Andew Yang and the Age of Blah
Yeah yeah yeah NFT, Cryto-Currency, UBI, Electric Car, just get me the hell out of here
The mood among political observers in New York is glum, fatalistic, mordant: Andrew Yang is going to be mayor. His campaign of corny jokes, silly spectacles, and apparent awkward gaffes on Twitter causes either fervent overreaction or the pointed, knowing need to show that one is not reacting, is not taking the bait. In a form of confusion that sadly harkens back to 2015-16, the media class is unsure if he’s a shrewd manipulator or just a clueless ding-dong who’s just stumbling from success to success. What to make of him? Why does he bug certain people so much? He definitely bugs me. Yes, I’m certain people, too.
I don’t know if Yang will be a good mayor; I don’t see any reason yet to believe he can govern wisely or intelligently, or shares my values, or priorities. But that’s not really the reason I sort of dread a Yang mayoralty. To me, he just represents something demoralizing: the reign of total mediocrity. His style on the campaign trail has been friendly, fun, ebullient, but in a way I find to be actually sour and joyless. He’s like a dance facilitator at a bar mitzvah trying to force awkward 13 year olds to dance: you just want to burrow your face in your hands and hope they go away. “Cringe” is what they call it these days. I guess he also represents what Ross Douthat calls “decadence,” but that word to me conjures up something sexy, louche, and dramatic. Whatever this is—let’s call it Blah, and the Age of Blah—is just blandness and nothingness.
Who and what else has this vibe, the Blah vibe? Elon Musk is another techno-populist who’s stock-in-trade is corniness and driving the media crazy. To me, Musk is just severely dull and that’s what so frustrating about him. He is not even a convincing villain, who’s thoroughly demonic and evil. He’s kind of affable, people…like him, he’s relatable, his fans want to be his friend and joke around with him. They want to get a bubble tea with him and talk about cartoons. I mean, how can you even work up the imaginative fervor to hero worship this guy?
The products of these techno-populists imaginations seem so bland and sterile. Crypto-currency? I mean, sure, who gives a shit. Not even the promise of fantastic wealth has been able to get me to try to understand that one. Maybe even some of these guys’ ideas will help humanity in the long term (doubt it): electric cars, UBI, “hyper-loops,” going to space. But for some reason they just fill me with a sense of despair. Is this the future? Is this what we have to look forward to? Goofy inventions and the rule of doofuses you can’t even call “evil” because they just don’t even have the depth or energy to be evil. Trump’s brand, his preference for the top of the mid-range, is also aggressively mediocre in a similar way: like the way he yammers on about Mercedes-Benzes, Rolexes, soulless luxury hotels, and overdone steaks. It was sometimes missed just how boring, staid, and stuffy Trump’s vision of luxury and excess really is. Then there’s the other big symbol of the Age of Blah: the NFT. Who knows what that is? Who cares! They are totally without aesthetic merit of any kind. No amount of money they can be worth can ever make them interesting.
To return to Yang, a lot of the stuff that he trolls New York media people with on Twitter is when he seems to like “not get” some aspect of being a “real New Yorker.” Like not knowing what a bodega is or something like that. A lot of recent transplants try to prove their authenticity by signaling defiance to Yang’s corny misapprehensions. That’s annoying too (it’s all totally enervating), but I have to say his not getting, either pointedly or accidentally, the spirt of the city, even in its most superficial rituals, doesn’t fill me with a lot of hope. It just makes me think, “Yeah, this guy doesn’t understand anything beautiful, anything good,” like Musk and his little army of online acolytes, he just wants to make the world a meme.
Bugging people like me is probably part of what makes Yang et. al. appealing to some. I mean it when I say these people are techno-populists: Part of the fun of these figures is undoubtedly sticking it to the snobs. The smart snob response is to pretend to be above the provocation, to find it all a little amusing. The idea is don’t take the bait and then you can remain superior to it all. But, see, that’s how they get you. Then you’re in on their little game where everyone is having “a good time.” Yes, you too are now part of the most boring carnival in human history. It’s not gonna be the Roaring Twenties—The Age of Blah is here and I won’t pretend to enjoy it. No, not even for a minute.