Intentionally Past-ish

Publication Date
February 28, 2021

It is hard not to think of the carefully tailored online ads I get, showing boots on a ’90s-ish backdrop that have soft-ish edges and a brown-ish tint, like an old pair I threw out; the eerie sense of an external presence in my subconscious that feeds on nostalgic impulse. Our “-ish[es]” reside in a ghostly region of the mind; they are an instinct, an inclination triggered by familiarity, an inference made to fill the voids of a blurred recollection. As consumer culture encroaches upon intimate territory for monetary gain, I wonder how common my “-ish[es]” are.

In the new media age, human sentimentality is rendered down to superficial elements: the baby pink of Glossier packaging reminiscent of my preteen collection of plastic Barbie accessories, online ads promoting the revival of Wonder Woman featuring Gal Gadot bathed in Outrun color palettes, the Sin City-esque typeface on a store bookshelf screaming Yes is More. We buy into these, perhaps because there is comfort in the past; it distracts us from leaning into uncharted futures. The impulse to dive back into familiar water is an intentional manipulation and monetization of our subconscious “-ish[es]”. Though not always with ill intent, the repetition and refurbishment of established cultural forms provide media outlets with short-term solutions and quick volitions.

The tendency to, and more recently the tactic of, perpetually reverting to reliable satisfactions lives in Derrida’s concept of “hauntology.” In Spectres of Marx, he refers to elements from the past reappearing in the present as a haunting beyond the grave that manifests in a ghostly form, a sibling of nostalgia. Cultural theorist Mark Fisher elaborates on this idea asserting, “what haunts the digital cul-de-sacs of the twenty-first century is not so much the past as all the lost futures that the twentieth century taught us to anticipate.” He notes that our dependency on what is already known dissolves potential futures and inflicts the “deterioration of a whole mode of social imagination: the capacity to conceive of a world radically different from the one in which we currently live.”1 In running back to old comforts we accept a condition in which culture continues without drastically changing and functions under the administration of an established capitalist arrangement. We live in a constant state of retro-futurism where our nostalgic “-ish[es]” are commodified by external entities. Is there an impending condition in which personal sentimental inclinations become unpredictable to others?

In their recent 2021 menswear show “Possible Feelings”, Prada describes the theme as a “personal wish for contact [and] our urge to exchange and relate. The foundation of all is the individual: the human body, and its freedom. The need to feel, the pleasure of tactility, results in a panoply of surface, texture and textile.”2 AMO and Rem Koolhaas devised four psychedelic rooms for the backdrop, one of which for context, was hexagonal in plan with pink plaster walls and plush white faux fur carpeting. The installation was digitized for virtual touring, looking almost rendered and video game-ish in publicity stills. Ironically, viewers miss out on the material tactility of these spaces, perhaps that was never actually important. Each room’s kit of parts defines a commercial image deeply rooted in past visions of the future, playing into tropes of consumer desire. How could you not want that red coat when it looks so perfect against that ’70s-ish green Mies van der Rohe stone floor and lush Prince purple walls? There is a deliberate sense of familiarity framing the product, thus transporting consumers to a false past life in which they owned that red coat.

With the coat and its retro-visions in mind, there is tremendous potential to conceive a world profoundly distinct from outdated yet familiar conjectures of the future. In this time of quarantine, where participation and spectatorship rely heavily on the recalibration of digital interfacing, we might finally be heading towards a new phase of future speculation that leans less upon the comfort of the past, the predictable, and the familiar. If we turn our attention to the unfamiliar we can move on from predictable outcomes, thereby breaking a cycle of buying into haunted aesthetics. For a moment, before (new) nostalgia can be commodified once again, we can restore the innate intimacy of the territory in which our “ish[es]” reside.

Publication Date
February 28, 2021
Graphic Designers
Coordinating Editors
Web Editors
Julie Kress
1208 words