Style and Shopping as a Means of Expression and Self-Realization
by Kate Carraway
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
Girls and women (it feels so corny to consider girls and women as these separate classes of experience, right?) have, more so than guys and to our great benefit, style and shopping as a means of expression and self-realization. As problematic as it is to get super-excited about spending money toward, like, selfhood, it’s a socially and emotionally safe way to have some stripe of identity-adventure, to tell ourselves stories through our choices and things, and, more and more, to share those adventures and tell those same stories online. (This is why I don’t hate it when a tween buys a pee-quality body splash for $14 and posts about it; I know what she’s doing when she’s choosing, when she’s having, when she’s showing.)
The online show-off experience could have been about sex—some of it is, obvi—but girls tend to do the show-off parts of the internet the way they do clothes, which is mostly for themselves and for each other. This way of doing the internet, our way, converges as an inward “me gaze.” The aspects of performance and intimacy are all there, but are for us, and for an audience of us-es.
Li’l Thinks: Ritual – by Kate Carraway
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
It’s the space between things that’s truly important. That’s what committed self-actualizers will tell you; so will graphic designers insisting on negative space, and stylists who are all like, “Less, less, less, less…” pulling off bracelets and pants. It’s never the thing itself, but the stuff—the lack of stuff—around the thing. Falling asleep, I often find a convincing, semiconscious simulacrum of cozy peace by imagining a nonscientific, crayon-drawn version of a light field, and then focusing tighter and tighter on the black empty places in between the things. That is what’s important, right there.
By now, as mid- or late winter or whatever it is approaches, still months until fireworks holidays, and until some liquid-jasmine physical atmosphere makes us more able to be with our bodies, and with each other (hugs through piles of down aren’t the same), the allotment of collective ritual opportunity has mostly been spent. Ritual is always limited for us, a casualty of everything else that happened, for the young and secular and very much online who occupy so much of our time creating new versions of good and fulfilling lives. Ritual, like real, physical, people-and-concrete communities, can’t be counted among the experiential, cultural things that have been (equitably or not) replaced by some aspect of technology. A human need that is, I think, as in us as it ever was, the practice of welcoming, organizing, confirming ritual has been forced to wait it out under a ten-foot wave until we decide how far we can (or, will) go with our inboxes and social-media posts as extensions and expressions of not just ourselves, but also the solemn end—the waaay end of our feelings. That undefined space around and between the “things” is more important, yeah, but those things, the markers and parameters that define both types of spaces, are there for a reason.
Li’l Thinks: Energy – by Kate Carraway
If there is a single idea that can be borrowed from its original physics, or whatever context, and reapplied as an explanation for the ways in which people are shitty to each other, it’s that energy can’t be created or destroyed, only changed.
Split open, every interaction and communication is a bare transference of needs and wants, cut into sub- and cross-sections of ego, love, rage, mood, intention, demand, everything, like imperceptible and maybe accidentally poisoned arrows heading straight for the brain’s amygdala. When energy is passed from one person to another, it’s shifting and interphasic and constant, but it will always just be energy, made up of all of our emotional pulp, and will necessarily have some effect or affect, because it has to. It has to! It’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s still a scam we all pull on one another, endlessly.
Riffing is something like mutual masturbation (coincidentally, saying “riffing is like mutual masturbation” could make a cool riff). It is essentially the small talk of anyone who, at some point in their adolescence, learned how to throw dice about their thing, whatever that may be, music or movies or whatever, instead of having regular conversations. Social, jokey, and jockey, peer-on-peer riffing is the casual and ongoing assertion of opinion, specifically for some specific think-scene, which might be between two people, or a silky thread of smooth talk between a zillion strangers on the internet, endlessly one-upping. Its first and most important requirement is that there only be a finite number of people who are invested in getting it and who can relentlessly evolve a given riff-thing.
—from the latest edition of Kate Carraway’s Li’l Thinks
TV Party! by Kate Carraway
“Cable television is a disease. I have it now, and that means I also have the TV listings in my bookmarks and that’s a problem. TV is for the one-hour toast-inhaling impasse you have in between working and going out, or hangovers/the flu. That’s IT! TV is so good now but it’s never stopped being the fucking worst.” I wrote that for VICE a year ago and, yeah, I was wrong. Maybe “mostly” wrong: TV created a renaissance for itself, in content and delivery—let’s call it post-TV—but watching shows on trad-TV or not, if watched passively or by rote, is still the fucking worst. So I was like half wrong?
Television has gone from 99 percent daggy to the medium that feels most expansive and inclusive (I’d make a lemonade-bet that there is more diversity of people and genres across a cache of your fave shows than your iTunes library or w/e), and the medium that collective-cultural life, one zillion smug tweets, and a TV-recap-industrial-complex all orbit around, while the novel moves further out into darkness (remember, “For every reader who dies today, a viewer is born,” wrote Papa Franzen, forever ago; remember, The Flamethrowers got less attention than Badger’s Star Trek scene in Breaking Bad).
We’re in the weird sort-of midst of the “fall season,” where previews and reviews and finales and premieres are happening all at once, which seems to be a just-fine whistle stop on the milk run toward whole seasons of TV being available all at once, Netflix-style. So, here, some select-selections from the lineup of brand new shows where the rubric for inclusion is about as sophisticated as “what I feel like” and, you know, what might turn out to be good. TV party tonight! TV party tonight! TV party tonight!
The End of High-Low
By Kate Carraway, Illustration by Penelope Gazin
By now, to say that highbrow and lowbrow—or high culture and low culture—form a false dichotomy is pretty, you know, obvs. Maybe we’ve felt it to be true for a while, that the idea of high and low as discrete and opposed units of whatever—of product or content or idea—was dumb; maybe it took a cache of excellent TV shows to finally prove it.
It’s not that it didn’t have its uses. “High-low” in its various forms is why music critics take Taylor Swift seriously—or, if not, they absolutely should—and why teenagers know what Balmain means. High-low is an easy prism through which to consider different kinds and directions of cultural aspirationalism, and has always been integral to fashion, art, hip-hop, and more recently to culture that is created and experienced online; Tumblr and, to some degree, Twitter are about the value of combining disparate and usually borrowed references, so often pulled specifically from traditionally high and traditionally low cultural sources.
Li’l Thinks - Friends by Kate Carraway
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
I pushed him into a snow bank on the way home from the bar. He was drunk and had to pee and went down, soft like a wool mitten, and then got up, and then I pushed him down again. I hadn’t—this should be “haven’t”—seen this dude in, like, three years, but that—the “pfooo” of a grown-up man falling slow and landing facedown in the fresh snow, the 2 AM winter-empty side-street echo of us scream-laughing, hard—repeats, for me, as something like an advertisement, not for friendship exactly, but more specifically for the corny, syrupy-sweet juvenilia that is what I liked so much about how and who we were when we were together.
Friendship is a constantly self-renewing frontier of human relationships, a Wild West of emotional and temporal adventure times. Without the common and commonly necessary strictures that the lamer side of biology and collective culture and whoever else is set up to dictate sexual, romantic relationships, and without the near-eternal nature of literal families, friendship is expansive and truly wild. It’s the only type of relationship that can run steadily for months or years or ever-afters, without sliding down an emotional valley or being punctured by another person’s need or someone else’s betrayal. Of all the ways for two people to be together, and be in some kind of love, it’s the way that is most defined by genuine, wanted, cohesive closeness—the kind that can only be created by making a choice that isn’t required by law or money or blood or boners, and least of all by obligation. The stuff of great friendships applies to shy kindergarteners sharing a snack as much as it does to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks watching movies together after dinner.
Classism – Li’l Thinks by Kate Carraway
Illustration by Penelope Gazin.
Fun fact: when you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re probably talking about class. I mean, maybe, maybe not… but probably. Classism expressed from and about any point on the socioeconomic spectrum, is implicitly part of almost everything interesting and useful and real to talk about. The prejudices themselves aren’t invisible, but classism in action is sometimes quiet, or tucked into other ways of diagramming and demeaning the human experience; class is ever mutating, floating like a gas, present when it’s not there, and not there when it seems to be. If I were to take a wild swing at it, I’d say maybe half of what seems at first to be casually racist and sexist and generally xenophobic is classist (it’s not as if racism and sexism aren’t inextricably part of class) and basically allowed to be because nobody gets into it (at least, not outside of the broadest us-versus-them stuff of party politics, and mostly abstract economic debates), and nobody wants to.
Considering the finer, lived, human details of class, though, is so weirdly verboten. Money, status, “class”—both specific and temporal (what the middle class “is,” for instance, has changed along with its numbers)—are among the most determining and influencing aspects of how a life is felt and experienced, but addressing them directly—in conversation, in criticism—will have the effect of narrowing and nullifying instead of working to contextualize, expand, and be real with whatever. Some of this is that it’s “rude” (guh) to talk about what you have or don’t have. Some of this is that when people talk about class, which is largely outside of social sanctioning, there are more ways to be wrong, to offend. (Like, if you’re a huge racist, you’ve probably at least been told you are, at some point.) Classism is also mostly sanctioned: “white trash” should be a suuuuper fucking embarrassing thing to say (so should “rich bitch” and “trust-fund kid” and anything else that presupposes a character or quality based on economic status, or an imagined one), but it’s not.
LIMITED CHAOS - LI’L THINKS - By Kate Carraway
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
I have two recurring dreams. One is none of your business until I make it your business and the other you’re going to hear about even if you don’t want to: It’s about a familiar-since-forever kind of weekend beach party cum bacchanal, a performance of chaos.
It always takes place at dusk or later, and there is either a lingering supernatural streak of hot yellow, like the horizon’s take on Joseph Beuys, or just the noncommittal graying black of summer nighttime. Through dreamy static dust I see me wearing some apple-meat-white cotton-eyelet summer-dress item—this part doesn’t matter to you but it feels so right—and a coalition of people I’ve funned out with since the pre-dawn of my party consciousness are with me, storming the breaks fully clothed, carrying what I guess are bottles in brown paper bags, sort of endlessly entering the water and screaming and then stopping and then going again, pause-rewind-play, again and again. This contained, primal undoing—dreamed or otherwise—is probably spring break.
Fashion in the 90s - Kate Carraway’s Li’l Thinks
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
The 90s were perfect. That’s objective. Not even “the 90s,” really, but particular neon-gilded chambers of time within the 90s (like, super-ur-90s Sassy magazine before it began its slow death in 1995-ish) were perfect. This isn’t to privilege one set of nostalgics over another; the 1990s reverence felt by three small, semidiscrete generations (X, Y, Millennial) is, of course, no different from anyone else’s nostalgia for what came before, but seriously, the 90s were good for us. They were great sometimes.
I don’t even care about “better.” What’s better? Does better matter, is better relevant, is better possible? But one particular aspect of the culture that is definitely not better right now, and will be no better, is the translation of fashion to film, to video, to TV, to the internet.
I guess I mean this in an abstract and personal sense of “better”: There are a zillion dedicated segments and shows about fashion, on real TV and online, on blogs and the rest of it, that are doing what they set out to do, achieving everything they want to achieve. Every website I’ve ever been to (ever? Ever!) has featured a closet tour with some emerging or expiring It girl. Like the 90s, this is good and even great sometimes. And the epitome of 90s-fashion television, MTV’s House of Style, was revived last year, with ace model hosts and the familiar and correct cross-genre/high-low/daydreamy approach.