Words || Angela Heathcote
I have always pioneered some variation of the norm core aesthetic. This was until I bought myself a ticket to Falls Festival last year when all of a sudden I found myself drenched in glitter, with an electric purple, see-through dress and a variation of spaghetti strap singlets. After arriving home, I couldn’t help but think, how did my life come to this?
I’ve resolved that my not-even-quarter-life-crisis was a direct result of the major culture shift that was now seizing my Instagram feed. This return of the trashy 2000’s has me knee deep in throwback hash tags and following the likes of @officialseanpenn, which as you may have guessed, is everything but the official account of academy award winning actor Sean Penn, and @shesvague, who has managed to gain a significant following by incorporating all things ‘glamour, trash and sex’.
After a rapid exchange of DMs I have come to believe that the figure behind @shesvague, has a limitless supply of untapped early 2000’s wisdom. In our conversation I can’t help but make mention of their most recent post referencing the show Next: an MTV dating game where the guy/girl had the ability to ‘next’ a contestant at any point during a one-on-one date.
Ah, yes, how could we forget the stockpile of tragic MTV attempts at romance? A once iconic music video network had now become a reality TV show overlord. @shesvague says, ‘I never realised until looking back at old videos how ridiculously bad the shows are but that’s what makes it so great.’ @shesvague has perfectly summed up all of our addictions to reality TV: ‘it’s so bad but I just can’t look away’, and it’s everywhere.
Both reality TV and celebrity culture have their roots firmly planted in the arrival of the Internet in our homes. All-access passes meant the commodification of everyday life, and we haven’t stopped watching since. Suffice to say shows like The Simple Life were definitely not the kind of avant-garde feminism women of the 60s, 70s and 80s had in mind for us. However, in the context of this Instagram resurgence I can’t help but think that things might be different this time round.
@shesvague truly believes in the inherent feminism of their page: ‘@shesvague promotes women’s empowerment in pop culture, fashion, art, film and entertainment. The images and videos I post celebrate sexuality, freedom and individuality without being subject to objectification and dehumanisation.’ And after scrolling through countless images on the @shesvague Instagram, as well as many others like @ripannanicolesmith, who manages to blend existentialism and ontological studies with images of Kourtney Kardashian crying, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by this regeneration of what was once regarded as ‘shameful and trashy’.
This is not to say that we should all agree that reality TV and celebrity culture has some kind of altruism to it. I have always been hopelessly devoted to the sleaziest VH1 spectacles, from Flavor of Love to The Surreal Life, and am more than capable of seeing the slime for the slime. But perhaps now that most of the world believes that they’re beyond ‘Von Dutch Trucker hats, Baby Phat jeans and Dior saddle bags’ – artefacts that @shesvague describe as an early 2000s dream – we can finally look back in reverence.
Early 2000s reverence is rapidly going beyond a simple Instagram fad and has optimised itself into our everyday lives. When I re-grammed a picture of Paris Hilton stepping out of a pink Bentley, captioned ‘embodying strategic essentialism and realising that “feminine” things like the colour pink do not signify weakness but can exemplify power, strength, and a history of resilience’, I thought to myself, could it be that someone just philosophically memed Paris Hilton?
I’m sure that when Luce Irigaray wrote about exposing and demystifying the feminine by repeating ‘negative views’, she didn’t quite picture this. Just the other day I walked past a book with the title, How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World: The Art of Living with Style, Class and Grace. The book was published back in 2009 and experienced general success, despite what I would now view as a hideously anti-feminist sentiment.
Chapters like ‘Keep Your Chin Up and your Skirt Down’ were reviewed by Baby Boomers to the effect of, ‘the author successfully teaches readers that being classy and wholesome is better than being skanky and crazy’. But what’s so wrong with being skanky? And why should we invest in someone else’s idea of class, style and grace?
@shesvague sums it up concisely when they assert that ‘a woman can be intelligent and make her own informed decisions whilst still being a sex symbol.’ This is something very close to their heart: ‘I want to challenge the repressive, unequal dominant culture and I believe that every woman has the right to express her gender and sexuality any way she chooses’.
So perhaps this is our way of righting the wrongs of the past, by appreciating rather than tormenting Rose McGowan’s 1998 Video Music Awards dress.
This resurgence of the early 2000’s has yielded many gifts – and GIFs – for feminism.
But it doesn’t stop at the dispersal of Kardashian classics and Y2K apparel on Instagram. Instead it’s provided generous revenue streams for accounts like @officialseanpenn, whose founder, Caroline Goldfarb, has managed to hock us Britney stash sacks, Larry David pouches and at one point, home made cakes with Destiny Child customisations: yes, I mean you were literally given the opportunity to consume Beyonce’s face, with a buttery finish. ‘Unauthentic, commercial, mass produced’ – culture has never been this tasty. And while the ‘mass produced’ part is indisputable given the flood of digital nostalgia from the likes of Buzzfeed and all the ‘only gos kids will get this’ rhetoric,
Instagram remains a place of originality, where an image of Jessica Simpson frowning at a cupcake means one thing for me, but a totally different thing for you.