Friday, February 5, 2010

Curved or flat?

Simon looked down at the pavement and tightened
the brim of his hat. He has quite a few tells; play him in
poker and you won’t regret it, I suspect. “Yeah?”

“Hi, Mr. Freeman.” I tugged at the brim of my hat,
tightening the curve and blocking my eyes, which must
have been pretty red and swollen. He just would have
thought I was high or something.

Steve Brezenoff’s The Absolute Value of –1 has loads of beautiful details. Steve’s eye for the meaning in a gesture or an object is one of the things that drew me to his writing, and I think his handling of the potentially explosive issue of baseball cap brims is a master class in how not to fall into the trap of a superficial interpretation of teen culture. As you see from the excerpts above, Steve’s character Simon wears his Yankees cap with a brim with a pronounced curve. This is viscerally pleasing to me because getting a good curve into a cap brim was a preoccupation of my own ball-cap-centric adolescence. At the left, Steve is modeling what I still consider near-optimal brim curvature. What made me think of Steve’s cap observations was a kid I saw on the bus. HE was wearing a cap with a brim that was absolutely flat. And it was clearly kept flat with all the love with which I kept mine curved. This is probably not shocking. If you’ve been anywhere around teenagers recently, you have noticed that, for a certain look, a completely flat brim is de rigueur.

So, Steve’s book is dated and will mean nothing to teens, the verisimilitude gang howls! Nonsense. I saw a flat cap and thought of my curved caps, and of Simon’s. I didn’t think, wow, that’s completely different and utterly alien. I thought, that looks completely different, but the meaning behind it is remarkably similar. The thing that matters in observing and reflecting any detail of teen culture is not the specifics of a gesture or an object. What matters is acknowledging and portraying that such things have meaning. Teens aren’t stupid. They understand that a signifier changes while the signified remains timeless.


MC said...

I think that's true. Teens might act as if they don't know what's come before them, but they do understand when they seen a cultural signifier like a curved o straight brim.

You have to admit, though, the curved brim is WAY cooler than the flat one. The flat one says you don't care what your hat looks like, that you'll just take it the way the man gave it to you.

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