the semiotics of the blazer

The blazer first became a thing in high school. I’m sure it was required for church for years before that, at diverse times, but my first recollection of the blazer being A Thing was in 1988 when I went to the county Scholars Bowl tournament for the first time. Almost immediately, that single-breasted blue blazer became a regular part of my life – paired with jeans, a white Oxford, and a necktie that reached to the belt buckle. Not the greatest look, if I’m honest, but it was essentially my uniform, as much as any football jersey. It was not only Scholars’ Bowl, it was Constitution Competition and scholarship interviews and anything that required me to pass as a grown-up.

Maybe that’s where it started. I didn’t have a lot of utility for coat and tie in undergrad, not being in a fraternity, but as soon as I was accepted to grad school, I went out and stacked up three or four new blazers. As often as not they were remaindered from TJ Maxx, but there was a vaguely linen-look thing that suggested Miami Vice, a brown woolen thing that looked like an old professor coat, a grayish pattern that wasn’t quite tweed. Put it with jeans, a button-up, no tie at all, and I looked like the junior faculty I was aspiring to be.

And then, for a long time, nothing at all. We wore ties for my first year at National Geographic, but if we had any outerwear on it was for weather not fashion. I had a blazer for weddings and funerals, and that was about it; all my jacketology at the time was about functionality and climate, and I was more likely to top a shirt and tie with my Indiana Jones leather jacket than a blazer.

Things only shifted in 2012, when we were in New York City, and for some reason I was moved by the spirit to purchase a $30 cotton blazer from Uniqlo – and the look worked so well I bought another one immediately without even leaving the store. One blue, one white – definitely casual, but the sort of thing that you could throw over a T-shirt and immediately feel like you’d stepped it up ever so slightly. The blue one immediately became my chosen instrument for travel – Japan in 2015, London in 2016, Ireland in 2017 – and when it came up missing, I took the white one to Chile in the southern-hemisphere summer of 2019. Meanwhile, I was given the long-desired Harris Tweed blazer in 2016 and picked up a casual linen number at Muji in 2019 right before it closed and bought a seersucker one from Uniqlo for hot weather.

And then, out of nowhere, a month or two ago, I bought an Eddie Bauer Travelex travel blazer. Two, actually, one in blue and one in black – a little synthetic and a little static-y, but full of pockets and rumple-resistant. Those, at least, I understand – something that looks presentable while still turning rain and giving you a zippered alternative to the money belt for your passport and phone while running through the back alleys of Neal’s Yard or Bankside.

Maybe that’s part of it – the blazer has come to be identified with travel. But there’s more to it than that. I’d come to think of it as “Vandy mode” just because of the seersucker, but also because I’d be up in the city at one alumni event or another, and the blazer is the shortest route to feeling like a grown-up. It contains the imposter syndrome, somehow makes me feel more like I’m actually as I present myself. I wouldn’t go to a Vandy game without one (and honestly, haven’t, not since 2012; it’s practically expected of me). I can be slouched around the house in jeans and a T-shirt, and as long as they’re clean, all I have to do is throw on the canoe mocs and a blazer and suddenly I’m a functional adult who can absolutely be trusted with your Jamf instance or your cell phone decision making or your choice of stouts and porters.

And part of the problem, honestly, is that I’ve lived the last sixteen months in t-shirt and jeans and plastic Birkenstocks, with the occasional flannel shirt or work shirt for the rare cool moments. I need a blazer right now not at all, and maybe that’s a conceptually complex piece of information given everything above.

game reset

Well, here we go again. San Mateo County has just restored the mandate for masking indoors in public places. The Delta variant has become the dominant variant nationwide, and while the vaccinated are testing positive – and in some cases symptomatic – the bad sickness and deaths seem to be reserved for those who have refused the vaccine. To the point where the Enemy establishment feels compelled to tell people that the vaccines are good and they should get them – albeit sandwiched between conspiracy theories and reassurance that you’re a very good person to refuse it.

Naivete, hope and appeals to logic versus performative redneckery weaponized in bad faith. Welcome to 2021. Actually welcome to the 21st century in general. I don’t know why anyone is surprised at this point; every time the Enemy loses, the response is to double down and go even harder on delusion and fascism. In 1998, the GOP was batting around impeachment, got their clock cleaned at the polls, and rammed through an actual impeachment while they still could. In 2009, after America looked at Sarah Palin and chose Team Obama instead, the GOP elevated Palinism to its only belief system. And now, with Trump decisively thrashed and his followers discredited by an actual attempt by force to derail the transition of power, the Republican party has nailed its colors to the mast as the party of Trump. 

This would be different if the Never Trump GOP would accept defeat, accept that they cannot ride the tiger any longer, and supply the votes to rebuke Trumpism at every turn until it’s dead and buried at midnight with a stake through its heart. That appears to be too much to ask of anyone in office other than Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, though. It also appears to be too much to ask the American news media to call a spade a fucking spade, but then, the New York Times’ self-loathing is always enough to green-light another safari of the “economically anxious.” 

Why is this? Why are we stuck with this seamless garment of bullshit as the Republican shibboleth? Part of it is the inherent reflexive loathing of “politics” – the only field where people seem to think amateurism is the most desirable state. Do you want a pilot who’s never flown a plane of any kind? How about a surgeon who’s never handled a scalpel? Hell, most people wouldn’t go to a mechanic that had never lifted the hood of a car, but “not a politician” is supposed to be a positive endorsement for a candidate for high office? We don’t want to acknowledge that politics is the process by which we order our society, and so people lie and call themselves “independents” and swear they vote for the man, not the party label (always the man, though) – and that’s why Democrats almost invariably have to produce the most centrist-looking white male they can churn up, because anything darker or more X-chromosomal causes the dullard masses to recoil at “politics”. And then things get worse, because Republicans will ride the Trump turd bomb to the ground, but Democrats bail out the second their feelings are hurt.

None of which is a consolation. We’re hanging onto the Senate by our fingernails, and if you can’t shift the moral defectives in Arizona and West Virginia – and you can’t, especially in West Virginia, where a Democrat-in-name-only is the only kind that can win – then you don’t have the votes. The main thing at this point is just to ensure that they don’t either, because if the GOP suddenly gets 51, the Biden administration is over. So get what you can, now, as quick as you can, and hope against hope that maybe you can change the picture a little in 2022. Diplomacy, especially in the Senate, is the art of saying “nice doggie” until you can find a rock.

Nothing has changed in our politics. We wrenched the nuclear button out of the hands of a weak, senile, stupid man, but his followers are unbudged from where they were five years ago, and we have done nothing to make them anathema or circumscribe them from political power. “Trump voter” needs to garner the same public reaction as “child molester” and until it does, we will be cursed. All we’ve done is pull the knife out. We haven’t stopped the bleeding at all. I don’t know how we can unless people agree that what happened since 2016 was wrong and they’re willing to accept a mild tax increase or two to fix it.

But if you had hope after January 20, it’s probably time to think about wising up.

Social Media Ruins Everything

Vice my previous musings about sports, one of the things that occurred to me is that sports is made worse by social media. You are connected to your fandom…half of whom are probably reprehensible. You’re connected to all the other fandoms…half of whom are definitely reprehensible. You’re exposed to the effects of social media, which magnify the worst in society and amplify their path to your door. And ultimately the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

I take no small stick from my wife about not being on Facebook and thus having to hear about distant friends from her. But it’s a conscious decision based on experience. The fact is, I don’t have enough people I’m close enough to in order to make it worthwhile to be there, and I’m willing to accept hearing nothing in exchange. Social media in general – and Facebook properties in particular – slide down the slope from a chronological timeline, to an algorithmic timeline, to dry-snitching things from your friends’ timelines, to ultimately serving you content you never asked for and prioritizing it over that of people you follow. And then, there you are, wading through two hundred feet of horseshit in hopes of maybe finding a pony.

Thus Instagram, which Fuckerberg et al are intent on turning into TikTok For Olds when it’s not being repositioned as the replacement for the electric Nazi ranch he currently operates. I still haven’t reinstalled the app, and while I have one more pic posted than last time, I’m beginning to realize I only ever see content from four or five people I might miss if I bailed out altogether. The real life folks I miss don’t do enough to make it worth digging through the cruft.

The problem is, the only “social media” I’ve managed to make work is a locked Twitter account, mediated via Tweetbot, which means I have no ads and no unsolicited content other than friend retweets and a chronological timeline. It’s not much, but it’s enough to let me pretend I have a bustling group chat of my own without hounding all my pals into Signal. The abortive attempts at an Insta alternative last year proved that sort of thing doesn’t really work for fast casual interaction where people don’t want to be inundated with notifications.

Cocoon hasn’t really worked out. Slack is…fine, for the one group that uses it, but I only have one group that does. I have never yet taken to Snapchat – I’ve downloaded it three times and every time deleted it within a half hour. Nobody checks Flickr any more. Tumblr is kind of flexible and is part of WordPress now, but it’s also a decade old and mostly associated with porn and the squealing side of fandom. I don’t need much, honestly, and at this point, I can make Twitter work…for now. I don’t know how long that will last.

But there’s every possibility that in a globalized world, where the people you care about are scattered across multiple time zones if not continents, this is just the price of keeping in touch. You can either swim in the sewer in hopes of finding the occasional gold nugget, or you can try to do the impossible and try to make some new old friends.