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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Can't beat the real thing, baby

Three experiences and examples that recently illustrated to me that we are an un/authentic society. I recently bought another pair of jeans that was manufactured to look "old" and "worn" and wondered to myself why I didn't just go to the used clothes store and pay like two dollars for a pair of jeans that was already worn. This got me to thinking how our culture now wants to be authentic and genuine and earthy, but without actually going to the trouble of being authentic/genuine/earthy.

Experience 1:
This last Christmas our family was opening presents and I realized that we were all taking so many digital pictures and videos that we were spending more time capturing the moment than we were in actually creating the moment. This made me wonder how much of the moment was simply to have pictures/video and how much of the moment was the genuine experience of family and closeness.

Example 2:
Levi's® Vintage Clothing Vault I - 501®
We used to just buy a pair of jeans and wear them until they were worn out. If we had a nice pair of jeans that were new then we would look good because obviously we didn't have to wear worn out jeans. Only those who couldn't afford new jeans had to wear the old, worn out ones.

But now we don't want to look like we have "new" or recently manufactured jeans. We want to buy jeans that already look worn. Rather than just wear them out ourselves or go to the used clothing store and buy a pair of jeans that someone has already worn we have the manufacturer make them appear old and worn out. So, we want "new" jeans, but we want the "new" jeans to look "old," so that we can feel earthy, organic, and authentic. But, of course this does not make us more authentic. Quite the contrary. Can we really be any less authentic and any less genuine if are so superficial as to pay for someone to make us old-looking jeans? It might be the most disingenuous act of them all.

Here is the product description from the Levi's website:
We've based this 501® jean on an original from the early 20th century, replicating its hard-worn look and transitional styling. Made with belt loops, suspender buttons, back cinch and two back pockets. The medium-dark denim has rusted iron undertones and small paint spots. Arrives crumpled in a ball secured with an old-fashioned leather strap. Each pair is hand-numbered.

Example 3:
Water. We used to just drink natural water, then the water got polluted and undrinkable, so we purified it. Then we wanted to purify the water to get the bad stuff out and also add back the good minerals that we were missing out on. Now we want to purify it, add back the minerals, and doctor it up a bit to suit our lifestyle or activities. So, now Vitamin Water will make a water that fits your life:

...before now, the only way to get truly pure water was to catch a raindrop from the cloud, but since clouds are hard to reach (and not to mention shifty), a lot of water we drink comes from the ground and contains random stuff & whatever else the animals that swim in it leave behind, that's why we copied our white puffy friends by vapor distilling smartwater, but since we're never satisfied, we then one-upped the clouds by adding key electrolytes to help keep you hydrated....thus creating smartwater.

water that works every time. with fit-in-your-hand-ease, each one of our 12 grab-health-by-the-horms varieties offers a unique blend of nutrients to help you "shine" on those gods-have-forsaken-you days, yada-yada-yada conference calls, wind-sucking workouts and chasers-are-for-weenies nights...

[taken from http://www.vitaminwater.com/]


Melody said...

Mmm, I get numbers one and two...but the water...

What's wrong with trying to be healthy? Especially in Warsaw and outlying areas, purified water is a very good thing.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Actually, I'm not saying that any of this is right or wrong. All I'm saying is that our culture in the States and in the West is such that we want all the benefits of an industrialized/digital/technological/consumer driven society, but we don't want to feel artificial or synthetic. We want all the benefits of our advancements, but we want to sprinkle it with nostalgia and manufacture jeans that look like they were worn by a day-laborer from 100 years ago. (But heaven-forbid that we would actually become a day laborer and work like hell for 80 hours a week and die when we are 45.)

This goes along with my theme that we are fragmented. We really are artificial and synthetic people, but we don't want to feel like we are just a product of a consumer driven culture. As such we become even more artifical because we manufacture something that is "vintage."

This goes along with my theme about how we are personally and culturally fragmented. But I'm not trying to be elitist and say anything about how immoral this is...after all, I just bought a pair of manufactured "old" jeans from Levis.....

ktismatics said...

As for the water, have you seen this study showing that antioxidant vitamin supplements don't help you live longer? So skip the vitamin water and eat some vegetables.

As for the old beat-up look being fashionable, does that mean people are going to start thinking I look good? It's amazing, though, how long the washed-out jeans look has been fashionable. When I was a lad we didn't wear them until they looked old; we just used to wash them over and over. Prewashed is more energy-efficient. But those "new" jeans that already have holes and patches? That's just wrong.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hhhhmmmm....I guess the articles and research about vitamins is good ammo for kids all over the world who don't want to take their vitamins!

It is interesting, though, to think about. We feed our kids processed foods that don't have the good natural vitamins/minerals, and then we turn around and force them to take massive horse pills and other strange projectiles to supplement for the bad diet we put them on!

Melody said...

Are antioxidants supposed to help you live longer? I keep trying to figure out why everyone's so hyped up about antioxidants and they keep rambling about killing free-radicals but I still don't know how that helps me.

I just like the craze because pomagranits taste really good.

Jon, I still don't get how the jeans and the water count as the same thing. No one thinks that pink water is authentic...they just think (apparently wrongly) it's healther.

Where as the jeans are counting on the way we romanticize history to sell them.

Jonathan Erdman said...

For me the similarity between the water and jeans lies in a nostalgia for the authentic.

The jeans show how nostalic we are for jeans that are genuinely and authentically worn and used. Of course, we don't actually want them to be used and worn, or else we would go to Goodwill and buy a pair for a quarter.

The water is the same deal. We want the authentic nutrition and the genuine minerals, but we don't want all the other nasty stuff that comes with drinking real water. This is a good thing, I think. So, I'm not saying it is bad to filter your water and then add back the good vitamins and minerals.

My main point with linking these two things is just to make a point about our culture: We are a synthetic and artificial culture, but we want to feel like we are authentic, genuine, organic and earthy. We want to be organic without the hassle of actually being organic. This is our mo as a culture and it plays itself out in many diverse ways, from the way we approach drinking water to the way we produce and market our blue jeans.

Again, this may be good and it may be bad...we can all decide that for ourselves....

John said...

On "capturing the moment," this is kind of an iconic act, preserving for eternity a little blip of the passing space-time continuum. And Christmas too is iconic, participating through repetition in an appearance of God on earth. So photographs of Christmas celebrations: an icon of an icon, or a second-order simulacrum? The overlap between the two perhaps is the territory of kitsch.

ktismatics said...

Oops, somehow I always display as John by default. I wonder if I can reset my blogger identity?