Mark Dery's new ebook, All The Young Dudes: Why Glam Matters (the debut publication from Boing Boing's digital imprint) is a delightfully Derynian cultural excavation of the deeper definition of masculinity in the 20th century and beyond. His extended essay on the post-meterosexual landscape takes as its point of departure the doomed-teen anthem penned by David Bowie and performed by Mott The Hoople:
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And what, exactly, was a young dude? In the ’70s Southern California of my adolescence, “dude” was the universal form of address among teenaged males. A verbal virus spread by the surfer scene, “dude” was a jocular hi-sign, the verbal fist bump of male bonding. Variously inflected, it could also be a remonstration (dude!), a quizzical exclamation (dude?!), or a backslap of bong-loaded bonhomie (duuuuude, underscored with a Cheshire-cat grin). With the right verbal spin, the term could even signify Jeff Spicoli’s idea of satori, a kind of Tao of Whoahhh—the existential weightlessness common to surfers, stoners, and slackers, a state of mind incarnated by Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. But whatever else it was, “dude” was an expression of Dude-ism—straight guy-ness, distilled down to its bro-mantic, brewski-chugging, perpetually adolescent essence.
It’s doubtful Bowie spoke fluent Dude, in 1972. More likely, he reached for the word because of its historical associations with dandies and other Dedicated Followers of Fashion—the sort of “handsome young man, curled, well-dressed, pomaded, painted and powdered” (Edmond de Goncourt, on one of Proust’s friends) whose flamboyance or excessive fastidiousness in dress struck a note of unmanly vanity, even effeminacy.