The Pleasure of Ruins – The Awl

Latelyinmytravelsthroughtheblogosphere,I’vedetectedincreasingunhappinesswiththeintrusivenatureofwhatcouldbecalledour“brandeconomy。

”Assomeonewhoidentifieswiththisdiscontent,Iwasledtowonderifbrandinghasactuallygrownmoreintenseinrecentyears,orifbygettingolder-inthewayonegenerationalwayscomplainsaboutthenext-I’mmoreimpatientwiththestatusquoofourmore-or-less-in-theorycapitalistsystem。

Afterall,it’shardlycontroversialtosaythatsincethedawnofmassproduction,andperhapsevenearlier,we’velivedina“brand-driven”society;it’snaturalforcompaniestomakeproductsandadvertisewiththeexpectationthatcustomerswillrecognizebrandsandbemoreinclinedtobuynewproductsbythesame?

company。

ItmaybemorecontroversialtosaythattheInternethasusheredinaneraofunprecedentedbranding,andthatthisisdrivingourcurrentfatigue。

Allowmetomakethecase:inmyexperience,it’simpossibletogoonlineandnottohaveaconstantstreamofcorporatelogospassinfrontofyoureyes,whetherthesebelongtocomputerhardwareorsoftwarecompanies,siteowners,ortheproductswecontinuallyignore(ornot)inthesidebarsandbannerads。

(Related:theprimaryreasonI’mnotyetinclinedtobuyan“e-reader”ismyfearoflogos;whenIreadabook,Iwantmyescapetobeunsulliedbyalurkingsymbolonlyinchesawayfromtheprose。

)Itmaybethatwearesooversaturatedwithbrandsandlogosatthispointthattheyhavebecomemeaningless,butItendtothinkotherwise。

BecausetheInternetisaboundlessmediumoftransportinginformation-largelyimmunetotraditionalconstraintsoftime(totheextentthatdigitalcontentdoesnotdecay)andlocation-there’sasensethatbrandsassociatedprimarilywiththeinternetanditsinfrastructurearerelativelyeternalandmorepowerfulthananydatingfromthepre-Internetera。

IrememberlivinginBrooklynafterIgraduatedfromcollegein1990andhowoneofmyroommatesbecameincreasinglyobsessedwithabrand-freeexistence;hestrippedthelabelsoffcansoffoodinthekitchen,alongwiththatofthedishwashingdetergent,andevenpulledoffthemarkerontherefrigerator(hecoveredtheholewithahandwrittenquotebyRichardRorty);hethrewawayeverythingheownedwithanidentifiablecorporatetagormarkandplacedwhatremainedintoasmallone-footsquarecabinethebuiltintohiscloset,whichheldfivewhiteshirtsheworetoworkandanequalnumberofwhitet-shirtsheworewhenhewasoff。

(TheonlybookshekeptweretheoldyelloweditionsofWalterBenjamin’sessays。

)Atthetime,Iwasmostlyamusedornonplussedbyhisbehaviorandprivatelydidalotofeye-rolling;IfeltvindicatedwhenatsomepointIpickedupGenerationXbyDouglasCouplandanddiscoveredthatmyroommatewaseffectivelyacaricatureofthebrand-haterssopithilydescribedbyCoupland,freakswhowerefartooseriousaboutlifeandshouldreallylearntorelax。

Itwasn’tthatIdidn’tonsomelevelsharemyroommate’ssensibility,butitseemedpointlesstofight。

Woulditreallymakeanydifferenceformetobesovigilantaboutscrubbingbrandsfrommylife?

Itseemedridiculous。

Iwaswillingtospendfivesecondspeelingoffthelabelofmydeodorant(becauseitalsolookedoddlystrikingingenericplastic),butIwasn’tabouttotakeanhoursoakingabottleofliquiddetergentinhotwatertoungluethelabel。

(Althoughitdidlookprettyawesomeintheend。

)Tocutbrandsoutofyourlifestruckmeaboutaseasyasprocessedsugar:whatsoundsgoodintheoryisgoingtomakeyouamiserablemotherfucker。

Iattributethissenseoffutilitytoshapinglargerdiscussionsof“sellingout”thatwerequitepopularandheatedintheearlynineties,particularlyinthecontextofmusic。

Whatexactlydiditmeanforabandto“signwithamajor”?

Wouldtheynecessarily“blow”goingforward?

(Alltoooftenitseemedtobethecase。

)Ontheotherhand,wouldyouturndownsixorsevenfiguresforyournextrecord?

UnlessyournameisIanMacKaye,Ithinknot!

ThenNirvanachangedtheequation,andeversince,toevenmention“sellingout”isgenerallyregardedascringe-inducing。

Likepoliticsorreligionatafamilydinner,it’sunderstoodthatmaybethere’ssomethingtodiscuss,butit’ssofuckingboringandbesidethepointthatnobodywantstohear?

it。

Withthepassageoftime,I’vebecomemoresympathetictomyoldroommate。

(Notlivingwithhimhelps。

)OneofthereasonsIlovegardeningisthatit’sgenerallyanon-brandedexperience,atleastsuperficially。

Whenyoustareattheleavesandflowers,youdon’t(yet)seelogos,evenperipherally。

Gardening(orcampingorgoingtotheparkorthebeach)isnotwithoutitsflaws,however,intermsofanunadulteratedbrand-freeexperience。

Theproblemisthatit’sstillvery“active”;youessentiallyhavetochoosetocreateanon-brandedenvironmentforyourself,and-aseverygardenerorvacationercanattest-it’salotofworktogettothepointwhereyoucansitbackandsay,“ah,thisisfuckingsweet,Iamatonewiththenaturalworld,andallyoumultinationalcorporationscangofuckyourselves。



Whattakesmuchlessworkistoobservesomethinglikethesubwaypanelsof163rdStreetinWashingtonHeights,whichofferacompletelypassivenon-brandedexperience,outsideofanyone’spowertocreateorrefute。

Intheessentialconduitofitstime(bywhichImeantocomparethesubwaytotheInternet)weseethegraveyardofbrands,aplacewheretheonce-envisionedpostersandadvertisinghavegivenwaytoderelict,ruinedspaces,deemedwithoutvaluebythecorporationsofourera。

Inthepeelingpaintandglueyoucanmoreoverfindakindofabstractionthatresonateswithartandcreation(albeitatypeofartwithoutacreator)。

HereI’mconsoledtoadegreethatextendsfarbeyondwhatIfindinthegarden。

WhenI’msuffocatedbytherelentlessassaultofbrands,Iturntothesepanelsandamreassuredbythecertaintythatnothingiseternal,andhereisyour?

proof。

MatthewGallawayisawriterwholivesinWashingtonHeights。

ThisiswhereyoucanlearnaboutTheMetropolisCase,hisfirst?