Uniformity

Paul Fussell, in his appropriately-titled book Uniforms (2002), notes that:

"Uniforms divide into two rough categories: honorific and stigmatic. Honorific: the attire of police, McDonald's fast-food servers, United States Marines, the clergy. Stigmatic: the orange coveralls worn by prisoners, widely familiarized by the dress of Timothy McVeigh as depicted in a TV clip repeatedly shown after his arrest" (p. 121).

Obviously, the days of Fussell being a teenager are long in the past, as the McDonald's uniform is anything but honorific among the teen set. It is laughable for those outside the subculture of employees, and a yoke for those within — sort of like the definition of "stigmatic".

Despite this, he raises some interesting questions about uniforms as image-signs, or as means of communication: What happens when this extension of the skin is standardized (lest we forget that McLuhan identified clothing as an extension of the skin)? Is cheering against another's uniform a type of racism? What can we infer about the sporting goods oxymoron "authentic replica" and the replication (or cloning) of sports fan(atics) worldwide? What are the tribalist image-signs that these uniforms represent?

To fully answer these questions and others requires an examination of the interplay between the three groups that are the de facto stakeholders of the uniform: those who dictate the parameters of the uniform, those who wear the uniform and physically produce its meaning, and those who view or consume the uniform. But one thing is certain: as an extension of the skin imbued with such explosive meaning, uniforms are as much a Foucaultian disciplinary technology as the control of space, time or modality of movement.

References:

Fussell, Paul. (2002). Uniforms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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