When I first heard about artist and filmmaker Miranda July‘s Somebody app (an extremely buggy version for the iPhone debuted last fall) I was pretty skeptical. I was like, ” Okay, Miranda July invented an app that makes strangers talk to each other? Whoop-de-do, it’s like poop-back-and-forth 2.0, how quirky.”
But, like, who am I kidding, I love quirky. And I kind of love talking to strangers.
So when Becca, a Miranda July superfan, texted a bunch of our friends last week and told us to download the new, actually functional version of Somebody, I was like, “oh, too bad they don’t have an Android version. None of those hipster apps have an Android version.” And when Becca posted on Facebook in real time about her first “terrifying and thrilling” experience using Somebody, in which a strange man appeared on her block and started yelling her name, I was like, “that sounds insane, but I really wish they had an Android version.” And then I checked, and they did have an Android version, and I installed it. (Don’t worry, it worked out okay for Becca! Download episode 23 of Becca’s podcast The Real Housewives of Bohemia to hear the full story of her encounter with Somebody.)
I was thinking about the aesthetic Marisa and I invented, the Zack Morris Cell Phone aesthetic, and I guess it’s in the same family as the Lisa Frank Sticker, Hello Kitty Lunchbox, Which Baby-Sitters-Club Character Are You aesthetic (which are part, but not all, of the Gurlesque aesthetic), but in lots of ways it’s the opposite. Because it’s fun to put stickers and songs in your poems—there’s a pleasure in the nostalgia and in the flipping-off of those who want to police the pop out of poetry (say it like “police the fuck out of poetry”), but the Zack Morris Cell Phone aesthetic has to be slightly embarrassing. Like that feeling you get when you see a giant cell phone or a boxy computer monitor on an old TV show. Like, you’re trying to pay attention to the story but you can’t, because god that thing is so big, uhhhhhhh…. It is pure spectacle, that thing that freezes narrative. But it wasn’t distracting at the time: that was just how life looked then. For most of human history we don’t have tons and tons of examples of how life looked so now that they’ve started to pile up and life has started to look so different so fast it’s kind of mortifying. Like your mom did something humiliating but “culture” = your mom. “Your mama’s cell phone is so big….” To get this kind of feeling into your poetry you’re going to have to dig out not just the memorable kitsch but the toys you never told anyone you played with. Your secret collections. Maybe that bag of troll dolls with their hair cut off you found in a closet at your mom’s could count, but that might be too cool. To achieve the Zack Morris Cell Phone aesthetic you can’t be a complicit consumer in a winky way, it has to be something you’d prefer to never tell. Is this just Confession all over again, but with more stuff? (And what would it mean to want it more than wanting to stand in line outside the store to get the six, seven, eight, nine, ten…?) What it offers for nostalgists like you and me is the reminder that the past isn’t always cute, but also full of space junk. And we play Kick the Can in the landfill of our own obsolescence.