#POP, #THOUGHTS, Fashion

The #Happy Era

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Maisie Williams – Arya Stark on ‘Game of Thrones’ – said it most succinctly on MTV’s ‘Teens React’ video for ‘Saved by the Bell’’s 25th anniversary. While wearing an oversized baseball shirt over a tie-dye-esque top, an excessive number of bracelets of various colours and materials, and capping the look with a backwards cap, she declared: “We’re kind of coming back to this fashion now. Everyone is like wearing this stuff again.”

Teens, at least, seem to have moved into an alt-normcore version of ‘90s retro fashion. Unburdened by the angst of their yuppie-aged compatriots – who tend to go for the drably inconspicuous art-student/middle-aged-tourist look – these young alt-thinkers have adopted the bright patterns, colours, and accessories of ‘90s fashion.

They’re coming of age in an age that’s tired of being tired. Exhausted by the effort of trying to be cool, think different, and act smart, young people – and, arguably, society in general – is embracing the freedom of exuberance. Emblematic here is the general ardour and excitement following Pharrell’s #Happy movement, where thousands of people all over the world danced like no one was watching to make their own versions of his astonishingly popular song of the same name.

The #Happy Era is an age in which the natural exuberance of young people finds unfiltered expression through ever-increasing social media outlets, giving them a disproportionate influence in defining the hallmarks of our zeitgeist.

Though, sometimes this is displayed as an excessive concern for all manner of things light-hearted and self-centred, such as cats, pranks, dancing, slang, clothes, luxury goods, vacation pics, pithy quotations, self-portraits, &c.

In ages past, young people were told to sit down and shut up when they got too enthusiastic or curious. But, their inherent enthusiasm and curiosity have now found an outlet behind the backs of adults, who, for the most part, are unaware of this phantom world their children inhabit, which, due to its speedy growth, is having an actual effect on the physical world.

This is not to say that young people today are wholly different from their predecessors. Youth has always been marked by un-jaded joy. Rather, the difference is that more young people live in societies wealthy enough to provide them with the freedom to indulge that joy, and the ability to voice their thoughts. They have now an audible voice, which seems to say that they are aware of the manipulations of a consumerist culture that tells them what to buy and how to look, they are aware of a media that forces upon them biased viewpoints, and they are tired of being told what to be and what to think.

The point here is that the exuberance of young people has become a driver of the times, because, for the first time ever, they have powerful outlets to express themselves. Most interestingly, that exuberance has not been limited to trivial or self-centred expressions like borderline abusive feline obsessions or a psychologically damaging absorption with their own faces. Rather, they have been able to use social media to galvanise their exuberance for real social and political change.

The #Happy Era is one in which, for the first time, the voice of young people is so loud that it cannot be silenced and set in a corner. The democratising effect of social media has been so powerful that it has allowed the exuberance of youth to cause change on a scale that is remarkable in human history.

Perhaps, then, the current popularity of bright clothes and bright music is a well-earned celebration – the uniform of the victorious revolutionaries. Perhaps we are about to see again TV shows that take place in the bright, halcyon world of ‘Saved by the Bell’, where, as one kid watching the MTV video while wearing a neon shirt and backwards baseball cap put it: ‘these guys are just like, happy … happy kids.’

Perhaps it’s time we embraced the power of #Happy. Maybe we even deserve it.

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#POP, #THOUGHTS, Consumerism, Music, Women

Miley’s Purposeless Revolution

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“We Can’t Stop” is a revolutionary anthem. It is a mutiny against an old morality that preaches restraint, to be replaced by a new consumerism that preaches rabid individualism.

Its pace is marked, a slow march on the palaces of power, a declaration of independence from authority. “It’s our party we can do what we want” – the victorious chant of the successful revolutionaries, ousting The Man from his corner office, taking the night in celebration, kissing who they want, like an American soldier in Times Square newly freed from the threat of anti-capitalist invasion.

The chorus appears mid-march: “We can’t stop. We won’t stop.” A fiery square full of youths paused in a unified cry, promising a never-ending struggle against the tyranny of dawns past. “Can’t you see it’s we who own the night,” they ask incredulously, suddenly aware of their own power, the power of the people, the  -cracy of the demos.

The video starts with Miley scissoring herself free from an ankle bracelet, unshackling herself from lawfulness. Red Beats and EOS lip balms everywhere, the Young Twerks are finally free to indulge a wantonness that was previously restricted by an out-dated morality that preached moderation over gratification, prudence over extravagance, communitarianism over consumerism.

That is their victory – the supplanting of a moral order by an indifferent one. Their democratic impulse is piloted by a materialist machine, and fuelled by an unbridled pursuit of desire. But without moral purpose, we become hollow. We get tricked into believing that the need to fulfil desire fulfils the need to have purpose.

The authority of consumerism gave these revolutionaries the freedom to indulge their most purposeless whims, to get lost in the abyss of individualism, to play with abandon in Narcissus’s pool. The authority of consumerism is devoid of purpose. Its acolytes float aimlessly through a life without calling, fooled into doing what the market demands, hoodwinked into thinking they have a choice.

The video is a celebration of what the revolutionaries have won – the freedom to buy what they’re told to buy, the freedom to be who they’re told to be.

In a surreptitious way, it’s in on the joke. It caricatures excess, the traditional preserve of the rich. In their revolution to usurp The Man, they’ve won his freedom of indulgence. It’s a revolution without a cause – a manufactured victory.

In an orgy of destruction that parodies pop consumerism, it pays homage to that Pyrrhic victory. Eating a hundred-dollar-bill-sandwich is a big middle finger not only to the rich, but also to the poor, who have neither sandwiches nor hundred dollar bills. The destruction of a “freedom fry skull” is a wink again to the hungry masses, a stratum to whom these nouveau revolutionaries act as both role model and in an Orwellian twist, the new Man.

You have the freedom to do what we do, they say; if you can afford it.

The purposeless revolution is characterised by its focus on aesthetics, lack of content, and desperate need to be contemporary. The most striking thing about the purposeless revolution is its obsession with image – the refuge of the superficial and the uniform of the hollow.

In a way, the video knows this. A telling scene is a toy sheep in front of a six paned mirror staring at equally vapid reflections of itself. The punch line – they’re all wearing sunglasses.

Miley seems to be conscious of this critique of consumerist culture. She carries her sheep under her arms, aware of the irony that in the fight for independence from conformism, we end up conforming to some other image anyway.

Her non-conformist revolutionaries look the same, talk the same, and act the same –they adopt the image fed to them by a powerful marketing machine that coerces them to want to buy what it wants to sell. She seems to be aware of the irony, and buys into it, ironically.

Buying into it means donning that sheep’s sunglasses, being confronted at every turn by a reflection of a superficial identity constructed by someone else, by the machine of consumerism – the new authority, the new morality, the new dictator of what’s-right-now.

We buy into its promise that happiness is in purposelessness, in the conspicuous consumption of every desire, and that emptiness will be filled by losing ourselves in frivolity and destruction.

We lose ourselves in the endless void of license.

We can do what we want, says the new order. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should, said the old. Freedom doesn’t come with the moral license to abuse freedom. Their revolution supplanted the old morality with a licentious consumerism in which we worship pretend versions of ourselves – like Miley making out with a plastic Barbie doll version of her fabricated Barbie doll self.

The song is a sad, slow commentary on the lies we’re sold. The song is about lies of freedom – freedom to be sold a false dream and to be coerced into buying it. It’s a commentary on the failed revolution to be in charge of our lives and of ourselves.

When we threw out the old authority, we didn’t replace its ethical base, its moral purpose. We only started the revolution because we were sold #YOLO. But with the Happy Meal of freedom-to-do-what-you-want, we got the prize of an imprisoning cycle of consumerism that enslaves us to purposelessness, to false promises of happiness, and a dark truth of emptiness.

“This is our house,” she says. But it’s not mortgage-free, they reply.

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