A Shift in Cool

It used to be that the most rock and roll thing you could do was to smash and burn your instruments on stage, after a gig.  That was a potent and visceral symbol of rebellion and of “sticking it to the man” – where “the man” was understood to be the corporations that made the gear and the institutions of society that forbade such wanton destruction.  “Look at me, man!  I defy!”  Well that was then.  The same people wanted to die before they got old, didn’t they?

There’s been a shift in perceptions.  As people become more environmentally conscious and participate in the actual making of things, even if only on a hobbyist basis, they have learned about the value of made objects.  They’re precious.  They use irreplaceable resources, such as precious, slow growth, hardwood, rainforest timber.  They take effort and each one turns out to be handmade and unique, irrespective of the propaganda about factories, automation and mass production offered as the standard narrative about Capitalist progress.  Each electric guitar is, in point of fact, assembled, set up and finished by the hand of a craftsman.  They are a gift of incredible skill and care made by the artisan.  A little appreciation of their value is due.  A little respect for the object, its maker and the materials is only right.

I think we’ve begun to see out planet the same way.  It’s no longer something endlessly and infinitely exploitable and despoilable, for greed and gain.  Plunder and waste is no longer cool.  This sentiment finds its way back to rock and roll instruments.  Smashing your guitar is not at all cool anymore.  Respecting the object, its materials and workmanship and the skills, care and application of the people that made it has become far more rock and roll.

In the Harry Potter books, author J.K. Rowling has a similar idea about the things the Goblins made.  It was said that when the owner of the artefact was finished using the thing the Goblins had made, it was not theirs to destroy or sell on.  The object reverted back to its original maker – the Goblin who made it.  Only the maker had the right to determine what happened to the object next, once the user had no further use for it.  Imagine if that ethos applied to all made objects and to intellectual property.  If your Fender Stratocaster reverted to its makers, when you had finished with it, you would be honour and duty bound to return it, in as good a condition as possible.  If intellectual property couldn’t be sold on like some orphaned child prostitute, the inventors would be given their due.

What we would see is a return to caring about the maintenance, repair, care and longevity of made objects and ideas.  This would, in turn, eliminate the mountains of land fill waste that we, as a society, generate in obscene quantities, just to keep the wheels of Capitalist production turning.  Planned obsolescence would be a crime.  Selling shoddy or poorly made things would also be a reprehensible act.  We’d use fewer raw materials and probably not have to cut down as many forests or mine as many sites of natural beauty to fuel our obsessions.

You still see dismantled and badly damaged guitars on eBay.  People feel they can abuse an instrument and still make a decent amount of money, when selling it on.  Others have calculated they make more money from selling the parts separately, rather than from selling the complete guitar.  It will all end.  It’s not cool.  It’s rather repugnant and repulsive to those that care about the making of things, the things made and the people that make things.

There has been a marked shift in “cool”.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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8 Responses to A Shift in Cool

  1. Janet says:

    The better a guitar, the better the performance, the longer it will last. Unfortunately, this is not true of so many products made nowadays. You can pay for a ‘good’ toaster or a cheap one; both will toast the toast for just a little while before they conveniently break down, are not ‘worth’ repairing, and we are forced to buy new. This is the material world that bothers me so much.. quality is becoming obsolete, repairing impossible or too expensive, and more stuff just keeps getting thrown into the dumps. Your post has reminded me, though, that at least in some things… instruments and good paint brushes, quality still matters. And deserves to be cared for.

    • As you might have been able to tell, the throwaway society is one of my pet bugbears too, not only because of the sheer unconscionable waste, but because the cheap item and the expensive item are both cheap underneath and the customer is being short changed. It makes me very sad.

      • Janet says:

        Me, too!!! I’ve never been much of a shopper, now I’ve evolved into practically a non-shopper in my effort to have less of an environmental footprint. It’s very sad that I practically never see a product I think worthy of purchasing, beyond good food, clothes because I’m supposed to wear them, art supplies and outdoor play equipment.. but only because they are all necessities in life.

      • You can still buy artisan made goods in some categories, but never in electronics or computing, where the engineers prostituted themselves long ago. With different choices, it could all be different, of course. I think it’s a tragic lost opportunity for our culture that there are no boutique makers of sandwich toasters. I’m serious. Imagine what people in hundreds of years time will make of antique Apple iPhones. They’ll be as risible as Sony Walkmans are today. Too little quality. Too little longevity. They become useless very quickly. For example, in an iPhone it’s all but impossible to replace the battery and yet it is known at the outset that the battery has a finite and short life, much shorter than the life of the surrounding components. An engineer could make a different design, but the balance sheet says “don’t do it”. It’s profoundly messed up when a game we play, the money game, twists rational decisions into bizarre, wasteful ones that have real impacts on the environment and on people.

      • Janet says:

        I suspect you’ve seen this video? Yes, the 50’s began the downfall of quality with permission granted to do it! .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLBE5QAYXp8
        The technological industries are the worse… I had no idea iphone did that with their batteries. What’s so sad is that we accept all this stupidity. i actually own one of those 1940-ish black rotary phones, and gee, it still works. And if that phone had ever had a moments trouble (and it likely never did).. why, the whole neighbourhood would know about it, because the owner wouldn’t get off the neighbour’s phone to report the issue until it was resolved, and the party line folks would all hear the story! ha ha. My parents returned and had repaired everything that was faulty.It was unthinkable to own poorly made products and appliances. Yet, now I can’t count how often I have said to the technological help person, “Seriously. that’s ridiculous.” And they usually apologize for the stupidity of the product, but no one is actually going to do anything about it. Well, this is a great rant.. clearly we see eye to eye on this stuff stuff!

      • The Story of Stuff is a great video. There is a series coming soon on BBC TV that goes into the planned obsolescence thing and who the people were who were responsible for marketing the idea to us all. Will be watching that with interest.

      • Janet says:

        Let me know when it comes out.. I’ll try to find and watch it as well!

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