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Tuesday, Oct 30, 2007

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy, Yann Martel’s illustrated Life of Pi, Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad ... the list of anticipated reads from Australia’s independent Text Publishing house is never-ending. In looking for the Australian distributor of Girl Meets Boy, I was sent to the Text website, and reminded just how invaluable the company is to Aussie readers—especially lovers of foreign literature, and those with tastes left of centre.


Text Publishing is behind the Australian releases of I’m Not Scared and When I Was Five, I Killed Myself, David Denby’s work, works by Athol Fuard and Anna Funder. The company publishes authors as diverse as Gideon Haigh, Linda Jaivin, Patrick Suskind, Alexander McCall Smith, Arnold Zable, Jeanette Winterson, Garry Disher, Shane Moloney, Helen Garner, Tim Flannery, and Mary Roach. And, when visiting the company online, one notices a straightforward approach to self-advertising – no glossy pictures to capture the attention, no bells, few whistles, just an uncomplicated, readable list of what’s new. The books, it would appear, speak for themselves. 


Publisher Michael Heyward notes on the Text website Australia’s “slender and heartbreaking history of publishing independence.” Text, partnered with Canongate, has had a hugely successful year, and, according to The Book Standard, assisted Canongate in doubling profits in 2007. 


His success all well and good, Heyward is not focused on numbers, but “edit[ing], design[ing], and publish[ing] books that readers love.”


Text is online here.


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Tuesday, Oct 30, 2007

the message on a mobile medium

Tiffany Shlain’s movie, The Tribe, is the number one short film on i-Tunes. In a New York Times article last week she said that “iTunes had actually made it advantageous, in a way, to make short films. “It’s one of these beautiful moments in time,” Ms. Shlain said. “People aren’t trained yet to download a feature and watch it” on their television, she added. “Most people are going to watch on their iPod or a computer. The technology really isn’t there yet to move it over to TV. And people are much more apt to download shorts, because of YouTube and iTunes.”


Tiffany’s early short films can be found on You Tube. They’re a collage of found images and archival footage spliced with images she’s created. Tiffany describes her films as ‘fast paced’ but it’s the smooth glide of exhilaration not an edgy adrenalin rush. The Tribe – an essay on “what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st Century” –added extra elements, narration, bits of performance, animated dioramas using dolls (in this case Barbie, the iconic doll created by a Jewish American woman) and “avant-garde visual techniques”. They have elements of humour as well as poignancy, an approach that Tiffany’s husband Ken Goldberg, an artist and scientist who co-wrote The Tribe, has described as “using humour and play to disarm our preconceptions.”  Tiffany created a book and flash cards to go with The Tribe and described the film as “the appetiser” and the discussions as “the main course”.


Ken is a pioneer of telerobotic art projects conducted over the internet and these installations, that create an art project as a way of commenting on the tool and critiquing it while it’s being developed, will be wrapped around the experience of the films they’ll be producing with their new company, The Moxie Institute. It has a still-to be-announced structural mix of non-profit services (a ‘think tank’, white papers) and the sale of the films, which have a strong social message “focusing on the power of film and the web to make social change”. Ken and Tiffany are investigating ”the intersection between these worlds and how the rules are changing. We hope to share the ideas that work and form bridges with leaders in the respective industries to achieve better financial and social returns.”


There are now many film-makers taking on big environmental, social, humanitarian, and cultural questions. At the recent Sundance Film Festival Tiffany co-hosted a ‘think tank’ on the intersection of film, the internet and social change. Highlights from The Movies That Matter panel were intercut with an interview with Tiffany from the think tank.


Directors, writers and producers on Monday’s Movies that Matter Panel have influenced everything from AIDS policy, to the phase-out of PVC packaging, to the global warming debate. Participants included: Sean Fine War / Dance, Judith Helfand Everything’s Cool, Rory Kennedy Ghost’s of Abu Graib, Eric Schlosser Fast Food Nation, Gayle Smith (The Center for American Progress), Diane Weyermann Participant Productions, and Brian Steidle (subject of The Devil Came on Horseback), Helene Cooper of the New York Times (who became an anti-Apartheid activist after seeing Cry Freedom) moderated. While everyone agreed that the movies can matter, there were a variety of approaches to how and why. We’ve all seen the effects of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. My mom’s cat knows about it. Weyermann noted, “The idea was to try to reach as many people as possible to incite change.” Participant Productions clearly carried this out successfully through non-profit partnerships and savvy marketing. To head off doubters, a “bible of science” was provided to press along with the film’s initial release. A year after the Sundance premiere, “The debate about whether global warming exists is over,” said Weyermann. “Now it’s ‘what can we do?’”


Report from Treehugger.


Tiffany’s movies don’t have a plot they have a perspective, where they are philosophically matters as much as what they are. Natural Connection, a short film Tiffany made in 2001 begins with the camera going in through an eye, and the way that the images slide together, morph into one another, and spark off one another makes it seem as if we’re watching the process of thinking, impressions deepening into ideas. Questioning the permeable borders between art and science, considering the reasoning of the scientist, something observable and measurable, and the mystery and intuition that fuels the artist, is also something that underpins all of Ken’s telerobotic art projects. And Tiffany’s father, Leonard Shlain, has written several books that study the intersection between art and science. His book Art and Physics proposes, “…that the visionary artist is the first member of a culture to see the world in a new way. Then, nearly simultaneously, a revolutionary physicist discovers a new way to think about the world.” I think of Tiffany’s movies as demonstrating what happens when this seeing and thinking collide.


Tiffany was the founder of the Webby Awards and a few years ago stepped away from the day-to-day running of the company to concentrate again on film making. Her invention that receives the most attention is the Zen koan-like five word acceptance speech: e.g. Al Gore saying “please don’t recount this vote”. But she also made the awards democratic with a People’s Voice award, able to be voted on by anyone who’s connected to the internet, running alongside the official award made by industry innovators and practitioners. What’s genuinely popular now is able to be celebrated along with technical breakthroughs that are yet to move into widespread use. Tiffany formed the Digital Academy of Arts and Sciences to vote on the official awards.


Tiffany has always been guided by the notion that the internet is a communications medium that has the responsibility to provide the kind of information as a public trust that traditional media companies find it difficult to do in a time of declining revenues. Recently the Webby Awards held a summit to look at the message of the media, with internet co-inventor Vint Cerf, Arianna Huffington the publisher of The Huffington Post,  Biz Stone, Co-Founder of Twitter, and Shawn Gold of MySpace, and del.icio.us founder Joshua Schachter among the presenters. There are papers from the conference at the Webby’s site.


On her own blog Arianna Huffington talked about the value of community.


Over at WebbyConnect, the talk was about a trend that is already happening: the realization by a growing number of major media companies that the best way to succeed—and make money—in the Brave New Media World is to give away your content. Forward thinking companies are now adopting long-term growth strategies, and moving away from short-term profit-seeking.


“Make as much as you can, any way you can” was the approach many big companies had taken to monetizing the web. The New York Times stuck some of its most popular content behind a pay wall, and Microsoft stuck 30-second pre-roll ads on its MSN Video videos.


Neither of these strategies paid off: online readership of the Times’ columnists dropped, and users at MSN complained of a negative user experience.


So now TimesSelect is dead. MSN is cutting way back on pre-roll ads. And, elsewhere, CBS has made a major u-turn away from the notion of hording its content on its own site, instead letting its material be available all over the web. Quincy Smith, the new president of CBS Interactive put it this way: “CBS is all about open, nonexclusive, multiple partnerships.”


The conclusion is inescapable: online, promiscuity can be profitable. And not just when it comes to porn!


To its credit, CBS and other major players are finally realizing that the key to online success is community, community, community.


 


 


 


 


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Monday, Oct 29, 2007


By its very nature, the short film has a hard time lending itself to horror. While the simple shock, the gross out gag, and the briefest of interludes between the supernatural and cinema can all find a home within the truncated format, creating macabre in such a tight logistical span seems almost impossible. Dread relies on mood, atmosphere, premise, follow through and other nebulous elements to be effective, and getting all that across in seven to twenty minutes is tricky at best. Those who’ve managed such cinematic slight of hand deserve praise for cracking one of the artform’s most complicated puzzles, said success translating into an equally deserving example of the medium.


In 2003, Other Cinema, an independent DVD distributor, collected several fine examples of these horrific mini-movies, including corrupt classics by such insane savants as Damon Packard and J. X. Williams, and released them in compilation form. Experiments in Terror proved that, though minimal in running time, the short film could be massive on imagination and meaning. Four years later, the company is back with Experiments in Terror 2. Expanding the selections while bringing back frightmare favorites (Packard and Williams both have new offerings), the expanded technological options provided by the digital revolution argue for a renewed viability. But there are specific pieces picked from four decades before that illustrate the necessity for artistry first, artifice second.


Viewed in one huge 95 minute hunk, or screened separately, this is avant-garde fear at its most mesmerizing. For anyone sick and tired of sloppy slice and dice or visually muted ghost stories, these optical wonders, bursting with retrospective revisionism and meticulous montages, creates a compelling overview of what people find frightening. There are very few examples of standard narrative story structure here. In face, aside from Angel Nieves 2001 effort The Fear and Bill Morrison’s borrowed plotline from the 1927 film The Bells (for his 2003 work The Mesmerist), everything else here is handled in an evocative, suggestive manner. The aforementioned shorts are sensational, Fear playing like a perfectly formed summary of late ‘70s/early ‘80s moviemaking. Morrison’s found footage, combining decay and remastering to offer up a disturbing sense of psychological parallelism, is a wonder to behold.

Thematically, there is a constant sense of backwards glancing here, a look at how dread past remains resonant in contemporary terror. Between 2 Deaths (2006) offers an intriguing look at San Francisco locations used by Alfred Hitchcock for his masterwork Vertigo. Director Wago Krieder does his best to line up shots exactly as the Master of Suspense did, and his morphing back and forth between the modern material and the Jim Stewart/Kim Novack gem stands as a stunning archival stunt. Similarly, Amor Peligrosa takes the age old symbol of death – the skeleton – and turns it on its frisky, fornicating head. Michelle Silva’s silly sexual congress remains compelling, if only because it seems so metaphysically apropos.


But it’s the actual works from the 1960s that help us understand the post-modern movement in Experiments. Opus 5 (1961) is a celluloid collage, a collection of unsettling images – fire, lights, religious iconography – that suggests a primer from hence all horror has originated. Lloyd Williams’ skilled juxtapositions give the presentation a creepy, unearthly aura. Similarly J. X. Williams’ Psych-Burn (1968) is the love generation unhinged, a compelling cock-up between go-go dancers and gory backdrops that even finds a way to turn the psychedelic acid rock of the era on its head. As the imagery bombards us with its death and debauchery subtext, the music is mindlessly interrupted, classic fear beats and shrieks inserted to remind us of the yin yang nature of man.


Oddly enough, when modern filmmakers attempt the same thing, the results can be less than impressive. Usama Alshaibi’s equally scattered Hold My Scissors tries for the Hellspawn head trip, and yet can’t quite pull off the impressionistic hat trick. It comes off as minor Shakespearean – full of sound and fury, and signifying very little. Similarly, Clifton Childree and Nikki Rollason’s She Sank on Shallow Bank wants to recall the early shorts of David Lynch (an auteur who truly understood the format) with their monochrome meandering. But for every provocative moment – a woman suggestively drowning on a sound stage seashore set – we get ghostly shoes shuffling around a boat. If there is sense to be made of such accidental imagery, it gets lost here.


The remaining masterpieces more than make up for any cinematic slack, however. Damon Packard, one of the undeniable masters of retro-revivalism, has utilized his entire catalog of Me Decade macabre to manufacture the dead-on dementia of The Early ‘70s Horror Trailer. A nine minute amalgamation of various damsels in all manner of ABC Movie of the Week distress, we keep waiting for Burt Bacharach’s “Nikki” to start up in the background. Luckily, Packard is one step ahead of us. He utilizes underscoring from such diverse sources as Escape from the Planet of the Apes and peppers the entire project with as many Super-8 stunts (prism lens, double exposure, slo-mo) as possible. Some may see it as nothing more than a massive gimmick given over to self indulgence. But when viewed through the eyes of someone who lived through the era, it’s absolute genius.


So is the aforementioned Fear. How a modern filmmaker like Angel Nieves managed to accurately recreate the look, feel, performances, and overall dread dynamic of an early ‘80s exploitation schlocker in 2001 is unnerving. From the sets to the storyline, you never once guess this is a post-millennial production. Instead, its old school scare tactics that feel fresh and innovative, carefully controlled pacing providing the right amount of suspense. It’s a very disturbing experience, one that leads to an instant reflection on the films it faithfully mimics. With The Mesmerist, the effect is different, but equally devastating. While The Bells is often dismissed as a well acted, half-formed morality play, director Morrison digs the meat out of it, using the original, racially insensitive title cards, to offer a comment on stereotypes and human sin. While it’s great to see Lionel Barrymore and a young Boris Karloff in full genre mode, it’s the underlying message about intolerance and redemption that’s far more effective.


As an added treat, Other Cinema includes a pair of compelling bonus features. The first is an interactive ‘Closet of Horrors’. By using your remote and clicking on the illuminated doorway, you are transported to one of a random collection of trailers, clips, and fright themed commercials. It’s an unfathomable delight. By contrast, the rant-oriented Warhol Beyond the Grave (from a longer piece known as Pleromadromadhetu) finds the long dead pop art phenom rising from the tomb to take on his legacy, as an anti-Andy screed plays in the background. It’s a weirdly compelling combination, both a declaration and denouncement of the 20th Century’s leading limelighter.


An appearance by the man - or the image of same – who once declared the disposability of fame is an excellent end note to this compelling collection. With its devotion to former frighteners, Experiments in Terror 2 appears to suggest that post-modern fear is too throwaway to warrant commemoration. For many in the creative community, the siren song of what came before is far more compelling than the simulated superficiality of current CGI creepshows. While these may be mere trials in the lexicon of fear, they are far more fully formed than much of today’s takes. As curator and compiler of this remarkable overview, Other Cinema deserves a lot of credit. While they won’t satisfy everyone, these short film scares deserve their moment in the sun. Experiments in Terror 2 gives it to them, and we couldn’t be happier.


 


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Sunday, Oct 28, 2007


They’re the go-to ghouls when things get dicey, a bit of splatter spice when dialogue and characterization can’t save you. From their initial start as nothing more than a novelty – an unruly urban legend suggesting slaves and other island immigrants – to their present status as scary movie saviors, the zombie has become a main member of the macabre in-crowd. In fact, when placed alongside vampires, werewolves, and serial killers, they become the Fourth Horseman of the cinematic apocalypse. While historians can argue over when and where the undead made their first onscreen appearance, it’s clear that a plainspoken Pittsburgh advertising man made these monsters mainstream. When George Romero released Night of the Living Dead on an ill—prepared public back in 1968, he ushered in the first phase of the post-modern horror film. And we’ve been jonesing on these resplendent rotting corpses ever since.


So why do we love zombies so? Does it have something to do with how they quench our instinctual and omnipresent bloodlust, or is there something deeper to our dedication? One thing is definitely clear – the notion of human as evil is not new. Aside from extraterrestrials and otherworldly demons, most craven creatures are born of man. The vampire is a person poisoned by the need for blood, a werewolf the hapless victim of a passed along curse. Frankenstein was forged out of corpses, and ghosts are the spiritual remnants of individuals unstuck between dimensions. So turning the recognizable homosapien into a horror show is not such a stretch. Even the cannibalism angle derives directly from jungle legend and legitimate archeology. In fact, in the world of horror, the undead are perhaps the most logistically recognizable (if rotting) entities ever.



Similar to when the slasher barnstormed the genre, turning dreadfulness into a man next door dynamic, it’s the possibility of occurrence that could explain the zombie’s appeal. After decades of radioactive beasties and world war atrocities, the notion that people are one infected step away from being pusillanimous killers has a special, intrinsic truth. It’s the same with mass murders and our newfangled Dr. Lecters. The general perception has shifted from human’s being generally good to powderkegs waiting for the right psychological spark to set them off. While we might not initially imagine our friends feasting on our flesh, we can readily visualize them stabbing us in the back for a promotion, a prom date, or a piece of property. Call in cynical or paranoid, but we now think the worst of civilization first.


This could clarify the undead’s appeal. They reflect our inner beliefs, our need to know just how cruel the koffee klatch or the Glee Club really is. We take our own inherent fear, give it a decomposing façade, and night terror the world into a wicked, hideous mankind eat mankind paradigm. And when done well – as in the films of Romero, Danny Boyle’s brilliant 28 Days Later, or Zach Synder’s purely pathological Dawn of the Dead remake – we feel our apprehensions being supported and assuaged. A zombie film confirms our already razor sharp sense of suspicion, acknowledging that parents should loathe their offspring, friends fear their associates, and strangers believe that everyone is out to get them. And the solution couldn’t be simpler – a well placed bullet/implement to the head.



The ease of disposal is also part of the living dead’s allure. In the case of classic monsters, there is very little control. Dracula and the Wolfman require such a depth of knowledge, rituals and remedies and how to apply them, that their victims usually crumble from a lack of proper preparation more than anything else. In the case of the slasher, a supernatural aspect has been woven into their fatalistic fabric. When you kill the boogeyman, he’s not necessarily dead. Driven by his paranormal desire to destroy, his body is an immortal temple of terror. But zombies are different. Granted, a single bite and you’re screwed. But if you have the nerve, and the dexterity (fast running versions of the villains notwithstanding), you can utilize what’s around to stay alive.


It’s the foundation for the fanboy argument over slow vs. speedy corpses. In these post-millennial days, where everyone wants their needs satiated immediately, if not anticipated beforehand and remedied in advance, the concept of killers that can literally give you a run for your money may seem quite contemporary. But when viewed in hindsight, the articulated cannibal is not very frightening. Oh sure, their initial threat is as shocking as it is overwhelming. But with most of the human race as far from the President’s Physical Fitness regime as a McDonald’s drive-thru, the notion of outrunning your death appears impossible. While it surely fits our current omnipresent pessimistic nature, it’s a macabre facet that quickly exhausts all its steam. It also moves beyond our ‘there but for the grace go’ fear factor. When the monsters are more mobile than we are, the odds of survival - and the implied suspense - are reduced dramatically.



Maybe it’s the gore. After all, we are a populace of traffic accident voyeurs. We voluntarily risk our own vehicular health to see any and all automobile atrocities, and NASCAR’s enduring popularity is frequently attributed to the everpresent possibility of on the pavement carnage. As the 24 hour a day news cycle brings us desperate people using blood soaked violence as a way of solving their societal problems, we get daily doses of arterial spray. So imagine how successful a movie could be when it places such grue in a clever cinematic context. It’s the main selling point of most zombie movies, from Romero’s classics to the most minor homemade romp. In fact, when a living dead movie fails to deliver on the human juice dreck, the audience typically reacts in abject boredom.


It’s a vicious viscous cycle of course. Once Dawn of the Dead set the bloodletting benchmark, followers and copycats were compelled to increase the ick. Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 was another nasty noxious benchmark, toppled by Romero’s own Day of the Dead. When Synder’s remake extrapolated on the many ways to vivisect a corpse, Georgie upped the offal with his Land of the Dead. Of course, what many outside the auteur fail to realize is that redrum is only inviting when combined with a proper collection of cinematic mixers. There are dozens of wannabe fright masters who simply grab the Kayro syrup and start splattering. They could care less about directorial flair, artistic vision, or motion picture acumen. To them, a successful zombie film equals gallons of the grotesque, the legitimate language of the medium be damned.



While it’s true that gore can get you past an abundance of filmic faux paxes, it cannot solely sustain an audience’s interest. Peter Jackson’s nonstop vein volley Dead Alive would never have succeeded without the filmmaker’s frisky sense of humor. Sure, it’s as dark as the brain matter flowing from the heads of his characters, but it’s necessary ballast to maintain the movie’s meaning. Without it, you might as well be filming autopsies down at the local morgue. Violence, whether real or created in the mind of a special effect wizard, can only take a viewer so far. Blow off someone’s head, or slice off their sinew, and it’s initially horrific. But without a sense of perspective, it becomes a one time terror, not something that sinks beneath your quickly goose-bumped flesh.


No, context is necessary to sell your undead scares, and it’s this complementary commentary that really underscores the genre’s continuing success. Scholars have even argued that our love of the zombie is tied directly to the current state of social, political and/or world affairs. When George Romero created the modern mythos with Night of the Living Dead, he was sure to add a hot button subtext to the narrative. He made his main character, Ben, a black man. Not only was it unusual for an individual of color to be the cinematic hero, but in the surrounding situation where everyone else was white, his implied leadership was sly and subversive. It made the ending all the more poignant as well. Similarly, the sequel took the growing materialism and sense of institutional distrust and reflected it in the survivors’ sense of post-apocalyptic entitlement. Watching them defend their mall mentality, as well as the monsters intrinsic need to ‘shop’, made Dawn a devious delight.



While many argue that Romero dropped the ball with Day, the message got even meaner. Smack dab in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s second term, the jaded jingoism of the storyline, its battle between the military and the scientific for an already dead planet played out like a corrupt Cabinet meeting. Romero had originally hoped to create an all out action epic featuring zombie soldiers battling each other in a kind of unwinnable game of corpse-tac-toe. When he couldn’t afford the elaborate effects, he turned the people into pawns and made the monsters sympathetic. The final facet in his ongoing love affair with the undead – Land of the Dead – was another political paean. In this case, the rich got richer and the disenfranchised just rotted. Mirroring another unrealistic Republican administration, it stands as the filmmaker’s final social statement – for now.


Placing the zombie within a certain recognizable structure has been a long standing logistical strategy. Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things branded the counterculture, while Dellamorte Dellamore found Dario Argento apprentice Michele Soavi using the recently deceased as a reflection of Rupert Everett’s emotional detachment. On the other end of the spectrum, a director like Lucio Fulci uses his cannibalistic creatures as a geek show sentiment, to shock and sicken without much inferred meaning. It’s the way in which most underground and independent filmmakers treat the terror. It’s also the reason why most knock-off horror films fail to leave an impression. With perspective comes permanence. It’s what separates the Romeros from the retreads.



Still, all of these reasons don’t sufficiently explain our fascination with zombies. Some will argue the innate need for people to feel fear, the necessary valleys in the human’s emotional rollercoaster. Others will argue escape and leave it at that, feeling all film is nothing more than 90 minutes of vicarious entertainment experience. There’s always the “double dare” concept of facing your fears, walking directly into the gorge of blood drenched death and coming out the other end unscathed. And then there are those who merely love a good shiver now and then. Though the ease of realization can also play a part (Romero rendered his Dawn corpses with some green face paint – now that’s horrifying), there must be a single factor that endears us to the dead.


Maybe it’s the monster’s malleability, its ability to be anything to anyone at anytime. Vampires and poltergeists come with certain situational truths, be it nighttime only visitations or projections placed within the ethereal plain. In order to accept them as terrifying, we have to fall into their traditions and buy into their entire heritage. Not true with the undead. Aside from one or two simple rules, they remain transient, capable of taking on any form we feel is necessary. And they keep on coming – never giving up or lessening their resolve (quite a capitalist conceit, when you thing about it). In truth, we love zombies because they are flawless reflections of our own inner fears. No other creature can claim that mantle of meaning. Like their prehistoric need to feed, the undead are forever – and we will always celebrate them as such. When other monsters have lost their snap, the living dead will continue to haunt our darkest nightmares. And we can’t get enough.


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Sunday, Oct 28, 2007

Rob Walker shows admirable restraint and does not state the obvious in his NYT Magazine column about watches that don’t tell time.


In other words, it’s not that a watch with one hand, or no hands, has no value. It’s that the value it has is unrelated to the telling of time.
This, in fact, is what makes a useless-seeming watch potentially more valuable — in identity terms — than, say, regular jewelry. If the Timeless Bracelet didn’t have an empty space where the face should be, it would just be a bracelet. “It has more value because it’s missing its functional component,” Berger suggests; a thing that’s more of a comment on watchness than a watch “provides more information” about the person wearing it.


Exactly, it screams loud and clear that you are an idiot. And sensible people would be wise not to get into a conversation with you or give you any of the attention you so desperately crave but clearly don’t deserve.


Walker, who can apparently read coolhunting blogs without judging (or vomiting), instead highlights the appeal of objects that are “counterfunctional,” that make it harder to do what they are putatively supposed to assist a person with. Ordinary people don’t want them, which makes them that much more attractive for people who need to be nonconformists. Essentially, these are consumer goods equivalents of the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Metal Machine Music.


I can still remember making my own subtle calculations about how to come across as mysteriously different and ineffably superior to the people I might encounter. I never wore sunglasses indoors or anything, but I tried to figure out ways to impress people without having to do all the unpleasant work of talking to them and being interested in what they might say. It still has only barely sunk in that perpetrating a scheme of “nonconformity” is a surefire way not of impressing people but alienating them. It creates a forcefield that will prevent people from bothering with you. And those who aren’t warded off can’t have anything but a sort of false relation with you, since you are so studiously avoiding risking anything that you’re sincere about. In this way, the pursuit of cool is ultimately isolating, which tends to further the conditions that foster it—being alone, deprived of the skills to be sociable but susceptible and exposed continually to marketing promises of winning identities that one can imagine richly in fantasy without requiring the participation of others.


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