When I was growing up, there were two distinct ways to prove your status as a cool kid in class. One was having MTV at home, and the other one was wearing Levi's jeans. (I had neither.) MTV at the time showed music videos rather than Teen Mom. I specifically remember going to my friend Anna's house after school to do our homework together and to watch MTV, and we'd both hope to see Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal. It was the coolest music video EVER. Anna also wore Levi's. She loved The Bangles and Bon Jovi. I, in contrast, wore my sister's hand-me-downs and liked Kim Wilde. (Anna, at that point, hadn't fully figured out that I was very un-cool. That time would come later.)
The few kids in my class who took vacations abroad occasionally came back with a suitcase full of Levi's 501s. You could buy Levi's in Finland, too, but if my memory serves me right, a pair cost up to 500 Finnish marks. That was a lot of money back then. If you knew that someone was going to the US, you'd just hope that you were in the right crowd and that you could persuade the child in question to bring you a pair of Levi's that would perhaps fit. Even if they didn't, you'd wear them anyway. It was all about that little red tag. Needless to say, my friends never went to the US and I led a very Levi'sless existence. That didn't stop me from admiring the kids who had got their hands on American gold. In America, I thought, everyone wore Levi's. Everyone had MTV. Everything was fancy, big and impressive. The people all looked like Brenda and Brandon of Beverly Hills, 90210. America had Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. I thought that Born in the USA was a song about how wonderful America was.
Gradually, my idea of the United States crumbled. I became aware of world politics and realized that America had done nothing to prevent genocide in Rwanda. American popular music had started to change dramatically, and I gravitated toward British music instead. Eventually MTV stopped airing Beavis and Butt-head. Regional MTVs took over the American original. Nothing was quite the same. The Levi's jeans just looked ill-fitting. I became disillusioned. Even Anna turned her back on the US and moved to Argentina.
I had a very negative impression of the US in my late teens and 20s. A lot of it had to do with my studies in the field of international relations. I took to the streets in Budapest (and later, in London) to protest against the war on Iraq. The Americans, in my opinion, had chosen a stupid president to represent their nation. That decision, in my eyes, must have been made by equally stupid people. I swore I'd never set my foot in the US.
In the end I did, in August 2003. I remember getting off the plane in Chicago, and I was stunned. As much as I had grown to dislike America over the years, I was still under the vague impression that things looked a certain way there. To my shock, the O'Hare airport was stuffy and dirty. The people were rude and every other person was horribly overweight. The toilets smelled. Everything looked old and worn. I spent a month traveling in different cities around the US: Chicago, Kansas City, St Louis, Cleveland, New York City and Washington D.C. (I have a picture of myself in front of the White House, making insulting gestures at George W. Bush). Overall, I met a lot of wonderful people and saw a lot of beautiful things. But nothing had fully prepared me to face the pot-holed roads, the buildings that desperately needed fixing, the homeless people, the consumerist mania and the income- and race-based segregation, in pretty much every single place I visited. It was only then that I fully realized that the greatest country in the world was also internally troubled and divided. The United States of America was just like any other country. It seemed to me that it had just done a lot of extra foot-work to look a certain way to the outsiders, to the ones who had no access to its realities.
Since I moved to the US almost two years ago I have learned a lot, but there is still so much for me to learn. I have become increasingly curious about this country's history, and have spent the past couple of weeks learning about the American Civil War (that wonderful Ken Burns documentary series has been playing on PBS). It has occurred to me that in the past I saw America as a foreign country only. The US acted very visibly and aggressively in the complicated framework of states, but I had no idea what its internal workings were. To a foreigner, it almost seemed as if it had no internal workings at all. It seemed as if its outside was all that there was. These days, every day I learn something new about those internal workings. Every day I try to understand the current political discussion, only to realize that I have to go way back to get a glimpse of the process that got us where we are now. I have come to understand that America has a fascinating, deeply divided, rich and multi-layered internal history. It is a crying shame that foreigners in general don't know much about it. As much as Europeans in particular bash Americans for their lack of general knowledge, the history of the United States is largely hidden from those outside its borders. A huge part of me feels ashamed of that silly, glorified image I had of the US as a child, but I am equally embarrased of my ignorant, hate-filled rantings later on in life.
But let's get back to where I started this post. I eventually got my first ever pair of Levi's when I was 14. They were my sister's old, faded-black 501s. When I grew out of them, I made them into cut-offs. I wore those cut-offs to my first ever music festival when I was 16. I saw Aerosmith.
I thrifted these Levi's jeans at Salvation Army recently. In the memory of the good old days, I made them into cut-offs. The pink hoodie is also thrifted. The boots are by John Fluevog and Lynn made the bracelet. I think the tights might be from Urban Outfitters.