Baudelaire first introduced the ‘flâneur’ as a spectator in 1863, the flâneur derives pleasure from his location in the crowd, but refuses to become a part of it. Walter Benjamin progressed the idea of the flâneur in first half of 20th century, taking the notion from a street wanderer to an observer of the damaging effects of modernity and capitalism, connecting him to the metropolis by saying, ‘the crowd is the veil through which the familiar city beckons to the flâneur’, thus opening up the modern city as a place for investigation, through which Simmel began codifying the urban experience, and cementing the metropolitan individuality on its psychological foundation, shoved by the seething urban crowd and bombarded by a plethora of inassimilable stimuli, resulting in the blasé attitude as the mentality adopted by the individual serving to protect itself against the metropolis. For Giloch the flâneur is a narrative device grounded in everyday life, an investigator of its urban fabric. (Giloch, 1984) In this essay the flâneur will be used as a primary tool for interpreting the psychosocial environment and how it conditions the expression of the metropolitan individual.
‘A control is any stimulus or complex of stimuli which calls forth a response. Thus all stimuli are controls.’ (Bernard, 1926, p.541)
Punks found their personal freedom to disaffiliate with society in fabric and cloth, clothing was for them an accessible and direct channel of communication. In ‘Adorned in dreams: fashion and modernity’, Wilson believes fashion has become the connective tissue of the cultural organism, and is vital to the world of mass communication. (Wilson, 1985). Barnard concurs with Wilson, writing from cultural vantage point by saying ‘fashion and dress are in the business of communicating socially agreed meanings, ones imbued with power and ideology.’ (Barnard, 1996, p.231) thus reflected in the punk ideology, with concepts such as nonconformist, anti-nationalism, and free thought, for a few. ‘Punk’ led a nihilistic rebellion through its irrepressible attitude against conformist practices and society by becoming one with their appearance and individuality. The demographic consisted of mostly white, suburban, middle classed youths who calculatedly adorned themselves to disturb and outrage the public.
Through figure 1, we see the mocking of authority, with vulgarity and offence. Located directly in the street of the public we find the young punk dressed in cut up pieces of clothing and destroyed fabric, put together in a crude construction technique. Frayed and defaced prints embellished with random objects of any interest are held together by safety pins. His clean head and attention to glorifying the maw-hawk highlights the style further, it also shows he has taken great care in achieving this appearance. The DIY jacket is made up on emblematic writing completing his ensemble. Expression was not limited to clothing, modifying appearance was a popular way to reject conventionally ideals of beauty for both genders. In figure 2, It is important to note the punk subculture became the first where women played an equal role, the gap between genders disappeared. The body can be seem degenerated in self-mutilation, from piercings to hand crafted jewellery in a variety of chains, one stretching till the nose and meeting the skin with a safety pin. Hebdige adds, ‘…the exact origins of individual punks were dismissed or symbolically disfigured by the makeup, masks and aliases which seem to have been used, like Bretons art, as ploys ‘to escape the principle of identity’.’ (Hebidge, ___p.121) Though I can’t agree with his idea of ploys, punks were not escaping the principle of identity, but instead creating their very own with departure from societal expectations, the motive of punks was to challenge conformity of everyday dress by disrupting the standard codes in socially objectionable ways, which at the time were conservative and smart, everything punks did screamed attention, not escapism of identity. Punks were reacting with surges of energy, while maintaining life in the metropolis, it seems they did not adopt the blasé attitude, and fed of stimulus excessively.
3 decades later, a new subculture is gaining prominence in the UK through grime raising a new generation of youth cult. In figure 3, the view of the full face is disrupted by the use of large caps and hoods, protecting to an extent, the identity of the individual, whilst being fully asserted in the public space, a metropolis over crowded by surveillance. The street representing its incubator, the birth of this subculture is often attributed to the working class frustrations, mentioned without the race by reductionist strategies, referring grime “the ultimate expression of British identity” is erasure by optimum. It is the telling of black British experience, and an expression of black British identity, the music is made by those who have been raised with a permanently hostile relationship with law enforcements, it depicts relevant issues and the harsh realities of the capital such as violence, gang culture and territories marked by drugs and criminal activity, a way of life supported by government neglect. Through clothing Grime represents its affiliation with its people, Simmel however leads us to believe ‘among primitive peoples we often find that closely connected groups living under exactly similar conditions develop sharply differentiated fashions, by means of which each group establishes uniformity within, as well as difference without, the prescribed set.’ (Simmel, 1904, p.299) which does apply in part, but in this case however, although the individuals representing grime are able find departure from society as a collective, within their own subculture they have all been conditioned by the same aesthetical appearance, sharply differentiated fashion has not been developed, and this comes to cause as unlike punk, grime expresses itself by communicating a strong connect within its community, which is represented by unity by uniform, through which It establishes a common identifier in the mass of the city. From Hebidge’s perspective, ‘the objects chosen were either intrinsically or in the adopted forms, homologous with the focal concerns, activities, group structure and collective self-image of the subculture.’ (Hebidge, ____ p.114) supporting my point grime has created its own regime, and its own conformity within the social, very knowingly, by subjecting itself different from society, importantly, with clothes/appearance that could be seen as holding negative connotations, but are exactly that what it represents.
– The essence of the flaneur has always been to be different from the crowd, which has remained the same through the metropolitan individuality, but it has been evolved. Bernard speaks of the demand for conformity within the individual, stating it to be ‘The strongest weapon which could be used against excess of fashion.’ (Bernard, 1926, p.552) The paradox of individuality and conformity in the contemporary situation is that freedom of expression has in fact led to greater homogenizing, and similarity through definable groups. Simmel, in his essay Freedom and the individual discovers homogenizing ‘had lowed the boundaries of the individual to become blurred’, in turn supressing personal freedom and uniqueness. Where in essence rejection of conformity against directed against the sovereign powers of society have only created new conformities within subcultures, as individuality of the identity does not last long, it expands through imitation and affiliation, in turn over flowing because the expression is recognised and adopted by a larger collective. This has been illustrated through the punk and grime subcultures which through expression submerged themselves into creating a new fashion all together. ‘The individual and the social environment, especially the psycho-social environment, are constantly creating each other.’ (Bernard, 1962, p.276) and reconditioning each other. The metropolis individuality requires constant aesthetic change, leading to the paradox that in fashion the individual and collective identities are expressed in and through change, Identity cannot be rested on the reproduction of the same. Simmel points to another achievement of fashion, in the threat of disintegration of identity through change is turned instead into an opportunity in which identity is deepened through change. The fact that fashion and individual style connect past and projected futures into a present point, joining nostalgic and aspirational moments, constitutes a strong presence of an integrated self. Especially for individual styles, thus change itself is no longer a threat to identity, embracing change is the only change for us to achieve durability and not collapse into one dimensionality.