The co-author of the Official Sloane Ranger Handbook returns to take on modern culture and politics
I’m Peter York. And I’m an urban taxonomist (good poncey phrase, I think). I do pop anthropology -- I write about tribes and trends. My new book, modestly titled How The World Works, comes from 40 years of analysing tribes and trends. Examining how people grouped themselves together and expressed themselves. And this is my collected works -- with a twist.
I’ve spent my life decoding contemporary culture: fashions, styles, the way we live and the way we gossip. And I’ve learnt a thing or two.
We learn a lot about ourselves by thinking about people who live in the next street but absolutely aren’t like us, who don’t see the world in the same way. That’s important now in ways I couldn’t have imagined in the Seventies, when I started working as a commercial market researcher, paid to devise clever groupings to help my clients sell things to people more accurately.
My first tribal magazine article was about “Sloane Rangers”, which in turn became the best-selling Official Sloane Ranger Handbook in the 1980s (written with my Harpers & Queen editor Ann Barr.) It’s the first piece in this book.
My latest tribal piece is about an ostensibly very different group. Hipsters, written this year (but you wonder how many hipsters are the children of Sloane Rangery parents, because when you scratch them they turn out to be very bourgeois!). Along the way I’ve stuck myself into a lot of very different lives.
The point about so many of the post-war tribes and trends I’ve described is that they’re elective – they’re about people making things up as they went along, joining one tribe, then leaving for another. Branding themselves, expressing themselves. Fake it before you make it – the watchword of the early Eighties New Romantics who lived in squats but did High Glamour at nights.
It’s these different perspectives from my “capitalist tool” life and my writer life – that kind of dual citizenship – that make things interesting for me. I know people who don’t know each other, indeed couldn’t imagine each other could really think, say or wear such ridiculous things.
I used to write mainly about the things that Really Matter In Life, such as fashion, clothes, houses and gossip. Really matter in the sense that people are personally invested in them.
For many educated people politics was not that: it is much more of an “accomplishment” - something for conversation, rather than involvement.
But all that has changed. I’ve become frivolous recently, meaning I’ve become very interested in politics. It’s become insanely exciting – and excitingly insane. So I read – and, even more, watch – political comment here and there. (America is much more insane.)
Disturbingly, I find that I know more about the strange new world of global plots and sociopaths than politicos and commentators who are paid to know this stuff. And I’ve been writing about it, from my obsession with American cable and online news channels to what it’s like to find yourself in the audience at a Fake News political road show.
Great political positions are subject to fashion. Great philosophical ideas are subject to fashion. This is my field guide to navigating the strange hybrid beast of modern culture and particularly modern politics: the bastard offspring of politics, fashion and entertainment.
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These people are helping to fund How the World Works: Or, Everything Is Fashion — Especially Politics.