Frayed Rope; The Expiration of Post Modernism

(Below is the launch of a work-in-progress on the expiration of Post-Modernism and the emergence of new sub-eras. I’ll be working on this thesis over the next year. Let me know if you’d like to work on this with me, have suggestions, comments and thoughts.)

Frayed Rope

The expiry of Post Modernism is a frayed rope. The end of Post Modernism is intertwined with new threads. Long tentacles of the old and new eras are mixed so tight it’s hard to see each separately. Academics might call the whole mess Post Modernism, but that’s not specific enough to help clarify what our era is up to.

Post Modernism’s momentum is tailing, if not already slowed to sleep. The other long threads of the new era are overtaking the composition of the rope. The West’s bubble is leaking, the East’s bubble is billowing. In the next decade new academics, probably writing in English, will seek to determine the power-impact of Eastern culture on world culture.

The three new eras within the frayed end are:

  • – Dispartition
  • – Post-Dispartition
  • – The Multiplex

The Three, in General

Dispartition: Era of newly formed, cliquish, subgenres magnetized around labels and preferences.

Post-Dispartition: Re-forming of larger coalitions, a melding of the subgenres, in natural balance/reaction against even greater polarization and alienation.

Multiplex: A relinquishing of static labeling and grouping, a constant reforming of preferences informed by greater cross-cultural communications.

Beginnings (& Ends)

Dispartition: Started with Ken Kesey’s famous quote, “You’re either on or off the bus.” He’s defining inclusion/exclusion; you  are either part of the counter-culture or you’re not (from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)). This era ended with President Bush’s “With us or against us” post-9/11 speech (September 20th). You’re either good or bad.

While Kesey’s “start” of the era was launched as part of the “undertone,” the early popularization of the trend (where it surfaced) was illustrated by the breakdown of the Bretton Woods international monetary system (Nixon Shock) when the dollar became the sole reserve currency. The US is now on it’s own; capital can now easily flow across borders.

Post-Dispartition: Began soon after President Bush’s 9/20 speech. The yes/no rigor of the statement fomented a counter-movement, a balance. This balancing can be illustrated by Barak Obama’s speech in 2004 at the DNC, “In a tolerant America your name is not a barrier to success…my story is part of the larger American story…” thus pinpointing a larger umbrella to group like-minded thinkers while seeking to break down labels.

Multiplex: Began with the rise of decentralized peer-to-peer file distribution programs and was re-emphasized twice, earlier at the burst of the dotcom bubble, more recently during the housing market bubble burst. With slippery footing, what is a culture to do? Permanence is tossed-out; IP ownership becomes a cultural palette. Home is transitory, identity is fluid, and the dollar (and the Western economy) has lost its value.

Cultural examples of the three eras as seen through visual events:

Post-Modern: Photographer Jamie Livingston takes one Polaroid a day of what he sees for 17 years. The external, as seen through the lens of his life, allows a voyeuristic peek into his life. The rawness of the images is free from modernist constraints. He kept these images stored away in envelopes, a secret, and were not shared with the public until his death.

Dispartition: Richard Avedon chose to erase the context of his images by dropping a white backdrop behind his subjects, separating the individual from the greater external meaning and emphasizing the internal; the person. Holding to a clarity and style of the imagery, the subject becomes isolated. These images are mass produced for sale and advertising.

Post-Dispartition: A handful of patient folks, such as Noah and Madandcrazychild, take a rough, modestly oriented, in-situ, self-portrait every day for a year and combines them all into an animations. The year of images are boiled down into less than 6 minutes of video. These animations are posted online, freely, and are viewed by millions. The idea spawns “you-too” services such as “mugshot,”

Rolling Multiplex: Sarah Palin’s speech in response to the recent violence in Arizona is edited into a video collage of her breaths only. The entire meaning is deleted, re-purposed into new meaning, and shared freely online.

Anpther Example:

A quick filter to illustrate how each era would “see” a cultural event: The Double Rainbow video.

Post-Modern: The video is “discovered” by Jimmy Kimmel, and posted to his twitter account. The video becomes “property” of the discoverer who claims responsibility over the video’s inherent power.

Dispartition: HuffPo’s headline, “Hilarious Hiker Guy FREAKS OUT Over Full Double Rainbow” immediately seeks to compartmentalize the person as the “other” and not from the same ilk as the author. The meaning of the video is realized through the separation of the subject and the viewer.

Post-Dispartition: The author of the video notes within an interview the inclusive universal nature of his reaction, “I knew when I shot the vid that it was special, it was a reaction to the Holy Spirit and people would react to my
reaction, it’s as expected. Spirit is speaking through me, people are connecting to Spirit through me, they have a sense of recognition of the power of the Universe. I love it!”

Multiplex: Many creative people make rough/quick parodies and remixes (internet meme) through their own vision. They post these to YouTube, the locus of where the video originated. The meaning is usurped for new gains, new loose meanings, without concern for longevity.


My next focus will be on better defining these eras with examples from across the cultural spectrum.


Indiana Love Song

(previously published 2010)

I was younger, more joyfully naïve. I didn’t look at my watch, or check the weather. I was teaching college, living on my own, and burned through my short paycheck before the month ran out. Glee.

Somewhere within the blur of those days I told a student I wanted an old car. My alt-punk roots, bred on the milk of the era before disco, looked to the inherently cool boxy rides of the early 60s as the antidote to the boring family orbs of contemporary sedans. This student said he knew of an old Plymouth Valiant, with the highly durable Slant 6 engine, clean, and with low mileage. It was his grandmother’s car, bought for her by his grandfather, garaged for decades; she drove it a few times and then stopped. (When I used to tell this story, I would say it was his grandfather’s car. Now that I’m older, I don’t care if it was a grandma car. It was still cool.)

I said I’d buy it sight unseen. In a few days the car was parked outside of my school office, down a short unloading zone covered by pine needles. I think I paid less than $600 for it. I couldn’t get over how cool it was AND how affordable it was. I drove it for a month, joyed over its push-button transmission, the low clack of its engine, the way it would wildly fishtail around corners. I drove it all over the Northeast, from CT to Philly, from NYC to the Jones Beach.

Then one day I got my winter-wool sweater caught in the door. I pulled on my sweater and the door mechanism broke, locking the door shut, leaving a chunk of my sweater somewhere inside. Later that evening, as I was easing into a parking spot to check the damages, my turn signals failed. It cost me over $1500 to fix both issues.

So what that my car now cost more than I thought it would. I still loved it.

A year later I was living in NYC. I was driving on the BQE, turning off from the LIE when my brakes failed. Pressed the pedal all the way to the matt, pure silence of gliding along without the engine but not slowing down. The car rolled up a hill, and slid down the next. I pushed carefully on the pushbutton dash, shifting down gears to brake the car, then quickly flipped the joystick style emergency brake with a “whack!” I had the car towed to the street outside of my apartment. It cost me another $450.

In NYC they have this routine called “alternative side of the street parking.” The idea is the city needs to clean the streets with truck-style street scrubbers. The brave citizens, who cannot afford private parking spaces, have to shift their cars from one side of the street to the other at least once a week, to leave room for the street cleaning trucks.

I couldn’t afford to fix the brakes. I figured I’d save up for a few months and in the meantime I’d push my car back and forth. Youth. My roommates heroically helped me push the Valiant from one side to the other month after month. In the rain, snow, and the rain again.

One night I heard some light clinking sounds out on the street. I went to my building door, opened it slight enough to see what was going on, but it was too late. The external details, hubcaps, trim, roofline, headlights, taillights, bumper, everything that could be stripped from the outside of my car was stripped. No! I yelled into the shadows. No! I went back to bed, covering my face with my hands.

The next morning as I exited my building, walking to the subway on my way to work, another Valiant drove up, and tailed me for half the block. I stopped and turned to face it. This guy parked his car and handed me his card. He happened to be a Valiant collector, saw mine on the street, and would pay me $1000 for it. “Slant six engines never die,” he said. His card advertised his asbestos removal business, “The Best-os Asbestos Destroyer.” I said, “Ok. $1000, and you can have it.”

We agreed to meet the following weekend, he’d bring a tow truck, and we’d move the car to a lot he had. He asked if I wanted to tag along as he had other Valiants and maybe, if I was interested, we could work on rebuilding another one of his cars. He said, “Maybe you give me $500 and I’ll store this car for you and we’ll work on fixing it up?” My stomach sank, I knew this was going to end badly. But I was in his car, my car was on the tow truck, I went along for the ride.

When we arrived at his lot there were at least two dozen Valiants, all in different states of repair. I asked him what his plans were for all these cars. He said he was going to corner the market on the Valiant, to fix them up slowly in order to get the highest dollar in the collectors market. His goal was to buy up all the Valiants he could find, keep them, and sell one when he needed the cash. All those cool cars just sitting there, in a lot under the rain, rusting helplessly. On my right was a pile of aluminum trim, shiny bumpers, and headlights that were obviously the missing parts from my dear Valiant. My heart sank deeper. I now knew for sure he wasn’t a good man and I was in a bad place. Take it easy, I said to myself, no fast movements, and you’ll get out fine.

As his crew unrolled my Valiant, sadly naked, wronged from the stripping it received the week before. He turned to me and said, “So what do you say? $400 for the Valiant.”

“No,” I said, “I want my $1000.” His crew stopped, turned to look at me as if to say, Dude, he’s the destroyer, the best-os Asbestos destroyer, don’t be stupid.

“Well,” he said, “its on my property now and I have to go to work, so you can arrange to have your own tow crew come here to get it next week sometime, but that will cost you at least $500. So, I’ll be fair. Let’s say $500. I’ll buy it from you for $500.”

Ill, ashen, irritated and stuck, I said,  “ok.”

“Great,” he said as he reached into his pocket. Then he reached into his other pocket. Then his pants pocket. “Man,” he said, ”I’m sorry kid. I don’t have any cash, no check.

Will you take an IOU?”


Life, Death, and Digital Traces

(originally published in 2010)

Jamie Livingston took one Polaroid snapshot everyday from March 31, 1979 until the day he died, October 25, 1997. This immense series of images is the richest modern-day autobiography I’ve ever “read.” Literature fans debate the fate of the “Great American Novel.” I think Jamie has written it within the silence of his Polaroids, but it’s not a novel, it’s a memoir.

At the very end of Carl Raswan’s 1935 travel journal, “My Life Amongst the Bedouins,” is an epilogue that describes a vibrant day of falconing on the desert. It’s a brilliant reward for your interest in all of the previous detailed pages on pre-petrochemical life in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a clear window into one beautiful day, in a far away place, during an era before most of us were born.

At the very end of Jamie’s series is the unplanned, melancholic and honestly natural document of the final half-year of his life. It’s slippery, a hazard, it unbalances you. The clarity of the day-to-day details of his life: friends, food, stuff, are all passively present, aligned, and expected. Then the path shifts. He becomes ill. The world tilts, the vision narrows, and the previously consistent flow of images skip, jump, and come to a jarring rest. Though it’s been fifteen years since the last image was recorded, we witness his life, and death, in a strikingly present way.

Jamie didn’t post his images to a blog or to Facebook, there weren’t any blogs then, no Facebook.  Jamie saved these pictures in small dated boxes, offline, in a case. “Save them all for what?” I ask aloud at the webpage that contains the images from 1997. Ten years after Jamie’s death, his friends posted his images online as a memorial to his life. Could he ever have imagined that we’d be looking at them now?

An old acquaintance, who was really a friend of a friend, was in a motorcycle accident a while back and was paralyzed. I remember learning about the accident when it happened, feeling a gnawing pang about the awful news, and worried sympathetically about her well-being. I continued to hear about this acquaintance in bits and pieces here and there, but she wasn’t really a “friend,” and I didn’t think it was my place to ask about the details of her difficult life.

On Facebook I’m connected to my friend, the one through whom I met the young woman who had the accident. I was checking my Facebook news feed when I noticed my friend wrote a note on the Facebook wall of the woman who had the accident. My friend then posted to her stream that she loved and missed her friend, then uploaded a gallery of pictures of the two of them together. “Oh no,” I thought. I clicked the link and found a stream of status-updates of love and remembrance.

Sometime within the past few days the woman who had the accident passed away, her death caused by her lingering injuries. The messages from her friends and family turned her wall into a memorial of her life. Old pictures, new pictures, found pictures; there she was, as she used to be before the accident, and after the accident. New posts are added every day.

As I scrolled down the pages, I reached the gap where her postings had stopped and the memorial began. In here, in this plain uncomplicated space, she had died. I lingered over the few, simple, unemotional lines of texts. A friend wrote, “Looking forward to seeing you…” Then a day passed, then another day. On the third day a new message was posted on her wall, “Love you.” Then a dozen more, then another dozen. Then notes of loss, written in the present as if she’s still checking her Facebook page, “I don’t think you even know how much everyone loves and misses you…” “Your like family to me, your so beautiful inside and out.” Then more pictures, videos, messages, and remembrances.

I scrolled back to the top and re-read my friend’s message, “My heart aches. I love you so,” and I had to stand up. I walked away from my computer.

I looked out of the window and gazed over the trees, the dirt, the weeds. I looked down at my hands and wiggled my fingers. I looked up at the sky, at clouds and a pale half moon obscured by daylight. I turned off the lights inside my office to see the moon more clearly and remembered a physics lesson a high-school teacher was once wondrously intent about.

He’d pace across the front of the class, rub his hands together and say, “Energy may not be created nor destroyed; it’s ever present and can only change states, it can only transition.”

Our digital traces spill over with the fervent life of people being people, minutely, brazenly, both boringly and with verve. Our energy is the magnet, life upon life, layers of life, sucking us together into the loudest celebrating sirens. In unison we take our paths and seek the joy of things we hold dear: people, findings, and connections. However loose these things may be, we seem to have much more of them in common than we have any differences.

Our digital traces are sparks that flare across the lives of friends and strangers alike. The machine churns, it makes this magic. If you listen to it carefully it tells you its secret. I found these two life-capsules posted by strangers upon the digital sea. They’ve washed up on my digital island. They say, “look at me, you’re looking at yourself, all these things are temporary.”

And I say back, “Time’s got nothing on the energy you’ve shared. It lives; it’s eternal. I can see it. I can see you.”

It’s your energy, my energy, the energy, energy, energy.



Jamie Livingston’s Polaroids:

Jamie Livingston on Wikipeidia

The Black Tents of Arabia: My Life Amongst the Bedouins

NOTE: I am not posting links to the Facebook pages I mention above. They are private. At a time that the family might make a public statement I’ll provide a link.


After working at a handful of start-ups (and before that, 6 years of art school) Jason Moriber helped launch Wise Elephant, a business/marketing strategy and tactics firm. As of October 2010 Jason is now the Director of Digital Strategies for Waggener Edstrom Studio D. Jason has an MFA in drawing, has played in 4 bands, created and implemented programs for auditors, start-ups, and organic farmers, and am in constant awe of the amazing people he learns about, meets, and fortunately gets to work with. You can read more of Jason’s writing at  NewCommBiz. Engage with Jason on Twitter: @jasonmoriber