This kind of crap is, as Amy Taub points out, only important to people who believe they have nothing else to worry about. Why waste your time sneering at some “hipster” baby when you can be glad the kid’s just clothed and fed and not running around the halls of Columbine with a machine gun? I mean, talk about needing an artificial thing to get pissed off about.
These aren’t real problems but it does point to one within our general politico-lifestyle discourse, which is that we’ve exchanged values for brand loyalties. People are Republicans the way they drink Coke over Pepsi (shut UP, beverage war enthusiasts, I don’t want to hear it): Not because the party reflects their values or interests, but because the T-shirt is awesome. People voted against John Kerry because he windsurfed. It’s why you can’t have an argument with a brand Republican; they’re not in it for the argument.
Just because I’ve praised efforts in the past to fight this on its own ground (Oliver Willis’s “Brand Democrat” gear and other things, which I love and am going to guy some of soon) doesn’t mean I don’t recognize it as a really lousy trend. It’s not new exactly, nor is it solely a generational thing; Brooks is decidedly not a Gen-Yer, but I see it more and more in kids my little sister’s age, because they’re the ones I talk to about tech gear and toys, this getting incredibly and passionately worked up about PCs versus Macs and the Wii versus whatever the Wii is versus these days. We’ve come to believe that this is important, that this is definitive of who we are. What we buy. What we drink. What we wear.
What our kids wear. What their T-shirts say.
And these are the easy things to get worked up about, the relatable things, the things you don’t have to read much or study much or pay attention much to be able to argue about. This is the safe stuff, the stuff you can talk about while you’re getting your hair cut or with your mother’s friends. Isn’t it disgusting that that baby was wearing a onesie that said, “I Am Not A Drug Mule.” It’s the equivalent of missing white chicks on CNN, and endless coverage of Britney, and columns about Wesley Clark’s choices in sweaters. Soldiers are dying, being mistreated at home, newspapers pick and choose what polls to report as though that’s completely okay, and here comes David Brooks, as usual, telling us not that we’re being amoral sef-indulgent catty little children, not that we need to grow the fuck up, but that a stranger’s baby’s T-shirt is important, and we’re right to be concerned.
Pepsi’s better, my sister says to me when I pull a Diet Coke out of the fridge. “Why?” She can’t tell me, it just is.