Sunday, May 24, 2009

Why Hoodies Are Good

Well, pig 'flu (I won't call it swine 'flu - who outside the Middle Ages actually says 'swine'?) turned out to be an anticlimax, didn't it? I think 122-ish so far have caught it in the UK, half of them in London, and no British casualties so far. I can't help thinking this is actually because of hoodies.

We're a socially repressed race for a lot of reasons, but what aggravates all of them is the tiny size of our island. Americans are sociable, gregarious, friendly and have tons of space to do it in: we're far more apt to keep to ourselves and mind our own business, but are squished into a country too small to get any significant physical distance between us. No wonder we retreat into ourselves, contract our personal bubbles so far that we can be crammed into a Tube train and still not look anyone in the eye. Part of this is the independent spirit that has always marked the British (cf the frontier spirit that marks our Colonial buddies), the self-sufficiency that men prize above all - we admire James Bond for being one man alone, the maverick, whereas American filmgoers admire the soldier more, the team player - but a lot of it is that we just don't want to spend all our time with other people. We're forced to share space with strangers for such a large proportion of the day it's only right that we want to retreat and be alone when we get home from work.

Part of growing up is discovery of one's place. The young like to believe that they kick against and resist established culture, but in reality they just find new ways to interpret it and the hoodie is one such device. They don't wear hoodies to prevent identification while performing violent crimes - anyone who's seen an Ealing comedy knows that's what stockings are for - but to keep the world away, to be alone in a crowd. I wish we'd had them when I was young: I was a child when people stopped wearing balaclavas because of the probability of being mistaken for an Irish terrorist, so keeping one's distance (not to mention one's head warm) was a lot harder than it should have been. My generation took refuge in surrealism - people tend to leave you alone if they can't understand a word you say - which is probably why BBC3 is the way it is now.

There is an equivalent phenomenon to the hoodie, another device employed by the young to provide portable refuge: the fringe. It can't be accident that long fringes have become common at roughly the same time as hoodies, and no coincidence that both have emerged as society becomes more obsessed with watching the young, prying into their lives, failing to mind its own damn business. As society has become less British our youth have become more so, a curious reversal of the Sixties.

Which is why pig 'flu hasn't taken hold here, so much. We keep our distance. We don't like to hug strangers. We don't enjoy big crowds and personal interference. And our mouths and noses are covered up by hoodies and big fringes, so even when we sneeze nobody catches it.

We should remember this when the Avian 'flu epidemic comes. Hoodies may yet save our species, if the alcopops don't kill us first.

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