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After Authenticity
"Meanwhile, years of semantic slippage had happened without me noticing. Suddenly the surging interest in fashion, the dad hats, the stupid pin companies, the lack of sellouts, it all made sense. Authenticity has expanded to the point that people don’t even believe in it anymore. And why should we? Our friends work at SSENSE, they work at Need Supply. They are starting dystopian lifestyle brands. Should we judge them for just getting by? A Generation-Z-focused trend report I read last year clumsily posed that “the concept of authenticity is increasingly deemed inauthentic.” It goes further than that. What we are witnessing is the disappearance of authenticity as a cultural need altogether.

Under authenticity, the value of a thing decreases as the number of people to whom it is meaningful increases. This is clearly no longer the case. Take memes for example. “Meme” circa 2005 meant lolcats, the Y U NO guy and grimy neckbeards on 4chan. Within 10 years “meme” transitioned from this one specific subculture to a generic medium in which collective participation is seen as amplifying rather than detracting from value.

In a strange turn of events, the mass media technologies built out during the heady authenticity days have had a huge part in facilitating this new mass media culture. The hashtag, like, upvote, and retweet are UX patterns that systematize endorsement and quantify shared value. The meme stock market jokers are more right than they know; memes are information commodities. But unlike indie music 10 years ago the value of a meme is based on its publicly shared recognition. From mix CDs to nationwide Spotify playlists. With information effortlessly transferable at zero marginal cost and social platforms that blast content to the top of everyone’s feed, it’s difficult to for an ethics based on scarcity to sustain itself.

K-HOLE and Box1824 captured the new landscape in their breakthrough 2014 report “Youth Mode.” They described an era of “mass indie” where the search for meaning is premised on differentiation and uniqueness, and proposed a solution in “Normcore.” Humorously, nearly everyone mistook Normcore for being about bland fashion choices rather than the greater cultural shift toward accepting shared meanings. It turns out that the aesthetics of authenticity-less culture are less about acting basic and more about playing up the genericness of the commodity as an aesthetic category. LOT2046’s delightfully industrial-supply-chain-default aesthetics are the most beautiful and powerful rendering of this. But almost everyone is capitalizing on the same basic trend, from Vetements and Virgil Abloh (enormous logos placed for visibility in Instagram photos are now the norm in fashion) to the horribly corporate Brandless. Even the names of boring basics companies like “Common Threads” and “Universal Standard” reflect the the popularity of genericness, writes Alanna Okunn at Racked. Put it this way: Supreme bricks can only sell in an era where it’s totally fine to like commodities.

Crucially, this doesn’t mean that people don’t continue to seek individuation. As I’ve argued elsewhere exclusivity is fundamental to any meaning-amplifying strategy. Nor is this to delegitimize some of the recognizable advancements popularized alongside the first wave of mass authenticity aesthetics. Farmer’s markets, the permaculture movement, and the trend of supporting local businesses are valuable cultural innovations and are here to stay.

Nevertheless, now that authenticity is obsolete it’s become difficult to remember why we were suspicious of brands and commodities to begin with. Maintaining criticality is a fundamental challenge in this new era of trust. Unfortunately, much of what we know about being critical is based on authenticity ethics. Carles blamed the Contemporary Conformist phenomenon on a culture industry hard-set on mining “youth culture dollars.” This very common yet extraordinarily reductive argument, which makes out commodity capitalism to be an all-powerful, intrinsically evil force, is typical of authenticity believers. It assumes a one-way influence of a brand’s actions on consumers, as do the field of semiotics and the hopeless, authenticity-craving philosophies of Baudrillard and Debord.

Yet now, as Dena Yago says, “you can like both Dimes and Doritos, sincerely and without irony.” If we no longer see brands and commodity capitalism as something to be resisted, we need more nuanced forms of critique that address how brands participate in society as creators and collaborators with real agency. Interest in working with brands, creating brands, and being brands is at an all-time high. Brands and commodities therefore need to be considered and critiqued on the basis of the specific cultural and economic contributions they make to society. People co-create their identities with brands just as they do with religions, communities, and other other systems of meaning. This constructivist view is incompatible with popular forms of postmodern critique but it also opens up new critical opportunities. We live in a time where brands are expected to not just reflect our values but act on them. Trust in business can no longer be based on visual signals of authenticity, only on proof of work."
tobyshorin  2018  authenticity  culture  anthropology  hispters  sellouts  sellingout  commercialism  kanyewest  yeezy  yeezysupply  consumerism  commercialization  commodification  personalbranding  branding  capitalism  shepardfairey  obeygiant  tourism  sarahperry  identity  critique  ethics  mainstream  rjaymagill  popculture  aesthetics  commentary  conformism  scale  scalability  venkateshrao  premiummediocre  brooklyn  airbnb  wework  local  handmade  artisinal  economics  toms  redwings  davidmuggleton  josephpine  jamesgilmore  exclusivity  denayago  systems  sytemsofmeaning  meaning  commodities  k-hole 
april 2018 by robertogreco
How the hipster can save the monk (and vice versa) | America Magazine
"That vision is spreading. Just north of New York City, a start-up company has built cabins in the woods that are advertised as retreat spaces for writing or taking a break from the grind of city life. It sounds and looks like a hermitage to me. The only thing missing is God."



"What does this mean for you, members of religious communities who might be reading this? A few things. Consider how closely hipster ideals, as portrayed in magazines and advertisements, now mirror central monastic ideals—simplicity, authenticity, community, self-sufficiency, contemplation. You have rules, long histories and theologies that illuminate these ideals and shape your daily rhythms. Hipsters do not.

One way to engage the world might be to help hipsters—I write as one of them—understand why we find it gratifying to make our own bread, tend our own gardens or brew our own beer. What is it about bodily practices and habituation that speaks to our souls? We know the slowness of our hobbies does something to us, but we don’t quite know what it is.

To learn, we will have to become aware of your existence and your gifts. So you ought to photograph your community and publish those photographs on Instagram. This practice offers an opportunity to meet people where they are—which, by and large, is not anywhere close to a contemplative religious life.

The average young adult spends over four hours of each day on her phone, and she checks social media channels an average of 17 times per day. Further, young people are averse to speaking about religion explicitly. They lack the imagination and vocabulary even to broach the subject of monastic life. But they do possess a highly developed visual grammar and are interested in stylized photographs of agriculture, cooking, handicraft, drinks and books.

Further, contemplative orders should reinsert themselves into the public sphere as the keepers and guardians of real mindfulness. The mindfulness moment that America is having is marred by an extreme sense of self-centeredness. But perhaps mindfulness is contemplation’s shadow on the cave wall. Of course, cultivating a contemplative life requires a lifetime of struggle, a challenging proposition in our age of instant gratification. But a simple—admittedly gimmicky—change of language, from contemplation to “monastic mindfulness,” could generate an audience of people willing to read your articles or attend your retreats. You may not need or even want that audience, but they need you.

All of which is to say, you have a fascinating preaching opportunity, and when this bizarre cultural moment shifts, you will lose that opportunity. So start an Instagram account. Take advantage of the fact that your daily lives entail much of what the authenticity hounds are clamoring after. Take photos of your gardens, your chapels, your candles, your table spread with a feast day dinner.

Perhaps you have an industrial kitchen, buy your food at Sam’s Club and haven’t had a butcher block table in 50 years. Not to worry. Photograph your icons and your books. Document your community as it prays or goes for walks or enjoys recreation. (As we know from Paweł Pawlikowski and Paolo Sorrentino, cassocks and habits are very cinematic.) Tag these photographs with a hashtag like #monklife or #nunlife. Slowly but surely, you will start to develop a following. The Benedictine Monks of Meath, Ireland, who run a wonderful Instagram, have over 900 followers. That may not sound like a lot when many middle schoolers have thousands, but it is a solid start.

Finally, if you belong to an order that supports itself through handicraft or food production, you should market your wares under the hipster umbrella. Los Angeles’s Ace Hotel, the popular hipster hotel chain, is ornamented with handmade leather knickknacks and woolen blankets available for purchase at a hefty price. Maybe those blankets could be woven by your community? In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, a hip men’s store sells “Incense of the West,” which smells suspiciously like church incense. Perhaps that store could be selling your incense instead? Write to hipster boutiques and high-end urban specialty food shops and see if they will stock your products. Your community will make some money, but more important, it will garner interest and curiosity.

A notable American example of monastic engagement can be found in Spencer, Mass., where the Cistercians at St. Joseph Abbey, worried about the costs of running their community, recently started brewing the first Trappist beer in the United States. So many fans were clamoring to visit the abbey and tour the brewery that this past summer the brewery opened its doors to the general public for one day.

•••

Of course, the compatibility of Catholic and hipster visions of authenticity breaks down at a certain point. The Catholic Church, by definition, runs counter to the ideas of exclusivity that hipsterdom associates with authenticity. The church is for everyone. Nonetheless, in tapping into the current hipster lifestyle craze, you have a chance to share what a truly authentic life looks like: a life grounded in God.

Before you go all-in, however, a word of caution. To introduce Instagram or Snapchat into your community could threaten your own attention span. Smartphones and social media might distract the mind from prayer and contemplation. If you are a cloistered community, employing social media or engaging the world through mindfulness presents an implicit threat to your cloistered lifestyle and your vocation. You are no doubt well aware of these threats.

But as St. Augustine writes in De Doctrina Christiana: “We were not wrong to learn the alphabet just because they say that the god Mercury was its patron, nor should we avoid justice and virtue just because they dedicated temples to justice and virtue.” I am not advocating packing smartphones in your cassocks and habits. I am suggesting that you wade into the stream with care. For at the moment, the world needs your wisdom and your model of the good life almost as much as it needs your prayers."
monasticism  monks  mindfulness  hispters  davidmichael  2017  cv  authenticity  catholicism  lifesyle  craft  slow  socialmedia  body  practice  ritual  habituation  slowness  instagram  contemplation  handmade  bespoke  smallbatch  bodies 
july 2017 by robertogreco

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