09 May 2006

Beyond Human

New York Times
23 October 2005

Many of the fans milling into this year's postseason baseball games have been wearing authentic major league uniforms, with GUERRERO, say, or OSWALT, stitched on the back. True, society has traditionally encouraged kids to fantasize about what they'll be as adults. But most of the people I've seen in $200 regulation shirts are adults. What they're fantasizing about is an alternative adult identity for themselves.

Why do they do this? The literary critic Paul Fussell once speculated that wearers of "legible clothing" like T-shirts were merely losers trying to associate themselves with a success, whether it be a product (Valvoline) or an institution (The New York Review of Books). A conservative view held that dressing like a child meant shirking the responsibilities of adulthood. It was a subset of dressing like a slob. But these explanations do not cover the ballpark people or (to take a similar phenomenon) those weekend bicyclists in their expensive pretend-racer costumes, with European team logos and company trademarks. The message in their clothing is aimed not at others but at themselves. It is a do-it-yourself virtual reality.

Beyond Human

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