"I talk with slang and I'ma never stop speakin' it." - Big L
I don’t know about you guys, but we here at Four Pins are all about informed, calm, respectful debate. This ethos was best echoed when Woolf and I disagreed over the Rick Owens x Adidas sneakers and he said I was "full of shit" in a headline, so I'm just gonna dive right in and respond to Gallagher's latest piece that deconstructs the #menswear vernacular we all know, love and use as "utter nonsense." I'm going to freely admit that I'm reading a ton more into Jake's piece than is really there, specifically about issues that he purposely deems worthy of a separate article, but bear with me. What's great about Jake's piece is that it has spurned a response from me and forced me to really examine how I feel about this debate, one which has been circulating around the watercooler (Twitter? Tumblr?) for some time now.
I take umbrage with his conclusion not only because I personally enjoy saying things like "been had" and telling my girlfriend that I give "no fucks" when she questions my alphet, but also because I think it's far too dismissive and reeks of an old man afraid of change. AND I'M THE OLDEST DUDE AT FOUR PINS BY FAR. We hear it all the time: The Internet and youth are conspiring to destroy our culture. But guess what? They're not. They can't. Culture isn't stagnant. By definition it should grow and evolve. I'm not saying that "alphet" should become an official entry in the Oxford Dictionary or anything, but arguing that the inclusion of slang automatically lowers the level of discourse is just wrong-minded. Since before Chaucer, the English language has been extremely elastic, continually absorbing phrases from other languages and cultures. Shakespeare is credited with literally inventing a multitude of words and phrase. Why then, when a rapper does it, do we question it? And before one of you fools jumps on me for comparing rappers to Shakespeare, fuck you, son. EVERYTHING IS THE SAME.
True, at times the use of slang that is extremely mercurial in nature can make it difficult for the uninitiated to parse out the meaning behind #menswear dialogues. But to argue that it's simple nonsense or that it's borne out of constant attempts of one-upmanship is far too simplistic. We talk like this because we grew up listening to music that created this vernacular. Hip-hop is the dominant cultural force right now. Snoop Dog is a middle aged dad at this point. Jay Z and Kanye are family men. It's no longer just teenagers who talk like this. Grown men talk like this. And lamenting that fact is like lamenting the fact that guys can't wear fedoras and drink scotch at work anymore. To try and arrest the proliferation of slang now, when the world is even more connected than ever, is not only quixotic, but it's a denial of language's true nature.
I love this shit and my life has been indelibly informed by it. Whether that's seen as crass cultural appropriation or not, it's the fucking truth.
Jake talks of #menswear 1.0 in laudatory terms, summing up the evolution of the #menswear personality with the statement: "No one even strives to be a writer anymore." That's not because we don't want to be writers, but that there aren't jobs for the old-world style of writer. Without a strong following on Twitter, without any Tumblr experience, a young writer doesn't have a shot. Before even getting into the writer's room, they've got to prove their worth on platforms that place a premium on brevity and pop-cultural relevance. Twitter barely existed during the first explosion of menswear blogs. Without slang, without quick, pithy words and phrases, communication on Twitter is impossible. #Menswear and its current, self-aware, self-deprecating voice highlight the sheer absurdity of taking anything seriously anymore—that arguing about hemlines and sneakers vs. brogues is inherently ridiculous, that trying to communicate meaningfully in 140 characters or less is an absurd pursuit in and of itself.
The problem with #menswear's first iterations on the Internet is that we traded in language that was just as shrouded in artifice and nonsense as today's #menswear vernacular, but pretended that there was something more to it. That somehow there was more substance to a fifteen hundred word essay on how amazing Steve McQueen was than two hundred saying that chambray shirts simply look cool. #Menswear used to be obsessed with the past. It lauded principals and ideals that were supposedly washed away by years of men neglecting their wardrobes and senses of style. At its infancy, #menswear tried to justify its interest in fashion, even going so far as to re-categorize it as "menswear." It didn’t want to admit that buying new clothes every season is naturally materialistic. Instead of embracing the materialism inherent in consuming clothing, it tried to cover it up with pretty language and a focus on craftsmanship. Sales and blog copy spoke to the "story" behind each garment and how long it would last and BLAH BLAH BLAH. WHY DO YOU THINK ME AND SCHLOSSMAN GET ALONG SO WELL? WE'RE ASSHOLES. WE READ THAT SHIT IN FAST FORWARD AND WE DON'T WANNA READ THAT WEAK SHIT NO MO'.
Instead, we realized that talking about fashion should be FUN. We don't need to justify it and we don't always have to look to the past. It's okay to react to clothing based on a purely aesthetic level, and that we don't give a fuck what anyone else thinks. And what better embodies this ethos than hip-hop? It seems like Jake is positing that we all say things like "steez biting" ironically—that offline we want to be "genuine" and drop the slang in "real" conversation, as if we aren't genuine online because we crib rap lyrics and apply them to buying clothes. I don't listen to hip-hop ironically. I love this shit and my life has been indelibly informed by it. Whether that's seen as crass cultural appropriation or not, it's the fucking truth. In a very real sense, I can’t help but talk this way. When I hear people bemoan the rise of slang, specifically slang derived from hip-hop (and I am excluding Jake from this larger point because I know him personally and he is a good dude), I hear their complaints in the same way I hear people complaining about Kim and Kanye on the cover of Vogue. There's a not-so-subtle underlying tone that suggests that they simply don't belong or deserve to be there. That including them somehow implicitly lowers the stature of the publication. To say that Young Thug is prima facie ignorant or superficial may not be racist, but it does reek of classism and elitism. It also obfuscates the fact that despite all the naysayers, the vernacular of young, predominately black men and women is the preferred mode of communication for all of America's youth, superficial or not.