February 21, 2008
I Am Having a Post-Post-Modern Morning
In this morning’s email came a link from my friend Daisann to a blog post she’s written for the International Herald Tribune. Daisann lives in Hong Kong and she described her recent jaunt to Kuala Lumpur. The piece concerns the difficulties of finding a truly tacky souvenir in an increasingly self-conscious, status obsessed world. The thing that really got my attention, though, was that the person she was shopping for in K.L was me.
This is odd on a number of levels. First of all, I had roughly the same experience on my brief visit to K.L. a few years ago. I was in Malaysia mostly to spend time in Putrajaya, the nation’s built-from-scratch capital city, but managed a daytrip to the Petronas Towers. And all I got was a lousy shot glass (above). My diligent research reveals that souvenir shot glasses are one of the last redoubts of inspired cheesiness.
The second thing is that Daisann’s fruitless search for the obvious twin tower gift items — earrings and salt and pepper shakers — is an echo of one of my old obsessions: the dearth of suitable World Trade Center souvenirs. I’d been looking for a pair of WTC earrings pretty much since the buildings were completed. The last time I went to the top of the WTC, sometime in the late 1990s, I was amazed by the fact that not only had no one thought to manufacture earrings (or S&P shakers), but that most of the merchandise didn’t represent the buildings themselves, but rather the view from the top. We now forget that the WTC was not a universally beloved icon, and so the gift shop management didn’t think that the souvenir-buying public would want replicas. Instead, there were lots of Statue of Liberty snow globes and postcards of New York Harbor. 9-11, of course, changed that. Maybe one of those souvenir vendors who’ve set up shop near Ground Zero sells WTC earrings, but I tend to doubt it.
But the third thing, the truly strange thing, is that the real souvenir here is not the deeply tacky* item that Daisann eventually purchased for me, but the blog post. The image has replaced the object (Guy DeBord) and the private gesture has become public (Jean-Francois Lyotard). I’m having a disconcertingly 21st C. morning, one that calls for a third cup of coffee. However, even in a post-post-modern world, you have to be courteous (Mom). So:
Thank you so much for the beautiful cocktail forks, Daisann. I will use them with my Petronas Towers shot glasses. On my upcoming trip to Doha and Dubai, I will do my best to find you something equally nice.
Oh, just you wait.
*I mean tacky in a good way, not tacky in a bad way like those M&M Statues of Liberty below. I think we could organize a whole conference on the subject of souvenir aesthetics.