Manifest Destiny Chic (1979-1995)

October 17, 2009

Swaggering ’80s peroxide-hard rock to is the best idea in human history. It’s the musical equivalent of inserting one’s penis into the hole in the O-Zone layer (which, I think, was a concern at the time). For someone such as myself, those earliest memories are hazy recollections scattered between ’93 and ’95, it conjures a sense of transparent, meaningless, nostalgia. How exactly does this occur? I’m not actually going to answer that myself- instead, I’m going to rant for a bit and let you make your mind up. However, I am going to suggest that we should all resign ourselves to Reaganite manifest destiny cheeseburger-and-a-shake-chic.

Manifest Destiny Chic: The resurgance of the ideals of American expansionism, but replacing physical space with the jingoistic colonisation of the ‘heart and mind’ and the wardrobe. It is characterised by contradictions: conservatism and cocaine; slow pleasure and fast cars; saving the whales and shaving one’s legs, it is the conceptual form of the explosive capitalism in the 1980s. Symptoms include expressing pleasure by screaming ‘wooo’, the use of fireworks, and the overemphasis of the romance of ‘the fairground’.

Van Halen are the original source of swagger. They always managed to take meretricious rock star clichés far beyond Roth’s ADD annoyance and into a realm of stratospheric cock-wielding supremacy. They’re a bit like watching Mr. Universe on TV and gouging it out of homoeroticism and/or ego-wrenching soul destruction with a plastic knife and fork. Look at the double denim, the aviator sunglasses worn indoors, the bouffant hair, the leather. Here, Van Halen look a bit like members of court at a pre-revolutionary Versailles, but entirely open to the possibility of ‘rocking out for the people’. They seem not to ‘give a fuck’ (about very much other than crystal meth). Their grimaces, meanwhile, inject a sense of fun into the preceedings. Van Halen imprinted in your head images of screaming into the glare of Beverley Hills in some bizarre, boxy, ‘80s convertible while the streets are lined with bikini-clad models. This is manifest destiny chic. They lived this dream.

Here is Van Halen playing “Dreams” live in the studio while recording their album 5150

It’s no surprise that it was played throughout John Kerry’s Presidential campaign in 2004. It has just the right amount of pseudo-inspirational, lighters-in-the-air, slushiness to appeal to both romantically privileged ‘free world’ teenagers circa 1986 and self-congratulatory liberals from the mid-noughties. “Dreams” epitomises manifest destiny chic. It strains itself, imagining an anti-capitalist apocalypse where wearing double-denim is outlawed in the same way that Enver Hoxha outlawed beards. It’s got the same quantity of “fuck yeah!”-isms that Andrew Dice Clay so preyed on, but it’s much more charming. All of this basically amounts to it being very ‘of its time’. That time was, no doubt, a desperately exciting time to be young and/or attractive.

Also, the finished, polished, product of “Dreams” featured at the inspirational, world-saving, finale of Power Rangers: The Movie. This is simultaneously the best and worst film ever made. The ending really is its saving grace. I first really paid close attention to the song when I was bought the film on VHS for Christmas in 1996. Over the next few years, after watching this final scene, I always found myself determined to go and ‘change the world’.

Are you a Van Halen fan?
Have you ever waved your lighter in the air to an inspiration ballad and accidentally burned off some poor girl’s pigtails?
Do the Power Rangers make you into a responsible/inspired post-teen?

As Tommy (the White Ranger) pointed out so astutely in the above clip, ‘anything is possible’.

Manifest destiny chic (1979-1995)


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