February 22, 2014

Dislocated and in Fear of Being Co-opted

Last night I thought I'd finally found a way into writing the blog post I've been labouring over for the past week (and in fact, parts of it have been percolating in my brain in various forms for months). However, I happened to read this article railing against the gentrification-through-shipping-containers of a pop-up shopping mall in London, which took me off down a different rabbit-hole. So you'll have to wait a bit longer to hear about viruses, culture and innovation. Sorry.

The rabbit-hole led to Byron, Brewdog, and the recuperation of radical aesthetics which left me with that feeling you get in certain restaurants, when you suddenly realise that the "other half" of the room is in fact a reflection in a wall-length mirror.

It's rather depressing to spot the pared-back aesthetic born of thrift being adopted by corporations who'll use that to fatten existing profits, rather than the small indie's counterstrike to offset the lack of economies of scale and enable any profit.

Grungy design isn't the only thing being co-opted of late. In the tech world things like hackdays are–depending on how cynical you're feeling–being used to provide a sheen of tech solutionism or advance the neo-liberal agenda.

I think there are two ways to frame this.

One is to rail against the powerful as they absorb the radical and interesting movements and ideas, while neutering anything likely to change the status quo.

And the other is to acknowledge that 'twas ever thus, that the mainstream always adopts the successful alternative cultures: just ask the punks, or the hippies. This isn't failure, but in fact success. It's evolution rather than revolution, but has moved society in a better direction and fewer people died.

The reality is likely to be somewhere in the middle, but I don't think it particularly changes what to do next.

As Dan Hill says, we should continue our dance with the dark matter, recognising that the problems of the world cannot be solved by technology alone. Continue pushing to make the world a more equitable place, while keeping a critical eye on how our work could be misused to the opposite effect. And find ourselves some new edges to inhabit, which will take the next wave of gentrifiers to places they wouldn't expect.

Posted by Adrian at February 22, 2014 10:28 AM | TrackBack
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