Follow That Herd

This column by David Aaronovitch raises a lot of perennially interesting and chronically unanswerable questions. What is fashion? Who is fashionable? According to whom? In what circles? Who gets to decide? Does it matter?

This question comes up a lot on B&W, not surprisingly. Well it would, wouldn’t it, since we take ourselves (self-flatteringly enough) to be fighting fashionable nonsense, and since we have a fashionable dictionary. Clearly we think we have some idea of what’s fashionable. But equally clearly we’re using the word in a pretty narrow sense, or at least to apply to a pretty narrow population. We’re not talking about runways and models fashion, nor about best-seller list, this week’s top-grossing movie, Top Forty, hit tv show-fashion. But we are still talking about fashion, even though it is minority or coterie fashion. But coteries often have influence out of all proportion to their numbers, so it’s always worth looking at fashion among people with influence.

But it has to be done with care. It’s an easy pejorative, ‘fashionable’ is. Just as ‘politically correct’ is, and for much the same sorts of reasons. It’s one of those ‘Yes Minister’ irregular verbs again – ‘I am hip, you are fashionable, she is a sheep.’ (In fact I wrote an essay for TPM on this tension a couple of months ago.) So Aaronovitch marvels at the notion that Tariq Ali’s polemic against the occupation of Iraq is unfashionable while Aaronovitch’s position on the war in Iraq is fashionable.

The ‘fashionable lurch to the Right’ is, in terms of the war in Iraq (which is what we are really talking about), the least fashionable thing that some of us have ever done. The entire bien-pensant world, every political actress, every talking painter, every modish singer, every T-shirt designer, every clever cartoonist, every radio quiz-show panelist, every TV critic, every professionally young person who can string three words together, has been against us and with Tariq Ali. We have not just been wrong on balance, but wrong beyond discussion, wrong beyond the possibility of being the slightest bit right. Fashionable? We might just as well have ventured into Tate Modern wearing mullet hair and tartan hot-pants.

It’s a fair point. This is yet another kind of confirmation bias at work. People I don’t agree with are fashionable while I’m bravely independent and so are all my friends…

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