Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pop the cork and join the chorus!

Well, never have my own words tasted so succulent. As I was writing about unwarranted hostility and being "in an uncharacteristically conciliatory mood," the Lehman Brothers financial-services firm filed for the biggest bankruptcy in American history - and the crowd goes wild! Now the word is that the US gub'mint is about to pull AIG off the ledge and wrap it in an $85 billion security blanket to avoid an immediate sequel. I suppose one $691 billion giant biting the dust will have to do for our September dose of schadenfreude. I wonder if, once I roll my wagon eastward at year's end, I won't be followed by hordes of refugee financiers and carpetbaggers flying the flag of F.I.L.T.H. - "failed in London, try Hong Kong."

As good a sarcastic chuckle as this has been, there is a shadow cast across our little anti-capital celebration, as a grim spectre was invoked on the campaign trail. Eric Rauchway knows the seance:
Responding to the collapse of several major investment banks this week, John McCain reassured us, "I think still -- the fundamentals of our economy are strong." That move comes from an old playbook: On Oct. 25, 1929, Herbert Hoover declared, "The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."
As Ezra Klein duly elaborated, "This is a guy who has said, proudly, 'I'm always for less regulation' and ...who, three years ago, wanted to turn Social Security over to Wall Street." And should you, even for a moment, find yourself deaf to the echo of Hoover, I'd point you in the direction of Lenin's Tomb for a swift reminder: "This crisis is rooted in the fundamentals."

Anyway, my modest goal for the week is to make a mix of musical misanthropy before I'm back off to Berlin. Currently in the capital is an art exhibition called Exactitudes, "a taxonomy-in-progress of street style," according to Momus. In spite of my sartorial ineptitude, I actually fit into one of the project's tidy tribal pigeonholes - archetype #19, Vagabonds, within which I am frighteningly similar to this guy. Were he wearing a John Lennon mask, he'd be a friggin' dead-ringer. Ignoring that whittling the breadth of the human guise to 96 "tribes" is still woefully insufficient (I know about three people who could conceivably be found in the Exactitudes chart), I'm a little disturbed by how the project casts appearance as an elected self-symbolisation, not as a product of circumstance & lifestyle. As though everyone from the religious devout to trustafarians, from yuppies to genuine street people, put equal consideration & effort into how they present themselves - and have access to the same kinds of tools & accessories to sculpt their exteriors. This looks awfully like more condescending poorism, though since it's billed as an "art exhibition" instead of a glossy multipage advert, I doubt it'll ignite the appropriate level of ire.


Anonymous said...

This Exactitudes project is far more successful within the context of the Strich und Faden exhibition, ( where Momus had originally viewed the work. A major theme here is 'Heimat,' and how our environment may produce or restrict contemporary identity. Versluis and Uyttenbroek do not condescend to such role playing, rather they simply document evidence with a manner of logic similar to that of Bernd und Hilla Becher (here, too, the topologies are not meant to be essentially negative). To be fair, Exactitudes span the economic spectrum quite thoroughly, as is certainly noted in your comment regarding hippies and 'genuine street people.' It would be better read not as an attack on those without individuality but a mode of research into its disappearance.

Seb said...

Gotcha; cheers for the elaboration. I unfortunately ran out of time to see the exhibit when I was in Berlin last weekend, and so was left to wonder what I was missing in its presentation.

I'm not entirely convinced, though, that individuality is any scarcer now than it's ever been. The first wave of telecommunications (phone, film, radio, TV) would've been most people's first meaningful exposure to lifestyles & cultures outside their personal experience. This (along with the tumescent wealth of postindustrial nations) would've presented people with a wider menu for idiosyncratic self-symbolisation - though the same menu, with minor variation, was on offer everywhere else. Now, thanks to the panoptical connectivity of the internet, we're only just becoming aware of how illusory our notions of "individuality" are. We were never all that special, but now we know it.

There are, of course, those rare triumphs of the species, the outliers who merit the title of individual. But those are the people we either never hear about (because of their total secession from the human race) or are unavoidable by virtue of just how damned unusual (and thus fascinating) they are.