George Will Assaults Americans Who Wear Denim

George Will undoubtedly needed a provocative piece to keep his name in the news, so echoing  a Wall Street Journal diatribe by Daniel Akst he has assaulted an American shibboleth: blue jeans, calling them “the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances” and childish to boot. He blames them for what’s been going wrong with the world since the French Revolution, as though things were perfectly peachy when Marie Antoinette thought the solution to peasant starvation was for them to eat cake. Indeed, his thoughts remind me of Lady Bird Johnson proposing a beautification program in America’s ghettos (singer Eartha Kitt told her off right in the White House, and Will needs to get an earful too).

Of course, the antithesis of blue jeans (for daily purposes anyway) is the power suit. Dark blue, grey or black, pinstriped or chalkstriped, accessorized strictly in accordance with John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success and its spiritual progeny, it has brought America such blessings as Worldcom and Enron, Fannie Mae and Bear Stearns and ultimately the entire financial crisis and near-depression. Among the schemers, thieves and fraudsters you’ll hardly find a pair of Levis … no, all of these jokers wore Brooks Brothers suits on Wall Street and in the halls of Congress. Meanwhile, young people in blue jeans rejected communism and were the ruin of the Soviet empire.

The guys who show up to work every day at GM and Chrysler to build the crap cars that have had the souls that were put in by talented engineers and designers ripped out by suit-wearing bean counters wear–you guessed it: blue jeans. The people at Apple who design and sell products that provide one of the few bright spots in our economy go to work in what else?: blue jeans. Same goes for Microsoft. George Will decries the false egalitarianism that blue jeans seem to provide and perhaps he has a point. Maybe we would all be better off if that investment banker had to give up his disguise. Because this time, people who call themselves businesspeople really were the perpetrators of massive financial crimes, and it’s the people in blue jeans who are having to live with their consequences. He seems to want us all to disguise ourselves as them so they can once again blend in … or at least to put a pretty face on a sick patient.

Maybe he thinks he can revive the rag trade. Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada deftly humanized and explained the raison d’etre for an otherwise monstrous woman as providing a little excitement in the lives of ordinary women while keeping the factories and printing presses humming. After all, you can get a good five years out of a pair of blue jeans, and that just doesn’t juice up consumption.

George Will has had his say. And I doubt he has swayed a single American to give up blue jeans. We’ll wear our blue jeans because we strive to be a classless society, knowing that classes, castes and other social divisions were what made Europe and other parts of the world sick places that decent people wanted to escape. That big statue in New York Harbor has nothing on its plaque about skimming the cream of the crop from countries content with their quality of life. We’re looking for the people who want to strive for something better. And the suits better watch out: we’ve got our eyes on you!

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