Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Costumes and Jewelry

There's a lot going on right now- with a lot of travel time and transitions. Middle East desert to rainy (but beautifully clear and windy yesterday) Pacific North West. Too little time alone with family, followed by a huge weekend (three days, about nine hours sleep) at the Oregon Science Fiction Convention- Orycon.

There will be more to write about that soon. There are good friends that I seem to only see there and some to whom I owe great gratitude for short talks. More later.

Costumes and Jewelry. It's been said (a lot!) that whenever an agency sets up a Tactical or Negotiations Team, the first order of business is to design a new patch. I never really understood the impulse but I saw it, fairly frequently, and whenever the gear guys (and it's usually spearheaded by the guys who are into toys) started talking about a new uniform or patch or badge or making challenge coins I would shut it down by saying, "That bullshit is just costumes and jewelry. What are we going to do about training?"

Just walking down the street, there are people wearing clothes and people wearing costumes. You have a 'swoosh' on your t-shirt, it's a pretty good bet that you grabbed a t-shirt that fit. You're wearing clothes. Every single thing you wear has the swoosh, plus maybe some jewelry, it's probably a costume. If the colors match, definitely a costume. More subtle, but you will find people with signature clothes- always wear black shirts or BDU pants or a specific hat. It's only subtle for people who don't see them every day.

It all boils down to identity. Your identity, who you think you are (and in many cases that has very little bearing on who you actually are) comes from somewhere. Maybe it is like writing fiction. Good characterization involves some depth- action and history and different ways to think and relate to the world. That can be a lot of work to write. A signature hat and a few stock phrases are much easier. Two dimensional is easier to write than a real human. Is it easier to live, too? Safer?

Do people do this to themselves? Becoming a cowboy means eating a lot of dust. Hard work and long hours in shitty weather. That's without the hours of practice it takes to become a Doc Holliday with a revolver. Much easier to just buy the hat. Marine BCT is TOUGH. Much easier to shave your head and get a tattoo... some of which are outside of regs, anyway. Want people to talk about you? Doing something amazing is hard and often dangerous. Growing a huge mullet and then slicking it back with fistfulls of grease also gets people talking about you (saw this in the airport. OMG it was funny!). Sure, they aren't saying good things, but they are talking...

I have my own tendency to go the other way. I have a duster that I love- it's warm and dry and I love the feeling of it flapping in the wind and, were it ever to become important, I could conceal a freakin' cannon under it... but it looks so much like a costume, draws so much attention that I rarely wear it. When I first started teaching seminars I wore black BDU pants and a black polo shirt- Mac had suggested it as a good cross between stuff that looked professional and stuff I could move in. The first time I heard students refer to me as "the man in black" it was time to retire the clothes. It wasn't my intention, but it had become a costume. My aversion to costumes (and my fetish for functionality) is possibly just as much a glitch as someone else's need for them.

Are costumes bad? Maybe. If you have a message and they get in the way of the message, if your students are talking more about what you wore than what you taught, yeah. If your boots are shiny and your rifle is dirty, yeah, it signals some messed up priorities. If the costume is something you hide behind- "if I dress like a tough guy people will respect me" yeah. Tell you right now, when you walk into the gym tatted up and chewin' and strutting, people are thinking 'punk' not 'ooh a real man!' they are just too polite to say it out loud. If you are relying on your costume to send a message that you can't with your words or actions, it may work for you but from my point of view it's false advertising. It becomes very bad when you start to believe your own bullshit.

NOTE- this is not about the Con. People dressing up for fun is a whole different animal- FUN, that's the point.


Anonymous said...

Look at the animal kingdom. The messages they send are real and valid and part of a costume No?
Just coz you dress like a bada$$ doesn't mean you aren't one

Mark Jones said...

On the other hand, there are animals in nature that look almost exactly like the read "bad ass" animals, but they aren't. Non-stinging insects with the distinctive stripes of stinging insects.

It may protect them most of the time (and it does, or it wouldn't have lasted)--but it can also get them killed when, say, a human reacts to them as to a real stinging insect. Swat!

Kai Jones said...

Of course it's about identity: when most people try on clothing to buy, they look in the mirror to see if it looks like them, to them. Things that fit aren't enough; if that were all that mattered I'd have no trouble finding clothes, but my identity is out of sync with the fashion industry so I have trouble putting together outfits that present me the way I want to present.

What I don't understand is disguise (costumes), but then, I don't want to be anybody other than who I am, and maybe people who like to wear costumes are doing it to experiment with being other people. Or showing parts of themselves that don't fit into mundane social expectations.

Anonymous said...

"Marine BCT is TOUGH. Much easier to shave your head and get a tattoo... "

Ain't that the damn truth.

Scott said...

A wiser man than I said:
"It's a lot easier to dress normally and convince people you are crazy, than it is to dress crazy and convince people you are normal."
Loved your book, I just blogged about it here:

I've finally given in to wearing black t-shirts when I teach kids, they notice everything...including my the occasional hair sticking up and the bald spot I'm pretending I haven't noticed yet.

Steve Perry said...

The man picks up where the clothes leave off, but we all have our facades. I started wearing blue jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes as my preferred outfit as a teenager and that still is the default -- in the summer, the jeans get replaced with shorts, either cut-offs or cargo-pockets And the tennis shoes are now crosstrainers. Need the support ...

Rory said...

Scott- I loved the pajama party comment. Broke out laughing right there. Very nice...

Anonymous- Looking at the animal kingdom, things rarely try (as in behavior, not claws or eye spots) to look different than what they are, with one exception. Almost all animals have a threat display- eyes wide, teeth bared, spine raised and hair standing up to make them look bigger. This is the only times, other than mating (another scary parallel there) where animals try to SEEM to be something. Prey and predators both do it, but universally, they do it when they are scared.

By your argument to nature, dressing like a bad ass doesn't necessarily mean you aren't bad ass, but it does means that you're scared. Just logically using the nature argument.

Anonymous said...

dressing like a badass can mean one of two thing 1) You are a badass 2) You are dressing up to look like a badass.
In the animal kingdom.some animals use number 2).....in the "human" world it becomes a bit more difficult to tell 1 from 2...just coz you are little and skinny doesn't mean you can't be a sociopath..folks might think you are a fag........steriotypes......got to be a biot more aware in the humankingdom