Read-Along: Me on Vivienne Westwood on Popular Culture

by - February 05, 2017

More people should read books. It's the most concentrated experience you can have.
Vivienne Westwood

Opinions, opinions, I've got some opinions...

I've got this tendency to always have an opinion about everything. Living with me can be a nightmare: I gleefully talk through the news, or anything basically that's on TV, saying how obnoxious and wrong they are. But who is really obnoxious and wrong? Me- who thinks she's right (I am right). Or the newsreporter- who's just (badly) doing what they get paid for to do?

This endless commenting doesn't restrict itself to just the TV. Also books are being bullied by my opinion. Or rather: notebooks and emails (which I send to myself... which is totally normal and fine). Almost every notebook I own has been bullied by my words and careless writings about how something is totally wrong or totally cool and inspiring and the best thing ever (but, suffice to say, it's mostly 'totally wrong'). Today I'd like to share one of these excerpts: an email to myself.

What u on 'bout?
As I already mentioned in a post or two ago, last year began with a Vivienne Westwood book and ended with a Vivienne Westwood book. The book in question, Get A Life!, mainly discusses Westwood's work for Climate Revolution mixed with her daily life (she goes out a lot and has a lot of friends (the one might be related to the other)). In between you'll get a glimpse into her life as a fashion designer/brand hostess. But I definitely wouldn't describe this book as a fashion book or recommend it to anyone who only cares about the dresses and has no eye for the politics. Although, if you are considering buying this book, I take it that you're familiar with dear ol' Viv and her stance in life/politics/fashion and how it's all intertwined.

Pop pop pop u lar
Our journey begins at page 187. Vivienne describes her visit to the V&A museum. She went there to see the David Bowie exhibition. She writes: "I enjoyed myself but great as Bowie is, I'm not so interested in popular culture."

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and their own taste. I'm not one to tell you what you should or should not like. Except naturally when it's got something to do with morals and stuff. But I found it very surprising that someone who's an active advocate for culture and the (re)establishment of said culture as a driving force behind our society and economy (as a way to instigate a climate revolution), she -throughout the book- doesn't regard popular culture as an important part or outing of this.

When Vivienne talks culture she talks about museums and the classics, but she doesn't talk about the mainstream. Although it can be said that the 'classics' are very much part of the mainstream imagery these days (Rembrandt, anyone?) AND it's the repetition of those big names that are being distributed for economic growth because of established (mainstream) appreciation which generates a big wave of attention that doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with that what she's trying to say/accomplish. BUT ANYWAY... Viv doesn't like pop culture. Which is fine. However, arguably she herself, the brand 'Vivienne Westwood', is part of popular culture. She can't escape it or ignore it by being it, right?

Don't try to hate me
I think the biggest part of her disliking is the main attention in popular culture to mindless consumption instead of reflective consumption. That's also to say: a great attention to 'you're an unique snowflake that can make unique artwork' opposed to 'history/culture is the basis of everything, nothing is unique and you're not that special'. The last one being sort of the opening line of the book. So a differentiation between art as 'product' and art as 'service'. What I mean or think how Vivienne sees it: within popular culture art is simply being produced/consumed without any deep connections behind it (except for economic value). And within Culture art is a well-thought-through time consuming product which represents a reflection/mirroring of the past. See her opinion about the work of Tracey Emin (her work, not her as a person) or on page 185: "Adrian's into modern art. He himself paints - quickly: 23 minutes is his record. (Anyone can be an artist). He wants to help art students. I wish he would give his money to the rainforest."

'Anyone can be an artist' in this instance is seen as a bad thing. Only 23 minutes. Is that art? Is that the work of an artist? I find it quite a contradicting statement for someone who uses culture as their leading companion within everything they do. Culture in this instance is confined to the old and established (however, in many ways, she wants to overthrow the old and established). As she states in the book, through the past we can create a connection to the now (and save the earth). YES, I AGREE. However disregarding popular culture in this mixture is, I think, a mistake. Yes, on the one hand popular culture is defined by mindless consumption, but not everything is mindless. As she said herself about David Bowie (page 187): "Bowie was a phenomenon: studying mime with Lindsay Kemp, terrific style, androgyny, each song a concept." Does that sound mindless or useless to you? (and I'm not even a big Bowie fan). Does time consuming work create better art or become better art than something that's put together within 10 minutes?  
Not necessarily.

Ab$tR@ct @Rt
She's got an interesting view on abstract art which I think can also be related to her ideas about popular culture (page 192-194): "Abstract art denies the need for subject matter. By this you deny the value of the work in itself - because there is no way to judge it - as representing reality, as an Imitation. (...) We've all got a different idea. We can only come together by taking part in the same experience. This is culture. (...) Simply choosing things and presenting them in a gallery or space (conceptual art) is not enough. It is certainly not original." She goes on with the idea that art is timeless and even this kind of art has become part of time. However she disregards the idea that art is inadequate to express today's world, as stated on the same page regarding (the work/philosophy of) Ai Weiwei: "how does he know that?".

Page 218: "Alexandra didn't agree with some of my ideas but because she is intelligent and quite open maybe I can half convince her that pop culture gets us nowhere and that if we had true culture we would have different values and we would not have climate change." First of all: What is or should true culture look like? A Rembrandt here? A Caravaggio there? Only art that is representing reality? No expressionism, cubism, Picasso or Van Gogh?

Second of all: I love Vivienne, I really do, and there are many points we agree on. But sometimes we don't. That's fine (I think, at least). The one thing I absolutely can't stand, however (which ironically is also her super power), is the way she sometimes describes people who are friends but don't necessarily agree with her. The same goes with Alexandra, her comment on her intelligence and not agreeing with her seems sort of slightly 'backstabbing'. I don't think that's necessarily the case and the Vivienne in my head is a sweet but strong(ly opinioned) woman. She won't stab you in the back, she just believes in her own ideas being the only ideas (which again is also her super power (and something I appreciate greatly), but it can be a little bit annoying and come across as simply being mean... PLEASE DON'T HATE ME VIV! I LOVE YOU VIV! I DIDN'T MEAN IT VIV! WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS, RIGHT? VIV? VIV???!!).

What do you think? Is popular culture an important part of culture in general and with disregarding it as a way to safe the world from climate change (with some adjustments here and there) you make a big mistake (as it is a window to a larger group of people who are in this way being snubbed or ignored) OR do you think that popular culture is the problem behind climate change (i.e. mindless consumption driven by our ego only measured by profit) and therefore isn't going to provide a solution. THE WORLD WILL BE DIVIDED!! OUR FUTURE WILL BE CHANGED!! YOUR OPINION MATTERS!!!!! Or at least, that's what my email said... wise words, past-Dominique, wise words.


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  1. This was an excellent post Dominique! Thoroughly enjoyed it! now lets see, pop culture... American pop culture? I hate it. It is rife with moments of female demoralization (disguised as female seductiveness/freedom/"power"). It is also filled with disgusting images that molest your eyes and which the media works to convince you is normal. See Panic! At The Disco's song "LA Devotee" music video. HOWEVER, to dismiss pop culture as unimportant, is a huge mistake. Pop culture influences almost every facet of our lives, our fashion, our discourse-- and whether we like it or not, Kim Kardashian has a say in how the world looks like. I'm sorry Vivienne Westwood, but her voluminous behind has made history.

    1. I wasn't familiar with that music video you mentioned and all I can say is... well... I'm confused... I looked up the lyrics but that didn't really make it any clearer. I think it's about -and this is with help from the comments below the video on youtube, so please bare with me- how 'we' or 'famous people' are just sheepishly following a path in search for (more) fame and that therewith 'we' loose sight on reality or become part of a cult that is ruining the earth/people/moral and induces satanic rituals? *silence* WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THAT VIDEO! IS THAT KID ALRIGHT? ARE THOSE ANIMALS ALRIGHT? AM I ALRIGHT??!!! That was... well... 'an experience'. (please don't make me watch it again.)

      Surprise surprise, I totally agree with you. Perhaps it's not a matter of just sheepishly bouncing with Kardashian's behind (as that weird-ass video taught us in the most peculiar way), but to try and make it work for 'our' cause. It's something not to ignore but to edit. To make it work in our advantage! Let's go hijack Kim's butt! (this is naturally said with all the respect etc. etc. etc.)

    2. OH WOOPS. I FORGOT HOW SCARY THE VID ACTUALLY IS. SORRY. Basically, what its saying, is that places like hollywood and LA is a mass pile of fakery. what is there is all illusion, and people there are just brainwashed to see the glamour of it all, instead of the bleak, poisonous, dank place it really is. The truth behind Hollywood and the Media, is that its a scary place filled with lies, darkness, poison, betrayal, loneliness, selfishness, and scariness. But people are captured, and brainwashed into forgetting about that reality, and just focusing on those 'black cars' and 'blushing white wine'. that kid represents an innocent human who was captured by the lure of hollywood and the media, and brainwashed, through tv, through stars, through everything, that its all alright. he has just become just another LA devotee.
      --also, I GOT YOUR ZINE IN THE MAIL!!!! ITS SO AWESOME!!! I haven't yet had a chance to read it, but when I do, I will let you know what I think!!!!!! Also, I think you'll enjoy the book post I made this week, so if you're interested, you can hop over and check it out ;)

    3. Thank you for this explanation! After I watched it for a second and third time, and got over the fact that a song with 'LA' in the title wasn't represented by palm trees and sunshine, I understand the point they were making (well, that is also after reading your explanation etc. Etc.). It's a bit like Sweeney Todd (not in message but in 'shock value'). The first time he slices someone's throat I was like WOW WOW WOW WHAT'S GOING ON but after the second or third time I was like ALRIGHT. YOU SLID THROATS, WE ALL GOT OUR PROBLEMS. And eventually the idea of eating mince pies made out of human meat is a grimmer thought that will hunt you in your sleep. As, perhaps, the though of us all being deluded/lured into a toxic and devoted lifestyle focused on the rich and famous and disregarding the 'other face' that the industry brings with those priveliges. I'm currently reading How To Ruin Everything by George Watsky and he sort of has an essay about this delusion. He describes his move from Boston (I believe) to an apartment in Burbank called Oakwood Apartments. Which seems fine at first but is actually an awful place where people are on the one hand trying to break into Hollywood and others are being cut off Hollywood. I thought the first two lines (or paragraph. But I'm not going to type over the first paragraph) was very straight to the point: "It's easy to hate yourself no matter where you are in the world. But it's especially easy to hate yourself in Los Angeles." (And then he goes on shortly about all the ways you could hate yourself "So you hate yourself for that, unless you're like, Jennifer Lawrence or some shit, and someone as creative as Jennifer Lawrence can probably come up with a reason to hate herself, too.")

      Anywayzzzz.... I'm happy you're happy with the zine (and finally received it! Totally my bad for the long pause between winning and receiving... oops. I hope you didn't find the fake tulips too tacky, as I wanted to send you a souvenir and first of all thought that clogs were TOO tacky and real flowers wouldn't survive the flight over without being pulverised so fake tulips it became...). I'm already looking forward reading your post!


    *lurks for a little while* Hang on, I've currently got like, twenty tabs of your blog posts open. Let me find one and stick to it. Right....

    Like yourself, I have an opinion on EVERYTHING. I even have opinions for my opnions. Seriously. When I'm ~ arguing a point ~ I stand there screaming at myself, back and forth. I can imagine that it is quite unsettling to watch. I mean, most people think I'm strange enough therefore watching me have an argument with myself is clearly quite the horror show.

    "I don't think that's necessarily the case and the Vivienne in my head is a sweet but strong(ly opinioned) woman. She won't stab you in the back, she just believes in her own ideas being the only ideas (which again is also her super power (and something I appreciate greatly), but it can be a little bit annoying and come across as simply being mean... PLEASE DON'T HATE ME VIV! I LOVE YOU VIV! I DIDN'T MEAN IT VIV! WE CAN STILL BE FRIENDS, RIGHT? VIV? VIV???!!)."

    IT SUMMED UP MY THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ON HER SO WELL. I FEEL THE SAME. Part of me is very, very jealous of her - I wish I could remain so strong when it came to my arguments but often, I find myself arguing with myself and backing out!

    So... popular culture...

    I find it hard to watch people slating popular culture all the time - especially amongst friends. It really bores me, actually. Go after something else, people! And I often see people saying how awful something ~huge and successful ~ is and I wonder is it because it intimidates them? Do they feel jealous? Are those feelings getting in the way of them forming a proper opnion on their own? Standing back and sneering has always looked a lot cooler - perhaps that is why?! But then on the other hand, popular culture does drive people to mindlessly consume... Which leads them to ignoring the REAL problems in the world.... Although those people have their own brains - they should use them dammit! Maybe I'm being unfair... Oh god SEE I'm arguing with MYSELF. I should stop.

    But I do thank you for always providing me with such thought provoking reading - you do it wonderfully! Ah, I missed reading your blog and typing you these muddled comments, I truly did.

    1. You have this amazing ability to make me blush, feel important/smart and sort of (in a good way) embarrass me at the same time. Mostly because I, like, so recognize your arguments with yourself. I mean, there's basically an orchestra of opions in my head playing a different tune every moment I vaguely think about practically anything. Can you hear that disappointed trombone noise? Can you hear that violin becoming more and more intense?

      I do agree with you that it's easy to snob popular culture because it IS popular culture. It even runs in our family to be snobby or stubborn. For instance my mum when she was younger practically lived next to the Ajax (football) stadium but -just because everyone else in Amsterdam cheered for them- she turned them her back and cheered for some other football club just because she could (she doesn't even like football, just winding up people gives her the spirit to live... just kidding, mum, I don't mean that, you're perfectly nice and 'going with the flow' *coughs*). I think a healthy dosis of popular culture is required for anyone to live a balanced life. What would we otherwise do without all those references? Without being able to explain our feelings through some well-known imagery? For instance: I feel like when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father (I've never seen Star Wars, not because I'm a snob, just because I also haven't seen the last two films of Harry Potter or Finding Nemo or Frozen. I'm just bad with keeping time and sort of, shamefully, forget or don't care that much... Disney? You mean 101 Dalmatians and The Aristocats!). Anyway...

      I'm very interested in your thoughts on WHY a lot of people slack off popular culture. I always wonder why something that IS popular is in those people's eyes instantly bad. I mean, it might not be your taste etc. etc. but bad? Isn't good -in the broader sense of the word, thus making something popular- mostly defined by the opinions of a lot of people. Is it bad or mindless or stupid because a lot of people like it? Are all those people therefore also bad and mindless and stupid? I mean, that would be an easy world to categorise... But then again some popular stuff IS stupid (I mean, I'm surely not the only one who doesn't get Apple-Pineapple-Pen-Whatever (or is that already not 'in' anymore... gosh, the youth moves so fast I can't keep up) But then again, maybe the simplicity and absurdity is what makes it 'brilliant' or 'smart'. Or naturally the deceivement of deluding so many people to watch it is the real brilliance behind it and it was never truly about a pen in an appel but about people who are easily stabbed in anything as insignificant as apples. Although, on a second thought, apples ARE actually quite important... The apple is therefore the world spinning around the pen, the human, who just violently makes its mark on the world. But where then comes in the pineapple? Is it because we're all related and should care for each other and not just disregard each other because we're not sticking ourselves into an apple and are born with a pineapple stuck to our pens? My oh my, this pen-apple-pinapple thing is more intricate than I thought...).