The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'commodification'
Writing in the Torygraph, Alex Proud (of Proud Galleries) bemoans the “Shoreditchification” of London, the process by which the phenomenon of hipster culture (by now, heavily leveraged with marketing) seizes rundown areas of the city and forcibly makes them over, raising rents, replacing local shops with gimmicky bars catering to affluent 26-35-year-olds, and ultimately leaving them open for the bankers and Foxtons to take over; sort of like the Shock Doctrine, only with ironic facial hair and upcycled furniture:
You find a previously unnoticed urban neighbourhood, ideally one that’s a bit down on its luck. Pioneer hipsters move in and coolhunters ensure it starts trending on Twitter. A year later, the mainstream media notices and, for the next 12 months, the neighbourhood is byword for urban cool. Soon property prices soar pushing the original residents out, the bankers (always a trailing indicator) begin to move in and a Foxtons opens. Finally, the New York Times runs a piece in which it “discovers” the area and the cycle is complete. The last hipsters move on and find a new neighbourhood to play with.Shoreditch, Proud asserts, is long past the terminal phases of this phenomenon, being a “cold-climate Aiya Napa”, frequented by stag-party tourists from Essex. Dalston, the hipster haunt of recent years, is past it as well (despite there still being completely unhip and unironic Turkish restaurants alongside the basement DJ bars and Giorgio Moroder-themed pizza joints; never mind, though, by the time Kanye West and Kim Kardashian open their matching fashion shops in Dalston and the Essex stag parties start negotiating the Overground in to take in its lad-mag-certified cool, it will doubtlessly be as dead as a doornail), with Peckham being about to be jettisoned for somewhere further out; possibly even, Proud reckons, Croydon.
Which more or less makes sense, until Proud posits a counterexample of “sustainable cool”: Camden.
So, what is the solution? The solution is to treat places like proper neighbourhoods rather than Apple products with a two-year upgrade cycle. Here I hold up Camden as an example. OK, I know I have a vested interest, but Camden was cool in 1994 (and even 1984) and it’s still cool in 2014. It has, dare I say it, sustainable coolness. True, at no point in time will be it be as achingly “now” as a speakeasy in a repurposed public loo in Camberwell selling dirty cocktails in jam jars, but that’s the point. Sustainable cool knows which bandwagons to ignore.Which is quite ironic, given that Camden seems to be as much a spent force, as far as any sort of living counterculture goes, as swinging Carnaby Street or the King's Road of Malcolm McLaren's day. Camden, of course, had been ground zero of Britpop, that third coming of Mod, that time as a hidebound and flag-draped back-to-basics conservative backlash. (In his book The Psychic Soviet, rock performer and cultural critic Ian Svenonius drew parallels between Britpop and the Southern Rock movement of the 1970s, in that both took a genre which had been free-wheeling and countercultural and remade it in the image of a flag-waving, reactionary traditionalism. More recently, Britpop has again been in the news, as Tory-affiliated cheesemonger Alex James has announced that he is registering the term as a trademark for a line of sugarwater.) And while Britpop might not have had the oversized folkbeards, mason-jar cocktails or overuse of the word “artisanal” that have made Hipster™ an easy target for jokes over the past decade or so*, Camden circa the mid-90s was pretty much the definition of “achingly “now””.
Britpop may not have started in Camden, but it gained critical mass there, in places like the Good Mixer; the resulting chain reaction sucked all the oxygen out, leaving behind pure marketing cranked up to 11. Camden these days is about raking through the rich seams of Britain's (and, to a lesser extent, the globalised Anglosphere's) history of post-rock'n'roll subcultural cool and producing tables of manufactured tat. Go to Camden Market, contend with the thronging masses of what William Gibson termed the Childrens' Crusade, and you will see what is essentially a meat market of dead subcultures, where well-preserved cuts of Punk, Goth, Emo and Belieber are served up to wide-eyed teenagers from smaller places all over the world, alongside the ubiquitous pirated T-shirts extolling the virtues of poor impulse control in series of three badly-drawn pictographs, identical to the ones in any Hot Topic in America or any tourist market in Thailand.
* One could, however, make the case that the two-stroke Italian motorscooters that became fashionable with the Mod-revival-revival phase of Britpop are, in today's time, a far more ridiculous affectation than the fixed-gear bikes beloved of the stereotypical “Shoreditch hipster”.
A look at China's emerging youth counter-culture, the wenyi qingnian (文艺青年), or “cultured youth”, a term which is roughly cognate with the English word “hipster”:
Like hipsters, wenqing stridently resist labeling themselves as such. The term “cultured youth” can divide Chinese audiences, alternately attracting admiration or derision. A perfect example recently emerged on Sina Weibo, one of China’s popular microblogging sites, with this post entitled, “Photos of Shanghai ‘cultured youth’ girls aboard a subway reading poetry.”One difference between the wenqing and stereotypical hipsters in the West is their sincere passion for their countercultural pursuits and values outside the mainstream of material status; not having lived through the betrayals and commodifications of subcultures from the hippies to the punks and beyond, they have not developed an armour of ironic detachment and nihilistic apathy. That, however, is the preserve of a different Chinese youth counterculture, the “2B qingnian” (二逼青年), or “dumbass youth”, who appear to be more like Nathan Barley-esque nihilistic pisstakers:
By contrast, China’s wonderfully sincere “cultured youth” lack the irony and apathy integral to hipsterism, characteristics which nonetheless can be found in China’s “2B youth.” These are young men and women who have nothing much going on in their lives (or, in some cases, their heads). As the photo collage suggests, “2B”ers like to engage in pointless and deliberately self-defeating behavior, all, it sometimes seems, for nothing more than the “lulz.”Note the graphic at the bottom of the page, which shows a range of activities performed in the normal, Cultured and Dumbass styles.
Or, in perhaps more appositely Marxist terms, the wenqing repudiate economic capital for cultural capital, whereas the 2Bs reject cultural capital as futile and mock it. Which suggests that, were one to shoehorn Chinese countercultures into American terms, the wenqing are a counterculture with the dynamics of, say, the Beats, though using the technology and symbols of the global late-capitalist hipster, while the 2Bs are (perhaps precociously) grasping at the nihilism of 1990s grunge slackers, anticipating that it will all turn to shit.
Meanwhile, it looks like OpenStreetMap may be on the verge of doing to commercial, closed mapping services (such as Google Maps and Microsoft's Bing Maps) what Wikipedia did to Encyclopaedia Britannica's previously unassailable position. Wikipedia's David Gerard suggests that mapping and geodata may be the next dinosaur to sink into the tarpit; now that Google are moving to squeeze more revenue out of their popular Maps product, some businesses are finding that it makes more sense to use OpenStreetMap, and invest in improving it where it falls short:
I think that someone at Google got their pricing wrong by an order of magnitude. Large companies might be willing to pay that kind of licenses, but this is not the CMS market in 1998, where people would pay half a million for a Vignette license and another million for Oracle. There are so many open source options out there that the value of proprietary solutions has come down dramatically.And no less a publication than Wired has an article on switching to OpenStreetMap:
Since Nestoria made the switch to OSM, he says, the company has received almost no complaints about the change in its map background. Some users in remote areas of Europe, he adds, have even praised the new interface for the details it provides on their little towns. What’s more, in making the switch to OSM, Nestoria gained some flexibility it never had with Google.Among the takeaways from the article: old-school mapping company MapQuest (remember them? they were around in the ancient NCSA Mosaic days when slideable maps didn't exist, and you had to click on one of eight arrows to move to the next square), once vanquished by Google Maps, having been reborn as a frontend and contributor to OSM. Which suggests that OSM has achieved the sort of critical mass that going it alone to compete with the dominant vendors makes as little sense as Google's in-house Wikipedia competitor Knol (which they euthanased a year or two ago).
Google may not be taking the market for their mapping product being commodified lying down: there are reports of someone polluting OpenStreetMap data, coming from the same IP addresses belonging to a Google unit in India who were earlier caught trying to rip off a Kenyan crowdsourced business directory. (Given that Google have in the past contributed to OpenStreetMap, this seems somewhat out of character; unless the gloves have come off and "don't be evil" has been declared a non-core promise.)
The Guardian's art correspondent Jonathan Jones argues that mainstream acceptance is killing street art; how what used to be an outlaw pursuit, charged with an edgy, subversive frisson, is now thoroughly commodified, exhibited in galleries, flogged en masse to tourists and posed alongside by centre-right politicians, fatally eroding what underground credibility it once had:
Visitors to London buy Banksy prints on canvas from street stalls, while in Tripoli photographers latch on to any bloke with a spray can near any wall that's still standing. Graffiti and street art have become instant – and slightly lazy – icons of everything our culture lauds, from youth to rebellion to making a fast buck from art.
Maybe there was a time when painting a wittily satirical or cheekily rude picture or comment on a wall was genuinely disruptive and shocking. That time is gone. Councils still do their bit to keep street art alive by occasionally obliterating it, and so confirming that it has edge. But basically it has been absorbed so deep into the mainstream that old folk who once railed at graffiti in their town are now more likely to have a Banksy book on their shelves than a collection of Giles cartoons.He has a point about the mainstreaming and commodification of once transgressive phenomena (recently we have witnessed the confirmation of punk's position as a safe and cozy part of Britain's heritage by the National Trust releasing a punk compilation album), and the fact that there is a lot of street art which, when one puts aside its illegality and unconventional locations, is quite mediocre. Though the final stage of this process of commodification seems less than apocalyptic: a culture in which street art becomes a sort of accepted folk art, sometimes critical or confrontational, occasionally brilliant, more often mediocre, and very occasionally leading to wealth and fame, though generally practiced by small-time artists, and tolerated by society as part of the local culture and the broader conversation. Which, to me, looks healthier than a society of zero-tolerance policies, where the means of street-level communication belong exclusively to corporate advertisers.
In the past, hand-made goods used to be considered inferior; cheap, flawed, jerry-rigged substitutes for expensive manufactured products. Nowadays, perfectly mass-manufactured goods are cheap, almost to the point of disposability. Hand-crafted items, meanwhile, have become signifiers of status, their flaws and imperfections representing individuality and artisanal values, in opposition to the alienatingly sterile qualities of assembly-line products. (That bag hand-sewn from drink containers by some dude in Berlin or Portland may not be as solidly made, well-designed or otherwise fit for purpose—in a prosaic, bourgeois way—as one manufactured in Shenzhen by the million, but what you lose in build quality and materials, you get back tenfold in the warm fuzzy feeling of being part of something outside the corporate-consumerist mainstream, i.e., differentiating yourself from the wrong kinds of white people who shop at Wal-Mart and eat at McDonald's.)
Writing in Make (a magazine of the maker culture—a new hobbyist culture with a focus on repurposing existing items, from cheap consumer electronics to flat-packed furniture, often for fun), Cory Doctorow speculates on how the corporations will attempt to commodify this trend, extrapolating from the already prevalent practice of having call centres in low-wage countries full of workers trained to pretend to be American/British/Australian to a vision of a manufactured replica of an anti-corporate maker counterculture, conjured out of the whole cloth using low-wage labour and business-process outsourcing methods:
Will we soon have Potemkin crafters whose fake, procedurally generated pictures, mottoes, and logos grace each item arriving from an anonymous overseas factory?
Will the 21st-century equivalent of an offshore call-center worker who insists he is “Bob from Des Moines” be the Guangzhou assembly-line worker who carefully “hand-wraps” a cellphone sleeve and inserts a homespun anti-corporate manifesto (produced by Markov chains fed on angry blog posts from online maker forums) into the envelope?If it happens, it won't be unprecedented. Ersatz authenticity (from studiedly shitty-looking advertiser-sponsored zines to ProTools plugins for making major-label alternative bands sound grungy and lo-fi) is big business.
First came Joy Division
Oven Gloves trainers and now Microsoft are releasing a Joy Division-branded edition of their Zune MP3 player. It will apparently come engraved with the Unknown Pleasures cover artwork, and possibly some tracks or albums locked to the unit in a DRM-encumbered Windows Media format. If you don't use Windows, you may still find it useful as a paperweight.
Alexis Petridis reveals that the Unknown Pleasures trainers are not the only recent piece of Joy Division merchandise, as yesteryear's existential angst becomes today's nostalgia and marketing tie-in:
Yo! Sushi currently offers its takeaway customers the Love Will Tear Us Apart salmon and tuna box set, a selection of sashimi, nigri, maki and salad with tangy sunomono dressing, the latter presumably ideal for ridding yourself of "the taste in your mouth as desperation takes hold", as the song's lyric had it. The box set forms part of a menu on which every item is named after a classic song, including the Relight My Fire prawn yakisoba and the Sexual Healing salmon sashimi.The obvious question to ask is: where will it end?
This year sees the release of Control, photographer Anton Corbijn's long-awaited Ian Curtis biopic. Rumours that it will be accompanied by a tie-in with McDonald's - involving a new jingle based on the lyrics of Decades ("portrayal of the trauma and degeneration, the sorrows we suffered and never were free ... I'm lovin' it"), and the Ian Curtis Happy Meal - remain unconfirmed at time of going to press.I'm half-expecting to see Unknown Pleasures-themed babywear in shop windows on Stoke Newington Church Street any day now. Or, failing that, oven gloves.
The latest word in fashion on the Australian streets is "bogan chic", i.e., upmarket knockoffs of flannelette shirts, skinny blue jeans, ugg boots and other things traditionally worn by young working-class heavy-metal fans from the wrong side of town (or bogans, as they're known. Only they're now being worn by young professionals in Prahran and Darlinghurst.
"There are a lot of men who are willing to pay a lot of money to look like they've spent no money," says Leadbeater, whose collection features skinny jeans for $200, biker jackets for $260, and $80 printed T-shirts, including one emblazoned with an old Ford Falcon that reads: "Let's get the Falcon out of here."
While you could pick up a similar outfit for a fraction of the price from op shops or discount stores like Savers and Dimmeys, Pollitt says you wouldn't get the quality.This is the same sort of thing as happened with America with trucker hats. The underclasses are ahead of the cutting edge of fashion, precisely by their naïvete thereof. "Cool" is about differentiating oneself from the mainstream, and the hipsters on the cutting edge appropriate "anti-fashion" styles from the underclasses. Once these have been sufficiently popularised, the trendies further down the food chain (or should that be further up?) take notice and start wearing them, and designer labels start churning out premium-priced equivalents, for sale along Chapel Street.
Meanwhile, the bogans move on; not out of any conscious quest for cool but out of lack of concern for purity or image. (To them, after all, it's not a pose.) While the classic ugg-boots-and-Ackadacka bogan look may now belong to the coolsies of Prahran, today's bogans are just as likely to take their cues from gangsta hip-hop as from classic rock/metal.
As alternative-rock fans age and, in many cases, start families, a US company has brought out lullaby versions of alternative rock songs. Hip parents can now soothe their kids to sleep with mellow, ambient renditions of Metallica, The Cure, Tool, Radiohead and such played on glockenspiels and acoustic guitars (or, indeed, Coldplay, who for some reason are still classified as "alternative" (presumably because of their shaggy indie-boy haircuts or something) rather than filed next to Dido, Celine Dion and James Blunt in the adult-contemporary section). Yesteryear's teen rebellion becomes today's nursery music.
Lullaby. A whisper. The Cure's music is just like heaven to their fans. Beautiful, infinite and captivating, The Cure's best work captures a dreamy sense of love and longing. This album is a mesmerizing and serene take on the kind of quirky, romantic songs that the Cure helped make famous. If only tonight we could sleep as soundly as your child will after hearing these interpretations of The Cure.
I wonder what else we could see get the lullaby treatment. Nine Inch Nails perhaps, or Limp Bizkit? NWA? 90s rave techno? Perhaps this phenomenon will cross over with Nouvelle Vague, giving post-punk parents baby-friendly versions of the Buzzcocks and Bauhaus and such.
(via Boing Boing) ¶ 2
In an attempt to generate spin for the PlayStation Portable, Sony hire graffiti/paste-up artists to put up pictures of kids playing with PSPs as if they were traditional toys. Local hipsters, irritated with the Spectacle's commodification of dissent (and/or copy-protection malware on Sony CDs), retaliate, scrawling anti-Sony slogans on them. Discussion ensues:
"Aaaaaarrrrggggghhh. I KNEW something wasn't right about the thing when I took a picture of it a couple weeks ago in san Francisco. Two kids. 6-feet tall. Right near the new freeway off-ramp. Looked way too clean to be real. Working for a branding firm. I'm adamantly opposed to this kind of infiltration by the big corporations. Equivalent in my mind with viral marketing stealth efforts to generate a buzz about a new product the unsuspecting masses by some cool, attractive shill on the company payroll."And more pictures here.
Gwen Stefani, that Madonna of major-label pop-punk, has taken a liking to Japanese teen street fashion. And, being a savvy commodified-rebellion entrepreneur, she has appropriated this phenomenon and redigested it into a commercially viable cliché, by hiring four Asian women to dress like Harajuku hipsters and follow her around, contractually prohibited from speaking anything but Japanese:
They shadow her wherever she goes. They're on the cover of the album, they appear behind her on the red carpet, she even dedicates a track, "Harajuku Girls," to them. In interviews, they silently vogue in the background like living props; she, meanwhile, likes to pretend that they're not real but only a figment of her imagination. They're ever present in her videos and performances -- swabbing the deck aboard the pirate ship, squatting gangsta style in a high school gym while pumping their butts up and down, simpering behind fluttering hands or bowing to Stefani. That's right, bowing. Not even from the waist, but on the ground in a "we're not worthy, we're not worthy" pose. She's taken Tokyo hipsters, sucked them dry of all their street cred, and turned them into China dolls.
Stefani fawns over harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that's suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.
The article in question goes on to excoriate other Western stereotypes of Japanese culture, from Tarantino's killer schoolgirl to Peter Carey's confession of cluelessness, "Wrong About Japan".
Postmodern ironies aplenty here: In the manufacturing countries, manufacturing of fake designer clothing has overtaken the legitimate manufacture of such items. Not only that, but the knockoffs are often of superior quality to the legitimate products; oh, and since they're made in the largest quantities, they are often the cheapest clothing on the market. Somewhere in the third world, a slum-dweller is wearing a pair of Levi's better than the one you forked over $100 for.
She had bought herself jeans in Bolivia which were as good as those she could buy anywhere else. "In fact, they are not replicas at all but originals designed for the local market but with a designer label included because otherwise they would not sell," Dr Laurie said.
She had watched a young man operating a laptop computer from a car battery in a tin shack while he downloaded logos from the internet, traced them, and began manufacturing designer labels for local factories.
All this probably also ties into the perils of commodification which have been eating everybody from SCO to the RIAA alive.
Rocknerd's Ben Butler connects the SCO/Linux lawsuit to the recording industry's woes. What links SCO and the RIAA, you see, is that both have seen their markets become commodified, eroding their business models, which depended on them being able to name their own prices and terms.
The process goes something like this: you sell widgets. You are the only company selling widgets. Some other companies enter the widget market. They undercut your price. But yours are the original, superior widgets, so you charge a premium for them. More competitors enter the market. The price drops more. Suddenly widgets are cheap. Your brand value is eroded - people figure out that all the widgets are substantially the same and besides, even if your widgets are better made than everyone else's, it no longer matters - they're cheap enough to throw out and replace when they break.
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.
A thought-provoking rant about the commodification of St. Patrick's Day, and the tendency of everybody from British royals to Hollywood celebrities to ordinary people wanting an excuse to get blotto to assert their newly-contrived Irishness. An Irishness which has been reduced into a "concept", a "feeling", or a sanitised, Disneyfied lifestyle package for mass consumption.
Anyone can become Irish today. You can show our Irishness by going to the right pub, having the right attitude, by ticking a box on a census form - but not by getting drunk, fighting, shouting 'Fuck the Queen', or any of the other activities you might traditionally have associated with being Irish, which are especially frowned upon by fake Irish pubs like O'Neill's (no relation).
Is plastic-shamrock cod-Irishness, as some speculated, the one acceptable way in which white people can claim a funky, rootsy tribal identity; one with enough? (via Plastic)