best when viewed in low light


Day to day

Day Symbols of the Maya Year

F_ck! Speaking of remixing

The relevance of actors

Gender remixing

November 19, 2009
It’s All a Blur to Them

“I’VE heard that in Australia, men are wearing tights,” Chuong Pham said. Tights for men, he acknowledged, may be extreme. But Mr. Pham, 28, an engineer in Manhattan, thought nothing of combining stalk-slim jeans with a sweatshirt pinched from his mom and sexily sheared à la “Flashdance.” Raking his fingers through a sheaf of hair that tumbled in waves past his collarbone, Mr. Pham said: “There is a whole transition of men getting into women’s wear. It used to be that the people who did it were just the edgier ones. Now it’s much more common.”

Common enough that Mr. Pham and his forward-thinking cohort — urban Americans, mostly in their 20s — are revising standard notions of gender-appropriate dressing, tweaking codes, upending conventions and making hash of ancient norms.

“My generation is more outside the box than the generation before me,” said Brandon Dailey, 26, a hairstylist in Manhattan. “Our minds are more open to different things, and that sometimes means mixing it up in what we wear.” He may never put on a skirt, he allowed, but sees nothing amiss in working “a long drapey shirt with really tight pants.”

Audrey Reynolds, an acquaintance, was engaging in a bit of gender play herself. Ms. Reynolds, 25, who wore a slouchy biker jacket and beat-up clog boots, insisted: “Every line should be unisex. A good piece of clothing is a good piece of clothing no matter who was meant to wear it in the first place.”

At one time, such artfully calibrated ambiguity might have been the expression of a renegade mind. Today it seems scarcely more subversive than wearing black, just the latest countercultural gesture to be tugged into the mainstream. The look is androgynous, for sure — but with a difference.

During the 1970s, arguably the last time sartorial gender blending was as pervasive in the culture, it grew in part from the kind of feminist thinking that suggested girls play with Lego sets and boys play with dolls. “Now we have something new,” said Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist in Oakland, who writes about gender. That something is not necessarily about one’s politics or sexual orientation or, she added pointedly, “about one’s core identity as a male or female.”

What Dr. Ehrensaft has dubbed “gender fluidity” remains in her view a form of rebellion. It suggests, she said, that “younger people no longer accept the standard boxes. They won’t be bound by boys having to wear this or girls wearing that. I think there is a peer culture in which that kind of gender blurring is not only acceptable but cool.”

Women have been incorporating trousers, biker jackets and combat boots into their wardrobes since Amelia Earhart swapped her pearls for a flight suit. But increasingly, it is men who are making unabashed forays into mom’s closet, some for fashion’s sake, others for fit. A few may be taking their style cues from Pete Wentz, the emo rocker who demonstrates on YouTube how to slick on eyeliner; or Adam Lambert, the “American Idol” runner-up, who has made sooty eyes and blue-black nails his fashion insignia. Others fall back on Johnny Depp.

“I came here with an idea,” Dyllan White said as he inspected his reflection at Mudhoney, a unisex hair salon in the East Village. Mr. White, 22, who is studying art therapy, wanted “something up and back, something ‘Cry-Baby,’ ” he said. He settled on a modified pompadour that recalled Mr. Depp in the 1990 John Waters movie of that name. “I feel fine about it, like a guy,” he said of his haircut. “It’s universal. It’s awesome.”

To Sharon Graubard, a senior executive with Stylesight, a trend forecasting firm in New York, Mr. White’s thinking points to a sea change. “In the streets I see young couples dressing almost alike, wearing slicked hair, peacoats, straight jeans or those longer T-shirts that are almost like a dress,” she said. Such a willful melding of men’s and women’s garb represents, she said, “a kind of evening of the playing field.”

Mingling men’s and women’s clothing, others argue, is like waving a flag of neutrality. “It’s a way of breaking down sexualized relationships, of getting people to relax,” said Piper Marshall, 24, who is an assistant art curator at the Swiss Institute in Manhattan. “I work with lots of male artists,” she added. “It’s important to find a common ground.”

Humberto Leon, an owner of Opening Ceremony, the vanguard boutique in Lower Manhattan, is one of a growing number of merchants catering to that mind-set. Lately Mr. Leon has been mingling men’s and women’s clothing with marked success. Even angora cat-print cardigans, part of a unisex line designed by Chloë Sevigny, “flew out of the store,” he said, snapped up by men and women alike.

So entrenched are the latest forms of gender blending that mainstream purveyors of hip, including Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, are offering clothing and jewelry meant to be worn by either sex. American Apparel has no fewer than 724 unisex items — hoodies, cardigans, blazers and bow ties, among them — on its Web site, simply because, as Marsha Brady, the company’s creative director, put it, “that’s the way people wear clothes.”

At a jazz club in downtown Manhattan last week, Bettina Chin and Michelle Wang drove home the point, wearing severely tailored evening ensembles that perfectly echoed each other. “I like a mannish look at night,” Ms. Chin explained as she flicked back her cuffs.

Some marketers have been quick to interpret that sort of ambiguity. Fall advertisements for Burberry show a succession of lanky, pallid men and women wearing what seem to be interchangeable coats. A model for Rolex is tricked out in an Earhart-inspired leather jacket, aviator cap and goggles.

Gender neutrality has gained traction on the runways as well. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto jettisoned gender codes long ago. More recently, designers as influential as Rick Owens and Alexander Wang have made their mark with draped T-shirts and, in Mr. Owens’s case, dresses and high-heeled shoes for men. In London, Christopher Kane lent his spring 2010 collection some swagger by inviting the model Jenny Shimizu, a standard-bearer of female androgyny, to saunter down his runway wearing a man-tailored suit.

“Today the more successful designers are the ones that try to bridge the gap between the sexes rather than drive a wedge between them,” said Karlo Steel, a partner in Atelier, a progressive men’s store in downtown Manhattan that also draws a female clientele. “Right now fashion’s pendulum seems to be swinging in that direction.”

Skeptics argue nonetheless that gender blending is bound to remain a marginal trend.

“It’s something you need to be young to do well,” said Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “To carry it off, you need the physique of an adolescent boy. As long as the young are the primary audience, it’s not going be economically sustained.”

Still, gender-neutral dressing has made sufficiently formidable inroads that some suggest it has a robust future.

“Obviously androgyny may not play in Peoria,” said Dr. Ehrensaft, the psychologist. “But norms are shifting.” In her clinical practice, working mostly with teenagers and elementary school children, Dr. Ehrensaft said she routinely witnesses “a kind of gender fashion parade.”

“Kids, even little kids, are experimenting across gender lines. Boys are wearing My Little Pony T-shirts, just because they like them. Sometimes they like to dress in the girls’ section because the shirts are cooler.”

Adults have long dictated the way young people dress, Dr. Ehrensaft said. “But now the young are giving us a different dictation.”



Planetary plunder

Now that water has been discovered on the moon, we'll have another planetary body to pillage of its' natural resources, just like we do our own.

Is this really cause for celebration?


Prince, I feel for you

I've been dancing to this song since I was old enough to stand... just about.

[subtitles! awesome...]

But I had no idea that Prince did a version...

[By the by... WOW]

Killing TV

"Strategists must today work amid fragmentation, divergence, and opposition in the market: to optimize across nascent and long-standing business models; across new and traditional release windows; with old and new content programmers; and with both IP and traditional supply chains. This is the beginning of the end of television as we know it and the future will only favor those who prepare today."

[Excerpt from study on the future of television, published by IBM March 27, 2006; reprinted in Media Work 2007]

Interestingly, the opposite tendencies are also evident in the way that people are using networked and social technologies... audiences are coalescing around the virtual water cooler daily.

Personally, I watch all TV on the internet, and as many episodes back to back as are available. Example: I watched the entire first season of True Blood over three days in June. A year late, but I didn't have to wait week to week. And now, during the lull between seasons 2 and 3, I am not anxiously anticipating the next installment, I am absorbing other media and will eventually forget about that show.

[On the topic of True Blood... though the initial advertising was genius, the rest of the related materials sucks...because it breaks the 4th wall. Stop doing that! Shit, we KNOW it plays on HBO. Get over yourselves.]

The future is: continuous programming, timeless scheduling, varied duration, rich narrative universes populated by characters, institutions and users...all in the same world.

The future is not:
a comic book version to go with everything (collectors will collect anything, but story-crazed audience members want MORE, not repetition),

a website to register, watch clips, and take surveys (you can already find out anything you want to know about me that advertisers are interested in, why make me register?)

prize-motivated participation (prizes are nice, but what keeps me engaged in a story is CONSTANT INTERACTION, not (again) something I'll register for and forget about before I find out someone else has won that trip to Vegas)

in-world merch brought to you by HBO/NBC/whatever (note to authors: that KILLS the experience)

Pride & Prejudice: Redux

My buddy Blowuprobot has done an updated and much more accessible version of the P&P character map for our pleasure:

[wikipedia's version]

BUP claims not to have read P&P, but I don't think that 1) impacts the ability to arrange information in a graphically superior way, 2) is really necessary given how entirely our postmodern conception of romance is based on this book.

Recently, I watched the 6 hour BBC version (starring an absolutely hypnotic Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy) and was really amazed by how manipulated I felt by the end.

Don't get me wrong, manipulated is good when it comes to story. I'd use that interchangeably with "engaged" or "effective" in most cases and intend it as an entirely positive comment.

But I came away with a little something extra. A sense that my sometimes wonderful and sometimes disastrous romances just don't measure up. And even though I get that's the point with a fairy tale, which P&P is, Austen's narrative has become so well ingrained in popular discourses about romantic love that I couldn't help but feel disappointed.

Having read everything Austen has ever written, I feel fairly confident in saying that her characters, while convincing, are intended to be representational. Just like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, with a dash more attitude, perhaps. The fact that we in the modern and post-modern ages feel like we can relate to these characters is, I think, the result of how much Austen's fairy tales have become accepted as dramatic interpretations of real life. That's a bit circular, I know.

My point here is really about how effective stories are at forming our conception of ourselves, of becoming embedded in the cultural discourse and thereby becoming accepted as true. What I personally take away from all this is that, as a storyteller/media maker/mythologist, it is my duty to tell stories that are that exemplary. Rather than describing in detail how our neuroses and insecurities can overwhelm our better judgment - BUT! with the right application of patience, love, and a little obsessiveness we can be cured! - I'd really like to see stories of self-actualization. Not heroes and heroines that come from other planets, or from the gods, but from the population and the application of timeless wisdom about how to make the most of what you've got.

Falling in love may, as a particular friend of mine has argued, take a healthy dose of fantasy, but staying in love and building lifelong relationships (always the part AFTER the book ends) is what takes work and an admirable character. Wouldn't it be great if there were stories about how people actually do this? Or, is that not dramatic enough?

In the past...