In Defense of Junk Culture pt.1

20Jul10

Junk culture is all around us. For most Americans, it’s hard to ignore. Many academic, “creative class” types like myself do their best to ignore it, however, retreating to shadowy “high culture” enclaves like “ART”, “DESIGN”, “FASHION”, and other capitalized arenas of human expression. Having gone to school for Industrial Design, I understand the urge to sequester oneself to a world populated only by beautiful things, fulfilling a romantic desire for a certain “utopian” existence.

Though it took me a few years to open myself to it, junk culture is important. The essential ying to the creative world’s sober yang. Not to be a champion of amateurism over mastery, or recidivism¬†over intellectualism, but a balanced outlook, a “cross-brow” approach, if you will, opens up new worlds. Once a creator or aesthete moves beyond “good” and “bad” definitions towards a holistic, hierarchical appreciation, delineated only by his or her own motives, true inspiration flourishes.

Case in point: Memphis Group. Started in 1980 by modernist heartthrob Ettore Sottsass and his designer/architect pals, Memphis pieces embraced the tackiest, most obnoxious elements of 1950s kitsch and bad taste, exploding forth in a flurry of imagination, that truly shocked the design world for years to come. So totally bold and NOW that the entire movement came crashing down within 6 years. A true testament to junk culture frivolity, gleaning not only the aesthetics of bad taste, but the temporality of all fads & gimmicks, and the power that dwells within the shock of the new.

The internet, by far the most important cultural development of the last 30 years, has served to flatten culture to a level never before dreamed. Now, distinctions of taste and class are free to co-mingle without boundaries. This revolution has served junk culture well. Being so bombarded with pop-up ads, insane surveys for shadowy prizes, and computer-conceived friend requests has made even the most glassy-eyed user aware of the quagmire of junk that spews from our collective unconscious.

Our web 2.0 world has inspired a whole host of new artists and general culture-mongers to emerge from the shadows, and wholly embrace the alien surrealism of junk culture, and I for one couldn’t be more stoked.

(Next up: An outline of a few of my favorite cultural trash-sifters currently making the scene)

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