Skip to main content

The Hipster Tableau, an @Instagram Joint

I love social media, but I also hate social media. It's revolutionizing how organizations and individuals communicate with each other and disseminate information, but it's also destroying language and ruining attention spans. It's giving voice to the oppressed and disenfranchised, but it's also creating jobs for the least talented and most privileged among us. And while it's empowering small businesses and entrepreneurs, it's also making us all beholden to the whims of the handful of massive tech firms that run the platforms and are actively seeking out more and more innovative ways to mine our personal data for profit.

I'm a grown up, so I understand that nothing is or is meant to be perfect, that slick marketing presents idealized depictions of products and services that are inherently imperfect if not intrinsically evil, but I can't help but have my expectations ruined all the same, again and again.

This all brings me to some observations on a genre of photo that I've noticed with increasing frequency on my Instagram feed of late. I like to call this genre the Hipster Tableau.

For example:

Introducing the new @timbuk2 x Blue Bottle Travel Kit. Everything you'll need to #BrewWhereYouAre.

This photo is of a new product from Blue Bottle Roasters, Silicon Valley's coffee roaster of choice. It typifies the Hipster Tableau genre, which traffics in the meticulous placement of goods for sale in aesthetically pleasing arrangements. It's a compelling format for product promotion that borrows from the practices of upscale home decor and hipster artisan oddity shops. One will notice the symmetry of the two cups and java jackets framing the single-purpose messenger bag. It's clean without sacrificing warmth, and there's a sense that these products were forged at least to some extent by human hands, possibly even by those of the designers. I want one of these kits, even though I know I don't need it and consider the product to be overwrought.

These photos also frequently situate a product alongside an activity that correlates with the brand and its customer base. For example, in arranging these glasses alongside knitting needles and yarn, Warby Parker is attempting to engage its D-I-Y and artisan craft-loving audience by associating these slightly retro frames with practitioners of a particular craft.

McKee in Moonstone—don’t overlook this new color's left-to-right gradient. (It’s our first ever so we’re particularly pleased.)

Again, I have a love/hate relationship with these photos. I love them because they are aesthetically pleasing and often promote brands and products that I consume (eyeglasses and coffee foremost among them) and want to see succeed.

But I hate them because of their cloying salesmanship and overly twee design cues, because of the clear evidence of marketing acumen that has been brought to bear to exploit our interest in correlative and aspirational lifestyles, and because, moreover, they signal that Instagram is ultimately just another virtual marketing platform where expressions of creativity are a mere incidental occurrence.

It's fine, though, I suppose. There's enough Internet to go around, for both the exploiters and the exploited. For now.

Popular posts from this blog

Tycho: ambient music for those who are succeeding in our contemporary economy?

There's a moment roughly 30 seconds into "Montana," the second track on Tycho's breakout 2014 album Awake, when you realize that the people who created this music can't possibly have experienced any adversity in their lives. For nearly 6 minutes, its mannerist, echo-ey guitar noodling melds with hazy synths and just noticeable bass over competent live drumming. It sounds great, the type of warm, organic electronic music that makes you feel as though the world is a place of unsullied wonder filled with promise and opportunity and absolutely lacking in the structural hurtles that have come to define our political moment. The euphoria it inspires is the pleasant, genteel kind bi-coastal types get from legal marijuana, a euphoria from which you can quickly sober up before heading back to your six-figure tech job, not the Rimbaudian sensorium-fucking kind which, though you might survive it, you will not come out of it whole.

It's the perfect sonic backdrop for an o…

The best albums of 2015 by some guy on the Internet (*finally*)

[Horribly delayed, I realize…]

I avoided this exercise last year in favor of...well, nothing in particular. I don’t know: I was focused on my new job, intent on maximizing my free time in a new city, and keen on ingesting the last bit of counterculture cool my then-neighborhood, the rapidly gentrifying Capitol Hill, had to offer, all of which left me unenthused with the prospect of enumerating the musical highlights of the preceding 12 months. Oh, sure, I started a list, which I’m fairly certain topped off at Swans’ To Be Kind, the lethal power cords, dislocating polyrhythms, and foreboding prophet-of-doom lyrics of which distilled the apocalyptic trajectory of 2014’s global political realities better than the news media itself.

But that was 2014. This is was 2015. Now I’m settled in a north Seattle, “we’re not suburbia, we just look like suburbia,” neighborhood, saddled with and luxuriating in all the trappings of the landed bourgeoisie (mortgage, runs to the hardware store and IKEA, a…

Callus Coffee, a pre-review

Don't tell the bros of Callus Coffee, Seattle's newest coffee pop-up shop, that 2017 may be a little too late to get in on the trend of infilling America's urban cores with third-wave coffee bars bearing unfortunate, esoteric names. 2017 is a year of political upheaval, a year when the wheels of #resistance are turning, resolutely focused on forestalling #Trumpocalypse by galvanizing the American left in a united front the likes of which we haven't seen in generations.

It's time to retrench, for us all to focus on our essential values and ensure that our democratic institutions have the fortitude to provide for a viable future. This requires constructive anger. Apathy is not acceptable -- if you aren't angry, you aren't alive. It's difficult to maintain one's righteous fury when sampling the single-origin pour over offerings and mulling the purchase of artisanal coffee mugs at a new coffee bar in a former industrial district, all the while dicking a…