I saw the above tee-shirt item a few months back but it didn’t really move yr correspondent to more than a bilious chuckle at the time (ed note: most things have this effect). This was always a favorite rhyme (well, ‘sentiment’ is probably a better description than ‘rhyme’) from Biggie, not because of any particular dream of mine or from any kind of like, pastoral enjoyment of hip-hop misogyny ding an sich or whatever, but more for its pith.
Biggie’s synecdoche of a certain kind of woman is a panoramic sketch not only of a certain kind of desire, but of a whole category of human experience; not only literal, lived experiences of growing up male in the age of MTV (let’s all not think about what we may have done in accompaniment to MTV’s The Grind after school) but the sort of fleeting, grandiose daydreams that swim in the boundary waters between literature and waking life. You could “marry” someone with soulful singing ability, and you could hug someone with a lot of money in the bank, and you could probably combine them into one person. QED, Bobby Brown or the like. But that’s not really what Mr. Wallace is talking about; it’s not as crass as that, it’s about his desire and what it tells you about his life.
Of course, all this is what I say here and now, now that I’ve had a think on it. But previous to today, I never gave this language much thought, other than maybe using it as a blog post title and occasionally invoking it with and without irony whenever my desires were thwarted or redeemed at in life’s rich pageant. But then it went and turned up on a t-shirt.
Something about this sentiment’s bow on a material commodity, plus the additional spice of depicting in half-tone silkscreen the specific R&B bitches to dream about hugging set my mind to wander, the paltry evidences of which are above and below. There’s a tidy graph or two to be written about what it literally means to want to do that, but I’m increasingly excited about clothes. Not just in the traditional having and wearing sense, but thinking about what it means to wear something.
Micro-topically, I have no idea where i stand on streetwear as an artform or just a multivalent hustle to look good and underwrite other dudes’ looking good by giving them $40 for $5 worth of cotton and screenprinting. T-shirt symbology slots right into some kind of larger cultural gulfstreams towards pastiche, referentialism, earnest and ironic nostalgias (vid Slick Rick below). i’m not up here at the podium to cash out why people do things, why other people respond to them and why I might be one of those kinds of people, in terms of sympathies, despite certain screaming disparities between me and other people (e.g. I am a prematurely balding academic publishing foot soldier; I do not own a skateboard; i have no professed opinion towards grabbing your crotch while drinking champagne from the bottle).
But anyway, this shirt breaks my jaw, to borrow a coinage. If someone wears this shirt, they’re not really expressing or affirming their own/Biggie’s longing for a non-romantic physical relationships with a songstress of a particular genre. Rihanna is probably not their preferred object of desire. Maybe once you reach a certain point of overdetermination in re culture you aren’t really capable of loving/desiring someone for what they are. You’re maybe stuck with who they are, which is to say, with loving them in your own personal noumenal world. Does that also govern your love and desire of things, such as up-market streetwear t-shirts?
Probably not. I’ve found room in my life for stupid, expensive t-shirts, and I don’t think that my 10 Deep t-shirts really say much about me other than “I had $40 one time and didn’t get much for it.” But what the Biggie shirt expresses clearly is more knotted: there’s a contradictory willingness to be identified as someone who knows and appreciates, for lack of a more precise verb, the contents of the shirt, and a displayed willingness to set yourself apart from people who like Biggie, but not enough to buy this shirt. Clothing, apart from demography, is probably the only ready-at-hand visual expression of the concept “I prize the Notorious BIG’s body of work”. Posture, maybe? Not important.
What is important (well, what has meaning) here is that you chose this Biggie-lyric-shirt over other meta-Biggie or generally ‘street’ concepts. Cf, the t-shirt for sale at the wig & nails place on E. Hyde Park Blvd featuring a poorly-rendered airbrushed King Kong manque clutching fistfuls of $100 bills, decorated with rhinestones and gold glitter, on top of the empire state building, screaming “I LOVE THE BLOCK.” Which I am taking to mean “I am at home in the american inner city setting and organize or want to organize my social lives around illegal narcotics retail-culture,” vis a vis a traditional favorite garment of the underclass. But in fact, that’s not what you chose this shirt over; that shirt costs $10; this one likely costs three or four times as much. You chose this shirt over Banana Republic, or Uniqlo, or fuckifiknowwhatkindofclothing. Nahmean? It’s weird enough to have seconded drug dealers as culture heroes, having lower-middle-class white kids idolizing either 50 Cent or Master Chief (the dude from Halo, whatever his name is). That’s normal, Ford assembly-line American weird, the same brand of weird that gets you spaghetti Westerns and people who work in morose, alienating offices watching the morose, alienated comedy The Office. Normal American modernist contradiction.
But (somewhat) art-for-art’s-sake people searching out obscure boutique reductionist clothing bearing obscure, poetic vulgarity, then fetishizing as a refinement of the above: Weird with scientific notation? Or just a deep reading in regular weird?
I dunno what I’m after here; this isn’t really about streetwear specifically, it’s more about what you can know from another person’s clothing, both from its genotype and phenotype. I started thinking about this when i was farting around Target the other day and decided the next time I had some loot I needed to come back and get some adult-contempo business wear there, since it was cheap and totally acceptable looking. At the same time, I keep buying silly hats and shirts, mostly for quiet personal enjoyment, but also for sharing with the world, despite feeling like, well, I have no business owning these things. (well, actually i have as much as anyone else, but whatever).
But seriously, from a wide reading in culture, from Mexican anti-emo riots, to me buying a hat with a gremlin on it, through wee tiny occult stuff like Straight Cash Homey, or through damaged fashion, highsnobiety, Kanye or Ice Cream or whatever, clothing is more and more like a medium than an agricultural byproduct-cum-enduring social meme or whathaveyou. I’m not talking about tiny upmarket culture war (again) or the bonfire of the inanities or some shit, I mean the claddings of contra-culture that are increasingly a kind of social capital.
A long time ago BQA explained to me that a small part of his sartorial philosophy involved subverting other people’s expectations by causing them to jump to conclusions about him through his clothing, then not living up to the presumptive conclusions in some vector or another. I’ve always taken that to heart, although I am going the long way around by trying (not very hard, but it was hard for me to try this non-hard, if you know what i mean) to look like a garden-variety rust-belt urban white dude with pretensions towards like neoliberal world citizenship and also a healthy appreciation for Americanana such as baseball. the subversion comes in… I’m not sure where. I guess the neoliberal world citizenship thing. anyway, what rattles now is that, pace MySpace and Facebook, a diffused but still multi-monolithic youth culture (think about it) prevails; mass- and semi-mass produced articles of clothing have more and more pieces of demographic data splashed on them, even though interpersonal interaction seems to be on the wane (the interior life, not of the mind but of the SMS and the poke or whatever). What’s causing it? Well, I already posited my guess, in so many words. A roasted soy nut for your thoughts?