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'The New Sincerity' from Brad Pitt's Dog

We premiere an exclusive extract from Johan Kugelberg's collection of essays

It is not impossible that the new sincerity trend came out of a generation of youth living in dialectic betwixt media and oblivion where the epiphanous notion that being hip has no value fueled a gigantic appetite for meaning, meaning as midwifed by consumption.

I note that the decline of irony in the fade to grey years of neo-con came with a counter-thrust thirst for insignia and indicators of authenticity. As the applied irony and blog/web/gawker-comment box snide is being back-lashed with the in some instances equally hollow white middle-class pose of the new sincerity, it is of merit to attempt to identify the ideas of these new Ides of March: The much more subtle gloat of betterment, is the rejection of cultural and spiritual superiority as a weapon lacking ammunition.

Every time I chuckle as some exponent of the new sincerity strides past me I immediately feel a bit bad and attempt to stifle it. There’s no doubt that the new sincerity is a good thing as in Martha says: Urban 20-somethings making home-made dill pickles, buying vintage vinyl, dressing in tweed and rocking Louise Brooks-smocks as they earnestly discuss Faulkner or Bataille is pure and unfiltered A Good Thing. I need to thwart any suspicion that they en masse were trucker-cap-wearing coke-snorting skinny-jeans Vice types mere months ago. That can’t and shouldn’t be the case. No sir.

Back in the while ago, as I was working on a book on hip hop, I had an epiphany which I think is of some worth: Observing suburban homeboys in Greenwich, Connecticut I noticed how my irritation was replaced by awe. Instead of fidgeting about the shmuckiness of affluent white boys and white girls dressing- speaking- and walking ghetto I came with bafflement to the conclusion that our Connecticut friends were emulating a culture they perceived as authentic, and that it provided an emotional anchoring and authentic life in an environment that they perceived as inauthentic.

They were rejecting their phony society and its false values and venturing into a lifestyle that made them feel a part of something real that brought them a sense of community.

Cue the new sincerity.

As counter-cultural lifestyle elements became resume-builders and career-development fodder via the grunge/alternative boom of the early nineties, I think a parallel narrative germinated as a result, blooming in our day and age as The New Sincerity. The members of Vampire Weekend, Yea-Sayer and their sartorially splendid ilk were born right around the time of Pavement and Liz Phair, and will on some level have had their pre-teen years infused with alternative lethargy and the defeatist residue of a smashed pumpkin. The aesthetic choices made by the alternative generation, the prozac, the all-slave-ethic-all-the-time lyrics of the everyfolk grunge super stars and their twee-rock alt brethren infused the kids growing up in the late 90’s and 00’s with something to act in opposition to, especially as the alterna-grunge kids reinvented themselves as electro-clashing hedonists soaking in the splendor of a boom-economy where everyone wanted a website designed and every corporation thought that hiring an edgy stylist to supervise the photo shoot for their in-house dental plan information folder was a great idea.

Alterna-grunge + dotcom loot = electro-clash/sarcastic moustache. Can we agree on that?

Furthermore keeping-it-real-sideburns < sarcastic mustache < tender lover beard.

Can we agree on that as well? Pat Boone + The Strokes = Vampire Weekend That too?

And when it comes to the Freak Folk/New Weird America craze, and its abject ultra-sincerity, can we deduce that civil war re-enactors in period hippie garb, recording on period reel-to-reels, growing period-scuff facial hair and (no doubt) stifling their period flow with period feminine hygiene products are utilizing exactly the kind of life-raft, in fact clawing at the raft, as these young peoples have had far too many day-hours of their formative years self-surgically attached to dully glowing blue screens? They are in their own way putting up a struggle against the screen-life through the utilization of these authentic tokens of real life of yore, as over-the-hillbillies like me claim that what was once directly lived has receded into an abject representation.

The importance of connoisseurship has never been more prevalent in an urban cultural strata than among the new sincerity crowd. You need to know a lot. A whole hell of a lot. Luckily, the level of knowledge you need to amass is along the lines of an Edwardian occult order: You can front as long as it seems as if you know. Your knowledge of the first five seconds of songs in any given underground music genre, is legion. Your perusal of trailers of marginal genre films reached four digits, and your apparent expertise in the field of Japanese hand-made and hand–dyed denim is en par with a lifelong professional. At least as long as we live in a world of appearances, which we do. The naming of things, is the knowledge of things, and it makes you wonder if the naming of the jeans-spirits, rock-spirits, tree-spirits and artisan cheddar spirits as the new sincerity crowds walk through life like hunters and gatherers, said naming is the only self-empowerment left to those who have their everyday infused with a world of banal appearances on Facebook pages and message boards.

You can root around on FFFFound and stare yourself google-eyed on rollicking brigades of global eye-hyper-candy, all providing visual stimuli that winks come-hither hollow-promise-style as it hints of visceral experiences with the texture of cozy fabrics and the scents of aged cheese, of pornographic consumer choices that can evermore only titillate, until the very essence of your being demands to spurt out in a throbbing cataclysm of shopping for products that seem to fulfill all those innermost urges and cravings of sincerity, authenticity, textures, smells, history and a context of you and your kind as propagators of the WIN of life, not the EPIC FAIL of the decline of empire and the crumbling collapse of carefully crafted manufactured goods.

We must also remember that these are the habits of children: The men take enormous pride in their ability to grow facial hair. The foodstuffs that new sincerity restaurants and grocery stores obsess over are all landmarks of a childish palate, connoisseurship of bacon, meat, cheese, deluxe junk food, cereals, oats, preserves, pickles. The clothes are manly and womanly in manners that mimic kids playing grown-ups. I think this has to do with the lack of transitional time between being a debauching teenager and a debonair young adult. Once you are in college, you feel the urge to define yourself as worldly, knowledgeable, a connoisseur of the fine things in life, but as your palate (aesthetic as well as actual) is that of a child, your choices of indicators of refinement remain those of childhood. I can’t but wonder if the new sincerity demand for immediate answers to questions of commodity consumption is based on an unsure reality that is now obliged to give us immediate answers since that is how our online life chugs along on Wikipedia and its brethren of immediately authoritative misinformation. Problematic as all heck, yep, as our experience of the news reporting surrounding the Japanese tsunami and nuclear accident came to prove that hyper-fragmented news updates presented at a pace so frantic that the ordinary checks and balances of news reporting were now just as dislodged as the plug and socket of the nuclear power plant or the mish-mashy pseudo-scholarly megalomania of the Wikipedia editing process. I think this will ultimately truly extend the lifespan of the new sincerity trend. These 20- 30-somethings are programmed to extend their emotionally rewarding consumption to how all manners of information is consumed. It is already happening. Turn over a rock and another octavo-sized journal is published on uncoated stock, featuring artisanal fashion brands, musings on 19th century lit, unfocused snapshots of skinny people hanging out in authentic country surroundings, and lists of where you can go and buy gear that caters to this self-revealing lifestyle. I am sure that we are a leap and a skip away from news-reporting and event-reporting with a similar slant, away from the pulsebeat of the online din, published as letterpress broadsides, announced in the hamlets of upstate New York with loud yells of “Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” As ol’ Guy Debord proved in “We Turn In The Night Consumed By Fire”, turning away from the world and its deceitful chatter is one of the high-points of bourgeois luxury consumption.