MODERN TIMES: EVERYBODY WANTS EVERYTHING by Peter York (Heinemann Ltd.: $13.95, illustrated). "Modern Times" is a book about how things get "reconstructed, decorated, faked up, fiddled about with, rethought, redone." Modern, glossy things: wedge hair styles, platform shoes, politicians, "sports leisure" personalities like Bjorn Borg, the Chic Graphique collection of objects that decorate the yuppie household and the yuppie body. With the breezy style of an MTV anthropologist talking from a hair salon, Peter York begins with the basics. "People in the past lived in a style prison." "Style was--the way you were. It just was . "If you'd been a groom in the royal stables and you'd dressed up like the king, you'd have been put away for it. You'd have been either a pretender or a madman." Modern democracy allowed people to dress the way they wanted. It created "a lust for choice," the possibility of fashion for the masses. That said, York trots us through chapters on Political Style and Executive Style, but except for a section on Reactionary Chic, a snappy phrase the author coined, the early chapters are mostly, one might say, old hat. Flashier stylists like Tom Wolfe cruised the territory long ago, and assertions such as "TV changed everything," won't exactly rewrite Marshal McLuhan. But like nobody else I can think of, Peter York understands new-wave fashion. In America, this is now seen to be, essentially, the look of Music Television, but, explains York, it was all started oh-so-long-ago, mid-'70s, by style punks dying of boredom in sweat-box clubs in London basements, given meaning by those Saints of Cool, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, and finally blasted across the cable in the form of music videos to millions of little consumers who, no matter how rebellious they may seem to their parents, "in their heart of hearts still want something to belong to." Although the author refers to the British as "pale little people," he is definitely a Saxon-Druid fashion chauvinist. "White America never learned about posing ," fumes York. "America never had sharp dressing as part of the national teen story." America preferred "slack gutted men with long hair doing guitar solos." "Caring like these little English fashion intellectuals was for ethnics, fags and other cheesy outsiders. Real American life was too casual." You betcha! York finally asks what every exasperated ex-hippie mother of an MTV teen must ask herself: "Why do these kids put it all into looks, looks, looks?" His answer recapitulates the British misery. "What else is there-- there was never a young working-class politics in Britain, like in Europe; no middle-class American summer-campish open-air athletics and body culture; no sun so no silver surfers or street life; not that much leisurely sex--they did better with their clothes on." I like that last line. I mean, haven't the Brits always done better with their clothes on? In fact, I liked the book a lot. It's fast, witty, trenchant and more-or-less right. Too, too British in spots, it sometimes reads like the string of previously published magazine articles I gather it is, but "Modern Times" is vastly better than those glossy fashion non-books glopped out by the usual trendy hack. So what if it isn't Claude Levi-Strauss?