Cool Is Over
I’m disoriented. I like to keep my finger on the pulse, but space and time have converged, I’m losing my grip, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m getting older. I watch TV shows, movies, and it doesn’t matter when they were made—50s, 70s, 90s—if the characters are young and well-dressed, I can imagine spotting them tomorrow, strolling down the street in Dalston or Williamsburg. Now is every time at once.
As was recently pointed out on this very blog, the hipster has been dead for a while, but this shape-shifting creature of culture has not been replaced by any other entity, nothing recognizably new has emerged from what n+1 once called the “primordial subcultural soup.” Instead the hipster remains spectral, haunting us with its non-existence, vapory and in the shadows.
What I’ve started to notice is that as soon as a style or affect begins to emerge, it explodes immediately. There is no lag time, seemingly no period during which the avant-garde is actually more advanced than the plain old guard. Any sense there might once have been of ‘underground’ or ‘subculture’ has collapsed into one cultural behemoth. And more than that, the center and periphery—if we can just divide things up that way for the sake of convenience—are constantly sharing material, to the degree that it’s nearly impossible to tell what comes from where. The circle of mutual re-appropriation is so close and continuous that the very idea of appropriation begins to seem silly.
On a recent post on the New Aesthetic tumblr, a blog devoted to collecting media objects from across the web that fall under the broad and nebulous New Aesthetic umbrella, James Bridle, Chief Theorist of everything New Aesthetic, described Rihanna’s performance of her new single “Diamonds” on SNL a few weeks ago as representing, “…the end of subculture scarcity,” implying that subcultures might just not have any opportunity to exist anymore, becoming simply affects that can be effortlessly drawn from by any one at any given moment. Everything is always immediately available, no process of discovery necessary.
Alongside the “Diamonds” performance, Bridle posted Azealia Banks’ newest video “Atlantis”:
The video for “Atlantis” is aesthetically nearly identical to Dan Deacon’s 2007 clip for “Crystal Cat,” meaning it’s a look that’s been around for a while:
But nonetheless, Banks’ early digital, green-screen chic, Lisa Frank for grown-ups vibe remains a pervading style in what would at some previous point in history have been considered the cutting edge.
A follower of LuckyPDF, a small collective of artist-filmmaker-curator-party-planners based in the South London neighborhood of Peckham, recently posted on Facebook expressing mild dismay at the appearance of LuckyPDF’s aesthetic in Banks’ video:
This feeling is a familiar one — the shock of finding that everyone else has caught on to what once was cool and was yours. Bridle suggests that what has changed in this process is the time scale, writing, “it’s not the visual style of these videos that is New Aesthetic affect, it’s the time-to-mainstream of these cultural references and histories.”
But maybe what’s actually happening has more to do with a deeper shift in which mainstream and periphery are no longer set in opposition to each other as they may have been in the past. The actual members of LuckyPDF are probably neither concerned nor surprised that Azealia is copping their style. Founding member Ollie Hogan recently told the London Evening Standard that his ultimate goal is “Directing a Kanye West music video.”
This convergence isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily a good thing either. In the information soup, where twitter and tumblr render geographically determined communities decreasingly relevant, everything starts to get a lot more homogenous.
Paul Virilio, the great philosopher-polemicist of speed, has been warning of the information super-highway’s potential to collapse time and space for a while now. In a 1995 article entitled “Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm!” Virilio wrote that “A total loss of the bearings of the individual looms large. To exist, is to exist in situ, here and now, hic et nunc. This is precisely what is being threatened by cyberspace and instantaneous, globalized information flows.”
We are losing our here and now, or rather, here and now is everywhere and everytime.
Filled with rippling triangles, upside down crosses and vibrating purple clouds, Ke$ha’s latest video (setting off alarms in the corners of the internet concerned with the Illuminati) marks the full absorption of simmering, culty Dark Crystal Witch House style into top 40 pop.
But it isn’t a surprise anymore, and maybe we don’t really need to sound the Cyberspace Alarm.
This afternoon as my roommate and I watched Ke$ha dancing in a sea of triangles together, she remarked, “I like this, because it means I just don’t have to care anymore.”