As if I know anything about fashion

I did an interview earlier today about “alternative lifestyles”, which of course included questions about the “mainstream”. I think my answers are probably too abstract to be helpful to the writer, but who knows. Anyway, here was the interview. The bold text is their questions, the rest is my rambling response. It's mostly just archived here for my own records.

[I should preface this by saying that I am answering these questions from a definition of “alternative” that's fairly oldschool and distinct from the fashionable sense of the word… If you asked these questions in a more “mainstream alternative” zone, you'd probably get very different answers, or at least the same answers with a hopeful postscript that you'll buy a $60 t-shirt after. I also don't particularly like the term “alternative” because it's both extremely vague and very loaded.]

Why do people choose to live alternative lifestyles?

People “choose” to live “alternative” lifestyles because not everyone is the same. It's not that they're saying “I want to be different”; it's that they're saying “this is who I am, and I don't mind that I'm different.” So I'm not sure that it's something that a person chooses — whether it's a choice like religion or a choice like sexual orientation or a choice like racial identity is a separate debate. The point is that living that lifestyle is not seen as a choice, even though I'm sure most people could force themselves to hide their identity.

The “average” or “mainstream” lifestyle is just that — an average. It's not the lifestyle everyone shares or desires, it's the lifestyle that most people are most likely to be living. So the people who fall outside of that are “alternative” in terms of their relationship to the norm, but are not acting out in an unusual way in relation to who they are.

I should add to that though that obviously sometimes people choose to mimic the affectations of a particular lifestyle (getting piercings to piss off one's parents, spending a few years in college gay because it's “cool”, and so on), but I don't really consider that LIVING the lifestyle — it's then just a form of cultural appropriation that misses the whole point of the lifestyle… and in terms of alternative fashion that's popular (tattoos most obviously), I think we will in ten years see millions of people with huge regrets because they enjoy the transient fashion, but not the lifestyle, and are now stuck in a lifestyle that doesn't genuinely suit their true identity.

What problems do they face in life (ie. through work/public perceptions)?

The further removed a person's life is from the norm, the harder it is for others to perceive them as valuable human beings and relate to them. So in simple terms, the more different you are, the less easy it will be to communicate, both because of potentially bad first impressions and a limited common ground to frame conversation in. Bigotry's sole cause is ignorance.

In your opinion, what makes a person alternative?

In terms of the way I'm using the word here, a person is “alternative” if they're genuinely different, born that way or otherwise relatively unable to change it. It's absolutely not about having the right tattoos, or listening to the right music, or anything like that…

How popular is alternative fashion becoming in the mainstream arena?

I'm going to assume you mean tattoos and body piercing by that.

Let me give two answers to that question, starting with the glib answer: I don't know, but if it is popular in the mainstream, then it's not alternative.

Now let me give you a more real answer: Alternative fashion and alternative lifestyle are very different things. I think everyone can romanticize the idea of being an outsider or a “rebel”, and because of that the idea of marketing the affectations of alternative lifestyles to the people who live mainstream lives is nothing new… but what's not being understood is that alternative fashion isn't really fashion — it's a side-effect of the state of being that comes with that lifestyle. Fashion is transient and changes from season to season. “Alternative fashion” in this context is not transient — the modifications are permanent — and as I mentioned earlier, there could be millions of mainstream folks emulating alternative cultures in a way that will be deeply self-destructive in the long run. This isn't like spiking your hair because punk got safe enough for you to handle.

It's my hope that people are not getting tattoos because they want to make a cool fashion statement (although I understand that is probably the current dominant market force). It's my hope that they're getting tattoos because their lifepath has taken them on a course where over time they become more scarred and encrusted with modifications to their body, simply because that is their life. I should finish with the most important point though — ask someone else these same questions and you'll get very different answers. To some extent I'm illustrating my other point about people in different lifestyles not understanding each other, because to be honest, I don't understand the mainstream, and I don't like it, and I know there's bigotry in that statement and maybe I should be ashamed of that. I'm not sure. My main concern is living my own life in a way that I find fulfilling and trying to help others who are like me do the same.

So yeah… I don't know if I was hostile, or if I'm tired and not making sense. But for me, it's not a choice, it's who I am, I really have no idea why (and in many ways don't care), and “alternative fashion” really irks me because to me, it thumbs its nose at people who fall into the “not a choice” category. And like I said, I'm perfectly happy to accept that my answers are bigoted, because I can't see the mainstream any more clearly than they can see me.

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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