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On the Future of Beauty

NO MORE CRUD
 
An expo­nen­tial increase in my expo­sure to “vin­tage” design has led to a minor crises of con­trast — there’s no longer any excuse for industry’s foul habits.
The past four weeks have been our qui­etest for near­ly a year, which is eas­i­ly excused by the return of the schoolyear grind and (hope­ful­ly) by my own hon­ey­moon­ing, though the time is near­ing for a revi­tal­ized jump into Fall. The hot months were spent sweat­ing out the cob­webs and ren­o­vat­ing the plat­form - now, it is primed for new voic­es and new ideas, and we’ve actu­al­ly got some mon­ey in the bank. I was very glad to refor­mal­ize the sub­mis­sions page, and I’m eager to read your words.
 
Send your intrigu­ing, bizarre, edgy, pro­found, and/or reflec­tive work to horn@extratone.com so that we can pay you.
 
I can­not stand the sight of a pos­i­tive-bal­ance expense account so long as there are tal­ent­ed writ­ers want­i­ng for a ship-shape plat­form on which to speak. Do it now!
 
Nat­u­ral­ly, The Movie Clos­et has con­tin­ued chug­ging away, get­ting greater and greater still, but my lit­er­a­cy activism-charged Editor’s Com­pan­ion and a brief, fair­ly-irrel­e­vant pro-gen­er­al avi­a­tion rant were all you saw pub­lished, here. We did take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to clean out the pinned mes­sages in our read­ing list, com­pil­ing them togeth­er with a retouched look for last week’s Best Of The Tone.
 
Oth­er­wise, I have very lit­tle to say to you of a con­crete, imper­son­al nature, this month, but I would like to take the time - after spend­ing so much of the past year absorb­ing every­thing pos­si­ble on the media & pub­lish­ing indus­try - to posit and reflect on the role of the Mag­a­zine as it stands, and what its options are (both broad­ly, and regard­ing Extra­tone, specif­i­cal­ly) going for­ward. In the past few weeks, my print con­sump­tion has under­gone a long-over­due ren­o­va­tion. I’ve man­aged to make a few trips with friends to the vast, ban­jo stan­dard-ser­e­nad­ed labyrinth that is Arti­choke Annie’s - mid-Missouri’s most diverse antique mall.
It’s not-so-lazi­ly described as quaint. Bizarre, even, with its boast­ed 200+ ven­dors”’ worth of creepy trin­kets, home fur­nish­ings from every decade of the 20th cen­tu­ry, ran­dom bits of pre-war agri­cul­tur­al para­pher­na­lia, and gobs and gobs of paper goods. Adver­tise­ments, cal­en­dars, brochures, owner’s man­u­als, text­books, mag­a­zines, and on. As a recent­ly-acti­vat­ed typog­ra­phy and design obses­sive, Annie’s has all the mak­ings of a new addic­tion for me. After spend­ing some 70% of my past year’s wak­ing ours con­sum­ing and fid­dling with dig­i­tal con­tent, I was delight­ed to find that my per­spec­tive is all of the sud­den stuffed with judge­ment and rev­er­ence.
 
I sup­pose it’s a bit edi­to­ri­al­ly blas­phe­mous and/or hip­ster to say (though Hawthorn has informed me that the term has been all but out-of-use for half a decade, now,) but expo­sure to the beau­ty found in even the most mun­dane or tech­ni­cal pub­li­ca­tions and doc­u­men­ta­tion pre-21st cen­tu­ry led me to mar­vel, but it also (unfor­tu­nate­ly) caused me to com­plain. It wasn’t near­ly as artic­u­late as I’d hope, but it can be most­ly sum­ma­rized by what the hell hap­pened?! As in… when, where, and how did design fail because a com­par­i­son between some­thing so pet­ty as Cub Scout Lit­er­a­ture, then and now, is a huge­ly frus­trat­ing con­trast.
I don’t know enough about design to even spec­u­late with any worth­while author­i­ty - and research would like­ly prove fruit­ful in the future - but I can­not help but won­der, wit­ness­ing such wide­ly-preva­lent artistry in just about every­thing from the col­or palettes of the hand draw­ings in children’s books from the 40s, 50s, and 60s to the intri­cate car­to­graph­ic mas­ter­pieces found in road atlases and oth­er gov­ern­ment sur­vey doc­u­ments. Did we sim­ply cease hir­ing design­ers? Did they col­lec­tive­ly lose the whole of their taste in 2008, or did we all?! Could we have pos­si­bly allowed the exile of the pro­fes­sion­al eye? Is the indus­try just now a bunch of ama­teurs like me, try­ing to do it our­selves?
Extra­tone has taught me a whole hel­lu­va lot in and around a rel­a­tive­ly broad range of sub­jects through­out its infan­cy, but in per­haps none have I grown so much as in dig­i­tal design - design in gen­er­al, real­ly - and aes­thet­ics. Hon­est­ly, I do not think I had much of an eye” what­so­ev­er before this project, which has left me now unable to leave any­thing unno­ticed. My redis­cov­ery of Jere­mi­ah Shoaf’s Type­Wolf and its steady, dai­ly site grab of some of the most beau­ti­ful design found on the World Wide Web has spurned my zeal around the hope for a beau­ti­ful, uni­ver­sal­ly-attuned dig­i­tal read­ing envi­ron­ment in the future. I’ll spare you any more links - I have been quite vocal about my dis­cov­er­ies on the read­ing list, if you’re inter­est­ed.
Fuel­ing my tedious, new­found lust in a big way was my dis­cov­ery of the com­plete, freely-avail­able archive of BYTE Mag­a­zine, last week, but you’ll have to wait to hear more on that - a polished/cited adden­dum to this con­ver­sa­tion shall be pub­lished In Red with­in the next few weeks, in which I shall pro­pose that design nerds and edi­to­r­i­al nerds com­bine their tal­ents so that we can begin repairs to the woe­ful­ly neglect­ed aes­thet­ic of dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing. If we’ve tru­ly for­got­ten how to appreciate/acknowledge/cel­e­brate oth­ers’ gen­uine­ly supreme author­i­ty to our own - closed our­selves to the (tremen­dous­ly valu­able) prac­tice of telling some­body their shit is worth­less - it’s urgent that we change direc­tion imme­di­ate­ly - per­haps even by 180 degrees, to the past.
Last month, I cit­ed Peter Kafka’s recent inter­view with Patreon’s CEO Jack Con­te in berat­ing some of the more priv­i­leged lan­guage he used to describe the role of cre­atives in soci­ety, but he did in fact make a few com­pelling argu­ments for the role of the Patron (in the orig­i­nal sense of the word.) To be an artist’s finan­cial bene­fac­tor with lit­tle to nonex­is­tent influ­ence on the what and when - to con­tribute to the con­ti­nu­ity of their work and the lifestyle required to incu­bate it with­out the guar­an­tee of any tan­gi­ble indi­vid­ual trans­ac­tions of work, nec­es­sar­i­ly.
PATRON (n.)
 
a per­son cho­sen, named, or hon­ored as a spe­cial guardian, pro­tec­tor, or sup­port­er | a patron of the arts
 
a wealthy or influ­en­tial sup­port­er of an artist or writer
 
“The unspo­ken con­tract between artist and patron.”—D. D. R. Owen
Con­te believes that his ser­vice (again - note that we use Patre­on for sub­scrip­tions) has the poten­tial to final­ly ful­fill the now-ancient role, and the mod­el is start­ing to look quite promis­ing. The niche, depth-empha­sized nature of the mag­a­zine medi­um, how­ev­er, has been an essen­tial shep­herd of all man­ner of com­mu­ni­ties in the West since its 20th-cen­tu­ry rise to rel­e­vance, and the expec­ta­tions of the pub­lish­ers who com­mu­ni­cate in it has remained more or less iden­ti­cal in nature since its last half, though their intensity/volume has pen­du­lumed. An enthu­si­asm for avail­abil­i­ty to the read­er in cor­re­spon­dence and a pre­vail­ing cel­e­bra­tion of their cho­sen cul­ture are the pious, ide­al­ized flags to fly, while a few grimy, eth­i­cal real­i­ties of the inti­mate adver­tis­er-mag­a­zine rela­tion­ship and the pow­er of cir­cu­la­tion - now expo­sure, more broad­ly - have led to con­tin­u­ous crit­i­cism, jus­ti­fied and oth­er­wise.
 
It’s no secret that the greater Web and social media have seri­ous­ly chal­lenged the sig­nif­i­cance and via­bil­i­ty of the busi­ness, this cen­tu­ry, and they have tak­en many casu­al­ties, but it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a future with­out inter­valed, care­ful­ly-wrapped bun­dles of elo­quent long­form and thought-pro­vok­ing dis­course astride emo­tion­al­ly-effec­tive, charm­ing visu­als. It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that - by pop­u­lace - mag­a­zines have nev­er been par­tic­u­lar­ly wor­shiped. Along with many oth­er trades in the great umbrel­la of Jour­nal­ism, mast­heads of all sizes have borne accu­sa­tions of super­fi­cial­i­ty, cor­rup­tion, and foul dietary effects to a degree that sure­ly feels dis­pro­por­tion­ate, quite often, and that needn’t change, nec­es­sar­i­ly - just about all forms of feed­back add to the con­ver­sa­tion. How­ev­er, dusty old fel­lows like myself shan’t miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to offer a sec­ond look. Yes, bot­tom-bar­rel tabloids are often obnox­ious­ly yel­low, but I’ve yet to hear one claim to be any­thing else. If an issue of Sev­en­teen is capa­ble of direct­ly chang­ing an individual’s life for the bet­ter with its words, just about any obsta­cle is sure­ly over­come­able.
We are lis­ten­ers, com­pan­ions, crit­ics, hosts, prophets, acolytes, and sup­port­ers. Some­times, we are play­ers, exposers, pro­tec­tors, pro­duc­ers, or destroy­ers. In the young creator’s ecosys­tem of con­stant temp­ta­tion to strike out in the devel­op­ment of a per­son­al brand, de-spe­cial­iza­tion and iso­la­tion are wear­ing the arts thin, stretch­ing them out and bury­ing them in the noise. I know because I am of the plague’s eldest off­spring, and my raisin’ left me unso­cial­ized and medicore­ly-to-mod­er­ate­ly skilled in an unnec­es­sar­i­ly spread breadth of sub­jects and pur­suits, with nei­ther much qual­i­ty work nor tan­gi­ble cre­den­tial to show for it. As such, my employ­ment prospects are nar­rowed alarm­ing­ly. I and some of my peers had the priv­i­lege of the you can be what­ev­er you want upbring­ing, and our inter­sec­tion with the advent of the free plat­form super­sphere allowed us to actu­al­ly man­i­fest it, unchal­lenged.
 
Enter the Con­tent Brat - the vast­ly more numer­ous and enti­tled counter to Jack’s Cre­ative Class. This is the gar­ish ban­ner of Snow­ball micro­phones, FL Stu­dio tri­als, iMovie edits, and Red­Bub­ble hus­tles - it is per­haps the most pre­cious key­stone of the not-so-dis­tant past for our­selves and our com­mu­ni­ty. (Ashamed­ly, I was an extreme­ly ampli­fied case, but I shall bear most of my shame and crip­pling cring­ing in my pri­vate time.) Togeth­er, many of us would find our­selves suit­ing a par­tic­u­lar avenue amidst all of our bull­shit, sharp­en­ing and spe­cial­iz­ing our skills with vary­ing degrees of dis­ci­pline as we’ve grown into our 20s. YTPers, Tum­blr-bile, and DeviantArt lurk­ers turned to graph­ic design­ers and pro­fes­sion­al video edi­tors, high school mix­tape rap­pers have become Band­camp best-sell­ing pro­duc­ers and audio engi­neers, while NEETs and asso­ci­at­ed movie and ani­me nerds are being hired as jour­nal­ists and/or pod­cast­ers.
 
Many of us most­ly cir­cum­vent­ed acad­e­mia and pro­gressed to a posi­tion of val­ue via our own, some­times-excru­ci­at­ing path, uti­liz­ing all remain­ing dork-forged mus­cle mem­o­ry to draw from both freely-avail­able and ille­gal­ly-dis­trib­uted resources. I have had the wel­come com­pa­ny of long­time Twit­ter friends in the loose­ly-simul­ta­ne­ous jour­ney through the stages of irony, edgy, fury, anx­i­ety, apa­thy and final­ly to intrigue, sin­cere enthu­si­asm, and painstak­ing study, for a final, nev­er-quite-fin­ished stride into a future of pride and mas­ter­ful author­i­ty. Though the recess­es of our hard dri­ves may con­tain the most cringey old project files man will ever know, Con­tent Brats are dri­ven to either respect­ful­ly reform, or remove them­selves from social media, alto­geth­er, leav­ing my friends list sat­u­rat­ed with tru­ly one-of-a-kind artists with a unique under­stand­ing and appre­ci­a­tion for their cho­sen trade(s). Because we’ve made so much hap­haz­ard crud, we know what it looks like, and we’re pro­pelled by an extra­or­di­nary sen­si­tiv­i­ty to shame­ful­ness because we’ve expend­ed so much time and ener­gy into get­ting bet­ter.
If I should ever suc­cumb to the dumb vocab­u­lary trap orbit­ing these sub­jects into which so many beard­ed, alarmist YouTu­bers have embar­rassed them­selves, your suc­ces­sion by assas­si­na­tion would be con­sid­ered a deeply mean­ing­ful per­son­al ges­ture. That being: par­a­digm shift, free thinker, GMO-free, rad­i­cal, sheeple, grass roots, etc. In real life, these folks (usu­al­ly men) dress them­selves despi­ca­bly (and have even more despi­ca­ble sen­ti­ments jus­ti­fy­ing and glo­ri­fy­ing their sol­id-steel apa­thy regard­ing society’s norms that will fill a mono­logue near­ly as long as the one they whis­per to them­selves every night in des­per­ate con­fu­sion regard­ing how lit­tle female atten­tion they receive,) chomp on weeds, and make sure to com­plete­ly stop their mis­er­able luxbug­gies at every four-way. Break­ing rules just for the sake of break­ing them is per­haps the real, true-to-life uni­fi­er of the white juve­nile man­child shitheap race, but dis­re­gard­ing and decon­struct­ing the estab­lished for a sen­si­ble, more desir­able alter­na­tive real­ly is the prime motor of progress.
 
In short, please stop con­ced­ing to bull­shit, includ­ing this let­ter. It’s time to phys­i­cal­ly kick my byline the hell off of The Web, for­ev­er. Extra­tone was con­ceived to be the voice and almanac of the young, zest­ful, and mod­ern - includ­ing the rest of the Con­tent Brat com­mu­ni­ty - because their per­spec­tives are much too orig­i­nal to be left in obscu­ri­ty or dis­tract­ed by the redun­dant, gen­er­al­ized labor of the Per­son­al Brand.
 
Invest in a revi­tal­ized media future by becom­ing a sub­scriber, shar­ing your thoughts on our work, and/or sub­mit­ting your own.
 
While you do, I’m going to go enjoy the rest of my hon­ey­moon. Cheers.