Huxley deals a lot with man’s “infinite appetite for distraction”, and extending from it, an economy of attention ruled by the inane, that nurtures an unreflective culture and allows power/authority to operate unquestioned. I’m afraid that Snapchat, in its ephemerality and structural content limitations (e.g. character limit, not possible to link off to other content), demands, or at least suggests as primary, vacuousness on a whole other level than media like Facebook or Twitter. It suggests that we should share things not worth keeping…
On changing the world and not
Dear technology startup: It sends a chill down my spine when you say you’ll change the world. Hitler changed the world. The Koch brothers are having a “scalable impact”. I need you to be more specific. What is the magnitude of the change? Is it tectonic or incremental? What are its moral dimensions? Will the world be more or less just as a result? Build cool stuff, by all means, but don’t delude yourself. Lies of effusion are some of the most insidious.
Frank Chimero puts it brilliantly:
Revolutionary, disruptive, magical, wizards, and on and on—contemporary digital culture has co-opted the language of revolution and magic without the muscle, ethics, conviction, or imagination of either. And it’s not that those things aren’t possible, we just aren’t living up to their meaning and instead saturating ourselves with hyperbole. These are words you have to earn, and slinging them around strips the words of their powerful meaning. Can you take a real revolution seriously if you are bombarded with messaging that says your phone is revolutionary?
You, who are so liberal and so humane, who have such an exaggerated adoration of culture that it verges on affectation, you pretend to forget that you own colonies and that in them men are massacred in your name.
I’d add that in many places (e.g. in American inner-cities) poverty is not just a condition of limited access to resources and opportunity. Poverty, of the entrenched, cyclical sort, is also a condition of culture, of the soul of a community. It is a chronic failure of hope, a sort of mass-scale depression, which has roots in material conditions, but becomes something more insidious, even, than the material conditions that engender it…
Interesting discussion on Quora.
This meme has such global appeal because it embodies the great promise of capitalism. It juxtaposes two extremes: the extreme of mindless, monotonous work with the extreme of libidinal freedom. This is the great promise that capitalism extends to youth around the world: if you spend your days and nights doing the menial, repetitive tasks that corporations depend upon, then your reward will be an orgy of unlimited freedom in the form of consumptive power.
Absurdism communicates a certain willingness to play with symbols that suggests a familiar ease with the world, with meaning, and with authority. This is the domain of elite class privilege, and particularly of white male privilege. We can go further still: absurdism not only reflects acquired status, it also enables access to that status. Mastering absurdism signals one’s ability to speak a certain class language; it flags participation in a distinctly white-collar world of college educated youth.
Perhaps overreaching, but certainly an interesting critique. Is there a similar critique to be made of, say, Lady Gaga? I.e. when the pursuit of the novel leads us to praise the mediocre-obtuse as some high manifestation of creativity, liberty, progress.
In practice, what television’s dominance has come to mean is that the inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics, and the influence of those who contribute it. That is why campaign finance reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas will continue to play a diminished role.
When an economic sociologist is asked why he attended the funeral of a fellow economic sociologist who he never had any sort of personal relationship with, this is a perfectly reasonable and sensical reply: “So he will come to mine!”
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
It Happened One Night
"It Happened One Night" is a sweet, beautifully architected film, with clever dialogue and superb acting. Truly timeless in its appeal, and superior to most of the drivel of our day, especially in the romcom category. It’s also kind of disturbing in how it rightfully elicits both whimsical sighs and ruminations a la "damn, that’s fucked up" from thoughtful contemporary audiences. The film is almost a treatise on how gallantry and chivalry can be tied up with chauvinism and an odd paternalism extending from it. Clark Gable’s character, Peter, is all charm, and then suddenly he’s giving a grown woman a spanking, or snapping "don’t do that, I’ll break your neck" or spouting about how so-and-so is the "type of woman who needs to get slugged once a day". And these moments play alongside the gentleman ideal and subtle sultriness embodied in the "the walls of jericho" (a blanket hung on a wire dividing a shared hotel room to give a young woman privacy, it later becomes the euphemism for the restrained sexual desire, and finally, for the indulging of this desire - when the characters fall in love and the walls are leveled) and Peter’s general caring for his lady companion. It’s an odd experience watching an excellent film, immersing yourself in the charm of another time, seeing in a character the gentleman you try to be, only to be jerked back into reality by a sudden revelation of the ugly underbelly of a world that you are tempted to feel nostalgia for.
Re-emergence of the Artisan Class
Fashion ≠ Style
There is a distinction in my mind between “fashion” and “style”. Fashion has always described, for me, the necessarily ephemeral creations of fashionistas and impresarios, and the acquisitive, novelty-seeking drive of the public that subscribes to them; it is contrived, dalliant, capricious, insecure. Style in turn, is that which emerges consistently in the tastes and choices of individuals even as fashions change; it’s not completely static, but it is slow moving, nostalgic, celebratory, confident.
In this sense, I think many people have a sense of fashion. The most fashionable are mavens at catching and acting on cues in the dizzying currents of popular culture, and have the access and means to pull this off regularly. They’re consumate consumers; they get the message on what they’re supposed to buy before everyone else, and we celebrate them for it.
Far fewer people, I think, have a sense of style. This is harder to measure, but one way of thinking of it might be to look back over the fashions you sported when you were 16 years old and see if there are coherent, purposeful, emergent strains that appear again in your wardrobe at 18 and 22 and 24 and 30. There are people out there I think, though I’m struggling for examples as I write this, who have a sort of consistent stylistic lexicon that comes into conversation, certainly, with the fashion of the day, and with factors such as age and weight, but isn’t dictated by it.
This crystallized for me recently when I took note of an impeccably well dressed colleague and thought at first “my, she is stylish”. Then, over the course of the next couple months, I realized that everyone was wearing what she was wearing, I just hadn’t been paying attention. She wore the fashion of the moment better than most and maybe got the “buy” message earlier. I had to wonder if her wardrobe would be 100% turned-over a year later, whether anything would remain to suggest a common thought or sensibility running through it all.
As for myself, I quit the exhausting exercise of fashion some years ago, realizing that most of us buy our aesthetic identities from one of several stores, and that those who put in a lot of effort have similar results to those who just grab some shirts off a shelf, within any given aesthetic niche (i.e. the difference between most stylish half and least stylish half of H&M shoppers is not huge as they’re drawing from a very limited possibility set). The only real differentiator in this game is spending power, but you can only buy a couple months of exclusivity.
It is also worth noting how some sub-cultures that pride themselves on individuality and difference in their aesthetic and other choices, and as a result seek out rare and/or novel forms, manage to look remarkably similar in general, even as they differ in the particulars (i.e. it doesn’t matter that yours is the only pair of those vintage turquoise skinny-jeans at the thrift-store, or maybe even in existence - I’m familiar with your look, my hipster friend).
It’s really frustrating when you go into a store where you’ve found things that fit your style in the past and there is a host of bizarre seasonal colors and cuts and designs sure to have the longevity of a Hollywood marriage. My reaction more often than not is, “Oh well, guess I won’t be buying clothes this year”. Better to go thread-bare than betray your style.
My favorite blazer is four years old, my choice dancing shoes the same, and I buy three of anything I love because I know that the sustained, engineered unsatisfaction and the consumption ethic it drives, will sweep the few that have style resonance aside. This same tide will bring these things back 20 or 15 or 10 or even 5 years later, pretending it’s new, or exalting its “vintage” quality - neither will be quite true, but I need some shirts to wear in the meantime.
Here are some hallmarks of my style that have re-emerged consistently since I was 16:
I like well cut jackets with high collars and buttons and square shoulders.
I like jeans that settle well at the tops of shoes and fit well at the waist, rather than sagging. I don’t like baggy jeans, nor particularly skinny ones.
I like wingtips, and slim, low-profile shoes.
I like crisp, tailored fit, long sleeve shirts, occasionally with subtle stripes.
I like earth tones and muted colors - brown, cream, tan, white, blue, black, grey, pink, with red as an occasional accent.
I like to layer.
I like fitted, long-necked sweaters, with button or zipper closure. And thermal shirts.
I like brimmed hats, especially fedoras, but rarely wear them because they compress my hair.
I like moderately sized sun glasses, preferably aviator style.
I like simple, mostly-natural fibres, especially soft, elastic cotton or coarse linen.
I like my facial hair short (no ironic mustache for me) and my head hair long and curly.
During the decades that Washington had a black majority, national policy makers and investors left the city’s aging infrastructure for dead. So it is astonishing to witness the about-face that has accompanied the influx of white professionals in the past decade. Now there are urban-friendly transportation policies, lavish corporate spending on education and billions in private real estate investment and development. As residents finally get the city they have always deserved, many black Washingtonians are feeling the rage of the loyal first wife, kicked to the curb as soon as things started looking up.
Some thoughts on Theatre and its corollaries in UX design.
On point commentary on American popular culture from Atmosphere:
'Rowdy, stubborn, loud and arrogant
As American as apple pie and embarrassment
Package the kid’s face, put it on display
Look ma!, another national disgrace
Dumb and ignorant, drunk and belligerent
Open up your heart y’all, come on and let me in
Package the kid’s face, put it on display
Look ma!, another national disgrace’
Musings at the intersection of Facebook, Digital Photography and College Culture.