Are you a Twitter user? Well, that’s a shame. It can be hard to let that bad habit go; I have had trouble walking away myself, even though I should delete the app and never look back. Someone recently described the general tone, and effect, of Twitter as “a hangover without the party that comes first.” It’s a nonstop avalanche of political rage, bad opinions, and unnecessary combativeness. It’s now commonly understood that the net effect of most social media is depressive, but Twitter is the worst of a bad bunch.
With that said, if you’re still on the Twitter train, stop what you’re doing and follow Humans Of Flat immediately. It’s not just another smart-guy-dumps-on-bad-design account. It’s bigger than that.
Once you’ve been sensitized to the “flat people” epidemic, you’ll realize it surrounds you at pretty much all times. This is doubly so if you work in tech or the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) clown worlds. It’s become a hugely popular aesthetic — but why? The Greeks loved their statues because they represented human ideals, the Renaissance adored paintings which emphasized beauty, the “mad men” of the Fifties made aspirational advertising into its own art form. What’s attractive about these misshapen caricatures? This is what the account creator has to say on the topic:
People drawing @HumansOfFlat believe themselves to be resisting the institution from within. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything they believe is good about @HumansOfFlat is entirely aligned w/ the global totalitarian surveillance/repression apparatus of big tech. It’s not only that they happen to serve the institution for a living, as we all must. No, their professed ideology’s success is reliant on the existence of the surveillance/repression of the populace. Hence the need for propaganda such as @HumansOfFlat in the first place. The message for the client groups goes like this:
“See? Your body is depicted here. You are right at home. You’re in good hands. We are looking out for your interests. If we weren’t, why would we celebrate the core of your being—your body? You are among the saved. Trust us.”
It is a necessary characteristic of bugman—the ugly master of an ugly regime—to try to sunder the connection between the beautiful and the good, to denigrate the former and exalt ugliness.
Take a moment to look at the media, the advertising, the political and social messaging you consume on a daily basis. How much of it is meant to sunder the connection between the beautiful and the good, to denigrate the former and exalt ugliness? I don’t need to identify any individual (and potentially controversial) examples of this. You know it when you see it. Which leads to the next question: What is the use of this willful perversion/inversion of beauty? For that, let’s turn to the future that has nearly come to pass:
: ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’
Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.
‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
If I can make you accept the misshapen, the ugly, and the gross as beautiful — if I can perform the aesthetic equivalent of making you say that two plus two equals five — then I have demonstrated raw power over you. Not just over your actions, because any thug with a gun or knife can temporarily control your actions. I have torn your mind to pieces and put it back together in a degraded state where you are ready to accept the Humans Of Flat as “beautiful” and “OMG gorgeous” instead of treating them with the revulsion, even hatred, which comes normally to an educated mind in this situation.
I know that your first impulse upon reading the previous paragraphs will be to laugh it off, to be cynical or world-weary about it. That’s a natural defensive mechanism, an understandable reaction to the discovery that the entire corpo-government structure is forcing you to buy and use products which rely on the flat aesthetic. Yes, they’re just stupid cartoons. And the Bible is just a collection of old stories. And the American flag is just ideology-by-committee. What’s your point?
Ah, but perhaps I really am overthinking it. Maybe it’s as simple as this comment on the Twitter page:
Thinking about @HumansOfFlat and realizing that it evokes nuclear semiotics: the creation of idiot-proof signage for long-term nuclear waste storage facilities designed to be understandable 10,000 years from now regardless of language degradation or civilizational breakdown. Flat design is brighter and happier on it’s face, but similar in spirit. Ugly, uninspiring, yet easily understood symbolism as futureproofing for a population with an average IQ on the downturn. We keep regressing towards the mean, which in this case is low-def art that was “popular culture” 5000 years ago.
Is that better? It’s not IngSoc mind control; it’s just Idiocracy. That’s better, right? Right?
Last week, for Hagerty, I wrote about the eternal battle between big cubes and high revs, then I went down to Woodward Avenue so I could drive a beater Ford GT.