Bumped into a quote from William Graham Sumner that seemed to add perspective to many of the issues I've been covering lately:
Fashion is by no means trivial. It is the form of the dominance of the group over the individual, and it is quite often as harmful as beneficial. There is no arguing with fashion. [...] The authority of fashion is imperative as to everything which it touches. The sanctions are ridicule and powerlessness. The dissenter hurts himself ....
We don't tend to think about things being "out of fashion" — or, more problematically, "nonconformist" — in a destructive way anymore. That's in big part because we have the unexamined assumption that everything is in and nothing is out — that if something's not part of the picture anymore, it's because there must be a perfectly good reason for it.
This attitude was encapsulated in a statement made by a friend of mine in reference to a book which had failed to garner an audience of any notable size: "Maybe that's because it's just not very good." For all anyone knew, him included, he was right — but again a tacit assumption reared its head. If it isn't popular, then there must be something wrong with it. The same thing happened when I showed up at a gathering of friends a couple of months ago sporting a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt, and someone else quipped, "If they're such a great band, how come I've never heard of them?"
Fashion is more than just what's currently stylish. It's about everything we have conveniently chosen to ignore for the sake of taking comfort in the moment. The algebra's easy to decipher: a panoply of choices is present, therefore everything is in and nothing is out. This is the same as telling ourselves we don't really need to look for anything interesting, let alone invent it.