The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'cool'
Alex Proud, who previously wrote about the Shoreditch-modelled gentrification and sanitisation of the down-at-heel parts of London, has a new article about the end state of this process of gentrification and the future of hyper-gentrified London, a homogeneously rich, clean, and dull, place, with all the edginess and excitement of Geneva or central Paris, a city of "joyless Michelin starred restaurants and shops selling £3,000 chandeliers":
Two decades on and you can play a nostalgic little game where you remind yourself what groups London’s inner neighbourhoods were known for 20 years ago. Hampstead: intellectuals; Islington: media trendies; Camden: bohemians, goths and punks; Fulham: thick poshos who couldn’t afford Chelsea; Notting Hill: cool kids; Chelsea: rich people. Now, every single one of these is just rich people. If you want to own a house (or often just a flat) in these places, you need a six figure salary or you can forget it. And, for anyone normal, that means working in finance.
Inner Paris is a fairytale for wealthy people in their fifties (and outer Paris looks like Stalingrad with ethnic strife) while Geneva has dispensed with the poor altogether. As a result, both cities are safe, pretty and rather boring places to live – and soon London will be too.The article is a fine rant, dripping with bons mots like “Bitcoins for oligarchs”, “like Jay-Z as reimagined by someone who works at Goldman Sachs”, and “the bastard offspring of Kirstie Allsopp and Ayn Rand”; the prognosis is not hopeful for London either:
Why? Because the financiers who can afford inner London neighbourhoods are not cool. Visit Canary Wharf at on any weekday lunchtime and watch the braying, pink-shirted bankers disporting themselves. Not cool. Peruse the shops at Canary Wharf. From Gap to Tiffany’s, they’re all chains stores and you could be anywhere wealthy, safe and dull in the world. Rich people like making money and spending it on dull, expensive things. That’s what they do – and they’re very good it. But being a high-end cog in the machine is not cool.
In the short term, our city’s young creative class will continue to move further and further out. Is New Cross the new Peckham? Is Walthamstow the new Dalston? But there are limits to this: there’s not much of a vibe in Ruislip and there never will be; really, the cool inner suburb ship sailed in 2005. So, when you’re stuck out amongst the pebble-dashed semis of Zone 4, miles from a centre that’s mainly chain shops, boutiques for the tacky rich and restaurants you can’t afford or even book, you might start wondering if the World’s Greatest City (TM) really is for you. Then maybe you’ll visit friends, somewhere like Bristol or Newcastle or Leeds or Glasgow. And maybe you’ll discover that there you can buy a house that’s walking distance to a centre full of shops that cater to you, restaurants that want your custom and pubs and clubs whose prices wouldn’t make someone in Gstaad blanch... Perhaps London’s craven fealty to the ghastly rich will finally accomplish what no government policy ever has – it will rejuvenate our provincial cities.Though chances are, the cities with fast links to London will end up hypergentrified as well; Brighton (or “London-by-the-sea”, as some call it) is well on the way to going there, and some speculate that places like Margate (one hour from London along a partly high-speed railway, and already sprouting vintage shops and a modern art gallery amongst the everyday-is-like-Sunday shabbiness) could end up following suit. Birmingham, meanwhile, might jump from never-quite-fashionable to bourgeois luxury for the new-economy elite when HS2 arrives, allowing those who aren't fully-fledged partners to afford somewhere within an easy commute of Canary Wharf.
Proud blames this state of affairs on a system rigged to pander to the beneficiaries of this state of affairs—house-flippers, buy-to-let landlords, ex-Soviet oligarchs looking for somewhere to park their wealth—at the expense of the little people to whom it is made clear that the city does not belong, and who are gradually squeezed further out, towards the periphery and beyond; who still hold onto their shrinking, expensive foothold on the precious land inside the M25, believing that it's stil worth it because of the aura of brilliance surrounding the idea of London; an aura increasingly based in nostalgic delusion, and one which can't last.
Readers of the Guardian or New Statesman will have seen this story numerous times, from different angles and at different points in time, more or less the same, only with the place names moved slightly further out every year. However, part of the message here is in the medium; Proud is writing in the Daily Telegraph, a paper owned by the Barclay Brothers, long associated with the Conservative Party (it's often nicknamed the Torygraph), and one which one might imagine would be perfectly au fait with the ideals of the Thatcherite “property-owning democracy”. When the Torygraph is publishing articles bemoaning how gentrification is hollowing out and sterilising London, then perhaps it is time to be concerned.
I wonder how much this is due to one of the less-often-quited corollaries of the neoliberal/market-oriented mindset of the recent few decades: the idea that anything of value is traded on a market, and everything is a convertible hard currency, this time applied to cultural capital. It used to be that cultural capital and economic capital were separate spheres, and absolutely not interconvertible. There were no cool rich kids, or those who were hid their economic capital. (The word “cool”, in fact, originated with socially and politically disenfranchised African-Americans; in its original meaning, the word didn't mean chic, fashionable or at the top of the status hierarchy, but refered to an unflappability, an unwillingness to let the constant low-level (and not so low-level) insults and aggressions of an institutionally racist and classist system be seen to get you down; as such, it was, by definition, the riches of the poor, the exclusive capital of those excluded from capital.)
Fast forward to the present day; after Milton Friedman declared everything to be convertible goods in a market. Reagan and Thatcher applied this to economic goods, launching the “Big Bang” of deregulation and the 20-year economic bubble that followed. Then the Clinton/Blair era of the “Third Way” coincided with its own Big Bang, this time deregulating the cultural marketplace; starting off with Britpop and going on to Carling-sponsored landfill indie, New Rave, hipster electro (and indeed the recycling of the term “hipster”, originally meaning a habitué of the grimy jazz-and-heroin demimonde of the Beat Generation, now referring to trust fund kids in limited-edition trainers), yacht rock, chillwave and whatever. The old regulatory barriers between the mainstream and the underground were swept away as surely as the barriers between high-street and investment banks had been a decade earlier; the rise of the internet and the cultural globalisation played a part in it, though the mainstreaming of market values once seen as radical would also have had a hand. Soon everything was in a commodity available on the marketplace; 1960s guitar rock and Mod iconography was revived as Britpop, post-punk, stripped of unmarketable references to Marxism, Situationism and existentialist paperbacks and sexed up, as generic NME-cover “indie”, and we were faced with a multifaceted 80s revival that ran for longer than the 80s. Major-label pop producers used ProTools plug-ins to grunge up their protégés, giving them that authentically lo-fi “alternative” sound, while bedroom producers armed with cheap laptops and cracked software made tracks that sounded as expensively polished as anything heard in a Thatcher-era wine bar. Knowing about Joy Division or Black Flag was no longer a badge of being “hip”, as anyone with an internet connection could do the research; the new shibboleths were evanescent memes, like referencing Hall & Oates right down to the facial hair, or reviving New Jack Swing and calling it “PBR&B”, or the whole Seapunk subculture; currents one wouldn't have caught wind of in time without being connected, and whose cultural value became void once the wider world heard of them.
This coincided with the dismantling of free education, the rise in income inequality, and the gentrification of “cool” areas full of the young and creative, and soon it was a good thing that having economic and social capital didn't bar one from cultural capital, because having a trust fund was increasingly a prerequisite. If Mater and Pater bought you a flat near London Fields for your 18th birthday, and if you had a reserve of money to spend while you “found yourself”, and the likelihood of being able to land an internship on a career track in the media once your Southern-fried-hog-jowls-in-katsu-curry food truck failed or you got bored of playing festivals with your respectably rated bass-guitar-and-Microkorg duo, then you had the freedom to explore and develop, and that development could take a number of forms; travelling the world's thrift shops, picking up cool records and playing them at your DJ night, spending the time you don't need to work for money getting good at playing an instrument (and recent UK research shows that people in wealthier areas tend to have better musical aptitude), or just growing a really lush beard. With the rolling back of the welfare state and the "race to the bottom" in wages, these quests for self-actualisation are once again the preserve of the gentry; it's rather hard to develop your creative voice when you're on zero-hour contracts, and spend all your time either working in shitty jobs, looking for work, or commuting from where you can afford to live. And so economic capital has colonised cultural capital, and what passes for “cool” now belongs to those with money. It's not quite like a Gavin McInnes troll-piece about the coke-addicted bankers' scions who form the Brooklyn scene or a Vice_Is_Hip parody tweet about the coolest bar in the Hamptons or the latest sartorial trends from Kuwait's hippest princelings, but those are looking less and less unbelievable.
The question is, what happens in the end? Will cultural capital converge with economic capital, and “cool” be redefined to be a sort of cultural noblesse oblige, a manifestation of wealth and status, or will, as Proud suggest, the whole thing collapse into a cultural low-energy state of tidy tedium?
Alexis Petridis looks at the decline in visible youth subcultures; i.e., how, whereas a few decades ago, teenagers would differentiate themselves into subcultures, each with its style of dress, music, and other unfalsifiable badges of commitment, today's teens no longer do this:
And I've had a long and fascinating conversation with historian David Fowler, author of the acclaimed book Youth Culture in Modern Britain, who has an intriguing, if controversial, theory that subcultures such as hippy and punk had very little to do with the actual teenagers who participated in them – "They were consumers … they were sort of puppets" – and were instead informed and controlled by a slightly older, university-educated generation. "Youth culture as a kind of transformative, counter-cultural philosophy, it has to be shaped by older people and invariably it's by students," he says. Today, the lack of anything equivalent to the radical student movements of the 60s that fed into both the hippy movement and punk means a lack of ideas trickling down into pop culture.
But the most straightforward, prosaic theory is that, as with virtually every area of popular culture, it's been radically altered by the advent of the internet: that we now live in a world where teenagers are more interested in constructing an identity online than they are in making an outward show of their allegiances and interests. "It's not neccesarily happening on street corners any more, but it's certainly happening online," says Adams. "It's a lot easier to adopt personas online that cost you absolutely nothing apart from demonstrating certain types of arcane knowledge, what Sarah Thornton called subcultural capital. You don't have to invest in a teddy boy's drape suit or a T-shirt from Seditionaries."Of course, arcane knowledge in the age of Wikipedia and YouTube is hardly a barrier to entry, being little more than a token amount of homework; an otherwise naïve teenager with a desire to belong could do the legwork and become an expert on, say, DC Hardcore or early-80s Gothic Rock, in a Saturday afternoon, in between more official forms of schoolwork. Once you know the coordinates of a piece of cultural capital, you can own it without leaving your bedroom, and so being into obscure subcultural genres is no longer a peacock-tail, a difficult-to-falsify indicator of passing some criteria (in this case, belonging to and being accepted by a subculture). So subculture has evolved into a mélange of underground cool, commercial mainstream and utter kitsch, with veins of irony and sincerity running through it, with the map of where the mines are buried—what's in and what's out, what's genuinely cool, what's ironically cool (for several possible levels of irony), what's passé, and what was passé but is fit for semi-ironic reclamation, being passed along by word of mouth.
Modern subcultures, thus, look a lot different from the fiercely committed youth tribes of the 60s/70s/80s; there are no external uniforms or fixed musical allegiances (once one outgrows Justin Bieber and/or One Direction, of course), but rather a whole wealth of the last half-century's pop-cultural paraphernalia to plunder and mash up like Noel Fielding on a meow-meow binge. What emerges tends to be more evanescent, thriving in the blogosphere, spawning a wave of YouTube videos and MP3 mixes (incidentally, the music tends to be made electronically on laptops or even phones/tablets and influenced by rap and dance music, and parties/music nights for all these subcultures are called “raves”), and, by the time the recording industry and the Urban Outfitters of this world notice, being discarded and declared dead by its creators, no longer fit for its original purpose. One example of this is the Seapunk subculture that was big a few years ago:
And then there's seapunk, a movement that started out as a joke on Twitter, turned into a Facebook page, then gained traction to the point where it became a real-life scene, with a seapunk "look" that involved dyeing your hair turquoise, seapunk club nights and seapunk music. "Seapunk is the name of a mid-western club movement created by a group of turquoise-haired twentysomethings who like to drown warehouse breakbeats in a flood of sub-bass and watery Wu-Tang samples," ran one piece in style magazine Dazed And Confused. "The term was originally envisioned in a psychedelic GIF dream by Lil' Internet, but producer Fire For Effect has been responsible for turning it into a fully fledged lifestyle." Before you dismiss that as sounding like something made up by Charlie Brooker for a forthcoming series of Nathan Barley, it's perhaps worth noting that seapunk genuinely appeared to make an impact on mainstream pop: the seapunk look was variously appropriated by rapper Azealia Banks, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. In any case, I'm too late. One of seapunk's supposed core members, Zombelle, apparently declared the movement dead when pop stars started cottoning on to it, which perhaps tells you something about subcultures in 2014.Petridis' article mentions one modern subculture, though: “haul girls”, whose mode of cultural production is to make YouTube videos of clothing and accessories they have bought.
Down the phone, Helina is explaining what a haul girl is to me. "Basically, you go out shopping for clothes or beauty products," she says, "then you make a haul video and show viewers on YouTube what you got. You go through the items of clothing one by one. I guess what people get out of them is not showing off, like, how much money you've got or anything, but lifestyle: you get to see how one person lives, what their taste is."Along similar lines, it may be that modern youth are not starting a subculture unless they get paid for it:
17-year-old Wayne Hayes said: “We’ve got great concepts interweaving music, drugs and politics in radical new ways that will change the world forever. “But first we need a cash injection to get our subculture through the development stage.
Teenagers are hinting at something ‘really big’ possibly called ‘Snung’ which over people 30 cannot relate to on any level. 16-year-old Nikki Hollis said: “It’s not just drum machines and weird hats, it’s something altogether different involving psychic powers and colours you can hear.To be honest, “Snung” sounds like it'll decay into another form of “new rave” and/or neo-hippy psychedelia within nanoseconds of contact with the commercial sphere.
Rupert Murdoch, the patriarch of the Right in the English-speaking world over the past few decades, has bought 5% of VICE, the hipster magazine/record label/documentary producer:
Fox, which was spun off from News Corp earlier this year, confirmed the $70m (£45m) deal, which marks the latest stage in the evolution of Vice from an off-beat Canadian magazine into a global brand frequently dubbed the hipsters' bible.One does wonder what Murdoch's motivation is: is this a purely business decision, that of the last of the old broadcast-age newspapermen seeing his original world's time running out and trying to break into the new paradigm, either from scratch (the ill-fated Daily iPad magazine) or by buying his way in (MySpace, and now VICE)? Or is it Murdoch, the quintessential right-wing ideological warrior, responding to a different shift—namely, the political Right's electoral and opinion-forming base being set to shrink as the scared old people eventually die and their ranks aren't replenished by younger people who aren't sufficiently scared of gays, boats, gays on boats, atheism, socialism, uppity sheilas or brown people to pick up on watching FOX News or agreeing wholeheartedly with the Rush Limbaughs and Andrew Bolts of this world that everything's going to hell. (And if they agree that everything's going to hell, they'd be more likely to pin the cause on being neoliberalism and regulatory capture by sociopathic elites than foreigners, feminism or the decline in traditional values, which is not quite the message Murdoch and his ilk would approve of.)
As such, what if the purchase of a stake in VICE is the first stage in creating a means of selling the values of the Murdochian Right to the sorts of nominally socially progressive trend-seeking young urbanites—let's call them “hipsters”—who typically regard the Tories/Republicans with disdain, or if that's a bridge too far, of instilling a cynical contempt for leftist idealism, that places it behind the (obviously uncool) old Right among those in the know.
The positional good of Cool that is the currency of hipsters and the readership of VICE has a number of paradoxical properties, which emerge from it being not an absolute quest for truth or an ideal for living, but a positional good in the marketplace of status. One of these properties is that anything that's too obviously right on, and thus must, to a novice, be obviously cool is not really cool. (Imagine, if you will, a provincial teenager from a small village somewhere obsessively studying the classics of cool, and then, one day, moving to the big city and gravitating to the epicentre of hipness they have read about—say, to Dalston or Williamsburg, Newtown or Neukölln, or the equivalent in your city of choice. He spends some weeks hanging around bars, posing in his meticulously styled clothes and hairstyle, looking dishevelled and insouciant in precisely the right way, before being noticed and getting invited to a warehouse party. At that party, another hipster (about the same age, equally sharply styled, though having been in town for six months longer) asks him what music he's into, and as he reels off a curriculum vitæ of classically cool and credible bands—say, Joy Division, the Velvet Underground, the Smiths, Neutral Milk Hotel—you can almost hear her eyes rolling back, over the sound of the DJ segueing from Hall & Oates into a hard-wonky mashup of an old Michael Bolton track.) So for cool to function as a peacock-tail-style proof of connectedness, it must be disconnected, at least to some extent, from anything objectively inferable from first principles, and consist at least partially of arbitrary conventions, and furthermore, it must not be possible to fake knowledge by merely going by what is commonly known to be cool and reeling off a list of the classics.
One side-effect of this is that cool is not intrinsically connected to earnestness or principles, whether it's the inherent authenticity of post-punk guitar rock or the principles of the New Left; it can ride with such principles while they're outside of the mainstream (and function as a shibboleth in themselves), but no further. Sooner or later, major recording labels will discover grunge rock and “alternative music” and flood the market with authentically rough-sounding bands; soon after that, the hipsters will cede that territory, abandoning the equation of roughness with authenticity and look elsewhere, an then we get electroclash, Yacht Rock and new waves of Italo-disco made by hardcore punks. The same can go with ideals, no matter how lofty. The cool kids were all vegans who boycotted Nike sweatshops once, but once vegetarianism and anti-sweatshop campaigns went mainstream, they're more likely to be artisanal carnivores with meticulously curated vintage Nike collections. Conspicuously boycotting meat and sweatshop-made trainers is like showing up at a loft party in Bushwick and enthusing about this awesome band named The Pixies whom you've just discovered.
Assuming that someone like Rupert Murdoch wants to sell right-wing politics (or at least cynicism of, and disengagement from, the ideals of the progressive Left) to hip urbanites, the help of VICE Magazine could be indispensable. The wilfully contrarian tone VICE has often adopted is not too far from downward-punching conservative humorists like P.J. O'Rourke and Jeremy Clarkson, and with a bit of guidance could be put to use against overly earnest progressives. Granted, actually selling membership to the Conservative Party (or its equivalent) would be a stretch too far, though it's conceivable that, with a few strategically dissembling attack pieces, a Murdoch-guided VICE could, for example, hole the Australian Greens (whom Murdoch has said must be “destroyed at the ballot box”) below the waterline amongst crucial inner-city demographics. (A piece about how the dreams of “leftist utopians” like Stalin, Mao and Guevara have caused vast amounts of suffering, with an insinuation that that's what the Greens would have in store if they ever came to power, may be enough; similar calumnies have worked remarkably well among older demographics in the Australian.) In Britain, meanwhile, while saying nice things about David Cameron may be a dead loss, subtly building up Boris Johnson could be doable, as could attacking the critiques of Bullingdonian privilege often brought to bear against blue-blooded Tory politicians. Indeed, a sort of “hipster Bullingdonianism”, a celebration of privilege à la Vampire Weekend and rejection of the by now mainstream idea that soaring inequality is bad or dangerous, could be not too far from a Murdochian Vice.
Researchers in the US have been investigating the question of what is “cool” from a psychological perspective, hitting the dichotomy between the two opposite poles which can be described with this term: on one hand, agreeability and popularity, and, on the other hand, a vaguely antisocial countercultural/oppositional stance reflected in the classic iconography of rebels and outlaws from the history of cool:
"I got my first sunglasses when I was about 13," said Dar-Nimrod. "There wasn't a cooler kid on the block for the next few days. I was looking cool because I was distant from people. My emotions were not something they could read. I put a filter between me and everyone else. That, in my mind, made me cool. Today, that doesn't seem to be supported. If anything, sociability is considered to be cool, being nice is considered to be cool. And in an oxymoron, being passionate is considered to be cool—at least, it is part of the dominant perception of what coolness is. How can you combine the idea of cool—emotionally controlled and distant—with passionate?"
"We have a kind of a schizophrenic coolness concept in our mind," Dar-Nimrod said. "Almost any one of us will be cool in some people's eyes, which suggests the idiosyncratic way coolness is evaluated. But some will be judged as cool in many people's eyes, which suggests there is a core valuation to coolness, and today that does not seem to be the historical nature of cool. We suggest there is some transition from the countercultural cool to a generic version of it's good and I like it. But this transition is by no way completed."The researchers claim that the concept of “cool” is mutating away from the oppositional/rebellious sense and towards straight agreeability.
If this phenomenon does bear itself out, there may be a number of possible explanations. Perhaps, as the countercultural struggles against the repressive hegemony of the “squares” have receded into folk memory of The Fifties and everyone wears jeans, listens to rock and has smoked a joint at least once in their lives, the idea of the rebel is left with even less of a cause than before Perhaps the shift in the meaning of “cool” has something to do with the ongoing process of commodification of the counterculture, with the sneers and icy glares of vintage cool now being little more than a mask for agreeable dudes to put on when the occasion suits. Or perhaps, in the information age, being agreeable and well-connected confers a greater advantage than being tough and detached. One would imagine that this would be the case in most normal situations, in which case, the old world of tough guys and strong, silent types would have been an anomalous case, a hostile environment which traumatised its inhabitants into growing expensive carapaces of character armour.
Another option would be that the meaning of “cool” is not, in fact, changing (this study doesn't seem to involve surveys done decades earlier to gauge what people thought at the time, and compares living attitudes with canned stereotypes), and that the word “cool” has several meanings; when it's used as a term of approval for a person, it has always indicated agreeability, whereas when talking about fictional characters, it suggested a certain type of antiheroic asshole.
Could it possibly be the case that Kenny G is now hipper than Prince?
"The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it.... Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."
Kenny G says if the Internet is dead "then I must be dead, too, 'cause I use it all the time." He adds with a laugh: "Maybe I've got a sixth sense, and I only see dead people. I don't know."Actually, Kenny G being considered "cool", in the post-Yacht Rock world in which Hall & Oates and 1980s R&B acts are cooler amongst the hipsters than any new-wave/post-punk band (that entire lo-fi/angular/jangly type of music having been overexposed by youth-oriented marketing campaigns until it has as much cachet as the Ray Bans and leather jackets worn by breakfast cereal mascots, and so those in the know are embracing the smooth, leaving post-punk to the clueless arrivistes) is not that far-fetched. Granted, Mr. G's oeuvre is still a bit too recent, though in a few years' time, the hippest of the hipsters may be spinning him at their art parties. (Tracks from his new album, "the R&B-flavoured 'Heart and Soul'", according to the article, may well end up in DJ sets between glo-fi/chillwave tracks and neo-italo-disco jams made by former noise-punk bands.)
The BBC News Magazine takes a look at the biggest-selling records of the 1960s, revealing that, in contrast with the super-groovy sounds later associated with the decade, they were, by all accounts, not very cool:
the best-sellers of the Sixties include healthy dollops of yodelling, crooning and clarinet-tootling among the recordings that are now part of the rock canon.Among the 1960s biggest-selling recording artists in the UK were easy-listening crooners like Ken Dodd, Engelbert Humperdinck and Frank Ifield (who not only crooned and didn't rock but also yodelled; completely unironically, of course) and wobbleboard maestro Rolf Harris. As far as I know, none of them ever ended up on a Ben Sherman T-shirt.
Of course, the 1960s and "the 1960s" are completely different things and shouldn't be confused with each other. The former is a stretch of ten solar years, starting and finishing at arbitrary points, whereas the latter is a cultural construct created in retrospect by observing what happened in the former, filtering out inconveniently outlying points and making up stories about it until a narrative emerges. And as the narrative emerges, often events that happened get subsumed into the background. So, while in the 1960s, groovy youth culture flourished in reaction against a more square status quo, and this status quo was the backdrop; "the 1960s", however, were a riot of psychedelic colour and stylish coolness; everybody was a Mod or a Rocker or else taking acid and listening to the Beatles. Much like everybody in the 1970s was a punk, a disco dancer or a super-smooth yacht rocker, and the 1980s were all about new-wave synthpop, fluorescent colours and the odd bit of hair metal.
It's like a cultural equivalent of the psychoacoustic audio compression used in MP3 files. When a sound recording is encoded to a MP3 file, the algorithm analyses it and discards the frequencies that a human listener wouldn't notice. A MP3 file is essentially a caricature of the original recording made up of the more salient frequencies; your brain fills in the gaps and you don't notice the difference. In a similar way, the historical process of interpreting a decade involves thrashing out its salient characteristics and discarding the rest. It's an ongoing process, and "the 1960s" (and "the 1970s" and "the 1980s" and onward) keep evolving in line with contemporary tastes; "the 1960s" which The Bangles and Lenny Kravitz referenced in the 1980s is not the same as the more rockist, geezerish "the 1960s" of post-Britpop lad-indie Britain. Neither, however, featured Rolf Harris.
The Graun has an interview with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, in which he talks about, among other things, the mechanisms of "cool" and pretentiousness:
"I actually want to write a treatise in defence of pretension," he says. "I think the word pretension has become like the word ironic – just this catch–all term to distance people from interesting experiences and cultural engagement and possible embarrassment. Pretension can lead to other things. You know, the first time I read Gravity's Rainbow, I did so because I thought it would make me seem cool. That was my original motivation. But now I've read it six times, and I find it hilarious and great and I understand it. You can't be afraid to embarrass yourself sometimes."
The idea of the "End of History" is one which never goes away; every so often, it'll come back in a new guise. Its latest incarnation comes from none other than Brian Eno, who claims that nothing is "uncool" anymore.
We’re living in a stylistic tropics. There’s a whole generation of people able to access almost anything from almost anywhere, and they don’t have the same localised stylistic sense that my generation grew up with. It’s all alive, all “now,” in an ever-expanding present, be it Hildegard of Bingen or a Bollywood soundtrack. The idea that something is uncool because it’s old or foreign has left the collective consciousness.That makes sense (after all, when your aging parents used to be punk rockers, the shock value of music-as-generational-rebellion is somewhat played out). However, to extrapolate from this to the "death of uncool" doesn't quite follow. Granted, the old and foreign are no longer "uncool", partly because the idea of defining oneself against them has become passé (and thus in itself "uncool"). But nothing being uncool? What about Coldplay? U2? Or even Kenny G (proof, perhaps, that there are some things so uncool that they are immune to the process of reclamation into the Goldmine), or the Christian Side Hug rappers; the list goes on.
Japanese War Tubas. I repeat, Japanese War Tubas:
Seen on this page. The war tubas look like a musical instrument (some kind of Dadaist/Futurist sound-art device, or perhaps a super-loud military-band instrument designed to strike terror into the hearts of enemies, much as bagpipes were), but they were actually devices for acoustically locating incoming aircraft. I wouldn't be surprised if the photograph in question has graced at least one CD of experimental music/noise-art.
When he handed down the ruling in the Da Vinci Code plagiarism case, Mr. Justice Peter Smith could not resist byt embed his own coded message into it:
The first clue - the word claimants with the s in italics - is found in paragraph one of the document. In the next paragraph, the m in claimant is italicised. Read together, the italicised letters in the first seven paragraphs spell out the self-referential legend "Smithy code".
After the "Smithy Code" series, there are an additional 25 jumbled letters contained on the first 14 pages of the document, Mr Tench said.This isn't the first instance of judges having a bit of fun with the presentation of their rulings:
Although some of the more creative members of the bench have occasionally been known to write their judgments in verse or rhyming couplets, few have gone to the same cunning lengths as Mr Justice Smith. "It's not really something that you expect from a judge," Mr Tench said. "Someone said to me: 'Isn't that rather irresponsible?', which I thought was a rather joyless reaction. It just shows that our judges are human."
When portable devices have excess CPU cycles, things like this become possible:
The video shows a mobile phone (one of the high-end Windows ones) analysing an image from its camera, and rendering and overlaying a 3D character over it in close to real time (it gets something around 11fps).
Quite probably the world's coolest-looking pizza cutters, which look like some kind of collision between Gigeresque biomechanics, steampunk and cyberpunk:
Got an empty room, some free time and the urge to amuse and confuse visitors? Why not make a sideways room?
(via bOING bOING)
A British designer has created a coffee mug with a shelf for storing biscuits. The Dunk Mug, sensibly enough, comes in left- and right-handed variants. (via bOING bOING)
This is very cool; detailed drawings of the skeletal systems of various cartoon characters, including Charlie Brown, Hello Kitty, various Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera characters and the Powerpuff Girls, done in 19th-century anatomy textbook fashion, showing the freakishly distorted physiognomies of the characters in question. These are currently being exhibited in an art gallery in Portland, Oregon. Anyway, judging by these drawings, without their cartoonish skin, a lot of these characters would fit in well in glass cases in some Victorian eccentric's wünderkammer. (via bOING bOING/Toby)
Thomas Frank on the corporatisation of cool, on how ersatz "rebellion" (and ersatz "authenticity") is the engine of consumerism, and the false hip-square dichotomy created by advertising:
So it offers not just soap that gets your whites whiter, but soap that liberates, radios of resistance, carnivalesque cars and counter-hegemonic hamburgers.... If our fragmented society has anything approaching a master narrative, it is more of a master conflict. We are in constant struggle - not against communism, but against the spirit-crushing, fakeness-pushing power of consumer society. And we resist by watching Madonna videos or by consorting with more authentic people in our four-wheel-drives, or by celebrating consumers who do these things.
People worked harder and longer in the '90s than in previous decades; they saw more ads on more surfaces than before; they ran up greater household debts; they had less power than at any time in the past 50 years over the conditions in which they lived and worked. In such an environment our anger mounted. And from the eternally outraged populist right to the liberation marketers of Madison Avenue, those who prevailed in the past decade have been those who learnt to harness this anger most effectively.
I'm not making this up: Some Dutch students have written a VST plug-in which synthesizes Tibetan throat singing. I'm not making this up. Named Delay Lama, it uses formant synthesis, is MIDI controllable (with the pitchbender controlling vowel sound) and sounds uncannily lifelike. And if that wasn't enough, it draws an animated Tibetan monk, lip-synched with the audio, in the GUI. Best of all, Delay Lama is free (though donations to a Tibetan charity are encouraged).
The future is already here: it's just not evenly distributed: Companies have been hiring the service of cool hunters , who are sort of like upmarket yuppie anthropologists, to tell them what the trendy urban hipsters are doing, thinking and identifying with; the theory being that the twitchily hip urban fads of today will be the next big hit of tomorrow's mainstream; a view Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point put forward.
When not receiving facials or having their toes dipped in Bollinger Grande Cuvée, trendsetting teens claim to be experimenting with digital filmmaking, vintage computers and "geometric prints from the '60s and '70s." Mainstream teens say they're having sex, "rolling up my jeans" and "going to college." Asked about the "newest thing your friends are doing," the mainstreamers, in a sudden burst of Eisenhower-era conformity retrograde even by their standards, cited "getting married," "working on cars" and "going to nudie bars." Trendier types mentioned "freestyling" and "drunk bowling."
The cool-hunting consultancies, of course, charge hefty fees for these vital tips. (An annual subscription to the L Report will set you back $30k.) Mind you, they're now discovering a corollary to the Tipping Point hypothesis; namely, that most cutting-edge trends are too rarefied to trickle down to suburban mainstream consumers to the point of being marketable; leading to missteps such as marketing guarana-laced soft drinks and male makeup kits to the Wal-Mart crowd, with predictably underwhelming results. (via rebecca's pocket)