The Contrarian: On Relativity

—by , April 30, 2012

Everything looks different from different angles and in different types of light and with different degrees of sightedness. The significance, the weight, the effectiveness of things fluctuate with the weather, your skin color, where you went to college. To each his own, by all means. But by what means?

By what means does the relativity that is said to express itself in our knowable universe allow us to take it for granted, the theory of infinite possibility becoming finite in the hands of our understanding? Everything is possible, and we agree to disagree, but in the end, we still walk that line. Our line, the only line—despite conditional acknowledgement of truths that exist for others, even beyond the grasp of our race—our line is the only one that truly exists for us. And that’s enough. How the hell is that enough?

Einstein would sit on top of his grave and shake his head: “These kids are way too stressed.” I have a problem with relativity, but I can’t say for sure what it is. They say “It’s all relative,” and so do I, sometimes. Those sometimes, most times, are the times that the phrase is useful enough to allow me to say it. Those sometimes, it doesn’t kill me (and hasn’t yet, obviously) to say that something, that almost-maxim phrase, which feels like a bad nickname with a good story, as trite and as true. “Tomato” or “TomAto,” I guess that’s up to you.

We live in a culture of nostalgia, and I’d say it’s been this way for awhile. I’m of a generation that does not tire of remarking that 1990 is no longer 10 years ago, and that gasoline had once cost a visually elegant dollar per gallon, despite the fact that we were children in the backseat of our parent’s cars back then. The new Ipad went obsolete yesterday. My peers and I are wearing skinny, straight leg jeans for the second time in our lives. This is all to say that as long as I’ve been alive, which is not a very long time, everyone around me has been looking in one direction, and that is backwards.

Fashion is an interesting point of reference in that it is an indication of the progression of a socio-cultural state, and reflects what the people value, go for, the trajectory of our expression moving in relation to one another. The standard ‘90s outfit, the neon, flannel, and big glasses in mind, was jeans and a t-shirt (albeit, branded) during a time a great American affluence, feigned modesty the mark of status. Nowadays, used to a settled period of economic stress, we brag about our bargain buys and faux crystal embellishments, valuing the deceit in looking rich and feeling smart, and taking pride in the culture afforded to us by a demand for clothes that idealize a time and place we’ve never been.

Designer Jeremy Scott’s fall 2012 collection attracted commentary from a Refinery 29 blogger, Emma Arvida Byström, for looking “a lot like [a] Tumblr dashboard: girls with Kool Aid hair, bindis, and chain nose rings.” The issue Byström took with that aesthetic was the “coincidence” (her air quotes, not mine) of his finding inspiration in the colorful kitsch culture of his own youth at a time when pre- to mid-teen girls have been acquainting themselves with said content and driving it back to relevance “on the internet for years now.” Emma Arvide Byström, whose personal pictures portray that affinity for Lisa Frank, white-girl-Bollywood, and The Simpsons, is 16 years old.

For years now? Fairly, Byström went on to stress that her commentary was meant to start a conversation, not so much qualify who has the right to claim that look, that culture. All hipster “I did this before it was cool”-ness aside, I too would like to stress that I do not mean to qualify anyone’s right to revel in the delights of old school novelty. But for years how? Since when? 10 years ago you were 10.

Has it gotten so bad that we have protectively bittersweet memories of a past that we ourselves don’t have? Would we rather yearn for what must’ve been, rather than what actually was, and what can be? Looking forward has become so bleak that we have taken to looking backwards, at nothing in particular, feeling more ownership for TV shows that were on outside of your mother’s belly than the future that is more yours than anything else.

They say “It’s all relative,” but doesn’t that qualify the phrase? And if it does qualify the phrase, does it not disprove it? I have a problem with relativity, but I can’t say for sure what it is. Except that relativity must be relative, and I can’t leave that alone.


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