Shiny Happy Prole People And YouTube As A One-Way Mirror

It’s the academic megatrend of our time: applying quasi-sophisticated analytical and rhetorical flourishes to trash culture. I couldn’t tell you how or where it started, although the “Shakespeare In Film” courses which popped up mushroom-like in English departments across the country during the Eighties and Nineties probably acted as some sort of gateway drug. Today’s universities have absorbed that rush and now provide the mainline hit of seriously discussing Anime As Global Popular Culture or getting a Harvard Law degree by thoroughly, ahem, “investigating” pornography.

These courses, which offer the sheen of intellectual discourse without the substance of cultural literacy, are so popular that they have begun to affect way we evaluate and criticize human endeavors outside the university. The best example of this is the webzine Pitchfork, which treats the latest productions by Arctic Monkeys, Fleet Foxes, or other musical animals with the same level of rhetorical rigor once reserved for Chaucer or Titian. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that Liz Phair’s spectacularly mis-conceived eponymous album did not, in fact, deserve an ass-beating just as pretentious as the album itself was vile, because it did. Nor am I going to make the claim that criticism has always restricted itself to the finer things in life. Chaucer wrote a whole story about analingus way before it became Gen-Z first-date protocol. As for Shakespeare, I have one thing to say: “Villain, I have done thy mother.” Yesterday’s pop culture is today’s middle-class amusement and tomorrow’s high art. Each generation pushes the boundaries of decency, only to see that boundary pushed again and again within their lifetimes. It is only through the effort of periodic social re-engineerings, such as the one that took place in the Victorian Era, that we have avoided becoming bonobos with airplanes. We’re probably due for another one of those moral resets, which perhaps explains the fascination some Westerners have with Islam at the moment.

Pitchfork’s reviews and thought pieces can be a guilty pleasure even to people who are not familiar with the source material — which is a very good illustration of the idea that criticism competes with the text on which it is based just as much as it reflects upon it. The format reaches its apex with Pitchfork’s commentary on Father John Misty and his work; the immovable-object-irresistible-force event of a critical coterie dedicated to extracting meaning from music and an artist determined to bury every last bit of his meaning beneath a princess-pea plethora of fluffy-mattress deceptions.

Sometimes, however, Pitchfork semi-accidentally deviates into matters of relevance beyond simple pop music, which brings us to the matter of Shiny Happy Prole People.

The article is called How Auto-Tune Revolutionized the Sound of Popular Music. It sounds like the sort of thing you could read in HuffPo or Buzzfeed, a brief litany of inanities sprinkled with sliding images and targeting advertising. In fact, it’s anything but that. It’s, like, totally a serious think piece that feels as if it comes from a universe where Esquire did not degenerate into mere social-justice babbling. It’s recommended without hesitation, largely because it digs into some thorny subjects, the prickliest of which is summarized in this excerpt:

I use the word “slumming” advisedly, since disdain for Auto-Tune is a class reflex that can be indexed to similar attitudes that favor vintage aesthetics, weathered and distressed textures, the handmade and the antique, organic and locavore produce, and the whole realm of heritage and history itself. The further down the class spectrum you go, the more shiny and new things get, whether you’re talking about clothes, furniture, or sound production. Auto-Tune correlates with a lower class attraction to man-made fabrics, spaceship sneakers, box-fresh clothes, and an interior décor aesthetic somewhere between Scarface and “MTV Cribs.”

This is a hugely arch but awfully perceptive paragraph, isn’t it? Largely because it deftly detangles the difference between “class” and “wealth”. You can use the above quote as a lens with which to understand everything from the Rich Kids Of Instagram to the cult status of “R-NATION” fabrics as see in the header photo. When you give low-class people money, they will spend it on shiny things: spaceship fabric, shiny shoes. Give them a lot of money, and they will buy vinyl-wrapped Lamborghinis. Not that Pitchfork is saying anything terribly original; This trope is the basis of everything from “Caddyshack” to Vanity Fair. (The book, not the magazine.) In this case, however, it’s phrased well and used in a context that is both appropriate and meaningful.

Just as importantly, it leads to a fairly obvious question: Why don’t the so-called high-class wealthy like shiny things? Chances are that you already know the answer. The juxtaposition of money and novelty suggests that the money itself is new. This is to be pitied, because the best people have their money through no fault of their own. For some reason, Westerners (and it really is mostly Westerners, which is to say people with the European and Christian traditions) believe that it is better to inherit wealth than to create it.

It follows, therefore, that the oft-used phrase “time is the ultimate luxury” acquires a second meaning, namely: Time of wealth is the ultimate luxury. The longer you’ve had money, the more acceptable and delightful the money is. Which leads to yet another idea: Purchasing the illusion of wealth over time is a luxury, and therefore it is reasonable for people who have money to “mask” that money in illusory time. Let’s take a quick look at two videos.

Alright, kids: Which one of these young fellows has a multi-millionaire old-money father? Is it the loudmouthed yob screeching about the purchase of yet another supercar from his YouTube funds, or the calm and collected fellow #DrivingTastefully in a vintage air-cooler? It has to be my friend Ted, right? Doesn’t he positively vibe with old money compared to the fellow in the red pants?

In this case, however, it’s “Shmee150” whose father funds his lifestyle and lets him pretend to be an Internet mogul, and Ted who has generated his own success. Which seems ridiculous on the face of it. However, if we devote a Pitchfork’s level of critical investigation to this, however, we might start to detect the careless and artless mien of aristocracy in “Shmee” and his ignorant blathering about just how great it is to get yet another supercar, while detecting the laborious craft of the professionally-striving middle class in the editing, the presentation, and the very existence of Ted’s lovely mini-movie. What’s truly interesting about the juxtaposition of these videos is that Shmee clearly wants to be seen as “just a regular guy” who happens to magically own a few million dollars’ worth of cars, while Ted would like to be seen as a tasteful gentlemen descended from a long line of tasteful gentlemen. That’s the fascinating aspect of self-produced videos: you learn a lot more about their subjects than you would from a video made by someone else, simply through the choices of what to present, what to amplify, and what to mute.

Given that you are reading a website that is produced by me while also frequently being about me, what can we learn about my own desire to project a cultivated image? For some reason, the Internet and its many commenters seem to think that I have a huge trust fund or that I don’t work for a living. Have I deliberately failed to contradict that story? I’m afraid so — but allow me to explain. Near the beginning of my writing career, I was subjected to a series of attempts to “no-platform” me by people who called my employers and clients because they didn’t like what I said online. The worst episode of this happened when I criticized two well-known fellows from Motor Trend while I was doing some contract tech work for American Honda. I survived that particular attempt to render me homeless, but after that I became a lot more reticent about how I earn my money. Nowadays I think it’s safe to tell everyone what I do: I work for an insurance company whose owner is perfectly aware of every mistake I’ve ever made and every personal foible I possess. So I no longer worry about being “doxxed” or no-platformed. It’s nice. It leaves me free to be what I am: a classically-educated but trash-culture-obsessed working stiff with obnoxious opinions and the occasional desire for expensive things. I earn my own way. I don’t rely on others. I made a lot of things happen for myself.

Which is exactly what a trust-fund kid who wanted to be just a “regular guy” would say. Confusing, right? Would you accept my explanation more easily if I wore spaceship fabric? If so… do you know where I can get some?

49 Replies to “Shiny Happy Prole People And YouTube As A One-Way Mirror”

  1. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    If i were to see you dressed in the suit in the lead photograph, I would assume you had lost all your sanity, or became addicted to some type of hallucinogenic drug.

    Reply
  2. Avatarerikotis

    Wait, haven’t you filmed several vlogs (yes, I said vlogs!) in a bright, shiny hoody? Mmm, the conundrum continues.

    Reply
  3. AvatarHarry

    I have 6 yards of that fabric leftover from when I thought die cutting it and inlaying it into the skis I make would look awesome.

    I was wrong.

    Reply
    • AvatarEric H

      It might look cool as an outer layer over FRP or carbon fiber race car parts.
      Or at least something for a racing VW Fox.

      Reply
  4. AvatarJohn C.

    Not sure you or the old 911 fellow are so much putting on airs. I think it is really more about people who had great fathers and then in maturity begin sort of ancestor worship. Their father in the past was great and not a blessing everyone had. Notice the 911 guy’s father bought the car well used and fully depreciated. Now it is worth 10 times because he spotted quality early. We are just trying to measure up. Some with lousy parents will not understand.

    Now if we could only get him to put that flair for photography to use on Broughams. Maybe Grandpa had a Ciera?

    Reply
  5. AvatarWill

    This is kind of funny, I’m about to finalize on a VC fund and was thinking what kind of car I should get replace my Mazda3speed for my daily driver and after all the searching I keep coming back to a Honda accord. I’m known for owning nice things, but an expensive car just seems so lame/pretentious, nothing is subtle anymore.

    Reply
    • AvatarEverybodyhatesscott

      I sold my mazdaspeed3 because it needed more suspension work than I was willing to deal with and I miss it. Now I have a 335i with more suspension work than I want to deal with.

      Reply
      • AvatarWill

        Mine’s been perfect, it’s the wrong car for sure, but it’s been fine. I’ve gotten lucky with every japanese car I’ve purchased. I like the Mercs look now, but they’re just so damn flashy.

        Reply
    • AvatarDerek Kreindler

      I just had a chance to drive a brand new Fusion and a brand new A4 back to back. I liked the Fusion more. This is coming from a guy who got an S4 as a reward for getting his first PE job at a large cap fund.

      Reply
      • AvatarTK Cragg

        Well, you did say the Fusion was a “game-changer”, if I recall correctly! (I know you took a lot of heat for that one!) Hope you are doing well, Mr. Kreindler.

        Reply
  6. Avatar-Nate

    Very interesting Jack ;

    Regardless of everything else, you have a distinct way with words, a special ability there .

    As far as the videos, who the hell knows, I made perhaps 60 seconds of the BMW fanboi’s attempt, yet watched the other one fully, I don’t have the time nor a good internet connection to be watching much on you tube .

    As far as the shameless goof in the initial picture, is the suit or the eye glasses the worst visual aspect .

    I live in the ghetto and the lack of class is appalling ~ I understand that my casual work togs have zero style but going out in public dressed like bro – man there would be embarrassing I’d think .

    All of this is thought provoking .

    -Nate

    Reply
    • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

      While I also shake my head that someone would go out dressed as the lead photo, would it not be the modern interpretation of the following?

      Reply
      • Avatar-Nate

        You _do_ understand that Antonio Vargas was playing a _character_ there and even where I lived back then few if any ever actually saw anyone dressed / acting like that ? .

        ? Why is his face blurred ? .

        -Nate

        Reply
        • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

          I know, now, that he was playing a stereotype of how most thought a pimp would dress. That being said, I have seen a couple that came close, albeit 30-40 years ago. In most caricatures there is a small grain of reality.

          Reply
          • Avatar-Nate

            Yes of course ~ the best humour is always loosely (sometimes precisely) based on the truth but as you said ” caricatures”, I know so many who see this and think ‘that’s the way they are’ and the rest of the stupid fear driven crap .

            -Nate

  7. AvatarShortest Circuit

    I’ll read the last paragraph again as soon as I’m finished contemplating that “Westerners believe that it is better to inherit wealth than to create it” – certainly a self-reflection for me. I live heaps better than my forebearers, but only because I worked for it. I’m not sure one could truly appreciate what freedom that meaningless number on one’s bank statement means if one hadn’t worked a day for it. I fully realize I’m not wealthy yet – to me that means not having to work for seemingly dumber and dumber corporations as the years go by – and I’m equally not sure how I’d act when the day comes that I don’t need to clock in anywhere. But I sure as hell won’t parade in front of a car in clothes that would look more appropriate on a young woman than a middle-aged guy.

    Reply
    • Avatar-Nate

      ” “Westerners believe that it is better to inherit wealth than to create it” ”

      I can’t imagine that .

      I am trying hard to leave some sort of trust fund for my grand children tho’ .

      -Nate

      Reply
  8. Avatardejal

    Schmee has 1,700,000 subscribers?

    This is me buying this.
    This is me buying that.
    Look, I’m in >>>>>> buying something.

    If I had FU money, I’d buy cars like these, video tape them being burned to the ground and would post the video on
    youtube. Agains, FU. Why? Because I’m a dick.

    For yucks folks. Open a bunch of his videos in rapid succession. Just the 1st 5 seconds and move one.
    Tell me with assclowns like this, one of the clowns in the 2 Democrat debates doesn’t look reasonable.

    Reply
  9. Avatardejal

    “Tell me with assclowns like this, one of the clowns in the 2 Democrat debates doesn’t look reasonable.”

    S/B

    “Tell me, with assclowns like this, the clowns in the 2 Democrat debates look pretty reasonable.”

    This goes way back. 70s? 80s?
    There was some arab oil prince who bought property in Beverly Hills. There were a lot of nude marble statues that came with the property.
    He proceeded to paint the pubic hair black.

    That’s Schmee.

    Reply
  10. AvatarPaulyG

    Since I live in the town that was the home of Briggs Cunningham and is adjacent to Wilton CT where Mr. Gushue grew up, I am not surprised that he seems like old money as he was likely surrounded by friends with old money. Fairfield County is the place where the wealthy go to be anonymous. I know plenty of centi-millionaires and billionaires here driving older cars and living low key lifestyles.

    BTW, he did not exactly grow up as a pauper as in his bio it said his mom drove a MB station wagon. My mom would have killed for a MB or Volvo versus our undependable Rambler Cross Country.

    Mr. Shmee150, on the other hand, is at least one generation from the family members who generated the family wealth (Burton was sold in 2002 to a PE firm). He appears to have little talent to do much, other than to be another Doug Demuro, which certainly does not appeal to the typical RG reader.

    Reply
  11. AvatarCompaq Deskpro

    Very interesting article from Pitchfork, I grew up listening to the rap music of the 90’s to 2000’s. Anything descended from Dr. Dre or Eminem. My first view of popular music was that it was largely digitally assembled and packaged out of the best takes of vocals and instruments and it sounded right. Dr. Dre’s style sounded like actual instruments recorded and arranged meticulously and as sterile and clean as an operating room, while it was likely not actual instruments it was plausible. I am aware 50 Cent is not a vocalist and the chorus to In Da Club would not sound great without an effect making it sound like a bunch of 50 Cents singing it together, but its plausible that if him and 2 other dudes started singing “you can find me in the club..”, it would resemble the recording. But I have a hard time with the vocal distortion, I know its supposed to sound like your passing out on Robitussin, but it sounds like straight ass to me whatever its intention. So when terrible Southern rappers started ruining everything (808’s and Heartbreaks was the end of the world), I went through heavy metal history, Megadeth and Metallica and Slayer and that good stuff, which as the article notes was pushing the boundaries of vocal and instrument distortions of the rock and roll style before that. Maybe its because I expect rap to have that operating room cleanliness, not the messiness and rough edges of heavy metal. In recent years, I’ve started discovering some obscure electropop artists that actually deliver that buttoned down clean digital sound, and while they don’t sound as nauseating as Young Thug, they rely more heavily than ever on digital shenanigans. I’m finding myself forced to accept some of it just for the sake of discovering new music. I can’t come up a reason to despise autotune other than it sounds different than what I am used to.

    This is Broods, an obscure electropop brother and sister duo from New Zealand, this is an example of innovative vocal manipulation, the chorus vocals have the bass guitars woven in, you have to listen to it for it to make sense.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKDHCbq7ECU

    Here’s Machine Gun Kelly, he’s got sharp lyrics and rhyming, the chorus is goofy but catchy, but drenched in autotune. I can live with it, I’d rather listen to him attempt and fail at singing, but you got to take the bad with the good.

    Reply
    • AvatarBaconator

      Broods is (are?) really wonderful. In the same vein, The XX are very good. If you like them, also check out the various bands on the Italians Do It Better label run by Johny Jewel.

      Reply
      • AvatarCompaq Deskpro

        Thank you, I will check them out. There are frustratingly few artists in this genre, all from recent years with few albums, as least rap goes back decades and there is always something new to discover.

        Reply
        • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

          Me, I like that old time rock and roll.

          Ahh come on with me baby
          We’re gonna have a good time
          Don’t you ever listen to the radio
          When the big bad beat comes on
          I know you gotta dig it
          I know you can’t stop it
          Cause the bottom comes on so strong

          Talkin ’bout (heavy music)
          Oh I got to have it yeah (heavy music)
          I got to love it now
          Deeper (heavy music)
          Deeper (heavy music)
          Baby don’t you get a kick, from it yeah
          Dig it (heavy music)
          Dig it baby (heavy music)
          Dancin to that heavy music (music) What I sing to the heavy music (music)

          Yeah a little bit deeper now, alright
          Don’t you ever feel like goin’ insane
          When the drums begin to pound
          Ain’t there ever been a time in your life
          You couldn’t believe what the band is puttin’ down

          [Outro]
          Talkin ’bout (heavy music)
          Oh I got to have it yeah (heavy music)
          I got to love it now
          Deeper (heavy music)
          Deeper (heavy music)
          Baby don’t you get a kick, from it yeah
          Dig it (heavy music)
          Dig it baby (heavy music)
          Dancin to that heavy music (music) What I sing to the heavy music (music)
          Yeah, alright, goin’ in, goin in now
          Oh yeah I’m goin’ in now
          Come on come on with me baby
          Come on come on with me baby
          Come on come on with me
          Goin’ deeper
          Deeper deeper oh oh oh

          Reply
    • Avatarjc

      Have you ever considered listening to some real music created by actual musicians who really know how to play their instruments and generate recordings by doing so in front of microphones?

      e.g.,

      Most classical music
      the Carter Family
      John McCormack
      Louis Armstrong
      Fats Waller
      Coleman Hawkins
      Charlie Parker
      Loretta Lynn
      Johnny Cash
      Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys
      Chet Atkins
      Jerry Reed
      John Coltrane
      Woody Shaw
      Woody Herman
      Thelonious Monk
      Charles Mingus

      and the thousands of others of their ilks?

      You might be surprised what you hear.

      Reply
  12. AvatarTimeless

    This gets close to my recent preoccupation: how can any adult with a full-time cognitively-loaded job, commute, “overtime as necessary to meet project deadlines”, and any responsibilities to children or aging parents manage to pursue hobbies and interests other than “rest in the hope of being productive at work”.

    I know some humans have a mutation that allows them to be productive on substantially less sleep than most: is that the Baruth secret sauce?

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I lost my ability to operate without sleep about five years ago. Now I pursue my rest aggressively.

      Reply
  13. AvatarCompaq Deskpro

    One more

    Here’s Chvrches. The vocal effect is very clean and sterile and heavily echoed and sounds like its recorded in a uh church. The vocal effect is false, live performances show she is a good live singer but she obviously has limited range in the higher pitch, and does not have the booming voice to justify the echoing. But its plausible.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS3lh4o4Ym0

    I can’t imagine you old guys are going to listen to any of this stuff but screw it.

    Reply
    • Avatardejal

      I’m an old guy. I listened.
      Not bad. Thought it sounded a bit like Kate Bush.
      Look up Chvrches on Wiki.
      Yup, one of their influences (of many influences).

      As far as your previous post and autotune. Fine for recorded music. It’s no different
      than multi-track recording. Or Zeppelin bouncing sound through the speakers.

      Not so fine for a live performance. I don’t expect a live performance to have exactly the same sound, but
      I do expect something that is genuine when live.

      I like impressionist art. Maybe that’s why I like metal. It may look or sound ragged and people think ragged is easy because ragged looks or sounds sloppy.

      Reply
  14. Avatardumas

    “Westerners (and it really is mostly Westerners, which is to say people with the European and Christian traditions) believe that it is better to inherit wealth than to create it.”

    I think part of this, at least in the “Anglo-Saxon” (really Norman) tradition is that the men who created that wealth largely did so using sword and shield while striding ashore with William back in 1066. Afterwards, their descendants preserved it in a similar way right up until the vast majority of the braver sort, armed with nothing more than a swagger stick, got mowed down at the Somme.

    Given the propensity of “clogs to clogs in three generations”, keeping things together since the battle of Hastings is impressive in a way.

    Reply
  15. AvatarNewbie Jeff

    Your video exercise sure fooled me… all I got from Ted was “when I’m in London”, “I have a degree in photography”, “I’m not a mechanic”, and that he apparently totes his 911 around the world like it’s a backpack… fancy watches, fancy coffee, all all that.

    He may have earned it, but that’s not the kind of guy I have beers with. I worked hard for my success, too… I could have bought a Rolex and Ray-ban’s and all kinds of snazzy pants for what I’ve spent on Toyo RR’s. I have $5k in suspension bolted to a $5k car I found under a barn in Menane, NC and I suppose nothing says “new money” more than that…

    …but I live for doing, not showing off. That probably forever relegates me to the class of person who chases rednecks around Road Atlanta, but then I’d buy beers for those rednecks before I shared a beer with elitist, wristwatch-lifestyle fancy-types.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Ugh. Toyo RR. The worst tire in the game. We have to run them for Honda Challenge and they are 1.5s off Pirellis.

      Reply
  16. AvatarNewbie Jeff

    “Tell me with assclowns like this, one of the clowns in the 2 Democrat debates doesn’t look reasonable.”

    Replace “supercars” with “ideologically-driven nanny-state government programs guaranteed to fail” and they’re pretty much all identical.

    Reply
  17. AvatarKeith

    One thing about coming from a good family is that no new money upstart can ever take it from you or ever replicate how it molded you mentally, as you grew up in it.

    You will never have the chip on your shoulder and the anxiety associated with it. It is your permanent irreplaceable flex. But if you were raised right you make it difficult to detect and generally only your peers will be able to figure it out, which is your intent.

    I’m not saying I’m necessarily this person, but there degrees to the situation.

    Reply
    • Avatardejal

      I don’t remember that!!!! Thanks. I had to hit a different video, “Bel AbScam” Yup, a statue. BitChute had yours spinning it’s wheels. I never went to BitChute before a few weeks ago. Some of my regular YouTube subscriptions have been mentioning it more or and more, for reasons I’m sure you are aware of.

      Reply
  18. AvatarJohn C.

    It is the tradition of the landed gentry to send the fool of the family into the church. This according to my favorite movie. “Kind Hearts and Coronets”. Standards having dropped since King Edward, the fool is now apparently sent to BMW HQ in Munich to pick up his M8. Wonder how he compares to people picking up M1s circa 1980? Well, at least he is not Chinese or Russian.

    Reply
  19. AvataraircooledTOM

    You mentioned Father John Misty. He’s coheadlining a tour with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. I saw them in Philadelphia last weekend. The juxtaposition was jarring. I’d honestly never heard of Father John Misty before the show, but seeing a truly gifted songwriter followed by a self-consciously weird guy was very odd.

    “Culture” is a helluva drug.

    I wonder what this says about me?

    Reply
  20. AvatarShocktastic

    Like 10 people even caught the Alec Guinness reference. This comment section is the Galápagos Islands of the Internet.

    Reply
  21. AvatarGuns and Coffee

    The first video feels like a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” episode where a descendant of Robin Leech goes to the BMW factory and buys a car. I started out really liking the car without in spite of the almost Billy Mays presentation. It seems as if the designers of the most current Ford Mustang and the M8 went on a bender together going drink for drink for days. Each one drug their spun out asses back to their desk and designed a two door “coupe” (or is it “coup – long A”?) for their respective Manufacturers and that company’s customers. These days the Mustang guy says “hey, remember when . . . ” and the BMW guy reminds him they were never going to mention it again.

    Video number two is an advertisement for either Gushue’s photography skills or the auto restoration company? I’m not sure which. Possibly, both? “I have a degree in photography.” No kidding. It shows. The ad feels refreshingly pre-post modern before that movement swallowed whole the concept of anything high end or masculine.

    Reply

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