The End of Culture?


In 2006, Adam Sternbergh wrote a memorable and snarky piece in New York magazine, “Up With Grups“, disparaging “40-year-old men and women who look, talk, act, and dress like people who are 22 years old”:

“This is an obituary for the generation gap. … It’s not about a fad but about a phenomenon that looks to be permanent. It’s about the hedge-fund guy in Park Slope with the chunky square glasses, brown rock T-shirt, slight paunch, expensive jeans, Puma sneakers, and shoulder-slung messenger bag, with two kids squirming over his lap like itchy chimps at the Tea Lounge on Sunday morning. It’s about the mom in the low-slung Sevens and ankle boots and vaguely Berlin-art-scene blouse with the $800 stroller and the TV-screen-size Olsen-twins sunglasses perched on her head walking through Bryant Park listening to Death Cab for Cutie on her Nano.”

But, while there are certainly some ‘grown-ups’ whose undying affectation of youth culture comes from some pitiful Peter Pan complex, I think the explanation often has more to do with this phenomenon. As Kurt Anderson observed recently in Vanity Fair, popular culture simply may not have changed that much in the past twenty years or so:

“Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising—all of it. It’s even true of the 19th century: practically no respectable American man wore a beard before the 1850s, for instance, but beards were almost obligatory in the 1870s, and then disappeared again by 1900. The modern sensibility has been defined by brief stylistic shelf lives, our minds trained to register the recent past as old-fashioned.” (via kottke)

It seems to me that this isn’t across the board, of course. Music and casual dress seem to have changed less than, for instance, literary style, cuisine, automobile design, or film, off the top of my head. It is no accident that Sternbergh focuses mostly on what his so-called ‘grups’ wear and listen to.


Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?


A mind-boggling piece on Tatiana and Krista, 4-year old sisters in rural British Columbia, which mounts a serious challenge to our “one-person-one-mind” convictions:

“Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls’ brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.” (via NYTimes).


How to Picture a Black Hole

“This month, researchers are inaugurating the Event Horizon Telescope, a project that will try to take the first detailed pictures of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

This observation would be a remarkable achievement, underscoring the progress that has been made in black-hole research in just the last few decades. As recently as the 1970s, astronomers still argued over whether black holes were theoretical constructs or real physical objects. They now have ample evidence that black holes are not only real, but abundant in the cosmos.” (via Wired)


Subculture of Americans prepares for civilization’s collapse

“…a growing subculture of Americans who refer to themselves informally as “preppers.” Some are driven by a fear of imminent societal collapse, others are worried about terrorism, and many have a vague concern that an escalating series of natural disasters is leading to some type of environmental cataclysm.

They are following in the footsteps of hippies in the 1960s who set up communes to separate themselves from what they saw as a materialistic society, and the survivalists in the 1990s who were hoping to escape the dictates of what they perceived as an increasingly secular and oppressive government.

Preppers, though are, worried about no government.” (via Reuters).