There is a fairly comical scene in P.G. Wodehouse’s “Carry On, Jeeves” (which, by way of mention, is shamefully missing from the University library’s millions of volumes), in which the ever-incorrigible Bertie Wooster encourages his rather dissolute friend Sippy to steal a policeman’s helmet. The theft is comical not because Sippy has a desire to become a police officer and in so doing wishes to take the guise of one. Indeed, he leads far too comfortable a life for something as arduous as that. Rather, on Bertie’s advice, Sippy fancies the novelty of the policeman’s helmet. It’s droll and preposterous, a token taken out of place and used rather absurdly. To make a long story short, the theft also lands the two in jail, though that hasn’t much to do with why the story came to mind.
Really, the story of Sippy’s misguided penchant for a malapropos object came to mind on a recent jaunt to Urban Outfitters. The trip was on the urging of a friend of mine, who told me it was selling something so unbelievably doltish and misplaced that I’d have to witness it to believe it. Yes, next to a tacky T-shirt with the Manishevitz logo fixed above Gefilte Fish, sat a stack of variously colored keffiyehs, the traditional Arab headdress recently associated with former Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat and lately a symbol of solidarity with the intifada.
No doubt the product was designed to complement the wardrobes of those already in possession of Che Guevara T-shirts and West German army surplus winter coats – those cohorts (bourgeois and undoubtedly self-loathing of the fact) who, like Sippy, fetishize objects grossly out of place in their comfortable lives.
The mock-militarism and the outlandish embrace of revolution (always in the abstract, mind you) invariably reveal an unmistakable immaturity: revolution in the form of a callow and clich