Barebones; Tribal

By Jo Phillips

Take this hypothetical situation, two men cross paths in the street. They are strangers, they have never met, though they give each other a slight nod, simply because they have the same emblem, the same colour scheme on their chest. It’s almost absurd that, only because it’s the same brand, there’s recognition there.

I remember the first time I went to a football game. It was only a friendly, but I was only a boy and outside the stadium I was frightened, frightened by the chanting and by the number of men twice the size that I was. “They’ll look after you here” is what my father told me to put me at ease as we climbed the stairs to the stands. That stuck with me. And while it did initially settle me down, I later found it strange, that simply because I supported the same football team as these men, just because these men had purchased the same memorabilia as my dad had for me and because we shared the cockerel badge on our shirt, that this gave us some sort of unspoken togetherness. They weren’t my friends. I had never seen them before.

Back in May, an exhibition “The Art of the Football Shirt” launched in Copenhagen. A reflection on how the football shirt has become a vital part of streetwear, the exhibition is a curation of diverse vintage football kits which travel through history, politics, design and popular culture. These are kits worn by men with separate upbringings and different heritages and diverse lifestyles become tribal by their colours, while rival fans are people you may very likely have more in common with, yet they become your rival.

unnamedPartition in tribes as we traditionally know them is both somewhat uncontrollable and environmental, but also there’s an element of choice. We cannot choose where we are born, and certain factors when we come into this world are unavoidable. And so what we stand for is somewhat conditional to one’s birthplace and our heritage and our environmental location, though we do (granted- some more than others) have a choice, even if it’s not much of one.

But when we do have a choice, when you’re spoilt, when the possibilities of what you can represent are endless, tribalism becomes a very different thing. There are undoubtedly intellectuals and academics who know this subject better than myself, but at .Cent the football shirt exhibition got us thinking about how the almost sheepish nature of those who represent certain brands, are essentially involved in a form of tribalism.

We can label Thrasher-wearing youth skaters and Doc Martin, mohecan-donning boys and girls as punks. Certainly current stereotypes are less clear in the 21st Century and its not as easy to label someone one thing or another and is arguably more problematic to do so than ever before, but the Mods Vs Rockers era, which sparked a moral panic in the 1960s, is a clear example in which humans were so determined to represent something and challenge another, and shows how tribalism is still common in our recent culture. The mods, who would ride scooters and don Fred Perry garms and Harrington jackets and shave their heads, stood for blues-rooted bands amongst other things, while the rockers who rode their motorbikes and looked inspired by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, would battle for which group stood for who was better, socially and culturally.  Sometimes this even meant engaging in physical battle, meeting for a brawl just because of the different colours they wore, it didn’t matter if one man knew he had a cousin on the other side. This is what we are primitively programmed to do, to believe in one group and oppose a different one. Tribalism is in our uncanny routes. It’s primal.

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