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Ed Driscoll

‘Apologies if the Bright, Vivid Colors Sear Your Eyes’

August 26th, 2010 - 10:57 am

If Amity Shlaes ever writes about Depression-era interior design, I wonder if she’d call her book, The Forgotten Ottoman?

A couple of days ago, I referenced Virginia Postrel’s great “Depression Lust, and Depression Porn” post from late 2008, specifically the first half, in which she indicted the Obama-supporting journalists who longed for a New Depression to accompany the president they had self-styled as the second coming of FDR. (A Sorelian myth if there ever was one). But the second half of Postrel’s post focused on designers and corporate artists who also lusted after a new seemingly-permanent Depression. As she wrote:

ReadyMade magazine, whose founders’ experience with economic downturns is limited to the dot-com bust, calls on designers to imagine New Deal-style propaganda for a New Depression:

How might the current government stem the tide of economic and psychological depression? Can artists and designers help in similar ways today? It’s curious that the WPA style has been reprised in the recent past as a quaint retro conceit, but today may be an opportune time for a brand-new graphic language—equal in impact to the original initiative, but decidedly different—to help rally the cause of hope and optimism.

Oh the thrill of imagining a Great Depression. It’s an opportunity for Great Design and Really Cool Government.

That was almost two years ago, when designers and copywriters thought they saw a hot new trend to ride. You’d think by now they were ready for some Reagan-era sunny optimism, (or heck, even a little FDR-style sunny optimism) but what arrived in the mail yesterday was the greatest slab of retail Depression Porn I’ve seen yet.

In the past, Restoration Hardware had a sort of Ralph Lauren approach to furniture and design. Walking into their Palo Alto store in particular is like visiting one of Ralph’s stores: it’s the best of the mid-century past, but clean and shiny and stripped down and expensive.  For hardware details and curios, it’s a great place to shop; I want to preface the rest of this post by saying I really like the place; a great deal of the accessories in my home, from the chrome numbers on the exterior of the house to the water glass holder in the master bath came from there.

I’m just not sure what got into the water supply at corporate HQ this year, though. To tie it in with another post earlier this week on journalists, Rush noted that they seem to be writing for themselves these days, not for any sort of audience — they’ve written them off by spending the last two years describing three-quarters of America as racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc.  (As I joked to my wife yesterday, do I want to watch MSNBC tonight and be called a racist, or CNN and be dubbed an Islamophobe….?)

We know now that a great deal of the punitive tone of the ancien regime’s media for the past couple years first bubbled out of the JournoList, but was there also some meeting a few months ago where catalog copywriters  also decided that, “Screw it, Christmas sales will likely suck like a Hoover this year, nobody’s buying anything, the GOP could take back Congress, life stinks, so let’s just write the craziest stuff we can think of and put it out there. Hey, at least we’ll have cool tearsheets in our scrapbooks to show off when looking for new jobs, when the economy finally does pick up.” Or perhaps they simply tried to imagine the mindset of the average Obama-voting Prius-driving resident of Palo Alto and Marin, and wrote accordingly.

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