The Cheapo Stuff Wins

“WHY IS Everything So Ugly?” (Issue 44) was a pleasingly dyspeptic essay about something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately: the unremitting ugliness of life in early 2020s America. But since the editors were more preoccupied with describing the ugliness than explaining it (a few references to supply chains and global capital aside), I thought I’d try to actually answer their rhetorical question by looking at the economic transformations of the post–New Deal era that led us here. I see us as the victims of four interlocking phenomena, tackled below in no particular order.

Letters to the Editor: The Cheapo Stuff Wins (Nplusone)


The art of politics

THE WIRE TAPS THAT captured conversations between Daryl Maguire and Gladys Berejiklian were extraordinary. At various points, Maguire complained about the Icac’s powers, warned Berejiklian they could be listening in on their conversations, and said the watchdog was “marginalising the art of politics”.

This is actually right.



LAST WEEKEND I PUT on my uniform, for the volunteer emergency services of which I’m a member, and attended an awards ceremony. It’s a strange experience but also at the same time an oddly familiar one. Some people take these civilian honours very seriously. The world of uniforms and medals, of long service awards, citations for service, of badges and recognition, is strange—-it imitates military models unpleasantly—-but to me it also mimics a world I’m too familiar with: the academic world where titles and qualifications and baroque regalia are joked at, but also taken deadly seriously.



‘CAMPING’, THE ACT OF leaving one’s house to sleep outdoors, for the sole purpose of recreation, is a very recent thing in human history, that nobody did before the Victorian era. It’s associated with the late 19th century development of cities and the anti-urbanism that is part of ‘modernity’, that grab-bag of new attitudes to living as an industrial species. I enjoy the irony that I, a professional old building noticer, really enjoy it.



TWITTER HAS BECOME ANOTHER Elonian project, which is to say, a heroic and misguided attempt to build a personal brand out of someone else’s work, and great grand ideas replacing the ordinary work of upkeep and repair. Whether it’s rockets or websites, they’re about overvaluing ideology over maintenance. And it’s becoming more and more obvious, as less of it is being done, that the everyday invisible maintenance of the moderators at twitter was critical to its success. That should surprise nobody who remembers talkback radio.