Daisy Alioto writes at The Baffler on Nelly Ben Hayoun’s University of the Underground, and the kerfuffles around its establishment as a celebrity-studded Master’s program at Amsterdam’s Sandberg Instituut a couple years back. Said kerfuffles were partly dreary student politics, a predictable anti-capitalist kickback in a design institution that prides itself on its radical swagger, but there’s more under the hood here, not just about design education, but more broadly the role of radical, theoretical design practice as an agent of social and political change. (And, also, how performed “radical” roles might just be the same old institutions in disguise.) We have a funny feeling this is something some of you might have thoughts about?
Rachel Monroe’s consideration of the natural wine movement for The New Yorker has an interesting, mildly effervescent funk to it. The bigger trend she’s writing about isn’t so much how your friendly neighbourhood hipster wine bar is suddenly only serving you a cloudy glass of yeast with the warning that it will have “a farty smell at first, but pretty soon it should be jangling” (they are, and that wine sounds great, can we have some?). Nor about the fact that your neighbourhood even has hipster wine bars now, because we’re drinking wine again? There’s something deeper that’s changed. It’s interesting to pair the Monroe with this week’s delightful Letter of Recommendation in the NYT Mag from winemaker Joe Appel, on the catalogues of wine importer Terry Theise, florid and passionate Rilke-quoting spirituals that are an antidote to what the industry had become in prior decades, as the entire concept of wine, of what it was supposed to be, of who should have access to it and what they needed to know, of what was good, of what was even allowed to exist, was co-opted and rendered unrecognizable by scientific and industrial perfectionism. A very narrow group of homogenizing tastemakers came to dictate industry trends, particularly the scores and prescriptionism of Robert Parker, who Appel writes “felt increasingly irrelevant to all of us with beating hearts”. For Appel, as with many of the winemakers and winedrinkers in Monroe’s piece, we’ve come back to a place where we’re excited by flavour, by life, by things just tasting of where they come from. Sure, natural wine lovers are cultists just like any other food snobs, maybe even “terroir jihadists” as Parker called them, but just as it has been with sourdoughs, with sour beers, with kombuchas, with the cloudy jar of pickles in your (our) fridge, we’ve learned a lot again about what it is to collaborate with the inherent unpredictability and unruliness of the yeasts that happen to surround us, with uncertainty and the joy of not knowing. And that’s about more than drinking, as Appel writes:
We may have passing acquaintance with what we like, but we don’t have much of an intimate relationship. We don’t know much of anything. We get in our own way. But Theise’s response to this problem is a “not knowing” route to understanding and appreciating. Our souls and our taste are born inert and grow only when we bring something to them through attention, sacrifice, effort.
So maybe it was inevitable that we wound our way from there to Carl Wilson’s appreciation of Céline Dion’s new album for Slate, in which he writes: “‘Authenticity’ is inevitably a construct, but it’s still amazing to experience how what seems over-the-top and phony in one context can come to seem like brave spontaneity in another.” If you’ve never read Carl’s 2007 book on Dion, Let’s Talk About Love, do! There are few more generously researched or argued explorations of “taste”, nor many better works of music criticism, full stop. As Ian Crouch wrote of it a few years later: “Reading it… could make you a better person. It will make you more tolerant of other people’s musical preferences, more attuned to why they like what they like (and why you might not), more sympathetic to differences of opinion, and less grouchy about matters of taste.”
“Countries changed, flags changed, anthems changed. Cities grew, forests were felled, marshes were reclaimed, tribal commons swallowed by modern ‘development.’ And the fissures between people grew old and hard and intractable.” Arundhati Roy, urgent and exasperated as ever, on Narendra Modi and the far right rise that “turns everything that is beautiful about India into acid.”
More horrifying leaks from Xinjiang, if you’re keeping track.
Luxury products once offered serenity and escape, but now tend to take a more active, antagonistic point of view. The only way to escape the rat-race is to be the last rat standing. Crossover SUVs and athleisure aren’t enough—you need tactical outerwear and a Cybertruck. Elon’s latest vision is mainstreaming the sort of doomsday prepping pioneered by the paranoid super-rich.
Ford too announced a new electric vehicle—the Mustang Mach-E. They had to have known the use of the Mustang badge on an EV—let alone a crossover—would be controversial among fans, and the supposed reasoning is a bunch of mumbojumbo. But maybe Ford is just catching up the product-oriented auto industry to the more nebulous branding practices of other industries. In a world of limited-time collabs, forever franchises, content marketing, and category hijacking, why can’t Mustang be more (or less) than a Mustang?
Not sure this interesting Time piece on the dangers of monoculture in the banana industry (on the verge of being wiped out through disease! but hey what isn’t?) really needed the tech industry parallels, which reek of an editor demanding a big hook, nor the lame “time will tell/eh, science will probably come up with something” conclusion, but there’s good stuff in here about the global banana emergency you definitely knew we were living through.
Haley Mlotek goes long on Lauren Duca, Teen Vogue and the politics of the fashionable mind:
Duca is neither an outlier nor an anomaly. Her behavior aligns with many contemporary patterns—a reminder that trends are best understood as units of time. They exist like numbers on a clock or shadows in the afternoon. I have observed many of these recent trends coalesce into corniness and can track them like a calendar: the refrain of “This is not normal,” the earnest hope for a Mueller-backed impeachment, trend stories about sexy New York City socialists, journalists who use a mildly derogatory insult from right-wing television news pundits in their Twitter bios. Duca is attempting to start a trend by promising an American revolution, and it is, as Fraser promised, a misreading of our current moment based on easy patterns of thought confused for reliable predictions.
This excellent Kashmir Hill report from today’s NYT provides a fascinating, uncomfortable technology gap to chew on. We’re now used to reports on forensic surveillance tech in law enforcement from the POV of police, prosecutors, and the civil rights groups who monitor them. But here, Hill’s looking from another angle—if it’s a given that cops can hack your phone, that the things you carry can testify against you with the tools they have to break them, then as a defendant, shouldn’t you have the same right as a defendant to use those same tools? And shouldn’t your defense team? And if that becomes an arms race, how do you keep up if, even in a court case, you might require a forensic company’s proprietary software to parse the evidence being used against you?
The euro smiles, the loonie pushes,
The peso winks, the buck slips.