#Normcore

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Normcore capitalizes on the possibility of misinterpretation as an opportunity for connection — not as a threat to authenticity. [K-Hole]

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of normcore since it first swept through the internet at the end of last year. The dissemination of the concept and the responses to it have been strange, to say the least. I’ve used it as an opportunity to dust off the critical theory portion of my brain, and ponder some big issues related to culture and food. Doesn’t that sound like fun?!

I’d like to start with a bit of a normcore reader, in case you’re not already a scholar on this cultural idea/trend/confusion.

  1. You should start with the origins of the term: Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom by K-Hole and Box 1824. K-Hole is a collective of thinkers/artists using the style of corporate trend reports to comment on our cultural moment and forecast trends(?). I’m really interested in their work, which exists in a space between art, satire, and academics. The report is dense and at times, I think, deliberately unclear. So, don’t feel bad if you have trouble with sections of it. Overall, it’s good stuff. Normcore, as defined by K-hole and interpreted by me, is the valuing of connections and participation over authenticity or uniqueness.
  2. There are some serious responses to their work.
  3. Later, the idea of #normcore spirals into a bunch of trend reports that seem to lose sight of what K-Hole was initially suggesting and focus on the idea that clothes from Wal-Mart are now cool (which, to be precise is actually #ActingBasic according to K-Hole). It gets weird. People are understandably annoyed by the discussion. Bon Appetit wants to prove they know what normcore is (they don’t).
  4. Then more recently, Thomas Franks responds. We still seem interested in the idea, though we continue to use it to fit our needs.
  5. This is probably a good summary of the cultural moment, if you’re more of a cliff-notes kind of student.

All of that should send you down an internet hole that will take a while to return from, good luck. And here I am, eating onion rings.

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K-Hole’s work is genuinely interesting, insightful and funny. That largely explains why people didn’t know what to do with it and the headlines became: “Stupid hipsters think wearing dad-clothes is cool!”. Which is missing the important points entirely. The media took what I viewed as a theoretical/sociological argument, and turned it into a trend story. Nevertheless, this misunderstanding has unintentionally raised some questions that people seem interested in, myself included.

1. Rejecting fashion due to burn-out (or “maxing-out” as K-Hole terms it)—the idea that people are gravitating towards certain types of clothing (bland?) because they are tired of trying to keep up with the fashion machine. Sometimes we need a break, from the culture at large and from ourselves. A few weeks ago I reached a “foodie” boiling point when I was at some restaurant and had to hear about the house-churned butter and the sourcing of their micro greens—I truly did not give a fuck. It made me want to go to Taco Bell real bad. Because, frankly, it gets exhausting. It gets boring. Something about the quick dissemination of culture and the streams that we are constantly watching ends up leaving me feeling empty and disconnected. Want is the only thing we’re sold and it is directed in a million different directions at once. I am critical of everything presented to me as being too this or too that. Every one of my choices shapes who I am. I am so special! You would not get me. I don’t want to think about my choices. I don’t care. Let’s eat a Chalupa.

2. The other problem that it has me thinking about is the fetishizing of other classes/other eras, which I think is where a lot of the anger mistakenly directed at normcore is centered. Nobody wants to hear about kids in Williamsburg ironically wearing poor-people’s clothes to be cool. This isn’t actually normcore, but it is a problem. Franks uses the example of Marie Antoinette and her posse dressing up like shepherdesses to commune with nature. Today we have young urban men dressing like 20th century factory workers and chanting an American-made (Heritage™®!!!) mantra like a bunch of Reagan-era Republicans. It’s framed as an homage, but is condescending and classist (and probably hetero-normative and racist). Much of this desire to “live intentionally” seems to be code for “I want to live like it is oldey-timey days”. A time when men were men and ladies did all of the house work. This brand of nostalgia-mongering is at the heart of Kinfolk, whose pages read like a patriarchal, white-supremacist, hetero-normative, anti-intellectual, Christian agrarian fantasy. I like K-Hole’s definition of youth as a mode that’s inclusive, open to difference, engaged with newness, and critical of the past. Kinfolk is anti-youth.

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Ha.

I digress? I don’t know. All of this is really to say that I have been thinking a lot about our current moment and the messy, messy stuff that is our culture. As it relates to food, I am thinking about the potential backlash to the last decade of over-inflated Food Hype that we’ve all witnessed. What happens next? A round of T.G.I.Friday’s Mudslides™? How do we move forward, not back? How do we remain free? How do we stay in Youth Mode, as K-Hole would suggest?

I’m not sure, but hopefully my #Normcore reading list will give you some things to think about while you fry up some onion rings and sprinkle them with Lawry’s seasoning salt. Earnestly. Because at the end of the day, food—or fashion or any other aspect of our culture—needs to be a part of a critical discourse. We need to be aware of what we are doing and how we are participating. Food has been wrestling publicly with issues of sustainability and access for years. We all know the right answers to those questions, even if we’re not doing anything about it. But we also need to be critical of all aspects of the culture that we’re participating in and consuming. There are major race and gender issues polluting all of mainstream food culture. They’re not as easy to talk about as “Buy Local!”, but they are just as important. So, let’s stay engaged. Let’s get smart. Let’s understand things before we embrace or degrade them. #normcore

IN YOUTH MODE, YOU ARE INFINITE.

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Cornmeal-Crusted Onion Rings (from Saveur)

  • 2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia, sliced crosswise ½” thick and separated into rings
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ⅓ cup cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1½ tbsp. seasoned salt, such as Lawry’s, plus more to taste
  • Canola oil, for frying

1. Submerge onions in a bowl of ice water; soak 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place 1 cup flour in a bowl. Stir buttermilk and milk in another bowl. Whisk remaining flour with cornmeal, cornstarch, baking powder, and seasoned salt in a third bowl; set aside.

2. Pour enough oil to reach a depth of 2″ in a 6-qt. saucepan. Heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Drain onions and pat dry with paper towels. Working in batches, dredge onions in flour, shaking off excess, dip in milk, and then in cornmeal. Fry, flipping once, until golden and crisp, 1–2 minutes. Drain rings on paper towels; sprinkle with more seasoned salt.

 

42 comments to “#Normcore”

  1. You lost me at K-hole. The onion rings look good, wish I was young again. :)

  2. I never comment on food blogs but excellent, thought-provoking post. Verbalizes a lot of what I’ve been thinking lately in relation to culture, food, everything really. Piece about identities sparked a connection to this: http://www.vox.com/2014/5/20/5730762/buzzfeeds-founder-used-to-write-marxist-theory-and-it-explains

    Love the very #normcore photo of Lawry’s.

  3. I adore you for writing this. I think it’s quite scary how effective the rhetoric of “choice” is – it works precisely because people don’t understand that it is the ultimate ideological effect of capitalism. Anyway, this was great. I’d love to see more of this on your blog.

  4. I’ll go down the internet rabbit hole regarding K-hole and finish with those onion rings : ) when I return from China. I’m off to the airport in a few hours. Right now those onion rings look terrific and I’m pretty sure I won’t see any for several weeks. Normcore will still exist.

  5. Yes! One thousand times!

  6. Thank you for helping me pinpoint what I don’t like about Kinfolk! This was a great read. (And I finally feel like I have some understanding of Normcore after reading that “cliff-notes” version you linked to. I’m much more interested in the sociology of it than the fashion, so I doubt I’d have the patience to read anything more!)

  7. Love this post, especially your comments about the whole “live intentionally” trend. And thanks for the thought provoking articles! Brain food!

  8. Wow, this took me completely by surprise (in the best way possible). I’m a young Asian feminist foodie and I realized that I’ve been mesmerized by a bunch of bloggers’ Instagram feeds…but they’re all white women (and many Christian)! Time to take a page out of Chookooloonks (http://www.chookooloonks.com/blog/these-people-are-nothing-like-me)…

    Thanks for this post.

  9. I love this and, for the sake of brevity, let me just say that I am so over hearing about micro greens. I mean, I love food as much as the next person (and who can honestly say they dislike food?), but we really just need to end the madness.

  10. did not even know this was a thing…

  11. “This brand of nostalgia-mongering is at the heart of Kinfolk, whose pages read like a patriarchal, white-supremacist, hetero-normative, anti-intellectual, Christian agrarian fantasy.”
    Shit that speaks volumes and I’m glad someone has said it… Thank you for this..

  12. Yes, Tim, YES.

  13. I was waiting for you to get to Kinfolk and BOOM, you did. Thanks for this post, it’s great.

  14. Nancy in NJ says:

    May 22nd, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Oh darlin’, I love a great rant, especially when it’s about something along the lines of the pretentiousness of Kinfolk and others like it. Great post!

  15. Thanks for starting this conversation within the context of food culture. I love cooking. I write about it. I photograph it. I spend much of my time planning my next meal. In many ways I love that we’ve gotten to a place where this country has a food culture that values things other than ease and efficiency and where there’s a critical mass of people who appreciate good food and are concerned about food production. I like that I can instead of sports bars we have more gastro pubs where there’s a greater likelihood that the vegetables come from a local farm and the provenance of the meat is probably better too.

    But, man, is it tiresome to sit in a restaurant and hear all the diners at the other tables recounting meals they had at other restaurants. (I’m reminded of Annette Bening’s rant in The Kids Are All Right ” I’m sorry, guys, but I just can’t with the fucking hemp milk and the organic farming. And, you know, if I hear one more person say that they love heirloom tomatoes, I’m gonna fucking kill myself.”) It makes me want to run for a bag of Doritos (I’ve never really been a Taco Bell person).

    I think some sort of backlash is inevitable. Sort of like the back-to-the-land movement of the 70s went away in the 80s. And as a child whose parents were fully on board with the all-natural whole-wheat and honey and no salt kind of cooking from the 70s, I ran toward white bread and processed sugar and junk food whenever I could find it. In second grade, I traded my oranges for Combos every day.

    I’ve never actually looked at Kinfolk. But I get the backlash to the incessant stream of Instagram/Tumblr/Pinterest lifestyle porn and the heteronormative, patriarchal, mostly white, and obviously privileged cultural tropes they perpetuate. I mean, there’s a reason that the Fuck Your Noguch Coffee Table Tumblr is a thing.

    I’m always heartened when I hear about subversive youth movements. So I support the existence of #normcore, even if I’m still going to buy heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market.

  16. I really love this post. Something I’m trying to grapple with here (and in my life), though, is the contradiction between the non self-conscious IDGAF-give-me-a-Chalupa state of mind vs. trying to be mindful of the impact my choices (and normcore, if I’m understanding it correctly) have on race, gender, class structures. Is it possible for me to stay smart and stay engaged and also enjoy a Chalupa?

  17. I love that you posted this. I am thrilled to see a solid intellectual conversation on a food blog, with onion rings, no less. Thank you!

  18. This is why I love reading your blog. You’ve articulated things I’ve been thinking about abstractly, things that make me uncomfortable and tired and bored and sad. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I have some reading to do!

  19. Thanks for participating, everyone.

    Yada- That is the question, right? I struggle with that, too. I think anyone worth knowing struggles with it. But, we contain multitudes! I don’t think we’re ever going to be flawless, and this idea of the totally pure and noble moral life seems impossible to attain. So, it seems healthier to accept the fact that we will contradict ourselves and not always live up to our standards, and not always be able to be as mindful as we like. But we just need to be real about that and not present fantasy and act like it is reality. Maybe?

  20. Thanks for venturing out of the normal realm of food topics, I was surprised and excited to read your observations. I grew up around the conservative obsession with historical time reenactments/clothing/fiction and definitely see it as a revision of the past into a white-washed golden age of patriarchy, so I was struck by your observation that the same thing is going on with the Kinfolk / hipster crowd. In subtler, more expensive clothing of course. It helps me articulate why I admire the glamorous homemaker-porn and yet feel like performing it is so unsatisfying. It’s everything I was raised to aspire to and learn to do, but trying to live up to those images and gender roles left me and family members fatigued and empty. I think now I will remember to stop and compare the “simpler times” fantasy images with memories of summer visits and chores at my grandmother’s real farm. She was a teacher and farmer and feminist and yogi, and likely would have thought most lifestyle and food bloggers were wasting daylight.

  21. Raphaelle says:

    May 22nd, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Just when I thought this blog couldn’t get any better…

    This was exactly what I needed today – I’m referring to both the reading and the recipe for onion rings.

  22. Thank you for articulating so many things I’ve felt but haven’t quite been able to “nut out”.

  23. ‘Let’s understand things before we embrace or degrade them’

    YES.

  24. i love you tim! forever yours! x

  25. AMEN!!!! (Especially about Kinfolk.) Thank you, Tim.

  26. more of this timbo! you forgot to mention how cool it is now to be “gluten-free”.

  27. Holy premium plus crackers, I can’t believe you’ve just written about this, I thought I was just getting old and past all that shit, but fuck me, I’m so out of it that I’ve been on top of it.
    Thank you, I’ve got some reading to do.

  28. Thanks for getting my brain kicking on a day when it might not have been otherwise inclined to start up at all. So much reading to do. Also… I now can’t stop thinking about some kind of chalupa/ onion ring hybrid. See what you’ve done?!

  29. Your boldness is inspiring, Tim!! Thanks for always giving it to us sans bullsh*t!! xox

  30. It’s so easy to get all caught up in the photo-perfection that seems to be everywhere and I hate it and secretly aspire to it in a way that leaves me with an ache. Thank you, Tim, for eloquently putting into words the realness and feelings and truth. And always, onion rings.

  31. This is 100% fantastic, because while I’m familiar with normcore, I too had written it off as just some stupid fashion thing because that was the only angle I had ever seen in the articles that did come my way, in addition to that silly Bon App piece. But I sat down and read the K-Hole report and appreciated it for all of its faux-art-manifesto-cum-corporate-insight-statement glory.

    What struck me as the real insight into the whole movement is the idea of identity versus community, and how we’ve been struggling so long to establish ourselves as unique snowflakes that of course there is more of a longing to belong to a community. (Granted, I don’t think that longing ever went away, but I think it’s more acceptable to admit to having it these days.) I really like the idea that there is this group of people taking a big collective sigh and saying “Fuck it, I like what I like and I don’t care if it’s the latest/coolest/newest thing.” All of us taking ourselves a little less seriously can only be a good thing.

    What’s really funny is how this makes me think of The Next Food Network Star–the premiere episode is available On Demand and I think online and you should see these contestants struggle with their so-called “culinary points of view” even though that’s the whole point of the show and this is the tenth season and they should come prepared (unless, I guess, producers tell them to purposefully flub their pitches). Meanwhile we as viewers get to see all of the various tropes on display via these characters, and very few of them have anything to do with them as cooks: the pretty girl(s), the hipster with the edgy food job, the guy with the silly costume, the nerd, etc. They already appear so packaged from the onset that it becomes really off-putting and personally, I don’t want to watch any of them on my television trying to teach me anything. Meanwhile, one of the judges determining their fates is none other than the embodiment of normcore at least via his shows and projects that don’t involve NFNS and Cutthroat Kitchen.

    You’ve definitely provided some really great food for thought (sorry for the pun) with this–thanks!

  32. GOD THANK YOU FOR THE KINFOLK TAKEDOWN. That shit is SO scary. Also +1 Lawry’s.

  33. Exhausting, and brilliant. Thank you.

  34. Very interesting post, Tim, and actually quite brave. Why brave? Because I wonder how much your own blog, particularly in the early years, participated in the whole fetishization of food and objects and style, and helped contribute to an ethos that, for many of us, appears to have spiraled out of control and into extremes: micro greens and Kinfolk on one end, boy beards and PBR on the other.

    If I appear to be pointing fingers, please know that I’m pointing them at myself, as well. In ways too countless to be listed here, I bought fully into the preciousness of stuff, somehow found (and still do, sometimes) that I confused internal, personal authenticity with external participation and validation. (Look! Ketchup is cool again! I am such a trendsetter!)

    Then I got tired. So much unconscious striving. Jenn’s comment, above, nailed it for me. is irony still cool, or has it gone in and out of fashion twice while I wasn’t looking? Regardless, I like what she wrote, and how she wrote it.

    Anyway, this is your blog, not mine, so I’ll stop with a tip of the hat to you, Tim. It’s pretty gutsy to ask these sorts of questions of others, not so easy to ask them of oneself. And you have.

  35. At the risk of starting an argument I’m not sure I can win, I’d have to say that under the Kinfolk milieu you pinpointed, what hurts is when what was a private gesture for one person becomes that which the carefully calculated public face of a many-tentacled industry does better than you. Kinfolk’s advertising, you guys, just really clever is all!

    Let’s say you bake a cake and you’re pleased with this cake so you take a picture of it to share with your friends. Your picture is pleasantly evocative but you didn’t try to hard. What Kinfolk is banking on is that they can mirror your gesture like 10,000 times more evocatively: your birthday party can be a whole magazine spread! I’m pretty weary of launchpads, springboards and their ilk. I’m sure that the gesture I make is one that I want to either: a) stay private or b) arrive to you with all of its non-commercial parts in working order.

    When you distill the political out of the personality of your creative act, the viewer can tell: white spaces get bigger, for instance. With Kinfolk imagery, I inevitably start playing a mind game where I try to imagine what tweezers I’d use to install just the tiniest amount of glitch possible to truly evoke the authenticity of my image. Whitewashing, man. I know because I grew up on a weird visual diet that consisted of my mom’s eighties and nineties Country Living and Victoria visual porn, thankfully augmented with Gourmet when Laurie Colwin was around (wow, she was ahead of her time!) Anyways, Country Living: women like my mom were really keen to learn how to hang flowers from rafters with step-by-step guides. They toile’d their way back to colonial times with a vengence! Anyways..

    I’ve not read a whole Kinfolk magazine in its entirety because my teeth start to hurt the same way they did when I went to Target years ago and discovered you could buy DIY kits to do stuff that people had been doing on their own, without kits because the whole point was to, you know, do-it-yourself so that you had to buy one less thing.

    So, capitalism. Capitalism, as it’s practiced today is always looking for new markets to exploit (or re-exploit, or foster or what-have-you.) Kinfolk has zero problem with this! Adam Smith would be wont to point out that Kinfolk needs their bread and butter: their selfishness is our consumer gain, you see. What Kinfolk realizes is that there’s a market for people who want our magnified semi-private gestures delivered to them in an easy format for consumption because they just don’t see the world any differently. I guess that’s what hurts. There’s people out there so deeply imbedded in consumer culture that they do, no joke, need the road map to the thing, all. the. time.

    I see the world a lot differently than what is reflected back at me from commercial entities. Their mimicry is jarring. I really like looking at stuff, always have. Some of what might be considered #normcore imagery in the food blog scene has been a big relief and self-esteem boost for me. I see a cake cooling on a table and I think: oh, okay, there are people out there who don’t go through contortions to share something they made, but they also have an eye for things. Oh, good, I wasn’t sure this was socially acceptable, I thought maybe I’d have to train under a food artist or something. I think I can still tell the difference between your cake and the commercialized cake.

    Something shifted in me when I turned thirty in that I developed a better handle for enjoying myself, for what I see in the world (and food) around me without it being through the lens of striving. I realized that I wasn’t going to keep up with the momentum of trends because I just don’t like buying stuff enough. I like the stuff that I have, I like it the way it is. I don’t want to waste time striving that I could spend doing, hanging out with friends, sharing with new people. So I think I’ve found a bit of an equilibrium, here. That and another mental game is thinking of what would be the most faux pas item to add to any pictures of cakes cooling in late afternoon sunlight. Plastic lint rollers are usually a safe bet. Maybe a BPA laden receipt? Eh…

  36. This is my first exposure to Normcore, and I fell into the internet hole. Thanks for this post. Now I’ve got some thinking to do.

    As a side note: The Bon Appetit gallery is tagged “April Fools Day”

  37. Thanks for all of these thoughtful comments!

    Carrie- I bet you could win your argument, it is just a different argument than the one I was making. Though I certainly agree that it is, in large part, all advertising. Though that doesn’t really get around any of the problems with it (race, gender, class, etc). I am uncomfortable ignoring culture, though I obviously have the impulse to not worry about it, too. But I do think that ignoring it doesn’t help it get better. I think most of us are trying not to engage all of the time, which leaves us with a culture that is largely garbage. I wanna fight.

    Nina- Yes, it is most definitely an April Fools Day post, but I think that is irrelevant (in terms of my criticism). They are still wrong about what normcore is, and it remains a part of what I see as Bon Appetit’s continued desperation to be “cool”.

  38. schneiderluvsdoof says:

    June 10th, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    I love the post and the comments it inspired. Keep talking!

  39. I applaud you for starting this dialogue. This quest for the perfect, shiny, whitewashed veneer is corrosive. Yet, I want to say that I DO want to hear about the microgreens and the likely happy cows that helped produce that butter. It absolutely is exhausting to listen to the same spiel, yet I want to encourage us to listen even when it’s just plain annoying. To be active in reshaping this local/organic/healthyx3 movement that has clearly run away from us. If someone worked hard behind the scenes to bring us their best produce, I want to thank them for their efforts. And if we see that it’s too much about the industry makin the big bucks, let’s get our heads together to think about how we can further this food movement. From where I’m standing, we are not even close to being there. Read: that point where everyone, poor or rich, gets the opportunity to be sick of all the organic, holier-than-thou food that they are surrounded by. Organics has turned into a funny joke, but in truth, it’s still so limited to the masses. Just as you’ve pointed out above, it’s an exclusive party prone to one-upmanship. So let’s not get sick of all of this yet, until we can make it better. I’m stepping off my soapbox now. I hope that I didn’t misinterpret your thoughts or intent. Thank you for urging us to think about the choices that we make and the things that we choose to fawn over.

  40. Hi Connie! Thanks for your thoughts, I agree philosophically that sometimes education takes time and the people who “get it” have to be patient. But that being said, I can’t imagine any future in which everyone gets to eat organic micro-greens or local butter. It doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility, rather like something that will remain an elite luxury. And even in my example, it is unlikely that the education is needed since most of the people eating at a restaurant with this philosophy likely know about local/organic/etc already. It feels like we’re all just talking to each other in circles. AND if it is indeed unlikely that we can expect a future in which everyone on earth is eating locally, sustainably, “ethically”–what should we talking about? Certainly there are more important conversations we need to be having. Right now, all I hear is rich westerners taking care of themselves by eating “clean” while being very judgmental of the rest of the world for eating, presumably, “unclean”. I know your point is basically the same, so I am not really arguing- but I guess I still would like to hear more from people selling $18 salads about what they’re doing to help anyone other than their pocketbooks and the rich people who feel good about spending money on microgreens……?

  41. Kinfolk is the worst. I get so ragey when I see it. Foodie Underground has been lampooning their images on “Wholier Than Thou” and it’s great: http://wholierthanthou.tumblr.com/

  42. I read this entire post reading it as “nomcore”. I was so confused as to how this trend even remotely connected to the old “nom nom nom” trend.
    Normcore makes much more sense!

What do you think?