June 17 2017

"There are so many different forms of normal" – Flashback "Peak Individualism"

“Do you think, the expression ‘Peak Individualism’ can make it to the Oxford Dictionary of English?” Holm Friebe asked Emily Segal who just finished her talk about how she and her association K-Hole coined the term “Normcore”. The answer was a simple, short and off-mic “I don’t think so”. Maybe that’s because Segal and her fellow K-Hole-People never intended “Normcore” to go such lengths as to end up in a dictionary.

K-Hole put out fake trend or marketing reports before. Yet, they were so elaborate that they hit a spot in (consumer) culture at the time. “Normcore” was intended to be a way of “generally being cool and getting along with people” as Segal put it. It was about not being too special that no one understands you anymore or about being too fast so that tomorrow the next trend already knocks on the door. Sure enough though, fashion blogs and media picked up on the term, interpreting it as a style of fashion, its followers dressing as normal as possible, in dad jeans and white sneakers for example.

And yet, Segal pointed out, “our notion of normcore was not cynical or hyper ironic to make fun of people of the Midwest”. It became an unplanned success story and, with some distance, Segal could now see truth in some criticism that came along with it. Still, K-Hole never doubted that “there are so many different forms of normal.” Segal sure never planned to have GAP run a “dress normal” campaign – which, by the way, failed in a major way.

Jumping to Jerry Rubin as a predecessor of solo-capitalism. In Jerry Rubin, a “leading light of Californian counter culture”, Timo Daum sees a predecessor of today’s “selfie-entrepreneurship”. An activist, leading protests against Vietnam War, Jerry Rubin made his way to New York in the 1980ies. There, according to Daum, he “invented networking” with meetings that extended the business day. Participants would get a “Jerry Rubin Business Networking Salon Card”. In any case, Rubin witnessed a shift and he saw “new individuals turning up” on the map: defined by style, taste and conviction. Impersonated by a character of the 80ies: the Yuppie. 

Last but not least Katja Kullmann took a closer look at consumer culture, in particular: a new social figure – the consumer. Real talk: „The owner of Rollkoffer and Billy shelf.“ „Yes I do have that Rollkoffer“, Kullmann stated, „but I’m not that bad.“ What she was referring to is „the fear of being misunderstood because of things.“ From the first protagonists of the Moderne, „Die Angestellten“ or „Bürofräuleins“ as agents of the new without rolemodels, to the Ästhetischer Kapitalismus there has always been the pressure to reinvent yourself – „the pain in the brain“ to be individual as fuck. As well as class-linked consumer criticism from many directions at the same time. But what about the shelf question? „Billy is a social peace maker“, Kullmann said, „in the generation of Taschenbuchleser it has allowed so many people to have their own library – everybody could use it to express every sense of lifestyle.“ 

Finally a discussion about peak individualism – at least about the reinvention of the self in a hipster society – couldn’t be wrapped up in two hours. But we got the chance to realize that there are always two sides of the medal: Maybe individualism means to flip between the ability and will to have another look at the world and allowing the world to have another look at you. And maybe Normcore is a sign of desperation but also a symptom of the attempt to find a way to express yourself in a society where self expression is occupied by mass production and consumption.

Emily Segal / Photo: Thomas Müller
Emily Segal / Photo: Thomas Müller
Timo Daum / Photo: Thomas Müller
Timo Daum / Photo: Thomas Müller
Katja Kullmann / Photo: Thomas Müller
Katja Kullmann / Photo: Thomas Müller

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