Unfortunately though you can’t be on the bike suffering at all times. So when I’m in front of a computer I try to find other bike-related sources of displeasure. One of my favorite ways of irritating myself is by checking in on bicycle fashion, and a great place to do that is on the King Kog website. So yesterday I virtually swung on by, and I’m pleased to report that I was not disappointed. (And by that I mean I was tremendously disappointed.):
All kidding aside, I’m a firm believer in honesty, and I’m being completely honest with you now when I say that this photograph made me extremely angry. It’s difficult for me to quantify exactly why, though it might have had something to do with the pink fanny pack, which sends tremors of rage through me like a matador’s cape. It might also have had something to do with the giant sunglasses, which simultaneously evoke Paris Hilton and my aunt who used to give me ballpoint pens as presents. In an attempt to get a handle on my anger, I studied the image from a different angle:
Okay, so I was angry, but I was also troubled by my anger. Where was it coming from? It’s perfectly natural to get angry, but what separates us from the animals (apart from the fact that they usually have a lot more nipples) is that we can understand our anger instead of simply acting on it. So I counted my nipples and, finding only two, I was sufficiently convinced of my humanity (or at least that I was a primate of some kind) to embark upon an attempt to discover and come to terms with the source of my ire.
I’m of the belief that there are three things that cause anger:
This is the most basic reason people get angry. When you’re threatened by something, you become angry. This anger in turn allows you to protect yourself against the source of the fear. That’s not what was happening here, though. I had little to fear from this model apart from the fact that he might hit me with his pink man-purse.
Anger often masks jealousy. Colloquially, this is known as “playa hating.” I can confidently say though that I was not jealous. Had I wished to attire myself in the manner of the model I needed only to travel the short distance to King Kog and purchase the same attire. I’m not sure they carry the glasses, but I could easily get those from my ballpoint pen-dispensing aunt.
Lack of Understanding
Ah, now I was getting somewhere. We often fear—and consequently get angry at—things we don’t understand. It was certainly possible that the reason I was angry was that I simply didn’t “get it.” The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it was more complicated than that. I don’t think I was angry because I didn’t “get it.” I think I was angry because I thought he didn’t “get it.” But what didn’t he “get” exactly? The fact that he looked like a Good Charlotte member wearing Lindsay Lohan’s sunglasses? I’m sure he probably knows that. Was it the fact that fashion and cycling are mutually exclusive? Well, that may be my opinion, but it’s not necessarily the case. It is possible to enjoy both. Still, though, I felt like I was on to something, and this was encouraging.
To test my Lack Of Understanding=Anger theory, I turned to something else that's confusing: the Giro d'Italia. If you don't believe that the Giro is confusing, take a look at the route map:
I admit that I haven't been following the Giro this year. I was too busy around the time it started, and now I'm hopelessly behind. So I've done what I used to do in school when I fell behind with my schoolwork, which is just give up altogether. Still, though, the Giro doesn't make me angry. Seemingly, this would deal a blow to my LOU=A theory. Then again, just because I'm out of the loop this year doesn't mean I don't understand the race. I do. It's a three week stage race like the Tour de France, except it's in Italy and last year's Tour de France winner is allowed to ride in it. It's not that complicated.
My head swimming, I went outside for a breath of fresh air and nearly stumbled upon one of those corner newspaper dispensers. To my surprise, it contained a copy of The New York Press. You'd think they'd stop printing this sort of thing on paper by now, but I suppose if they did people would have nothing to housetrain their new puppies on. (And without the corner newspaper dispensers, they'd have nothing to let their adult dogs urinate on either.) I was doubly surprised to find that the cover story, as if determined by providence, was this:
Apparently, this guy Benjamin Nugent has written an entire book called American Nerd, and this is an excerpt. It talks about the phenomenon of the "fake nerd," which is basically the same as what many people call the "hipster," which dovetails pretty neatly with the "fixter," which is pretty much what the guy in the King Kog photo is. Surely, this would help me understand the photograph and, consequently, my anger. I was especially pleased that this was an excerpt since it meant I wouldn't have to read the whole book (entire books can be tedious), so in turn I will provide you with some choice quotes from the excerpt so you don't even have to read the excerpt:
I went to high school in the 1990s; my peers were the first generation of children raised by bourgeois bohemians. Our parents lived by the principle that you could walk with one arm around the shoulder of the avant-garde and another around the shoulder of the establishment, drunk on art and money.
This would certainly explain riding expensive custom bicycles and using handmade designer nylon carry-alls while wearing tatty clothes, all under the pretense of rugged simplicity and minimalism.
How do I rebel...? How does my generation do something new? ... One answer is purism. When eclecticism is your parents’ thing you revisit old genres and deliberately maintain their integrity... The sort-of-true clichés about what hipsters like—trucker caps, mustaches, Pabst Blue Ribbon, mullets—play with the idea of old school. They connote sophistication and cosmopolitanism by screaming, “We are not cosmopolitan! We are not culturally sophisticated!”
Is this what the person in the photograph is doing? Very possibly. In many ways the fixed-gear trend appears to be an attempt at "purism," both mechanical and aesthetic. It's an abstracted and exaggerated version of the messenger style that's been around for the past 20 years or so. Same bikes and tattoos, but cleaner and more expensive. Same bags and clothes, but better-fitting (and again, more expensive). Alleycats which replicate messengering without the indignity of actually working. And so on.
You hear fake nerd conversation. It follows a model. You bring up an “obsession” or “total fascination” with a purportedly unfashionable subject. “I am such a dork about old Hawaiian slide guitar. I actually have every King Benny record. I’ve so got a problem.” “Dude, you want to hit In-N-Out burger? I basically live on their Protein Burgers when I’m in LA.” This is a way of whipping out cultural capital, but not in the same way as leaving guests in the living room to retrieve a hollowbody guitar or a first edition of To The Lighthouse. The Gretsch and the Woolf say, “I am creative and educated, so I have an understanding of the blues and the Bloomsbury Group.” The Hawaiian slide recordings and the In-N-Out Burger, which are both low-end consumer products, say, “I love the things I love because I am guided by some untamed voice within me that causes me to have random obsessions. I will follow my individualized obsessions, not trends, and be transparent about those obsessions, even when those obsessions tell me to like things widely considered ugly and cheap.” It’s the cultural capital of quirk.
"The cultural capital of quirk" is certainly trading briskly among trendy cyclists now. What iconic cycling image or logo hasn't been incorporated into a t-shirt or hat being sold by a track bike boutique? What fixed-gear rider actually knows the original reason people started using Aerospoke-type wheels on the front? (And it wasn't because you could paint them pink.) What else explains people's obsession with NJS stamps (though that obsession seems to be fading with the advent of fixed-gear freestyling), which outside of the Japanese keirin circuit mean absolutely nothing? It's all "cultural capital of quirk."
As relevant as the article was, I was disappointed that it didn't address cycling directly. Surely the fixed-gear trend is pertinent to his subject. However, providence had yet another surprise in store for me. A little while later, whilst visiting some random cycling blogs, I stumbled upon this:
Indeed, the article was peppered with the images of various "fake nerds," and sure enough one of them writes a bike blog:
Moreover, the blog has a high fixed-gear quotient, and it contains the "cultural capital of quirk" by the bucketload. (It also contains the news that noted fixed-gear freestyler, street fashion maven, Death Adder, and architect Prolly is selling one of his bikes. This is a chance for you to own a piece of cycling history, albeit a dark and stormy one.) If gleefully comparing a set of track hubs to a mound of cocaine isn't a grotesque, Scarface-like indulgence in cycling's cultural capital, I don't know what is.So I now understood what was bothering me about the King Kog photo. It was the fact that the person in it appeared to me to be selling something that has been divorced from its origins and appropriated by people who have not gone through their own process of discovery and understanding. It also appears to depict a culture that tries so hard to be authentic that it comes off as inauthentic. It's a highly derivative rebellion. Of course, the reality is that this is just how I see it. Also, I don't really know anything about the person in the photo. (I'm sure I would know him if I were a part of the bike culture, but as I've already discovered, I'm not.) Moreover, it's completely ridiculous of me to get angry about something as stupid as a picture. And in understanding all of this, I was finally no longer angry. Thus, I have proved the LOU=A theory.
Of course, the photo still makes me sick, but that's another story.