Steven Frost’s merit badges are modeled on the patches that Boy Scouts receive for community service and educational efforts—archery, first aid, insect study, and so on; but Frost’s badges are far from these traditional do-gooder achievements. Instead, he commemorates the trivial junk of daily life. There’s the “Looking for Yourself in Missed Connections Badge,” and the “Badge for Losing Your Phone on the Chinatown Bus.” There’s a badge to recognize sexual fantasies and some are constructed from designer knock-off materials such as the Louis Vuitton logo pattern. It seems all the badges are granted for un-fulfillments rather than exceptional efforts. For the slacker class (over-praised by mommy, can’t fill daddy’s shoes), where irony is currency, these patches will look perfect fixed on pre-faded jeans and thrift-shop cardigans. Frost is new to Chicago, having moved recently from D.C. to earn a master’s degree in fiber art, where he’ll be the easy descendant of Darrel Morris’ embroidered anti-heroic mementos of insecurity.
The more interesting subtext here is Frost’s nod to the masculine ideal. Within the context of homosexuality, though, for Frost the reward is slim. Seemingly, homosexuality is incompatible with the Boy Scouts ethic, so Frost wonders what a gay badge might look like: surely it is well-designed, and it could incorporate brand names and frou-frou toile patterns, and perhaps some faces lifted from porno, but must it also be self-deprecating? (And did you know that the Boy Scouts award a badge for Textiles? So perhaps the Boy Scouts have already been ‘queered’ before Frost arrived.)
The Leather Archives and Museum, on the city’s North Side, may be a fruitful reference stop for Frost’s would-be self-actualization service. There, scrapbooks are filled with the markers of gay alliances and sub-subcultures revolving mostly around sex clubs and bars. The patches are not only small pieces of history, but also well-crafted, sewn symbols that bespeak self-made community, attitude and pride; Frost’s badges are the antithesis to these empowering patches.
Published in Newcity (March 23, 2009)