Rambling post on the well-worn aesthetic

How many of you subscribe to Anthology? I had a subscription, didn't realize it lapsed, and recently renewed. My first issue back was the winter "Americana" issue, which I received last week sometime. I sat down with it, turned on My Little Pony so I could read it cover to cover, uninterrupted, ripped open the plastic sleeve, deeply inhaled the beautiful smell of fresh ink on paper, and started reading.

This issue, described by the editor as a "cross section of Americana", felt odd and alienating. I do a lot of over-thinking, so it wasn't surprising when I sat down to read it again, trying to pinpoint the lingering uneasiness**. Then it hit me: our quirky yard (and the experience of having it judged), the cracks in our house, the problems with living in an old structure; it's not all sunshine and perfect imperfection.

Peeling paint in an older home, to a home appraiser, means lead tests must follow. Cracks in original plaster mean the foundation must be checked. Peeling aged wallpaper and rusty old pipes means the resale value of the home goes down. How do I know? We've been trying to buy the house we're in, built in 1943, and it's not so easy for a first time home owner currently living in the structure .

From what I understand, banks these days aren't really on the side of  first time home buyers unless they have a sizable down payment or are purchasing a new-ish  home. They want the security of knowing upfront that if we stop paying they'll be able to get their money back. That makes sense.

But it also means a fixer-upper, an estate with the patina and visual interest of age, and drafty, energy inefficient windows are no longer affordable, available, and attainable, but the eye candy of the rich. Yes, that bothers me. Not because poor people should live in bad conditions, but because we're romanticizing what could otherwise be difficult living; hardening ourselves against housing inadequacies.

According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Census Bureau, in 2011"the official poverty rate essentially held at 15 percent, meaning that 46.2 million people live below the poverty line."

Which leads us back to the content of the magazine: homes of executives filled with peeling paint, textures from residents' past, old, seemingly rickety windows, starkly contrasting shelves packed with valuable antiques and art bought on trips around the world. Look how simple we are! Look at the imperfection we embrace! We are charming and we are real! There's a common aesthetic throughout, which makes the magazine feel beautifully cohesive, implausibly homogeneous, and entirely dishonest.

While income figures were not part of the content, with 2 Anthropologie executives featured in a single issue. I know I pick on Anthro a lot, but as Forbes describes the Anthro market, I'm clearly not part of their market,
"Anthropologie’s ideal demographic is affluent, settled-down career women in their 30s and 40s, with an average family income of $200,000 a year. The brand sells its products at premium prices points, for example, $250 sundresses, $400 shoes, $700 end tables." 
As executives for a retail store aimed above my means, I'm pretty sure that translates to an income far greater than my own. One of the executives is featured because he owns a hobby train store in Ohio, while living in Pennsylvania. The other has made a quaint home near Philly filled with just peeling paint and old-house-character galore. Other homes include a vacation home for a Bay Area couple, and that of designer John Derian.

This annotated version "Americana" lightly brushes over disrepair and glorifies it as the "substance and style" of America today without recognizing 15% of America. Couldn't it be at least as interesting to see the apartment of a local barista who slings coffee daily to support her art-making? How about a college kid, neck deep in student loan who has styled his space to suit his tastes, despite the authentic and gritty decay of off-campus slum housing?

Is Americana a bland cross-section of a by-gone, nostalgic America? By the end of the issue, the second time around even, I realized exactly why I felt alienated: we're not rich enough to have peeling wallpaper in our home. 

** Before I get into things further, 2 of the articles seemed authentic and honest: the couple who buy pieces they love as they go, relied on a friend for a beautiful kitchen cabinet and sleep in a sparsely decorated room that is clearly loved; the man who lives in a rented cabin with little room for customization plainly explains his home is more about being close to nature than it is the "luxuries" of an interior.


robayre said...

I'm not part of this demographic either, but from my own experience I can say that I prefer things that are worn in and loved, whether that be by my own love or someone elses. I am drawn to items that hold the test of time, not items that break and fall apart and then can't be repaired because they are built to just be replaced. I think that maybe this is where this aesthetic is coming from... an appreciation for the sustainable? When will commercial industry catch up?

I really have no grasp on this elite aesthetic for what I'm guessing is a modern "shappy chic", but I don't for a second believe that a woman, or even a household that is bringing in $200,000 would ever just live with leaky windows.

It is really effed up that so many houses sit rotting away and will eventually need to be torn down because the banks refuse to admit that selling something for a little amount of money is better than not selling it at all. We bought our house in 2011, but did house hunting for a good year and half before that and saw so-so many houses that are destroyed from sitting empty. There were stories upon stories of people trying to buy houses in short sale, being rejected, and then the house rotting away, or eventually selling it for much less while in foreclosure.

Misti said...

One of the houses we looked at when house hunting turned out to have gone into foreclosure and the selling agent didn't even know yet. It made sense when for the property (3 acres) and the house (modern Victorian-ish) for what seemed like a bargain price---the sellers were just trying to get out before foreclosure sunk in. Our agent warned us it could be up to a year before it was even put back on the market.

As for glamorization of shabby chic---definitely. I see this also with country stuff too...and kind of even with the gardening/farming aspect revival. And I think about my grandmother and her family who lived a very hard life when she was growing up, making a living off the land, living country and relatively poor....so many people glamorize that now.

I could ramble on too but now I'll stop!

ashley said...

This will sound like a blanket statement -- I know there are exceptions -- but to me, what you've just described is exactly what most magazines do. They're glossy pages filled with images that are intentionally designed to make us want, want, want. Many "articles" are simply glorified advertisements, especially in health & beauty magazines -- but what you've picked up on is the more subtle form that happens in many home & lifestyle/living magazines. Maybe this explains why my magazines sit unread for months until I finally skim them before throwing them in the recycling bin or passing them along. There's something false about the whole thing.

Wolfie and the Sneak said...

I keep trying to come up with a response for each of you, but it basically says "I agree, I agree, I agree!" So many different points are touched in this subject, so many ways to take the conversation. My best response was a little more personal, I decided to cancel my subscription, and find real inspiration elsewhere.