We’re running out of sorts.

One thing that came up this week was “dead metaphors”. Frankie mentioned it in passing after a brief discussion of this nice video of letterpressing:

As marvellous as the video and the practice is, what cropped up was the amount of terms that have become part of daily language, but whose meaning is lost. We know what “out of sorts” means to us now. We no longer think that we have run out of characters for typesetting, just that we’re a bit under the weather. It’s a dead metaphor.

This is a slight theme to some mild angst I have been having recently. I feel that culture is running out of sorts and existing on dead metaphors. We use things without knowing why, or particularly seeking to find out why. The sense of history is being eroded by the ‘everything-all the time’ nature of current media. People aren’t engaging with the past because they are too busy trying to keep up with the now. We are consuming and recycling culture faster than we can possibly create new culture. There feels that there is a race to reach the end of culture — who will be first to create the last piece of new culture?

Current pop culture is dominated by the Saturday Night Simulacra: a system that rakes recent culture and reposts without considering it. It is a wholly vapid experience that trades on lazy recognition and short-term nostalgia. Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life [1998] can be positioned as a retro reference point, or Missy’s Get UR Freak On [2001] can be vamped as an old skool anthem.* It is even possible to cover a song that had been released by a major recording artist less than a fortnight previous — Only Girl (In the World) by Rihanna [2010].

Cher Lloyd, X-Factor contestant and product.

It’s not really being given time to establish itself within culture before it is being rerecorded and pushed out again. Outside of the music/entertainment industry, advertising is the heartland of this reanimation of fresh corpses. It is winter in the UK, and we are being treated to the usual bout of wickedly awful Christmas adverts, the nadir of which is probably Iceland’s campaign.

Iceland are embarking on a rich vein of hyperreality, creating a very painful run-through of some loosely connected ideas. Pop culture synapses firing in no particular direction. They seem to feel that if they beat consumers around the head with things they half remember (Jason Donovan), bits of culture that they’ve inherited (T Rex) and things that they’ve never experienced but feel they have (the can can) then Christmas frozen foods will fly off the shelf:

It is this use of dead metaphors, or signifiers that have lost their sign, that indicates the end of days. Nothing is being added to these creations in any way. We are all just shouting non sequiturs at each other in the hope that it sparks a memory, false meaning or an impulse to buy.

I will end with this excerpt from Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Prima Donna as a view to our near-future:

The Bald Prima Donna, Eugène Ionesco; John Calder (1958).

* Get Ur Freak On was easily one of the most sampled, riffed off and remixed tracks on the mashup scene, but that’s quite a different discussion.


8 thoughts on “We’re running out of sorts.

  1. Iceland aren’t even managing to loosely connect ideas, it is just that one of their ad agency team is a Baz Luhrmann fan. I still find it amusing that this supposedly most “mum friendly” of supermarkets is using cultural references to a whorehouse to sell frozen shit in a box.

    • It’s the low-rent version of Boots’ “here come the girls”, “here come the cheap bints for their frozen prawn cocktails”

  2. Tweets that mention We’re running out of sorts. « Mount Analogue -- Topsy.com

  3. Interesting points well made, as always. Despite rampant twitter-baiting, I’ve managed to stay away from X-Factor so your recap above was very useful :)

    Let’s not forget that Jamaican dancehall were reworking well-known pop tunes decades ago, with dubplates appearing within days of the ‘official’ release. And they were actually good.

    • Yeah, the creative culture of everything from dancehall, dub through hip hop and grime is excellent.

      It uses mainstream product as the basis for something new and brilliant (Roll Deep over The Bus Stop eg), much more than just a lazy knock off for cheap cognitive reactions.

      (thanks for nice comment, btw)

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