So, George F. Will wrote 700 words in the Washington Post yesterday on why he hates jeans. The column, “America’s Bad Jeans,” was largely inspired by last month’s Wall Street Journal piece by Daniel Akst on why he hates jeans. Apparently, Will felt that just one rich white guy opining on his distaste for plebeian fashion was not enough, in this economy.
I’m tempted to sympathize with Will here: Some weeks, you’re just really hard up for a column. In this case, however, Will’s misuse of his cushy WaPo spot is too egregious not to mention. Will spends half his jeans essay rehashing Akst’s jeans essay, chortling along as he relives Ackst’s every turn. Will co-opts Akst’s argument that the blue jean, once decidedly working-class, has now become an expensive, obnoxious, and hypocritical mark of the American elite, who take pains to “slum it” in their unwashable designer jeans. Will then rehashes Akst’s SUV-to-the-Whole Foods joke, his McMansions joke, and his Steve Jobs joke.
Akst’s sartorial commentary, though as curmudgeonly as Will’s, works because Aksts sticks to elite subjects for his satirical ribbing. Now, more than ever, rich people who act extravagantly and decadently poor are ripe for criticism, even by fellow elites. When Akst writes, “Our fussily tailored blue jeans, prewashed and acid-treated to look not just old but even dirty, are really a sad disguise,” he’s making a social commentary—-when even the richest men in the world are begging for government handouts, it’s important to remember that the rich are well-versed in acting like the poor when it suits their expensive tastes.
But when Will finally forges ahead with his own ideas as to why denim is so terrible, he ditches Akst’s class argument. From there, things get much, much, worse.
It’s not just the rich who wear denim who deserve Will’s scorn—-no, Will hates poor people who wear denim, too. When he goes on to call jeans the “infantile uniform of a nation,” he sneers at all those pathetic, lower-class Americans who will never rise to the occasion of sporting an anal bow tie and smug grin in promotional photos for their bloviating Republican columns. With jeans-wearers he also tears down grown-ups who watch sitcoms, cartoons, and Indiana Jones movies (two of the three television shows made Time‘s list of the “Best Television Shows of All Time,” which I suppose is only impressive for those heathens who actually watch television), and also anyone who wears anything not sported by Fred Astaire (seriously).
Will isn’t pissed at the rich for their hypocritical adaptation of the fashions of the working class. He’s pissed at the rich for not looking rich enough, and at the poor for not being rich. Will’s essay is a call-to-arms for the rich to flaunt their wealth in tailored suits and real, full-sized mansions.
The only worthwhile flourish in Will’s condescension-layered WSJ expectoration is the postscript:
(A confession: The author owns one pair of jeans. Wore them once. Had to. Such was the dress code for former senator Jack Danforth’s 70th birthday party, where Jerry Jeff Walker sang his classic “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.” Music for a jeans-wearing crowd.)
Now this—-beyond being a thinly-veiled, name-dropping kiss on the ass to Jack Danforth—-is interesting. If only Will had devoted his essay to this one incident, the near 1,000 comments on the Washington Post Wen site wouldn’t all be calling for Will’s resignation. Please, George: Tell us how the denim bristled unnaturally against your leg hairs in the Saks fitting room! Describe how you carefully belted the pair over a crisp Oxford shirt! Regale us with details of that infamous night, when George F. Will, swathed in Mom Jeans, rocked self-consciously to the backwoods music of redneck country, one hand cradling a boutique beer, the other uncomfortably pawing uncomforably at his bow tie. Now that’s a column.