A Shabbier World

I’m working on a project relating to the collapse of the core professions (for reasons I’ll elaborate, law and banking are undergoing a sharp and sudden step-function collapse; and medicine and consulting have been trending downward for a while at a smoother, steadier pace), and thoughts inevitably turn to shifting opportunity costs and the broader cultural implications. The impact on the marriage market has been discussed, albeit in a fairly crude and linear manner. For a moment, though, let’s consider the aesthetic dimension.

The disruption of bourgeois expectations — plus the general reluctance to replace durable goods, plus the turn from owner-occupied housing to rental housing, plus a decrease in spending on maintaining and manicuring all things — will probably have the effect of making everything and everyone a bit shabbier. Because shmanciness is a positional good, the shmanciness arms race will be replaced by multilateral shmanciness disarmament. Perhaps people will be smellier. That’s an unpleasant thought. We’ll be walking around with ice cream stains on our shirts. Lint brushes will become an unaffordable luxury, and we’ll all be covered in a thin layer of downy animal fur and dead skin. I agree: this is gnarly. Yet there is also an upside: we can all get away with a slightly higher degree of grooming laziness. Also, I tend to think that a degree of sloth and shabbiness highlights the best kinds of beauty, e.g., kinds that involve ratty cords and jean shorts. (This might be generational.)

Then again, people might invest more in masking their smell, as dousing yourself in perfume might offer more bang for the aesthetic buck than various pricier alternatives, e.g., botox, footie pajamas made from platinum, etc. I recently bought this “premium accord” that smells like pumpkin pie. But that’s just because I love pie. Another scenario: if you think of occupational status competition as a form of asymmetrical positional warfare — with symmetrical warfare understood as competition along the “traditional” dimensions of masculinity and femininity, etc. — grooming might take on added importance as people find it harder to trade occupational prestige for square jaws or gamineness.

I’m pretty sure my brain is malfunctioning due to exhaustion. I’ll leave you with one extremely important, unrelated observation: Micachu|the Shapes have released a really, really amazing album. If this is what the future sounds like, I’m thrilled. I saw them at Southby and my brain melted. The lead looks very young and frail, which is a little unsettling. Last year, a prominent music blog made an apposite comparison to St. Vincent, though I think Micachu has a far wider conceptual palette. She also has a beautiful name — Mica Levi. I bought the album right when it came out on the 7th, but have mainly been processing the new Thermals and Bat for Lashes, Adrian Orange, and Bitte Orca (which I intend to discuss at greater length). While running, I listened to Jewellery straight through. The album is very short, which is a good thing as I haven’t been running for a while. It could be that the weather primed me to enjoy the music — there was a pleasant drizzle, and I felt pleasantly soggy. One wonders about how the atmosphere shapes how we react to different sounds. Micachu layers a lot of sharp sounds on top of each other, and the lead has a breezy, clipped voice. You hear muffled shouts in the background occasionally. No track runs longer than about 3.5 minutes, which suits me perfectly. The album is an absolute delight. “Lips” is pretty representative, though somewhat rougher-hewn than my favorite songs from the album. I’ve decided that my favorite musical motif is the stutter-step, which figures prominently. “Turn Me Well” and “Ship” evoke the music I loved in high school, but it’s much better.

And right after Micachu, in my Recently Added tracks, I have The Parliaments’ “A New Day Begins,” which is a pretty inspiring tune. I recommend it. It is also densely layered. For a second I thought this was a Micachu track.