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#Normcore

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 [1]. 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 [2] to their work.
  3. Later, the idea of #normcore spirals into a bunch of trend [3] reports [4] that seem to lose sight [5] 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 [6] gets weird [7]. People are understandably annoyed [8] by the discussion [9]. Bon Appetit wants to prove [10] they know what normcore is (they don’t).
  4. Then more recently, Thomas Franks responds [11]. We still seem interested in the idea, though we continue to use it to fit our needs.
  5. This [12] 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.

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.

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.

Cornmeal-Crusted Onion Rings (from Saveur [13])

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.