Taking a break from my panda like musings (and pausing for a moment to clean up the puddle of drool I had left drying on my desk where I had passed out earlier in the day), I decided to engage in my favorite at-work activity and browse the internet – you know, checking to see what’s been going on around the world and what not. And by “seeing what’s been going on around the world” I mean “seeing what are the latest styles available at Banana Republic”. Not that my fat panda arse can actually fit in anything they sell at Banana Republic, but nonetheless, being of the flamingly metrosexual persuasion (as it was wryly put to me the other day) I dream of the day I too can look like all those dapperly dressed male models and strut around at work in my “Peak Lapel pinstriped three-button suit with flat front pants in Heather Grey” and “Striped paisley-jacquard premium barrel cuff shirt” in contrasting sky and turquoise blue.
Anyway, whatever sort of deep underlying issues my undying fashionista delusions may be encroaching upon not withstanding, I was aimlessly browsing the Banana Republic website when I came across this shirt below:
The text reads: “Variegated yellow and earth-tonal stripes interact to produce a modern ombre effect.”
I sort of sat there for a little while, and had to re-read the description twice to fully grasp it. Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s not like I don’t on occasion pick up a book or two – but the last time I saw the word “variegated” used in a sentence was in a question about the effects of mRNA signal inhibition on fly larvae on my Genetics 566 final…!
The definition of “variegated” by the way is something along the lines of “Having a variety of colors“, or, as normal human beings would say “multi-colored”, or possibly, if you are a panda like me, “STRIPAHHH STRIPE!!”, shouted out at the top of your lungs in the middle of the clothes store, much to the chagrin of your girlfriend, who rolls her eyes and pretends not to know you. I don’t get what she’s so bothered about anyway.
So why the usage of the word “variegated”? And even better yet, just what the hell is a “modern ombre effect”, and why does it require the interaction of
two complex chemical species “variegated yellow and earth-tonal (not just tone, but “tonal“) stripes”…? I honestly had no idea what an “ombre effect” was, and apparently, neither do any of the three dictionaries I consulted, though one meekly suggested it might be a variant spelling of the spanish hombre, which I suppose, means “man”.
So this obnoxiously wordy cocophany of variegation and earth-tonalness is supposed to produce what, as close as I can determine, is a “modern man effect”…!? Not to adopt the annoying posturing of Jack (mandatory “JUST JACK…!” quote now satisfied) from Will and Grace, but honey, please. We’ve already established I’m quite comfortable with bending the limits of masculinity, but sweetie, you’ve seen the picture that goes with that shirt, and there’s more than few things that come to mind and one of them isn’t “modern man effect”.
So what’s this needlessly wordy exercise in adjective usage all about? I suppose it’s part and parcel of the “overpriced designer experience”.
(not that it’s limited solely to the design world mind you – when I worked in laboratories back in college I was routinely innundated with what is termed “academic speak” – one example that stands out particularly in my mind is a paper I ran across once termed “Induction and potentiation of parturition in fingernail clams (Sphaerium striatinum) by selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs)“, which I suppose, if we’re calling a spade a spade could be rephrased as (I shit you not) “We gave Prozac to a bunch of clams and nothing happened”. Ahh, college memories….)
I mean, I suppose that if you’re going to charge $78.00 (US) for an ugly-ass shirt, you’d better throw a couple of extraneous adjectives in there to re-assure your buyers – my father, a man of little words, but seemingly endless amounts of life advice wrapped in confusing phrases (one of his favorites being “close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades”, which I suppose would have had more of an influence in my upbringing had I ever actually seen either a horseshoe or a hand grenade… but I digress) used to say “If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your baloney”. Now, setting aside for the moment the fact that I must truely be getting old since I’ve now resorted to quoting my parents, it seems that more than a few fathers out there must have been handing out the same advice, because I’ve been seeing more and more examples of the latter in everyday life.
I was browsing the Design Within Reach website (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one – there’s not a damn thing on that site remotely within my reach….) the other day, when I ran across this ‘La Marie’ chair by Philippe Starck:
The product description reads as follows:
Wit, charm and imagination characterize the work of Philippe Starck, yet even his most whimsical creations remain eminently useful. This petite stacking chair, manufactured by Kartell, is ideal for seating in limited space, thanks to its slim, minimal design. The transparent and color-infused polycarbonate material is unexpectedly tough and flexible, resistant to scratches and mechanical stress.
Let me re-iterate that last part – “the transparent and color infused polycarbonate material is unexpectedly tough and flexible, resistant to scratches and mechanical stress” – in other words, the shit is made out of plastic. It’s a plastic chair. So why the hell don’t they just call it that? I suppose because they’re charging $261 for it, and 2 Benjamins and a Ulysses S. Grant is a pretty hard sell if your tag line is “a plastic chair by a guy with a vaguely European sounding name most of you have never heard of”. Thus, cue the entrance of the “baloney” – “color infused polycarbonate material” (we’re using colored plastic now!), “resistant to mechanical stress” (the shit don’t break when you first sit on it), “whimsical creation remains eminently useful” (it’s uhh… a chair).
In many ways, I think that living in Japan reminds me a lot of these overpriced, over-rated, adjective-laden “designer” pieces. As I’ve noted in past entries, if there’s one thing Japan enjoys, it’s making mountains out of molehills – as C once said, and I keep repeating – “Japan likes to think of itself as exceedingly unique in ways in which it is exceedingly ordinary”. It’s a national past time, of sorts, coming up with creative ways of turning the most trivial of things into a spectacular alphabet soup factory explosion ripped straight from the pages of the local thesaurus – I swear to god I once saw a prefecture advertise itself on a tourist pamphlet as “the leading domestic producer of high-altitude agricultural turnout and and life-sustaining biomaterials”, which, excusing the bizarrely quasi-technical (but ultimately nonsensical) english, translates, for those in the know, to mean “We’re a bunch of mountain dwelling farmers and all we have is mountain upon mountain of daikons – more daikons than your pale white ass has ever seen, or would ever want to see, in your life”. (sorry the blunt speak, but let’s call a spade a spade). Every second of every day it seems that these ultimately false contrivances are used as a rationale for everyone to continue the mutual farce that keeps many aspects of Japanese society running – from ex-girlfriends explaining to me with the patient manner one adopts with a potty-training-challenged child how “it is not excessive to charge 100,000 yen (USD ~$1000) for a designer bag, because it is very well made, holds your goods very securely and is easy to carry” (i.e. it’s secured with something stronger than sticky tape and sports a zipper and handles) to a co-worker explaining to me that the reason “why bus fare is expensive in Japan is because our bus drivers are exceptionally trained” (exceptionally trained to do what was never explained, but presumably it must involve driving within the lines and operating the handle to open and close the door, unlike those drunken imbecil unruly monkeys that operate the buses in other countries, running over pedestrians, crashing into buildings and flipping the buses into water and other assorted mayhem).
I’m not trying to be an advocate of an ultra simplistic approach to life – and as anyone who has ever sat through one of my overly verbose diatribes can attest, I am guilty of the occasional superfluous adjective or long winded response to a simple question on occasion. But it wasn’t till I came here, surrounded 24/7 by superficial fluff tacked on to even the most simple of things, subversion, indirectness and obfuscation at every turn, that I came to realize just how very tiring it can become…!