Grunge: the fashion of faux poverty

I hate Dom Casual. It’s an IBM font. It provides the “real” in the credits of MTV’s Real World, the grade school image to my Honors Linear Algebra book, and the homemade touch to a local pizza place’s menu. The font resembles an architect’s writing, but people use it exclusively to achieve the “casual” effect. Laser printers can print Dom Casual. People who do not have laser printers can produce the casual effect better than a laser printer, with a pen.

The printing press provided highly legible serifed type. The typewriter brought it to the masses. Now people can afford good printers. They use its high-resolution capabilities to print charcoal scrawl writing.

If the current fashion trend had a font, it would be Dom Casual. Just look at the name: Grunge. It is fashionable to look grungy. People pay money for brand new old looking clothes. There is even a brand name called “Weathered and Worn.” Lower classes can not afford to be fashionable, but now; their clothes are in style. Their clothes are weathered and worn, but they are not proud of it.

Why do well-off people want to look poor? Poor people probably do not understand this trend, and probably resent it. Perhaps well-to-do children are ashamed of their parents’ achievement. Born privileged, their great opportunity to achieve burdens them. The youths fear not living up to expectations, or they may not want their opportunity at all. Either Grunge is an escape from the burden of expected success; or it is a rejection of their parents’ achievement and opportunity given to them.

Saturday Night Live hides its wealth with its music stage. Does the warehouse set intend evoke images of the Beatles’ Rooftop concert or that U2 video? NBC, way up in its skyscraper, spent money to create an imitation blue collar scene. Assuming NBC had done market research to find an appealing set, the American public wants to see super achievers in a warehouse. What are the implications of a society wanting to see their skilled people humbled?

People spend money to look as if they do not have it. Some are ashamed of their achievement. Some run away from opportunities that lower classes savor. Some fear not living up to expectations from others. These people must look within themselves to find reality. A poor image just hides the truth, as Dom Casual’s image veils the meaning of the actual text.

The above was published in Common Sense, a (gasp) conservative/alternative publication at Swarthmore College. September 10, 1993. It was the first article, of many, I had published at Swarthmore.


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