May 1999
s m u g
by Heidi Pollock

Pocket Taxonomy

Between the flesh and the external world lies a twilight zone where the pocket reigns supreme. Pockets fill the gap between the inside of our protective garments and the outside of our self-conscious appearances. Pockets embody the emptiness of the great divide between ourselves and our surroundings. Nothing quite fits emptiness nearly as well as absence. All of which is why lately we find ourselves surrounded by so many pockets, awash in their vacancy, and laboring to accommodate this proliferation of nothing.

The return of the pocket is inseparable from the current cargo pant renaissance. The selfsame army pants of the punk rock 80s are suddenly a bold and fresh new fashion statement with everyone from LL Bean to Chanel offering up some inscrutable twist on the classic military uniform. The one thing these diverse designer ensembles have in common is a shared abuse of the externally visible so-called cargo pocket. As they cut across all social strata to oversaturate our culture, these countless pockets carry along a strange silent message.

It is tempting to dismiss the encroaching pockets as necessarily representative of our avaricious times. In the most primitive implementation a pocket is meant to hold stuff and if it's one thing we have these days it's a lot of stuff. To the delight of thieves everywhere, you can't hardly stick your hand into a pocket these days without encountering some sort of pager, cellphone or PDA. All manner of questionably useful electronic gadgetry that didn't even exist a decade ago is deemed absolutely necessary for a fulfilled modern life.

Amidst all this techno-fetishism there are few devices more future-forward than the pocket. Goodness knows that you've got to have some place to secure that cell phone when it comes time to tap out someone's vital digits on that tiny PDA touchpad. Like cars and kids and mistresses, one just doesn't seem to satisfy. Every gadget needs its own special pocket. Sleek cell phones need to be kept safely away from the dangerous scratchy keys. And that address book won't work with the wallet because the resulting unsightly bulge would be simply unacceptable. It's more than having the right stuff it's about having the right pockets because the surest truism of our time is No Touching.

There can be no mingling, no mixing, and no contact for today's objects. It is imperative to keep this stuff away from that stuff and furthermore to keep it all hidden. No mere bag will suffice in this regard. Bags are where things combine in an unseemly weltering mess. Even worse, bags are a burden. Were all this stuff that we tote around under the auspices of organization and connectivity and ease to be carried about in some gauche backpack it would belie the items' luxury status. The pocket is the means by which we preserve a false guise of carefree simplicity as we stagger about under the weight of all our luxury goods.

The trend which began with little more than big pouchy practical pockets hanging onto the sides of those mystifyingly huge pants has become an epidemic of dissembling utility. The guileless cargo pants were quickly followed by cargo skirts -- long hobbling ankle-length contraptions which eventually shrank into sexy miniskirts, subsequently forcing the pockets to evolve into less bulky and more flattened creatures in order to keep pace with changing hemlines. Unstoppable, the pockets crept onward and upward, staking out new niches for survival on chests and breasts and spawning tiny useless bastard kin on far flung arms swathed in jersey shirt-sleeves. Micro pockets barely large enough to tote around a match let alone an entire matchbook now adorn otherwise respectable t-shirts and can oft be found sitting stupidly upon the occasional cloth hat.

Ironically, as these pockets propagate they have become increasingly flat, two-dimensional, superficial and consequently increasingly unable to bear the burden of property that their purpose would seemingly dictate. The colonization of our bodies continues as these theoretical pocket constructs claim barren territory hitherto unencumbered by actual garments. Strap-on bicep pockets and velcro ankle attachments and waste-wrapping, hip-hugging flat-pocket pockets can render any portion of the body instantly practical and pocket-ready.

A pocket as a potential is a pocket without object. In some sense pockets are merely becoming more archetypal in their burgeoning emptiness. The Platonic Pocket is surely filled with Nothing. Today's newest self-styled pockets have been rendered all but incapable of appropriating anything other than the transitional surface and as such they represent true beacons of freedom from materialism.

The inflationary replication of pockets has left us with little more than folds of fabric too small and too flat to bear anything other than the pocket name. In the final analysis it seems that our growing need to cover ourselves with so many vacant pockets speaks of a deep seated ambivalence toward the technological hallmarks of progress. These useless pockets too awkward to contain anything but nothing are in effect a silent rage against the machine. Perhaps we fancy the dysfunctional pockets as emblems of protest against the false and cumbersome trappings of our modernity. Or perhaps not. Maybe it's just an empty trend.

in the junk drawer

and such
and such

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