CULTURE: ICON TO ICON ; Pop Heroes Beget Fans and Fans Become Heroes. Philip Hoare Explores the Role of Style Leaders and Their Followers in History, Art and Fiction and Asks: Will This Special Relationship Survive into the Digital Age?
Hoare, Philip, The Independent (London, England)
In Harland Miller's much hyped new novel, Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty, there is a character called Ziggy Hero - a fedora- sporting David Bowie impersonator whom the protagonist Billy Glover encounters obsessively watching a video, "in a kind of method- acting pose - leaning forward over the back of the chair, resting his chin on his arms, a strand of orange hair flopping over his eyes." The video is The Man Who Fell To Earth, at the scene in which the alien Thomas Jerome Newton starts to look queasy in the back of his chauffeured limo: "Arthur, would you please slow down, it's making me feel dizzy, keep to 30, please."
Miller's witty, grungy, rites-of-passage novel - a sort of Carry On Clockwork Orange set in a depressed 1980 Yorkshire - undercuts the glamour of teen iconography, at the same time deriving its potency from the teen idol. Hanif Kureshi's The Buddha of Suburbia, was similarly concerned with the many guises of the Thin White Duke and their effect on a suburban boy. In Kureshi's book, and the BBC adaptation (for which Bowie wrote the theme music), one "Charlie Hero" adopts the Bowiesque role.
At the tender age of 15, in a Southampton suburb, I, too, sported a grey fedora and pink sunglasses in imitation of the pin-ups growing dog-eared on my bedroom wall. Their images were as potent to me as the Beardsley posters I also owned. Like some cultural vampire, Bowie tapped into the teenage search for identity, a search most readily satisfied in the bedroom mirror - where you saw not yourself, but the fantasy of your pop alter ego.
Bowie knew what he was doing, as did Oscar Wilde, and Vaslav Nijinsky, whose onanistic gesture in the final scenes of L'apres- midi d'un Faune was reprised in Aladdin Sane's line, "Time/ Falls wanking to the floor" - the ultimate teen bedroom performance. Standing in front of the mirror, mascara or air guitar at hand, you could adopt your chosen persona in a sense of meta-identity - what you think other people think you are. It all seemed to be our invention; a club for which you had to have the right references. As Bowie himself later told Suede's Brett Anderson, "we were very miffed that people who'd obviously never seen Metropolis and had never heard of Christopher Isherwood were actually becoming glam rockers". In the excitement of the times, I hardly knew then that there was a provenance for this teen-thirst for iconography beyond even Weimar Germany's "divine decadence".
As Isaiah Berlin demonstrated in his lectures on "The Roots of Romanticism", the cult of the individual goes back to the 18th century, to the concept of the self beyond the state. At this time the modern notion of a tortured hero was born, expressed in the emerging literature of Gothic, the sensational tales of Mrs Radclyffe and Matthew Lewis and their Goth fans who revelled in what Hobbes described as "decaying sense".
Herein lay the seeds of teenage rebellion and subversion, couched in the isolated, potentially alienating world of reverie: imagination as the moment of aspiration (followed by inevitable betrayal), a decadent reaction against rationality and religion, almost pagan in its sacred indulgence; one reviewer of Shelley's Alastor ascribed to it "that morbid ascendancy of the imagination". Out of such imaginings the modern world was born.
By the 19th century, the concept of the dandy had evolved to further that sense of the self in performance. Turning one's person into a "social artwork", dandies such as Beau Brummell became iconic in the modern sense, with their necessary audience of imitators. As the American academic, Rhonda K Garelick illustrates in her book, Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin de Siecle, the dandy was to become the interface between decadence and modernism via Wilde's cult of the personality and the "camp" appreciation of female performer icons such as …
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Publication information: Article title: CULTURE: ICON TO ICON ; Pop Heroes Beget Fans and Fans Become Heroes. Philip Hoare Explores the Role of Style Leaders and Their Followers in History, Art and Fiction and Asks: Will This Special Relationship Survive into the Digital Age?. Contributors: Hoare, Philip - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 4, 2000. Page number: 1. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.