The wonderful Phillipine blogger over at Who Rides a Vespa, has a great post up profiling Mikey Teutul of American Chopper. He's got a couple of commercials embedded which feature Mikey's affection for Vespas, and kinda cast him as the black sheep among black sheep. It's like a two-wheeler's inside joke, which by now, most of America is in on. These ads quite tickled my fancy, as I spent a lot of time in early adolescence hanging out with old school bikers, with these inked and hirisute gentlemen providing solid if unconvential male role models during those difficult years.
Jes and I have been on a Northern Exposure kick lately; we just got the fifth season on DVD, and last night I watched the episode where Ruth-Anne borrows Chris's Harley and rides with a group of outlaw bikers. Or perhaps I should say former outlaw bikers, as one of the best scenes in the episode features these middle-aged men discussing how Harleys have become a status symbol for the affluent middle class into which they have unwittingly been assimilated. That assimilation which they discussed thirteen years ago, has of course, only intensified. And that's OK.
Cultures and subcultures are fluid, organic, dynamic entities. And our over analyized, over marketed, media saturated culture absorbs subculture at a blinding pace now. True rebels, if there is such a thing, are prized prey for freelance "cool-hunters." Of course none of this is news, or original insight from yours truly. Still quite a bit of the joy of rebellion consists of feeling like you are on the inside, the bond of the outsider, the "you and me against the world" sensation. Also, there is great joy to be found in the activity folks in the SCA call "freaking the mundanes."
Mundanes are, in SCA parlance, normal folks. "Freaking the mundanes" entails showing up unannounced at a public place in full Medieval drag. Making a beer run for an SCA event that is in full swing, for instance. There is something of the trickster in the rebel, and a touch of the holy fool as well. But once your subculture has become assimilated, that trickster edge becomes dulled. The WTF factor of a green mohawk disappates when you see it every day on TV.
And you are stuck with the Dragon, protesting "I was Country, when Country wasn't cool," as well as "I was Punk-Rock, when Punk-Rock wasn't cool."
And so it goes...
I guess what is interesting to me in all this is that I see scooter culture as being roughly where biker culture was in the late 80's and early 90's, on the verge of being integrated into the whole of pop culture. It seems like at this point every local newspaper and tv station has had a story on the new scooter boom. The old-school scooterists, the folks who were around before Vespas were reintroduced state-side, sound a lot like old school bikers, the folks who were around before Harley-Davidson's corporate rebirth in the 80's. And the average American is basically unaware of all of this.
But at least for the time being, you can be fairly certain of evoking a "kids-these-days" reaction from an old school biker by pulling up on a tricked vintage Vespa. And I take some pleasure in knowing that if I can't freak the mundanes, well, at least I can freak the freaks...
For another take on this through the eyes of television advertising check out this new BBC America ad that 2Stroke Buzz has linked to.