Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
A Year in Charismatic Trash
Friday, December 30, 2022 | Madeline Bogoch

via  @maggotbaby_



Come for the trash, stay for the culture - @fucknomtl


There’s an ingenious profile of artist David Salle written by Janet Malcolm titled “Forty-one False Starts”, and composed of forty-one distinct ledes introducing the subject from a different angle. I’ve been thinking of this essay throughout my frustration with starting this piece, which has amassed a sizable pile of discarded introductions in an attempt to express the spirit of the past year. As it turns out,  locking atmospheric social tides into language is a slippery business, and so after several false starts, I find myself distracted in my inbox. A Substack I don’t remember subscribing to has sent me a list of popstar Charli XCX’s recent obsessions, which includes the Instagram account @suffering.meat, which she describes as containing “lots of great pictures of mold and insects and tampons.” The most recent post (at the time of writing this) is a series of images flippantly captioned “Support some troops,” and includes a broken mannequin, a brigade of snowmen, and a campsite overrun with giant crabs. These photos feel securely on-brand for the account, even if the nature of the cohesion is evasive. @suffering.meat’s content exists on the abject end of the spectrum of photo dumps and is evidence of a broader tilt towards bad taste, which has emerged on the heels of a long regime of uptight minimalism. New Year’s, as a holiday typically observed with sequins and excess, seems an appropriate framing for this observation. 

The phenomenon of photo dumps first entered my radar during the early days of the pandemic when they arose as a practical alternative to the prior era of polished lifestyle photos. You've probably seen them on Instagram, a loose descendent of the bygone Facebook photo album, now used to assemble disparate off-the-cuff snapshots into an impressionistic gallery of one's recent affairs, or an absurdist slideshow of the abject, banal, and/or beautiful. The content and its provenance are less important than the overall sensation left on the viewer. This shift away from the calmness of perfectly composed shots of plants, teak, and pastel walls seems to signal the end of a certain Millennial aesthetic that has begun to recede in favour of a messier and more libidinal image culture. Individually, the images that occupy photo dumps tend to be less photogenic, but absorbed in tandem - they possess a savviness that evaded the influencer era of posting. While the photo dump as-a-form has been amassing traction over the past few years, in 2022 it became an art form, used as an ideal vehicle for anti-aesthetic montages featuring (among other things) charismatic trash and rogue street signage. 

More so than a formula, the best photo dumps tap into an ineffable quality, often expressed as a vibe. The contrastive maximalism of this emergent aesthetic adds substance to the presumption of millennial fatigue, but it also reveals the degree to which photo dumps, and the grimy images that occupy them, rely on felt impressions to encode meaning. This dynamic alone is a timely practice. Around 2021, the idea of vibes made a strong comeback from their New Age-y roots and entered our lexicon as a mode of reading art and culture. As a social barometer, vibes were already trending in common parlance, when, in early 2022, an article in New York Magazine ominously titled “A Vibe Shift is Coming. Will Any of Us Survive it?” (by Allison P. Davis) thrust the concept of a discernable and impending break in trends to the forefront of the public consciousness. 

The vibe shift, a catchy phrase well primed for virality, was taken from a Substack written by former K-HOLE member Sean Monahan. The details of this change, and what emergent trends will usurp the incumbent moods are driven (according to Monahan) by an embrace of hedonism and post-politics entirely at odds with the moralistic zeitgeist that preceded it. Writing on the vibe shift for Artnet, critic Ben Davis claims that “political affect has a subcultural dimension,” indicating there’s an appeal in going against the grain of dominant trends in discourse. The nonchalance of the photo dump and the sorts of images inhabiting them have a contrarian edge that clashes against the didacticism of infographics, an Instagram staple of the past several years. Although both styles work to obscure the intention behind the images, photo dumps lean towards the poorly lit, blurry, and off-the-cuff snapshots to present an apathetic edge as opposed to a (staged) effortless perfection. There’s an ugliness to this aesthetic which makes it difficult to gauge how seriously if at all, it should be regarded. This recoil from earnestness isn’t wholly new—the pendulum effect between irony and sincerity is one that has played out in western culture for decades but clearly, part of what makes this ironic stance an attractive prospect at this time is that it offers latitude to disengage from the parade of horrors that is modern life. It’s fair to say that attendant to this resurrection of irony is a backlash against the politicized cultural climate of the Trump presidency and the pandemic, which has veered into some disturbing territory that sidesteps accountability by feigning insincerity as a cloak. 

The trend towards neo-reactionary attitudes amongst the extremely online cohort raises valid questions about who has the luxury to indulge in nihilism-as-a-treat and for how long. But it would be ungenerous to dismiss this vibe as solely a product of neo-reactionary attitudes. This would overlook the affectionate streak that undermines the occasionally irreverent tone. A shining tribute to this wholesomeness is the much-beloved account @fucknomtl, which knowingly seizes the shabby magic of Montréal through images of trash and urban oddities. What might otherwise be an unflattering angle of the city is transformed by tender treatment into a mood board of urban idiosyncrasy. Accounts like @fucknomtl run on vibes and rely on an audience tuned into the same frequency. These indefinite qualities are an increasingly effective currency for capturing cultural phenomena, especially when saying it out loud would kill the mood. 


via: Scott Fitzpatrick 



After the panic and ennui of 2020, and the despondency and anticlimax of 2021 (Omicron and a hot-vax summer that never really arrived), it’s unsurprising that we would respond favourably to a prediction like the vibe shift—which has migrated far from its original context but essentially promises respite from a rigid social climate. The presence of photo dumps and their trashy wares signals the cautious reintroduction of irony to public expression after a period of high tension, both online and off. Even as a peak millennial I never found my stride amidst the curated softness of the previous zeitgeist. And while I wager some stationary stores may suffer, an aesthetic willing to flirt with abjection feels like a justified blow to overly commercialized ideals.

Likewise, there's something refreshing about defining an era through vibes. Affect theory—the academic version of vibe reporting—holds that felt impressions offer insights often overlooked by more quantitative analyses. But is engaging with culture on this plane of feeling simply a democratizing turn? On the one hand, the rise of vibes legitimizes affect in a playful register with more mass appeal than its academic counterpart. Yet what I’ve observed this past year is that the vibes aren't just shifting, they’re splintering into increasingly niche camps, as evinced by the proliferation of the “-core” suffix attached to every concept imaginable. This would appear to signal a retreat from the model of social media that holds expansive connectivity as an ideal and instead seems driven by an opposing desire to decentralize, or perhaps reintroduce an elusive sense of intimacy to our online presence. From this angle, the embrace of vibes might signal a yearning to confirm subcultural affinities, a collective desire for “vibing” with someone, or something. Over the course of 2022, we witnessed a shift. Perhaps it wasn’t toward anything so tangible as the hedonistic spree that was predicted, but the transition from influence to impression was palpable nonetheless. Whether the messiness we’ve embraced as an outlet for a difficult couple of years continues into 2023, we’ll just have to feel it out.

The above essay was written by Winnipeg-based writer, Madeline Bogoch. Editorial support by Luther Konadu