The modern era has seen fashion trends of all kinds – clothing, music, politics and pop culture – come and go incredibly quickly. From the undoubtedly biased perspective of someone living through this era, it seems that the political, technological and social circumstances of each new generation bring with them such drastic cultural changes that the trends of just one decade are quite distinct from another, even visually.
Yet, as ever, there are overarching patterns in cultural evolution. In the post-war era, Western society has begun to open its eyes to the growing plethora of individual freedoms and new possibilities across the classes and across borders. This has led to people exploring the world of politics in earnest, with no real barrier to their expression or involvement, for the very first time. It is truly an incredible age – and our society’s acknowledgement of this is reflected in the sociopolitical trends that have come to be since the end of WWII. Namely, we have been growing more and more socially liberal.
In the 1950s, there was a stark contrast between the increasingly popular, liberal views of the young, and the more traditionalist approaches of the older generations – the ones who held the power whilst these relative liberals were still youngsters. From this, what would (in the next decade) become the revolutionary social justice movement gleaned its sense of martyrdom. The youthful cultural rebellion of the 1920s was back – but more permanently this time, its development uninterrupted by war.
Over the decades, the first ‘pet causes’ came to be. Opposition to the Vietnam war is a famous one, and as time went by, social attitudes towards manners of dress, address and conduct became much less ritualistic and strict. Western society today, across the political spectrum, is incredibly socially liberal. A blessing of this is that we, our parents’ generation, their parents’ generation, and eventually our children’s generation have been and will be very open to accepting the atrocities of our nations’ pasts for what they are, and recognising the evils of fascism and dictatorships, valuing freedom.
But, as ever, it is the social liberties that got the attentions of the younger crowds of the 1990s and onwards, more so than the abhorrence of past wrongdoings. So much so that, today, it is wholly unsurprising that one should see a t-shirt selling brilliantly online, showing off to the world that its wearer is “literally a communist”.
In our collective fervour to rightly denounce the atrocities committed under nationalistic, fascist regimes, and the evil inherent to their founding ideologies, we did not address the other side of the ideological horseshoe. While it is always unwise to write off one’s failures, this is an instance in which it is perhaps understandable. Champagne socialism and communism have become a social trend, as, to the young, ignorant, impressionable mind, they embody the vague desire for social justice that has been being demanded by street protesters since the 1960s; it is a political system that comes without the branding of ‘Nazi’, or ‘fascist’, words so stigmatized now (and rightly so), but without having stigmatized ‘Marxist’ or ‘communist’ to the same extent, the eerie similarities are lost on today’s “literal communists”.
This is troubling, but not a death sentence for all of us would-be residents of the gulag; as mentioned earlier, social change has come about so very quickly that there are still people among us who have experienced the horrors of the now-fashionable communist ideology. It is not alarming that we can create and sell clothing with such slogans on without fear of repercussion. It is alarming that these children are marching themselves towards an authoritarian way of life, and taking us with them.