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In the past couple of months I’ve written about various subjects, but few have been so close to my heart as this one. It’s something I’ve had a personal vendetta against since the age of 14 when I entered what I’m sure will be described by my biographer as my “rebellion period”. First I had hair down to my shoulders and wore those super baggy jeans that I don’t think are even made anymore (yeah, I know…) then I became a punk rocker. So this is something I have a lot of first hand experience of. I’m talking about people who look with derision and/or suspicion on the so-called “alternative” community.

But what is the alternative community you cry, because you haven’t read “Chaig O’Vara’s Guide to Pigeonholing and Social Labelling” (available from all good bookshops). The alternative community is essentially any of those youth (and increasingly adult) subcultures who don’t dress or live their lives in the way that society deems most acceptable. Generally they’re based around musical genres. (Man, when you write it like that the whole thing sounds ridiculous.) You know what I mean, punks, goths, metalheads and so forth. Common traits include piercings, dyed hair in strange styles and a lot of black clothing.

No, this doesn't count...

No, this doesn’t count…

The reason it’s on my blog and not limited to the “Guide to Pigeonholing…” (the guide doesn’t actually exist, but I might write it) is because simple choices regarding a person’s appearance can be serious barriers to employment and acceptance and in some extreme cases even lead to threats, attacks and even murder (seriously, people have been murdered just for being goths).

Now I know a lot of people, from all social backgrounds and several religions and nations. And I have to say, the alternative ones are some of the most intelligent, socially and ethically conscious and frankly, nice people I know. And yet they are looked on by many in society as untrustworthy, lazy, stupid or downright criminal.

I used to be the proud owner of an 8 inch red and black striped mohican, a nose ring, a lip stud and a couple of earrings. Not once did I ever pistol whip anybody’s grandmother, I never set fire to a block of flats and danced around chanting satanic prayers over a mixtape of speed metal and the screams of murder victims. The closest I got to glorious revolution and the violent destruction of society was leaving a coke can on the ground after the fourth missed bin-throw and even that I carry the guilt of to this very day (I’m not sure what I feel worse about, the littering, or drinking coke). No, I went to college, shopped for socks and generally got on with my life.

For some reason the wearing of all black clothing, piercings, tattoos and dyed hair makes people think of ne’er-do-wells. I ask you though, when was the last time you saw a news report of a burglary or a mugging that didn’t contain the words “tracksuit bottoms” or “Reebok”. In fact, if you asked me to draw a picture of a mugger he’d look like an Olympian, except with noticeably less intelligence and a hell of a lot more “gold”. Look at Jimmy Saville, always wore a tracksuit, the signs were there all along…

I don't know what he's planning, but you can bet it'll make the Taliban look like the Cheshire Scouts

I don’t know what he’s planning, but you can bet it’ll make the Taliban look like the Cheshire Scouts

One of the most aggravating things about the whole issue is that an “alternative appearence” is a barrier to employment in most public facing jobs, well, other than tattooist, rock star or carnival freakshow attraction. This is because “the public” (yeah, those bastards again) find it unprofessional or in someway intimidating. In short, it offends people’s delicate sensibilities to be faced with someone who looks in some way different.

I’m not even championing an unprofessional or scruffy appearance. When I had a mohawk, or even in the case of my arguably misguided trihawk, I always made sure it was perfectly neat. Never a hair out of place. Almost to the point of obsession. When ever I was doing anything in a formal or professional context I would be wearing a suit with an ironed shirt and tie. Can someone tell me how that is in anyway scary or unprofessional? (Barring the fact I apparently look like a hitman in a suit, that’s a build issue.) And yet people would still stare, their bottom jaw flapping lazily in the breeze, as if to say “we can’t employ him, the hair in the middle of his head is long and the sides are shaved, the Daily Mail said that’s a classic sign of a terrorist”.

Take phone shop employees. If you don’t have much experience of mobile phone shops, watch the sitcom “Phone shop”. A more accurate portrayal you will never find. They are often very well presented, in what many would consider the pinnacle of professional attire short of a 3 piece suit. Can you trust them? Can you buggery. Even if I’d never been a punk I would still much rather be faced with a genuine, helpful salesperson with bright green hair and a face full of metal than one of those slimy cretins who are more hairgel and fake tan than human being.

What society is saying by disliking alternative people in shops is that it’s fine to shop for products that were created in a sweatshop by starving children in the developing world. It’s fine that they were then tested on animals. It’s fine that they were shipped halfway across the world on a ship leaking diesel from the bottom and carbon monoxide from the top. It’s even acceptable that they are being sold by a company that destroys all independent small retailers in its way and makes billions in profit for the people who sit around the big table at the top of their head office. People will accept these things as long as the spotty “yoof” behind the till has a neat haircut.

It is at this point that some would accuse me of being some sort of crazy lefty who believes everyone should just “do what they want, yeah?” because “the man’s just trying to keep everybody down”. Well to that I straighten my tie, laugh derisively and flick my cigar ash all over your shoes. I think Bono’s a hypocritical idiot, I’ve never owned anything made of hemp and I don’t even LIKE hummus.

What makes it worse is that most of the trademark attire of these subcultures is not even new. Men have had long hair since the 1960s and in some styles far longer than that. People have had dyed mohawks since the 70s and if you count the mohican in its original incarnation it goes back to pre-columbian America. Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, as have piercings and both of which can be seen on several grandmothers in the average British highstreet and yet somebody, whoever it is makes up the rules of society decided at some point that 1940’s Britain was the pinnacle and professionally we should all look like that forever. (Maybe I should start wearing a gasmask and checking under the bed for Jerry.)

My point is that none of these things are revolutionary. If you’re the sort of person who’s still shocked to the very core by a pink mohawk or a few tattoos, then you’re probably still shocked by the internal combustion engine. (It can transport the corn to market but there’s not a horse to be seen! Tis scorcery to be sure!) If that is the case, then I put it to you that society would probably be better off without you because you’re the sort of person who thinks “the gays” are evil and they should bring back hangin’ and slavery… you know, a moron.

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