New Americana

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Category: Objects

Weekly Kitsch: Another T-Shirt

I promise not to do this every time underground/subversive imagery is appropriated by a corporation and sold to a mainstream audience. Last time I looked at Forever 21’s decision to sell a copy of a T-Shirt Kurt Cobain wore during a 1992 SNL performance. This week, Disney began selling Joy Division inspired T-Shirts (seen above).  Read the rest of this entry »


Weekly Kitsch: Starbucks Blonde Roast

“I have so many cookies,” she told Gary, who was washing his hands fastidiously at the kitchen sink. “I have a pear that I can slice, and some of that dark coffee that you kids like.” – Franzen, The Corrections


It was a cold day. The first official day of winter had long since passed, but this was the first actual day of winter. People who live in the Midwest know what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of cold that causes the body to clench any and all available muscles. Only the heavy layers of clothing–and shame–keep me from rolling up into a ball.

Anyway, it was cold and I needed coffee. I’m not entirely sure when I first heard about the new blonde roast coffee at Starbucks (or, The Blonde, as I’ll be calling it). It might have been a television ad; a newspaper article; or maybe a tweet. Regardless, I can only assume it was the result of some sort of Gladwellian there-but-not-there marketing innovation.

Epistemic concerns notwithstanding, I was curious to try it. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Kitsch: You’re Old

What does it mean when an object loses its referent? The Flipper T-Shirt above is currently for sale in Forever21 stores, but the design is borrowed/stolen/appropriated from Kurt Cobain. 

As the story goes, shortly before performing on SNL in 1992, Cobain found a marker and quickly doodled the Flipper design on a T-shirt (itself an homage to the hardcore punk band Flipper):

It is not surprising at all that a clothing store for hip young consumers is appropriating a design from a dead rock star. I was, however, completely surprised to see that Forever21 chose not to make mention of Nirvana or Kurt Cobain at all: “A crew neck tee with sketched ‘Flipper’ graphic at front.”

And then it dawned on me: I’m old. And so are all the other bloggers freaking out about Kurt Cobain’s Flipper T-shirt. One must remember that your typical 16 year old Forever21 shopper (born in 1996) would be about as familiar with Kurt Cobain as I was with the band Flipper in 1992. In other words: 30 year olds in 1992 were probably pissed that up and coming rock star (read: sell out) Kurt Cobain was wearing a shirt with a hardcore punk logo on Saturday Night Live. Flipper fans were, I’m sure, uninterested in the bizzarre irony of it.

And so to are we uninterested in the irony today. We snark the existence of the shirt in order to protect ourselves from the inevitable truth that culture, once so in love with us, is passing us by. And ultimately that’s what getting older is: the pain of seeing beloved childhood objects reappropriated without care or concern for our own childhoods.

Lebron James in Video

I must face the fact, of course that Public Opinion is not so unanimous as I would like to think. There are issues at stake, but as too often happens, we are apt to look to men as symbols rather than to the issues themselves. – Oakley Hall, Warlock

There are a variety of reasons we watch sports. The spectacle. The athleticism. The pleasure of having your expectations met, or not. But mostly we watch because of the stories. The stories bring us together allowing us to speculate about what will happen and reminisce about what did happen. We love heroes. And we love villains.

We also love figuring out which one Lebron James might be. As we watch him excite, surprise, disappoint and frustrate us, each of us alone–including Lebron, himself–must decide.

2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Game 5:

In the 2010 playoffs, Lebron James was still in Cleveland and finished the NBA regular season with the best record at 61-21. Lebron was the MVP, was on the best team, and seemed destined to finally win his first championship. Then, inexplicably, he didn’t show up for one of the biggest games of his life. For more on this game, check out Bill Simmons’ running diary of the game, which gives a great sense of the weird mixture of emotions Lebron produces in fans. He also describes Lebron at one point as looking like “he just caught a whiff of a decomposing body.”

The Decision:

One of the possible explanations for Lebron seeming distracted in his game 5 performance is, well, that he was distracted. He was set to be the most sought after free agent in the history of the NBA. Would he stay in his hometown, or would he flee to the larger media markets of New York, LA, or Chicago? Instead he chose to put on one of the most narcissistic spectacles ever produced.

Miami Heat Welcome Party:

The Decision let us know that winning was not as important to Lebron as playing with his friends. Granted, Lebron’s friends are 2 of the best players in the NBA, but it still didn’t feel right. Less than a week after The Decision, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dywane Wade were introduced to fans in Miami in a ceremony complete with forklifts, smoke machines, and a guarantee of “not one…not two…not three…not four…not five…not six…not seven” championships.

What Should I Do:

When the season finally began, Lebron and Nike released a commercial directed at both his fans and his haters. The message: What should I do? The implication: No matter what I choose, someone will be pissed. So he asks: “should I accept my role as the villain?”; “should I be a championship chaser?”; “Should I really believe I ruined my legacy?”

However, this catalog of roles he runs through is as much for his benefit as it is for us. We didn’t know who we wanted him to be. And he didn’t know either.

NBA Finals Postgame:

As it turned out, Lebron made it to the NBA Finals, but, for the second time in his career, he lost. We wanted to hate him. We wanted to see him lose. And he did.

We wanted him to be the villain, but he refused the role. Finally, we realized we hated Lebron not for leaving Cleveland, but we hated him for his refusal to choose a role and be the symbol we are so desperate for him to be.

Wanna Americana?

Target is currently running a spring ad campaign titled “don’t you wanna Americana?” What qualifies as Americana: khakis, blue & white basics, sunwashed colors, and vintage prints.

“Plaid, polka dots, florals, and more, vintage prints epitomize Americana style for all.” The implications:

  1. If you’re an American family, you should dress like this
  2. Buy these clothes
  3. = You’re an American family

Stop affirming the consequent, Target. No one ever dressed like this.