un-wreckable status system

The widespread image of a conformist America clinging to ladders of caste, through social class is oddly belied and reinforced by the symbols of prestige that wear out, decline in power, and are then replaced, starting a new cycle of consumption. The question of whether we are freer to act on our own is justifiably ambiguous. There is no doubt that we have a highly self-conscious culture, one doggedly intent on taking its own pulse…

---A trend in the 1950′s in America was to take non-commercial documentary pictures. This was called “social landscape”. The founder of this mode was Robert Frank (Born 1924 – Swiss-American photographer).  His first publication was called The Americans. (1958)---

—A trend in the 1950′s in America was to take non-commercial documentary pictures. This was called “social landscape”. The founder of this mode was Robert Frank (Born 1924 – Swiss-American photographer). His first publication was called The Americans. (1958)—

In short, we have carried self consciousness to the point where it is more than slightly absurd. We give the impression of a nation unsure and wandering through either navel gazing and taking pulse, occasionally putting ear to heart. Sociology, or what passes for it, has been so popularized that its jargon permeates both market place and dinner table; the exchange of amateur observations is a game in itself, and the discoverer of a new “status symbol” can live off it conversationally for weeks. Fashions of behavior are labeled virtually as soon as they exist, and written up, or as Henry Jenkins calls it “spreadable media”; if it doesn’t spread its dead. Hence they become old hat for some almost before they have had time to be fashionable for others. There is a fine line between riding the trend and ridicule: anything that is rally in is automatically out.

---Jack Levine. The Great Society.---

—Jack Levine. The Great Society.—

From the Authenticity Hoax blog. ( see link at end):

Word gets around and people flock to see the real thing. First are the true artists, then the less artistic hipsters, then anyone ages 18 to 35 who knows who Arcade Fire is all the way until the invitation is open. This real thing becomes fetishized, and so goes the progression from Harvey Milk to your mom taking a picture of the Amoeba Music sign on Haight by the McDonald’s. Portlandia is my case in point.

But like the guy from Iowa who visits England and finds that everyone speaks with an accent, Schellenberg can’t quite think himself clear of the underlying dynamic. All those other cities might be caught up in the hamster wheel of cool-mainstream-nostalgic-camp, but not his hometown:

Which leads me to why Winnipeg is so great: it’s what everyone is searching for. A bunch of people holed up in their basements during godforsaken cold-as-hell winter making art no-one will ever see or hear. Throwing little art gallery parties that will never be immortalized in film, or have a $135 ticket. Spending your summer biking around with Ben Jones or listening to Smoky Tiger’s incoherent hobby genius.

This is the real shit. It’s a resource you are completely unaware of until you go somewhere else and get a bit of perspective. What’s so great is Winnipeg is too much of a shithole for it to ever be discovered or ironically enjoyed, and it’s all ours.Read More:http://authenticityhoax.tumblr.com/

Of course, this sort of pecking order game in an ancient one, seemingly hard-wired into our culture. And the image of conformity was remarked upon in the writings of Tocqueville; a little later Harriet Martineau reported in 1837 that “Americans may travel over the world, and find no society but their own which will submit as much to the restraint of perpetual caution, and reference to the opinion of others.”  So, we have been swallowed up in snobbery, emulation and caste making uneasy company with individual worth, initiative and opportunity for some time. ( to be continued)…

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2 Responses to un-wreckable status system

  1. Sam Ford says:

    Thanks, Dave. I enjoyed reading this and your follow-up. You make some astute observations in your point about the supposed anti-commercial being tied up in a commercial logic almost by its very nature. In particular, I think what you are criticizing is a certain type of “spreadable media” (since you used the terminology from our book). In “Chief Culture Officer,” Grant McCracken considers it “fast culture,” as opposed to “slow culture.” It is the trend that is a trend because it’s a trend…the sort of things that cool hunters and trendspotters watch for. The “what are the hipsters in Williamsburg” sort of pattern. Grant compares that with “slow culture”: the steady changes in culture that led to the rise of the coffee shop or the food truck, or the shifts in societal norms that made the organic food movement or “buying local” take root. Or the threads that led to a societal shift in the view of marriage equality in the last few years. These changes are steeped in neoliberal logics as well, to be sure, but are much different from that “consumption as status symbol” change that might, in the purposes of your argument, lead to everyone conforming to the idea of being different…that leads to people mocking others for doing the “Harlem Shake” four days after it had become “uncool.” That’s one key distinction between the wide range of things that may spread, versus only that small and distinct range of material determined to “go viral”: that has become accepted as “what’s trendy.”

    • Dave says:

      thx. for taking the time for writing. Yes, going back to studying economics through the prism of Veblen and some of the “variations on the theme” from Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter who are especially quite prescient in their analysis. But these “slow” changes are indeed a long arc and a complex subject with respect to the relationship with macroeconomics. Best,
      Dave

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