Monday, August 30, 2010

Halloween in Mobile-Land

Chris Ware, The New Yorker, November 2, 2009
Somehow I missed this New Yorker cover from last year: a literally perfect illustration of contemporary life, and least the life of middle class privilege in the United States. As I contemplate the next Halloween for the Wood Family in our own comfortable bedroom community, I am compelled to consider the worlds seen and unseen in this image.

I was sitting in a Starbucks this morning in downtown San Jose where buildings tower but are increasingly empty of residents, where storefronts are filled with artwork because business has died off and isn't coming back anytime soon. At the table next to me, four bedraggled folks were strategizing on how to move a TV left on a sidewalk somewhere to a storage container. Someone would want to buy it, one argued reasonably enough.

Yet somewhere - a world where folks get subscriptions to smart magazines like The New Yorker, I guess - this image also makes sense: a place where parents drag their costumed offspring from McMansion to McMansion (those tacky signs of conspicuous consumption are beginning to weigh heavy in an age of imminent double-dip recession, but the kids don't know) - only to gaggle on their phones the entire time. Chris Ware's cover image offers a glimpse of that privileged enclave.

His critique is soft. But the illustration's muted, autumnal colors say something important. The middle class world of mobile community, of dispersed community, exists today. It's anyone's guess how long it can endure.

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