The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'whimsy'
Dorian Lynskey, music journalist and author of 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs has posted a blog article about the rising infantilisation of culture, as seen in everything from food packaging to utility bills being written in a cutesy first-person voice. The catalyst having been a Sainsbury's branding exercise renaming tiger bread to “giraffe bread“, allegedly at the behest of a small child:
Surely rechristening a product to appease someone not long out of nappies marks some kind of turning point in the infantilisation of branding: a seemingly interminable trend which makes grown men think it’s OK to give their age as “27 & 3/4” without being shoved into a canal. Maybe I should ask my five-year-old daughter to rebrand the Jerusalem artichoke, which is neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem, and we can all start cooking with Goblinhead instead. Or would that be “a bit silly”?(And Sainsbury's aren't the only supermarket to do this; according to Morrison's, the natural voice of food products is first-person, in a wobbly, childlike handwriting, which is perhaps somewhat disturbing. I'm not sure I'd like the idea of eating a loaf of bread with the ascribed personality of a small, cheerful child.)
I think it’s partly related to the Cult of the Child, defined by one blogger as “the brainwashing some parents undergo that convinces them their children are innately, infallibly wise, untainted by worldly prejudices, and therefore their opinions and pronouncements should be heeded as if they were handed down from the heavens, and their every wish should be indulged”. Parenthood, instead of marking the point at which one irrevocably becomes an adult, is often presented as a second go-around, with the parent eager to shrink the age gap. The packaging of Little Me Organics (“Lots of mummys got together to create a range that was carefully selected to be the best for their little ones…”) and Ella’s Kitchen baby food bizarrely addresses parents as if they were babies themselves, making childhood synonymous with those sacred concepts in upmarket food branding, “natural” and “pure”. Handwritten, obviously, because fonts are for phonies.
And that’s the thing. The brand’s voice is “childlike” but it’s not actually like a child at all, because real children are complicated and tempestuous and say all kinds of stuff: it’s the voice of a parent trying to get a child to do something by approximating their outlook. Innocentese is relentlessly chirpy and nice, in a profoundly white and middle-class way which connects with its affluent customer base.Lynskey puts the blame for this kind of quirkiness on the rise of faux-naïf indie culture (think Wes Anderson, Zooey Fucking Deschanel, &c.), with patient zero having been the twee indie-pop genre of the 1980s, where a rejection of adult tropes was a reaction to both reactionary rock'n'roll machismo, soulless corporate music product and sexualised consumerism.
When, a decade later, alternative rock had come to resemble the things it had once opposed, via Britpop and corporate grunge, key indie bands once again reached for the satchels. Belle & Sebastian named themselves after a children’s book and wrote some of their best songs about school, while Neutral Milk Hotel recorded an album inspired by Anne Frank and the lo-fi, pots-and-pans amateurism of a particularly enthusiastic summer camp. These were gifted songwriters creating idiosyncratic private worlds born of refusal and I don’t blame them for what followed anymore than I blame Nirvana for Nickelback, but over the following decade this cult of childhood became part of indie’s schtick.This sort of tweeness spread outward, to the less muscular fringes of dance music (Lemon Jelly and Mr. Scruff are mentioned), cinema (from Wes Anderson and such to more mainstream fare), and, so on. And as we all know, every oppositional stance gets commodified sooner or later, and in this case, the result is Innocent Smoothies, inanimate objects addressing people in the first person, and a surfeit of typefaces that look like wonky handwriting. Though the end of twee may be in sight:
I thought perhaps that the whole down-the-shitcan vibe of the world at the moment would puncture the whimsy bubble. If anything it seems to have intensified the need to escape to a wuvly innocent world where nobody’s heard of the Euro crisis or Iranian nukes. But I suspect that just as indie music and cinema laid the groundwork for Innocentese, the growing revulsion towards twee art is the first sign of a backlash against it among consumers. As the language becomes more common, more widely mocked, less trusted, it becomes less useful for brands and one day soon — I hope and pray — we will see the end of the Innocents.
In his most recent column, Charlie Brooker suggests a few things to give up for the New Year, among them, variants on "Keep Calm And Carry On" and cupcakes:
Of all the irritating "Keep Calm" bastardisations, the most irritating of all is the one that reads "Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake". Cupcakes used to be known as fairy cakes, until something happened a few years ago. I don't know what the thing was, because I wasn't paying attention. All I know is that suddenly middle-class tosspoles everywhere were holding artisan cupcakes aloft and looking at them and pointing and making cooing sounds and going on and bloody on about how much they loved them. I wouldn't mind, but cupcakes are bullshit. And everyone knows it. A cupcake is just a muffin with clown puke topping. And once you've got through the clown puke there's nothing but a fistful of quotidian sponge nestling in a depressing, soggy "cup" that feels like a pair of paper knickers a fat man has been sitting in throughout a long, hot coach journey between two disappointing market towns. Actual slices of cake are infinitely superior, as are moist chocolate brownies, warm chocolate-chip cookies and virtually any other dessert you can think of. Cupcakes are for people who can't handle reality.Meanwhile, Melbourne writer/broadcaster Helen Razer opines on the recent epidemic of whimsy and quirkiness in popular culture (i.e., cupcakes, polka dots, knitting, pugs, ukuleles, Zooey Fucking Deschanel, et al.):
[Miranda July] is to cinema as the contemporary cupcake is to carbohydrate. This is to say, she is fantastically decorative and easy to consume but ultimately delivers naught but empty calories in a gaudy blast of sugar. In her non-narrative narratives about mildly depressed shoe salesmen and people who babysit slightly injured cats, she hints at depths that do not exist. This, of course, is not a transgression we could attribute to the cupcake. But July's perplexing popularity, just like the cupcake's, is founded on the overuse of whimsy.
The popular actress and singer Zooey Deschanel had elective surgery that saw her brain and taste replaced with a clockwork mouse. Michael Cera, insufferable star of the insufferably whimsical Juno, works to a similar mechanic and if I see one more knitted effing toy at a gallery, I may take a needle and hurt the next ''craft practitioner'' foolish enough to offer me a cupcake. As for burlesque. Well. If I had my way, ''whimsical'' disrobing would by now be a summary offence.Razer places the blame on Jeff Koons, the yuppie banker who parlayed his skillset into becoming the founding artist of the Capitalist Hyperrealist movement, predicated on an infinitely shiny, infinitesimally superficial lack of deeper meaning, and in doing so, brought whimsy into the mainstream.
It is difficult to pinpoint the moment when whimsy escaped from the birthday parties of six-year-old girls and into the business of serious art. We might suppose that this was in the same moment intelligent women stole cupcakes from their daughters. I personally place the shift at about 10 years ago when I noticed a large dog sitting by Circular Quay.
There are many things to loathe about Jeff Koons. Much of his work is a triumph of money and plastic. Even when he does not work in plastic, he seems, somehow, to be hygienically safeguarded against any infection by meaning. This, to me, is his gravest offence and the primary impact of his stupid sculpture Puppy.Which suggests that the kooky, twee whimsy that infects White-People consumer culture is itself a necessary consequence of the rise of postmodernism. The question is: what mechanism leads from A (the state in which it is a truth universally acknowledged that Everything Is A Market and that nothing has any intrinsic meaning deeper than the price that the market will bear for it) to B (the ascendance of cupcakes, polka dots and Manic Pixie Dream Girls with ukuleles to cultural universality).
Meanwhile, the Graun's Jonathan Jones puts the boot into Damien Hirst, Blatcherite Britain's answer to Jeff Koons:
But from a British point of view, don't you feel thrilled that the most outrageous artist in the world, the most hated and reviled, is from these shores? I mean, we used to be crippled by good taste – or rather, people saw us that way. How did it come about that a British artist outdid Andy Warhol as a businessman and Jeff Koons as a master of kitsch? It is surely a national triumph.
Something happened in Britain in the 1980s and 90s that tore up the national rule book – in politics, economics and art. Hirst, whatever your feelings about him, is a symbol of that time of change. And like it or not, at a time when we wonder what is coming next, he flies the flag for a provocative and electrifying world image of Britain. Just like Thatcher did.One could make a case that Damien Hirst's art is to Thatcherism-Blairism what Rodchenko's constructivism was to the young USSR and banners of heroic peasants waving red flags were to Maoism; it was the house style of an ideology, in this case one combining the naked free market of Thatcherism with the feel-good spin of Blairism.
The South London Underground, another fantasy tube map, this time flipping it about the Thames, so the north is underserviced, while in the south, it goes all the way down into Kent and Sussex. Though why does Dartford International Airport get 7 terminals rather than Heathrow's 4? (via Owen)