“Today, comfort is king, as well as our dominant form of self-expression." So proclaims The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper dedicated to making us feel good about money and bad about hard choices or hard knocks. It is a little surprising that this segment of the Murdoch empire would proclaim the beauty of the beige, the soft mule, and the best cocoon money can buy.
What is rather daunting to me is this proclamation: “There is something undeniably progressive about this demand for comfort.” The author, Kate Bolick, claims that there is something “sexy” about it, and that it is post-feminist. Somehow, that is supposed to be oh-so-modern and hip though she recalls an older and, for those enjoyed gilded cages, more comforting age. “Living rooms haven’t been this comfy since the 1970s,” she writes.
The whole thing reminds me of the Venice Biennale, with its resurrection of Postmodernism and its penchant for the tried, true, and imprisoning. It also, strangely enough, reminds me of both candidates for president: Obama asking us to stay the course, and Romney reaching back to an earlier era of strong defense and weak government.
We do seem to be in an era where the call for a return to order is everywhere. We want things to go back to where they were, at least before 2008, and maybe back to when it was dawn in America—a time whose exact definition depends on your political affiliation. I hear this call everywhere: Last night, I went to a fashion show that mixed vintage and modern ensembles. Guess which received the loudest cheers? The suits and slinky dresses that defined 1960s and 1970s women as either seductresses or masters of the universe in pantsuit drag.
What is especially ironic is that the same Wall Street Journal ran a piece this weekend as well on the resurgence of disco. It might seem like yet another call to a return to a simpler age, but this writer, John Jurgensen, points out that “EDM [electronic dance music] could be the ultimate soundtrack for the post-Napster era. Many fans have never bought a CD in their lives; they go online and, like the DJs, create mixes and share them via sites like SoundCloud. It's participatory fandom, truly international, and unconcerned about layering in disparate musical references.” EDM, in other words, is a collage. It is also (more or less) free, depending on new economic models to make sure everybody survives.
As such, EDM is not comforting, even if it might remind some of us of gilded disco days. It is jarring, discontinuous, ephemeral, dependent on contemporary forms of technology, and conducive to creating social bonds across distances, ages, and classes. It is also not exactly new (the much-lamented LCD Soundsystem proclaimed that “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” back in 2007), and perhaps not all that innovative, but it is more in tune with a world of Facebook, Twitter, and openness than the silky sounds in which the author Bolick wants to drown.
Is it just a question of age? Will the Napsters grow up, calm down and, in the words of those long-forgotten punks The Clash, “start wearing the blue and brown / Start working for the clampdown”? In a nice bit of historical symmetry, Bolick interviews a car designer who notes the fondness for brown car interiors, especially among career women. Perhaps, then, everything old is not new, but familiar again, but the one thing that gives me hope is that we no longer live in a social cocoon. We mix with people of all ages, preferences and backgrounds, whether we like it or not.
We are not an isolated country, either, and I would note that styles in Asia, for instance, do not always tend toward the beige and brown, even when they do offer comfort and elegance. There is hope for the white and the black, and the red and the blue, the loft and the open window, the collage and the kick you get from a quick scratch-and-bass drop.