- Text by Niall Neeson
There is a skateboarder from Scandinavia called Albert Nyberg. His breakthrough into the realms of contemporary culture came via the stratospheric interest in his debut video part for an obscure and inevitably eclipsed Swedish skateboard company, Newsoul. Nyberg was an unknown prior to now, but with his unstoppable rise came a massive quandary for the tastemakers of boardsport’s most powerful cultural hub.
Nyberg’s advanced otherness was technically lightyears ahead, but almost knowingly dismissive of the ‘style’ norms of ‘alternative’ culture (read: we like our non-conformists to be conforming non-conformists). When the part was hosted as an internet noisemaker on the steadfastly followed SLAP Skateboard Magazine website, it was introduced with the byline, “This will either psyche you out or gross you out,” (read: because we don’t know whether or not Albert is ‘legit’ until such times as we hear the cool guy consensus and the bestowment of ‘legit’).
It’s because the truth is that legit just means cool with one very interesting semantic difference.
Swap legit for cool in a sentence and it almost always works; do that in Scrabble and you are four points and a potential Triple Word Score up. What has happened in our time is that the concept of cool has become uncool, a snide ‘Already Post-That’ sneer at the very effort involved in caring enough to try.
In cool’s wake came ‘legit’, a corny self-regarding turd of an expression which is always silently suffixed with “…and I should know, being well-fucking-legit myself.”
Where cool was an aspirational, whimsical state of being, peopled by folk like Paul Weller and knowing trollops, legitness comes with the quiet inference of something being bestowed upon from above. You didn’t have to be cool to know what cool was, but with legit the reverse is palpably implied. People who talk about this or that being legit are almost inevitably insecure wankers who privately fancy themselves as silent ferrymen over the Styx of style, doormen at the Masonic Lodge of Ca$h Money.
Legit is to pass through the eye of the modern cultural needle, defined as much by what legit didn’t do as did. Sounds fruity when you see it like that, right? That’s ’cos it actually is.
For this is the disappointing part of contemporary culture: we have allowed ourselves to become defined by what we are against rather than what we are for. The advent of the internet has accelerated a sense whereby being ‘Already Post-That’ is actually a preferred default position on any modern phenomena.
And that pose is so contrived it makes my teeth itch. Don’t even get me started on losers who drone on about whether they are or aren’t ‘backing’ something, like their endorsement means anything.
You didn’t have to be cool to know what cool was, but with legit the reverse is palpably implied.
What we have witnessed lately is the reversal of things becoming popular. Instead we popularise them briefly, then the cultural wave washes over them. Look at Myspace. Rupert Murdoch thought he saw the future of media and gambled to the tune of $250 million, even as it was becoming evacuated faster than Hanoi. The culture tired of its piercing photos and garish layouts. How could it not? Anybody who suggested it was going to be a lead zeppelin was derided for not knowing ‘the kids’. Hmmmm.
Or take Big Brother, the Endemol TV show which in a single series changed global television scheduling, started a genuine conversation about the essence of human nature and voyeuristic surveillance culture, and yet a year later was the sole preserve of failed strippers and the mentally infirm? How’d that happen? Culture moved beyond it, is what.
Which brings us back to the ghastly matter of legit, and what the pretentious assignation of legit-ness says about the bestower, rather than the bestowed.
Soon, legit will be David Brent giving it Gangnam Style at the office party.
And deservedly so; Albert Nyberg, it turns out, is so far off the radar of what constitutes contemporary legit skateboarding that he has in fact changed the reference points of the game.
The arbiters of legitimacy have been left in the slipstream of his magic like those space cadets you see standing in traffic signalling at the cars, all the while believing they control the flow around them. Lock your door as you drive past, but if you roll over one, well… no great loss.