Steve Martin = understated genius.
Steve Martin = understated genius.
on the street in Paris
I took an old-fashioned green Stanley thermos with me to work this morning. It’s fairly unremarkable; something that people have used to take coffee on the go for a hundred years. But now I have this big, fat, olive green thermos sitting on the desk of my cubicle, surrounded by the trappings of office life - the screens and monitors and buttons all in varying shades of gray and dark gray and slate gray and black - and there’s something quite pleasing about it. Maybe it’s the heft of the thing, compared to all those brightly colored slim plastic travel mugs shaped to fit your hand that are everywhere these days, or that I associate these kinds of thermoses with camping and outdoors adventures and men warming up old coffee over a fire. It’s completely out of place in the corporate world, at once reminding me that there’s life and experiences and a world outside my cubicle, and suggesting to everyone else that there are other parts to my life and me than the 8 to 6 grind.
I’ve been interested for a few years now in the way menswear has hearkened or reverted to this rugged outdoorsman look, and how mens’ magazines and blogs and Tumblrs are all about being a gentleman and having old-fashioned virtues and drinking old-fashioneds. The Stanley thermos would not be out of place on any of these blogs, suggested as more authentic and durable and manly than your everyday Starbucks cup. And the thing is, as I’m looking at this thermos on my desk, I sort of get the whole thing: all of the beards in Williamsburg, and artisan/hand-craftedness and Made in the USA fever, and the trend among upper middle class urban men to take up an interest in hunting, even as they spend their days slaving away in front of computer screens drinking cups of Keurig coffee. It’s maybe a little tiny form of rebellion against the corporate world, a gesture toward a more interesting, rougher world that they can’t inhabit because of economics and social status and norms and obligations.
I used to think that this whole trend was a kind of superficial artifice of manliness, and that young guys’ obsession with seeming masculine and fitting the mold of masculinity was sort of a regression, as women were continually trying to break through stereotypes of feminity. You would never see Cosmo or Glamour telling women to act ladylike and dress ladylike, etc., but you do see that all over the pages of Esquire and GQ and friends. I think there’s still some truth to that reading of it, that there is this desperate bid among young upper class men to retain a sense of masculinity in a sort of asexual world of office work.
But there’s a less cynical and more charming aspect, too, I now think. There’s something sort of simplistic, and a little sad, and a little uplifting about getting a kick out of drinking out of an old Stanley coffee thermos, or a mason jar if that’s your thing. It’s like there’s this quiet undercurrent running through all of our work lives: we’re all stuck here, together, doing this computer work, and we all kind of wish we could do something more adventurous and fun and exciting and, hell, 3D, but we can’t figure out how to get out of this technological mess we got ourselves into, and so we take instead these small symbols that connect us to that world, to those narratives, and we get a little joy out of it.
I rode my new bike to work today. Well, no, that’s a lie. I rode my bike to the express subway stop, which is a mile from my apartment via crowded, narrow Brooklyn Heights streets. It’s only in the 50’s, weather-wise, in the mornings these days, but all of the other commuter bikers are apparently riding in the tour de France this year and practicing on the streets of Brooklyn, and so I have to practice, too, and I ended up getting really sweaty and overheated and over stressed trying to keep up with the biking joneses. Plus, I haven’t yet figured out what to wear to a competitive bike race that turns into a corporate job in the same morning: a backpack? No. My leather shoulder bag? Maybe, but things don’t really stay on shoulders while on bumpy bikes. A blouse? Not a good look when doused in sweat.
On the other hand, it’s kind of nice feeling like my muscles get to move a bit before sitting at a cubicle the rest of the day, and zipping around the neighborhood I really do like, handlebars vibrating underneath me, is kind of a cool way to start the morning.
But if past is any predictor of future, my bike will probably be stolen anyway when I get back to Brooklyn Heights tonight. At least then I’ll be able to keep taking my taxis four blocks in the morning guilt-free.
Calling all SF Lady Journos: Meet Lady Media Innovators
Her Girl Friday, a Brooklyn based group dedicated to empowering and fostering community among women in journalism and nonfiction storytelling, is hosting a free event in SF on March 7. We like their mission and their work and have posted about it before.
The gap of women in media is big and according to today’s Al Jazeera op-ed, it’s critical to the planet. Some facts from the piece:
- Between January and November 2012, in a study of 37 newspapers from the New York Times to the Traverse City Record Eagle in Michigan, women were quoted in 20 percent of all stories about the election.
- According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors 2012 Newsroom Census, 34 percent of employees in supervising positions in newsrooms were women, the same percentage as in 1999.
- In TV news, 39.8 percent of the workforce at all stations is women, compared to 32.7 percent of those working at all radio stations.
- On a list leaked last week of 44 journalists who sit on the Pulitzer Prize nominating committee, 28 are men and 16 are women.
So, in an era of continued disparity combined with digital disruption and incredible amounts of innovation, HGF’s event features four inspiring woman innovators and the incredible work they’ve been doing. Details here.
If advertising is meant to be aspirational, these ads [in men’s magazines] are presenting a pretty sad version of what American men can aspire to be. And advertisers aren’t selling this hyper-masculine ideal to just any man: They’re specifically targeting the younger, poorer, less-educated guys in the supermarket aisle. In the latest issue of the journal Sex Roles, a trio of psychologists at the University of Manitoba analyzed the advertising images in a slate of magazines targeted at men, from Fortune to Field and Stream. They counted up the ads that depict men as violent, calloused, tough, dangerous, and sexually aggressive—what the researchers call “hyper-masculine”—then indexed them with the magazine’s target demographics. Hyper-masculine images, the researchers found, are more likely to be sold to adolescents, who find higher “peer group support” for manly-man behaviors. They’re also sold to working-class men, who are “embedded in enduring social and economic structures in which they experience powerlessness and lack of access to resources” like political power, social respect, and wealth, and so turn to more widely accessible measures of masculine worth—like “physical strength and aggression.
— Amanda Hess, Slate. How Men’s Magazines Sell Masculinity to Young, Low-Income Men. (via futurejournalismproject)
When I was 22, I lived in Boston. Just out of college, still thinking that whatever spirit or gumption or whatever else it was that college had spit-shined on me was enough to validate me in the real world. I was working not in “downtown” Boston proper, not where the real tall buildings are, but…
The houses were left vacant on the land, and the land was vacant because of this. Only the tractor sheds of corrugated iron, silver and gleaming, were alive; and they were alive with metal and gasoline and oil, the disks of the plows shining. The tractors had lights shining, for there is no day and night for a tractor and the disks turn the earth in the darkness and they glitter in the daylight. And when a horse stops work and goes into the barn there is a life and a vitality left, there is a beating and a warmth, and the feet shift on the straw, and the jaws champ on the hay, and the ears and the eyes are alive. There is a warmth of life in the barn, and the heat and smell of life. But when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. The heat goes out of it like the living heat that leaves a corpse. Then the corrugated iron doors are closed and the tractor man drives home to town, perhaps twenty miles away, and he need not come back for weeks or months, for the tractor is dead. And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of the work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of the land and the working of it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation.
— John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath (via farmerchandler)