From The Archive
Keith White
No. 5  December 1993

Burn Down the House of Commons in Your Brand New Shoes

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I wanted to be a Details man. I had recognized my need for bee-stung lips, carefully unkempt hair, the washboard stomach, the baggy Versace suits, the attendant awed babes, the tattoos—you get the picture. I wanted to pal around with other young sophisticates dressed just as rakishly as me, chatting about the latest trends in “alternative” music and last week’s party with Drew, Iggy, Uma, and Keanu. I couldn’t get what I needed from stodgy old Esquire or pretty-boy GQ. Spin might tell me how to dress and behave like Eddie Vedder, but their narrow focus—music—would leave me in the dark about important developments in ice-climbing and seventies collectibles. And the trio of British men’s fashion mags (The Face, Arena,and Sky) were simply too expensive and too derivative for my tastes. Details, with its two dollar cover price and relentlessly macho attitude, promised to deliver the new me.

I think of Details as the Pearl Jam of the magazine world, the glittering showplace where rebellion, individualism, and nonconformity are packaged conveniently into lifestyle and paired with all the correct accessories. Its mission is to chronicle what I should buy, what I should wear, where I should go, what I should see, what mass culture offerings I should choose from. Details is a sort of Sears catalog with ‘tude, the fabulous intermediary between the latest offerings of the nation’s clothing and entertainment industries and excitement-starved people like me. And with its utilitarian, punk-inspired typeface and its fractured post-modern layout, a reader intent on learning the secrets of youthful rebellion can be assured that Details is serious about delivering.

But my quest to become a Details man was hampered by a fear: how on earth was I going to reinvent myself convincingly month after month in order to keep up with the latest cool identities? How was I going to pass myself off as an aficionado of all these disparate trends when I knew nothing about them at all? Details had the answer. It doesn’t just fill me in about grunge, it gives me the history of the movement, so I can wow my friends with my firm grasp of alternative arcana (Did you know that Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan had a fling with Courtney Love while Kurt Cobain was still sleeping on the Melvins’ guitarist’s front porch?) It even had a feature showing me how to alter my clothes so it looks like I’ve been a punk rocker for years. Like a good social matron, Details never debuts a new youth fashion movement without painstakingly delineating its rebel credibility.

I think of Details as the Pearl Jam of the magazine world.

Despite the whirlwind of ever-changing trends, Details retains a consistent, unifying philosophical viewpoint: the archetypal new American male is a rebel consumer. A recent issue that featured $300 silk Versace shirts also included a revealing apotheosis of Lollapalooza performers Anthony Kiedis and Henry Rollins as the quintessential men of the nineties. These guys are “not only musicians, or even rock stars,” the magazine affirmed, “but modern men, emblems of a new masculinity.” These “Rock and roll samurai live outside the law, but are bound by their own moral codes.” The words used to describe this new man were exciting and fresh: explosive, individualist, all for one, self-styled, rebellious, existential, heroic, and—most appealing of all—nonconformist. Furthermore, Details was offering to show me how to buy the appropriate gear so that I could become as individualistic as they.

Other articles further impressed upon me the magazine’s guiding vision of “alternative” as a set of consumer choices. When Details pushes expensive bathing costumes, it pairs them not with suntanned frat boys, but with skinhead men dressed in tattoos, Doc Martens boots, and leather jackets emblazoned with the names of hardcore bands from the eighties. A $900 silk shirt was photographed with the instructions, “Wear it loose with tight jeans and a rock ‘n’ roll attitude.” Another time it let me know which expensive home video games are preferred by the members of Faith No More. It treated me to a photo spread featuring Perry Farrell, Billy Idol, and a member of the Stone Temple Pilots posing in the latest designer offerings.

Setting out right away, I got myself a few baggy suits and bought a copy of Rollins’ poetry to display from the pocket. I got a particularly menacing tattoo on my neck, got the sort of car Kiedis drives, purchased some of Iggy Pop’s brand of underwear, wore one of Michael Stipe’s characteristic hats. While I was spending my money, I thought I’d better pick up a few packs of Excita condoms, some sex technique videos, and a few muscle-building machines (all helpfully advertised in the back of each issue). Unfortunately, all of this paraphernalia cost me $150,000, and I was still behind the times as the next month’s issue had just hit the newsstand.

But my greatest disappointment came in the most recent issue. Tucked away in the back pages of the magazine was an elaborate apologia to all the readers who had been led astray by misfires of Details’ cultural divining rod. “Hypes and Sleepers” was a year-end scorecard on how the prognosticators had fared over the previous twelve months. Reading through the list—glam revival, cyberpunk revolution, jazz rap, girl grunge, Tabitha Soren—brought back painful memories of occasions like the time I had shown up at a party wearing a tight purple jumpsuit and eyeliner to find myself in a room of Beavis and Butthead manqués. But the people for whom I really felt sorry were the folks whose warehouses were full of space boots, minidiscs, and virtual reality machines, trends that had received countless pages of editorial as Details valiantly tried to convince its readership of their viability.

Perhaps the real secret to becoming a true Details man lies in the apology of sorts that accompanied the article: “Mass taste IS perverse and unpredictable, that’s also why keeping tabs on it is so much fun.” This statement of regret seems directed less to readers than to the magazine’s true clients, the real Details man—the guy who manufactures these trends. In the end, Details’ message is no different from any other lifestyle magazine’s: who you are depends on what you consume; and how hip you are depends on how enthusiastically you keep up with the new. Nonconformity may be the language, but fashion is, as ever, the logic.

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