That’s pretty much the feeling right now, gang. The release of four years of collective international tension, as we’ve got a new President in the White House and a new era in America accordingly.
I’m not going to lie and say that things will be 100% better, or improve tenfold, or what have you, but what I can say, 4 days in…life’s a bit more predictable. And sometimes, predictability, versus an ever chaotic nature, is what you need to make the day go just that bit better.
That’s where I’m at with it, at least. Probably a good time for me to remind you that if you’re in the US and you felt particularly compelled to go to the polls this past November that there are elections all the time on other levels, including those local levels where things really get done, so…continue to use and harness that energy. Record turnouts help us all.
Now, onto the things…
Something I’ve had a growing interest in over the past five years or so are the minimalist and simple living movements.
I think it was my 3rd move into a new apartment where I realized I had a lot of crap I didn’t need, and that there were better ways and experiences to funnel my attention, interest and money to, live travel, experiences, and so on. (I know how funny most of that sounds now, when we can’t leave our house, but I digress.) I wanted less stuff. Less notifications. Less ads. Less everything.
That said, like most of my interests, for as much as I can say I’m into the idea, there are those who take it to the next level. This article from The New York Times by Kyle Chayka explores the recent American obsession with going from everything…to nothing.
There are moments when it feels as though the universe is trying to send you a message, the vibration of a particular wavelength driving a possibly justified paranoia. Signs of a culture-wide quest for self-obliteration appeared everywhere in the time after my first float. I walked by an exercise studio whose sandwich board commanded me to “Log out. Shut down. Do yoga.” REI marketed a garment that “Feels like nothing. And that means everything.” In a January 2020 column about omnipresent noise-canceling headphones and the desire to block out our surroundings with constant sound, The Economist argued, “The shared world is increasingly intolerable.” Friends were picking up the paperback of Ottessa Moshfegh’s best-selling 2018 novel “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” about a young woman’s drugging herself to sleep as much as possible in order to emerge into the world anew. “When did staying in become the new going out?” asked a 2020 ad for Cox internet I saw during the Super Bowl, depicting a family frolicking in their living room wearing virtual-reality goggles, in an eerie precursor of what was just around the corner.
For years, an aesthetic mode of nothingness has been ascendant — a literally nihilistic attitude visible in all realms of culture, one intent on the destruction of extraneity in all its forms, up to and including noise, decoration, possessions, identities and face-to-face interaction. Over the past decade, American consumers have glamorized the pursuit of expensive nothing in the form of emptied-out spaces like the open-floor plans of start-up offices, austere loft-condo buildings and anonymous Airbnbs. Minimalism from the Marie Kondo school advocated a jettisoning of possessions that left followers with empty white walls. This aspiration toward disappearance made luxury synonymous with seeing, hearing, owning and even feeling less.
Then, in March 2020, much of our lives in the outside world that had been so agitating ground to a halt as the first round of coronavirus lockdown hit the United States. Alongside so much tragedy and despair, mass quarantine has represented a final fulfillment of the pursuit of nothingness, particularly for the privileged classes who could adapt to it in such relative comfort, sunk back into the couch cushions of spare country houses, equipped with grocery deliveries, Netflix shows and livestreaming exercise classes. This interregnum has often felt to me like an all-encompassing, full-time session of sensory deprivation. Quarantine has been widely regarded as a radical break in our daily lives and the ways we interact with the world, but in truth it’s simply an overdose of the indulgences a certain segment of the population was dabbling in already. We’re a little like kids caught with a cigarette, forced to smoke a whole pack at once.
This obsession with absence, the intentional erasure of self and surroundings, is the apotheosis of what I’ve come to think of as a culture of negation: a body of cultural output, from material goods to entertainment franchises to lifestyle fads, that evinces a desire to reject the overstimulation that defines contemporary existence. This retreat, which took hold in the decade before the pandemic, betrays a grim undercurrent: a deepening failure of optimism in the possibilities of our future, a disillusionment that Covid-19 and its economic crisis have only intensified. It’s as if we want to get rid of everything in advance, including our expectations, so that we won’t have anything left to lose.
We’re currently in a unique phase of the ever-present television game show Jeopardy!. Long-time host/voice of reason Alex Trebek succumbed to a lengthy fight to cancer late last year, and the iconic series is looking to find its next host, testing out a series of guest hosts in the meantime.
This week, under the thus far solid-if-not-slightly-underwhelming hosting of Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, the show found itself with yet another anomaly — its third-ever tiebreaker, in decades on the air.
Claire McNear (who wrote a literal book on Jeopardy! herself) walks us through the historic moment in the making via The Ringer.
On Jeopardy!, a tiebreaker isn’t just a tiebreaker. It’s the result of a years-long effort by the show’s most diehard fans to lift up the hood of the nearly 60-year-old game show in search of analytical certainty. There is, it turns out, a lot to be found—particularly thanks to the exhaustive amount of data generated by the more than 8,000 episodes that have aired since Alex Trebek took over as host in 1984. Many of the show’s changes over the years—the introduction of the Clue Crew, the complicated buzzer system, the flashy tournaments, even the elimination of the five-day limit for returning champions—have been for the benefit of the audience at home: to make the show more exciting.
But the tiebreaker? That one’s all because of the contestants, and their endless quest to play an ever more perfect game of Jeopardy!
I’m not going to expect you to spend your time watching all 20 minutes and 46 seconds of this entire video, but for those of us of a certain age, this footage of a Toys R Us in New York City just before Thanksgiving 1991 is an absolute blast from the past.
It’s a simpler time. No “activations” or “reward programs” or other marketing terms. No big signs. Just a warehouse filled wall-to-wall with everything a kid could want. Definitely filmed for stock footage usage, you’ll still probably get a charge out of seeing vintage LEGO sets, Barbie clothes, and yes, the big wall of tickets for Nintendo games.
Enjoy. I know I did.
Hey, another week begins. And I truly think you’re gonna crush it. Until next Sunday? Stay awesome.
And until I hit your inbox again, remember: wear a mask and wash your hands. For the love of God. Just do both.