One generation’s subversion is the next generation’s marketing plan…


From The New Yorker:

In an essay on The Face published in Dick Hebdige’s 1988 book, “Hiding in the Light: On Images and Things,” which Gorman quotes, the British sociologist excoriates the magazine for being “hyper-conformist: more commercial than the commercial, more banal than the banal.” Hebdige had written extensively on British subculture and style, and he felt that The Face “flattened everything to the glossy world of the image, and presented its style as content.” This wasn’t what Logan intended to do, but it is a witheringly true description of what happens when identities and movements once rooted in politics and class become recast as life styles. It probably helps explain why I liked the ads just as much as the articles: they all trafficked in the same possibility of cool, and they all ended up pinned to my bedroom wall.

Now more than ever, art and commerce seem indistinguishable. (It’s true, as Gorman remarks, that there’s a direct line from The Face to newer publications like MonocleApartamento, and Fantastic Man, all of which can feel more like accessories than magazines.) On today’s Internet, everything is, to borrow Hebdige’s term, even flatter. There’s less time, somehow, for the depth of history—yesterday’s trends float farther and farther from their points of origin, commingling as styles without pasts, images without contexts. I do most of my reading online, and a few hundred words can take hours to digest—a paragraph of text is a launch pad to other places; I find myself falling down YouTube and eBay wormholes, my attention drifting. That state of being would have sounded like heaven to my teen-age self. It doesn’t usually feel like it now, though.

I still buy old magazines, at flea markets and bookstores as well as on the Internet. It’s not just an exercise in nostalgia, a rediscovery of cherished old codes and secrets, a daydream about pin-rolled jeans. It’s about a different experience of time. The feeling I get when I pick up an old issue of The Face is a sense of boundedness. These magazines were portals to other lives, systems of taste I learned by acquiring the small talismans and minute gestures that held these worlds up. It’s why I used to make my own zines, sending signals into the wilderness. The universe was expansive and evolving, infinite and unknowable—except for those dozen times a year when a small part of it arrived on newsstands and in certain bookstores and came, momentarily, into focus.

“The Glory Days of The Face, and the Magic of Old Magazines”, Hua Hsu, The New Yorker