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Tag Archives: writing

We Dress Alike*

triplets

There’s a stark yet strangely beautiful photo essay by Nolan Conway. Identically styled people sit in various MacDonald’s restaurants. At first (second and third) glance it would appear that this is a collection of twin portraits. But the captions prove otherwise. Capturing clusters of indistinguishable people is no doubt the point of a MacDonald’s story. It makes that obvious and the also not so obvious point of; when did everyone start looking alike?

Recently a story about the ‘edgy’ art scene in the newest hippest neighborhood was accompanied by a photo. A cluster of identically clad and groomed under 40s was captioned. But you’d have to be the profiled artist’s mother to pick his knit capped head out of the half-dozen style clones. The men had moppish 80’s hair, the women had asymmetrical 80’s hair. The men were wearing what they considered ironic T-shirts (when did ubiquitous and mundane become synonymous with irony?) The women are in clothes made to appear as if they were accidentally washed on the incorrect cycle. They are faded just so and just a bit worn. And they all are wearing vaguely ethnic scarves and polyester knit hats perched on the top of their heads. Even the manner in which they wear these unattractive utilitarian hats (indoors!) is identical.

The Bobbsey Twin-ness is not reserved for the under 40 crowd of course. If you’ve attended a high school graduation in recent years, and perhaps sat in a back row, you would see a sea of identical heads. Over 40 female hair is almost always long, straight and highlighted (it’s the equivalent of our foremother’s blue rinse.) The clothing style depends on the B.M.I. but almost always includes denim w/ a minimum of 3% lycra. This Doubleminting has always been pervasive among teens of course. It is the holy grail of adolescence to look exactly like everyone else. But what about college? Have you been to college lately? Move-in day is a riot. All the dads are in cargo shorts, untucked shirts & baseball caps; and all the mothers are in capris and generous cleavage (you think it’s easy to see your daughter turn into a grown woman?!) and the freshman are in uniform. The young women are dressed in body-con pieces from head to shin. From shin to toe they are most likely either in an Ugg or wellie (making them look as if they’re standing in a bucket, which is flattering on exactly no one) or if the weather allows, a rubber ‘shoe’ suitable for the beach, pool or hospital. The young men are either in baggy cargo shorts (like father like…) or slim fitting madras shorts. T-shirt (with message/image suited to the corresponding college/university) and unlaced sneakers or shower shoes complete the look. Since when did college students want to look alike? When did they want to follow the lead of their parents in any pursuit, least of all an approach to style? Wait but what of the art students you ask? Well if completing the checklist of body modifying (piercing, tattoos, earlobe stretchers) is a sign of creativity, then we’re good. (Note to medical students on the fence about their specialty; restorative cosmetic surgery – ka-ching!)

So how did it happen? Is it all the result of very cheap clothing in chain stores? Is it that the same ‘look’ is available across the country in a mall or big-box store near you? Is it our celebrity culture that drives style? Could it be that people (consumers, media, merchandisers) turn to celebrities (who turn to a handful of stylists) to create their look? Or is the styling of one’s person just the tip of the iceberg? Is it more that a culture that celebrates sameness is ultimately going to look the same. A culture that applauds and supports genre over niche does not cultivate creativity. Television talent contests award very specific sounds and looks (there is no Gong Show diversity on display anywhere.) Since the Rocky and Godfather days, film sequels are king. Broadway’s percentage of revivals grows every year. Where are the new ideas? How much wonderful writing never sees the light of day? What happened to the novel? Memoirs (which is a lovely sounding word for ‘it happened to me so it must be interesting’) is the genre of choice. Sensation and sequels sell, but what about good writing and great stories? Is there an audience (aka money) for talented novelists, poets, screenwriters and playwrights? We could also shine the light on indistinguishable home design and decor, museums exhibits and performance arts centers. You’d have to have a GPS to know where you are sometimes.

There have always been style trends. People don’t much go for operetta the way they once did. Sonnets went the way of hoop skirts, and you don’t see a lot of domes and columns being erected. But not since perhaps the 1950s have people strived to look and sound so much alike. Perhaps it is merely cyclical and not a harbinger of the demise of creativity. My goal is to outlive the cycle, seek creativity and to do so while wearing what flatters/interests me.

*The Triplet Song (The Bandwagon 1953) by Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz

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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

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5 Reasons This Article Is Useless

tang
When did it start these articles solely comprised of numerical lists? Is it the natural evolution from magazine covers;”50 New Looks For Spring” “15 Ways To Make Him Swoon” “10 Tricks To Getting A Proposal”? At some point it was discovered that people respond to Arabic numerals. (You will never see a magazine cover emblazoned with “Twelve Ways To Spruce Up Your Pantry” or “IX Ways To Rock His World”.)

Numerical lists are really only compatible with the most practical of subjects. No one needs flowery exposition on stain removal. Just tell us which 10 items will work best on synthetics. Anything that involves shopping certainly warrants only lists and photos. The average person will slip into unconsciousness having to read anything about high-waisted pants beyond; ‘buy them now’. But articles about human relationships, education, politics, and culture do not lend themselves to bullet points. However numbered lists sell and therein lays the conundrum.

The writer who pens a fully fleshed out piece is pressured to insert numbers (in the title and the body). A writer seeking readership might resort to creating lists versus narrative. There is usually some measure of disappointment for the reader in discovering that the “10 Guys You Should Avoid At All Costs” is a list of 5 guys whose description is vague enough to cover every man who’s walked the earth and 5 guys who are such caricatures as to be more suited to science fiction.

Part of the appeal of these lists passing as content is our attention span as readers. We’re at the point at which we consider a 140 character Tweet to be ‘wordy’. If an email stretches beyond a paragraph (and it better be a tight paragraph) we’ve lost the reader. This love of condensed and concentrated delivery unfortunately extends to the theatre as well. Theatre producers regularly consider the length of a play before mounting a production. Some artistic directors even apologize for a full-length production. The good news is that the trend can’t continue forever. We are not going to devolve into communicating solely through grunts and emoticons. We will probably never revert back to four-hour movies (with intermissions). But some bounce back will occur. People will tire of Tang, they usually do. A new generation is bound to ‘discover’ meaningful and full-length content.

Now I did promise to list 5 Reasons This Article Is Useless. But I trust you dear reader to compile that list on your own.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Media/Marketing

 

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Crime Of The Mind

Edgar Allan Poe

In New York City a man has been convicted of conspiring to kidnap and could be sentenced to life imprisonment. He did not in fact kidnap or hurt anyone, but did type extensively about his desire to do so. It is conceivable that this 28-year old man could spend the rest of his life in prison for having creepy thoughts. This in a land in which people who’ve been convicted of actual crimes serve their time and are released. What in the world does it mean for thoughts to be illegal?

Was the fact that this man a N.Y. police officer too emotionally charged for the jury? Was the jury swayed by the graphic nature of the defendant’s writing? Was the fact that the writing occurred in cyberspace perceived as more threatening than a handwritten journal? Was it that the defendant engaged with other typists in these fantastical plans? Something must have clouded the jury’s vision to render such a verdict. Is there reason to be concerned about the judgement of this police officer? Absolutely, but that’s a personnel issue, no? Were the messages so convincing that the jury was concerned about imminent danger? Perhaps, but that is why probation, monitoring and court mandated treatment were invented.

By equating thought with action we set a dangerous precedent. What does this mean for all crime writers for example? What does it mean for anyone who’s ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)? And what of those who engage with the dangerous writing? Are book clubs or theatre audiences aiding and abetting these dark thinkers? While no one will ever confuse Sweeney Todd with the contents of a chat room, the overarching premise is the same. The fact that the chatting, posting, emailing and texting wasn’t particularly well written or the least bit musically engaging doesn’t mean it wasn’t an exercise in creative writing. Creative writing by a man of questionable mental health of course.

But questionable mental health is not a crime. Do we want people with questionable mental health to be carrying a gun and be charged with protecting people? No. Do we want real and meaningful treatment for those who are not entirely well and who harbor violent thoughts? Without a doubt. Imprisoning (for any length of time) because of mentally illness is a black eye for us all. It is an ugly bruise of a reminder of how inept and misguided we are in matters of mental health.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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