear Talk and host of the Boing Boing podcast GWEEK, engaged me in the most deliriously free-associated, brain-ticklingly delightful interview I’ve ever conducted.


Keywords (for the time-starved): Bunuel’s recipe for the Platonic ideal of the martini, Norman Rockwell’s dark side, the horror of Disneyland caricaturists, Being Californian, and, of course, my Boing Boing e-single on Bowie, glam, gender, and masculinity. A hot-stone massage for the mind.



The Taxidermy of Memory: “Castle of the Living Dead”

A NEW essay, equal parts philosophical investigation (of memory, time, and museum vitrines) and memoir (mem-noir?): “Castle of the Living Dead: Time, Embalmed.”


Keywords: Taxidermy, photography as taxidermy, Christopher Lee, the uncanniness of natural-history museum vitrines, the suburban horror of nature, the author’s fossilized childhood.


Why do passing encounters with the inconsequential lodge themselves in our long-term memory, sometimes forever? What makes seemingly throwaway images get stuck in the hippocampus and stay there, for a lifetime? Castle of the Living Dead (1964) is, by universal consensus, not high art. An especially forgettable example of the spaghetti-gothic thrillers turned out by Italian moviemakers in the ’60s, it’s a low-budget affair, badly dubbed, creaky with clichés, marred by hammy performances. Yet, for all its staginess, the film settled to the bottom of my unconscious the day I saw it, at the age of eight or nine, and has lain there ever since, submerged but still visible, like the drowned death car in Night of the Hunter.




Shameless Exploitation Dept.: I’ve Tweeted about the importance of paying writers. I’ve been twitted about *not* being able to pay photographers. Now, I’m doing The Bad Thing Again: advertising for UNPAID (but, I hasten to say, NOT unremunerated) labor.


I’m looking for a detail-oriented, responsible transcriber, preferably a writer, grad student, or the like, to transcribe interviews for my Edward Gorey biography.

What’s in it for you?

My budget’s exhausted, but I can pay with barter.

1. If you execute your duties diligently and thoughtfully, you’ll receive a heartfelt acknowledgment in my book.

2. Better yet, for each tape transcribed, I’ll read one short (10 pages or fewer) article, essay, or creative work by you and offer, by phone or Facetime, a half hour’s worth of stylistic, mechanical (i.e., grammar, overall structure), and philosophical feedback to your writing and thinking, gloves off, no holds barred. We’re talking tough-love mentorship here, more attentive and pointed than you’ll ever get from your harried professors, writers’ group amateurs, or beleaguered spouses.

3. Again, if you prove both professional and talented as a transcriber (a skill not to be dismissed lightly), I will be happy to write a letter of recommendation at some future date for whatever need arises (grad school application, grants, fellowships, jobs, et. al.) Any academics reading this should feel free to post it on listservs, circulate it via social media, and so forth.

Interested parties may contact me directly at markdery AT Verizon DOT net.

Dude Food for Thought: Josh Ozersky on Bacon as Transgression, Gender in the Kitchen, and Guy Fieri

Read the inaugural installation of “Mythologies,” my irregular series of interviews with cultural critics, at Thought Catalog.

First up: food scribe and cultural historian Josh Ozersky, the Macaulay of offal, talking about food and gender: Playboy‘s role in changing men’s perceptions of food and cooking, the post-’70s shift in American attitudes about the unmanliness of men in aprons, the gender politics of gluttony, and the cultural significance of “dude food” stars like Guy Fieri, self-styled “kulinary gangsta” and bloviating host of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.


(Photo: the imperishably vulgar Fieri, who insists on pronouncing his entirely made-up surname Fee-ay-rrreee, with a rolled “r,” and whom I would happily drown in a butt of donkey sauce if I could do so with impunity.)


Ozersky: The rebellion against Puritanism, or a perceived or imaginary Puritanism, is a function of affirming masculinity and a kind of automatic and reflexive countercultural transgressive posture… So, for example, in New York you have all these chefs that went meat-crazy and organ-crazy and pork belly-crazy, like Battali and David Chang. They posited this imaginary Moosewood [cookbook] schoolmarm who was going to make everybody eat lentil loaf and of course no such person existed. If you want to talk about signifiers, that’s why bacon became like a faux-transgressive signifier of bad-boy feeding. Being into bacon is as much an act of aggression as it is an act of pleasure. Guy Fieri lives in a world where there is no Moosewood Cookbook. What he represents and conveys is this magic world of tacos and happy men—a Nacho Land, inhabited entirely by formidable and unworried specimens like himself.

A Digression About Digression

A mini-festo for the digressive essay: “But I Digress: On The Point Of Not Getting To The Point,” new, now, at Thought Catalog.


The Shining, Stanley Kubrick. Copyright Stanley Kubrick; all rights reserved.


“The digression must wander off the point only to fulfill it,” Lopate insists; in contradistinction, the digressive essay makes a point solely for the purpose of wandering off it. It has no point beyond the starting point it uses as a springboard for free association; it comes to no conclusion, only an end, with a jolt familiar to anyone who has wandered the Web’s infinite regress and come to her senses, lost hours later, unaware of how she got there or where she started, or why.





BOING BOING‘s inaugural Kindle title, and my latest.



Design/illustration: Mark Frauenfelder. © Mark Frauenfelder; all rights reserved.

From the Amazon blurb:

“All the Young Dudes,” glam rock’s rallying cry, turned 40 last year. David Bowie wrote it, but Mott the Hoople owned it: their version was, and will ever remain, glam’s anthem, a hymn of exuberant disenchantment that also happens to be one of rock’s all-time irresistible sing-alongs.

Bowie, glam, and “All the Young Dudes” are inseparable in the public mind, summoning memories of a subculture dismissed as apolitical escapism, a glitter bomb of fashion and attitude that briefly relieved the malaise of the ‘70s.

Now, cultural critic Mark Dery gives the movement its due in an 8,000-word exploration of glam as rebellion through style. As polymorphously perverse as the subculture it explores, “All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Matters” is equal parts fan letter, visual-culture criticism, queer theory, and true confession.
In bravura style, Dery teases out lines of connection between glam, the socioeconomic backdrop of the ‘70s, Oscar Wilde as a late-Victorian Ziggy Stardust, the etymology and queer subtext of the slang term “dude,” the associative links between the ‘20s-style cover of the Mott album on which “Dudes” appeared and the coded homoeroticism of the ‘20s magazine illustrator J.C. Leyendecker (considered in the context of the 1970s fad for all things 1920s), and Dery’s own memories of growing up glam in ‘70s San Diego, where coming out as a Bowie fan—even for straight kids—was an invitation to bullying.

Glam emboldened kids in America and England to dream of a world beyond suburbia’s oppressive notions of normalcy, Dery argues, a world conjured up in pop songs full of Wildean irony and Aestheticism and jaw-dropping fashion statements to match. More important, glam drew inspiration from feminism and gay liberation to articulate a radical critique of mainstream manhood—a pomosexual vision of masculinity whose promise remains only partly fulfilled, even now.

Guaranteed to put your spine outta place.