TRANSMISSIONS Year End Edition (2/3): “Cringecore”

In yesterday’s installment of our year-end TRANSMISSIONS column, we tagged along with Jordan Richman to parties in Doha and Los Angeles before landing in New York – where our columnist was mentally preparing to fly to Florida for the hotly anticipated, crypto-crazy, post-lockdown “return” of Art Basel Miami Beach. Amid Covid-19 infection spikes and, one imagines, some heavy jet lag, Jordan vowed not to go out in Manhattan for a couple days ahead of his next jaunt – but, as you will soon read, he failed. Keep scrolling for reports from NYC and ABMB, via flashbacks to Paris Fashion Week (and season one of Emily in Paris), for the crystallization of a new theory of “cringe.”

Text: Jordan Richman

I arrive in New York with paranoia about the rising Covid-19 cases. I swear to myself that I won’t go out before leaving for Art Basel in Miami. My will power lasts until the second night, when my friend and I leave her high-rise apartment on Midtown’s Billionaires Row for the Miu Miu Club party where various “ambassador” acquaintances have gathered. Party crashing is becoming a lost art, as it’s now more challenging given Covid-19 and the negative tests required to enter events. The Miu Miu PR girl does not have my name on the list. I name drop Lotta [Volkova] and Verde [Visconti] before some unknown higher up texts them with clearance. We’ve already been rushed to the basement of 70 Pine where they’re only doing tests for 5 more minutes, as it’s almost 11pm. As always, it’s a relief the test comes back negative. On the way up to the event, I run into Rowan Blanchard and Miu Miu girls Dove Cameron, Emma Corrin, et cetera. We head out to the terrace on the 64th floor. With the city twinkling in the background, we make “paparazzi” style Instagram videos, pretending to fall down drunk like Miu Miu starlets of yesteryear (think Lindsay Lohan).

In the middle of the night I dream I’m on a date with this guy I’ve met up with a couple of times in real life. As we’re kissing, my teeth start to fall out of my mouth. I wake up terrified from the psychological trauma and just as I start, with dread, to apply Freud to my nightmare analysis I feel an incredible pain in the back of my mouth. My bottom wisdom tooth is throbbing, and I am in anguish. I take a handful of Advil and the pain barely lifts. I call my dentist the moment the office opens. She tells me I need to schedule surgery to have the tooth extracted – after which I won’t be able to travel for about a week. Unwilling to miss the hotly anticipated return of Art Basel Miami Beach and the added crypto craziness expected this year, I put off the oral surgery. The following day, I spot a meme in my feed of a tooth with cavity. The text reads: “That back tooth watching you buy a Telfar bag.”

Committing to further research into cringe … I confirm my attendance to Art Basel Miami Beach.

Cringing from pain, I think about how 2021 is the year in which “cringe” was truly weaponized. I had hypothesized this weaponization more than a year ago while watching the first season of Emily In Paris, but it’s something I became certain of after walking the red carpet at Balenciaga’s Spring 2022 fashion show. Stoned on shrooms, I arrived late to the Théâtre du Châtelet to a sea full of thousands of screaming fans. I was on the verge of paralysis when I saw an equally panicked Suzanne Koller. We are safely escorted by security past the barricades and onto the red carpet. I was briefly asked to “do a picture” before being shoved out in front of a hundred shouting paparazzi and their blinding flashes. The ordeal was over just as quickly as it began, and soon I was taking my seat in the balcony of this surprisingly ornate venue. Projected on the screen were celebrities, models dressed in the new collection, and sundry fashion insiders walking the same red-carpet circus I had just escaped, soon to be magically transported into the theater to take their seats as well. Realizing everyone present in the theater had also witnessed my red carpet moment, I sunk down deep into my seat, flushed. The humiliation was compounded as texts started to come in – screenshots of the livestream taken by friends all over the world. After the red carpet, Balenciaga famously premiered its Simpsons episode collab, in which Homer and company fly to Paris and meet with an animated Demna and team. It was very funny – replete with jokes about how fat, stupid, and uncultured Americans are – and when the screen went black, there was a standing ovation. In this moment, we achieved peak cringe.

I have written before that “in order to survive in the future, fashion brands will have to become fully fledged media platforms” – and Balenciaga has certainly excelled in that. But nothing, as we learned from the Facebook Papers, powers platforms more than outrage. In late 2020, with Emily In Paris, entertainment executives acquired a data set that established television programs can get more impressions by being cringe than they can by being virtuosic – a turning point that will no doubt turn out to be culturally similar to when television executives of yesteryear realized news broadcasts could be profitable. Welcome to the era of cringecore.

Over Facetime I tell my friend Katharina Korbjuhn about my definition of cringecore, before she dismissively states she is “post-core.” I smile, that sentiment being part of the logic behind the name. In 2021 alone we’ve been exposed to And Just Like That, the metaverse, the gossipy Daniel Lee Bottega Venetta breakup, “incellectuals,” Bennifer 2.0, Martin Margiela’s Lafayette Anticipations exhibition, and Senator Blumenthal asking Facebook to “commit to ending Finsta” – to say nothing of the countless improbable brand mashups, all the NFTs, and the rise of Ella Emhoff. I’m most alarmed by how quickly our immunity to cringe, presumably through repeated contact, has already been built up. My chicest friends binge-watched the second season of Emily In Paris within 24 hours of its drop this month.

Committing to further research into cringe – and avoiding the tooth issue – I confirm my attendance to Art Basel Miami Beach. The plan is to go with my collaborator Sean Monahan, previously of K-HOLE. But the morning of Sean’s flight he tests positive for Covid and is grounded.

On my first night in Miami, we arrive super late at the notorious gay club Twist for the Loewe party. Outside there’s a line of a hundred Miami regulars complaining about the club being closed for a private event. They drop names of drag queens, circuit queens, and past Grindr hookups to the Loewe PR to no avail. We’re spotted by Danny, the famous and improving-with-age Paris door girl, and are pulled inside. The first person I see is Alex Israel. Since Qatar, Alex has become my own personal Forrest Gump, his similarly charmed life leading him to turn up in every chapter of the social diary. Alex tells me about his Snapchat show at the Bass Museum, which I missed as I wasn’t in town yet.

Cecile Winckler grabs me and we do a lap around the incredibly crowded party. My friend’s British ex is complaining about the hand fans Loewe has scattered around the bar for social media impressions. The accessories’ greatest offense, he says, is that they don’t “clack.” I think the real missed opportunity is that the fans only have Loewe logos on them, missing an opportunity to include Club Twist branding as well. I guess Loewe has yet to fully realized that Paula’s Ibiza boho vibes are passé, and that this decade is about early-2000s American trash culture. It’s 4.00AM and Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson and his posse have returned to the dance floor for Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” The Twist dance floor really gets going.

Later, I’m trapped in the horrid Miami causeway traffic with my friend Tobias Rauscher, the global influencer marketing lead at Google. He shares one of the biggest corporate commandments at Google: be modest. The crypto companies clamoring for attention at Art Basel are actually the diametrical opposite. They’re shouting for attention with enormous Burning Man style parties and hired headliners – Erykah Badu and Azealia Banks, for example, are playing for an event hosted by a crypto-something called Friends With Benefits. Although something of a Luddite, I seek out Azealia in the hopes that she can teach me about web3.

Friday night is the Chanel dinner on the main land. I, of course, arrive late, and find myself seated at the influencer table – with my name misspelled on the seating card. So much for Chanel no longer being mad about the time I compared their last couture collection to Love Shack Fancy. The industry tends to think of Balenciaga as the provocateurs of the fashion world, but I think Chanel is thee true edge lord. (Never forget: Coco Chanel’s Nazi collusions; Karl Lagerfeld’s numerous assaults.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the brand recently hired as their global head of arts a woman who left her former position at Serpentine following outrage against her ties to cyber weapons companies. The coup de Grace of the Miami dinner is a Rosalia performance atop an installation designed by Es Devlin for Chanel, in the shadow of Rosalia’s recent cancellation for cultural appropriation. Everyone agrees that the chocolate mousse dessert is delicious.

I throw a party in my massive suite at the Ritz Carlton on my final evening in Miami. Poolside, we pass around a bottle of Ritz spritz – our hip new nickname for a nasal spray bottle filled with Ketamine. A gay Belgian couple in our group is hooking up in the pool and spill their poppers into the water as their gallerist, who is wearing an American flag print bikini, warns of the dangers of these inhalants. She herself once got a bad chemical burn across her face from accidentally splashing the liquid around while whiffing on a rowdy dance floor. It’s roughly 3.00AM when I retire to my bedroom. There are mints on the pillow as well as a piece of Ritz stationary with a note: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde”

Hungover – after the most debauched night of Basel – before my late afternoon flight to NY, we head to the Versace mansion for a farewell lunch. This is the temple Gianni built thanks in part to America’s obsession with luxury trash in the 1980s and early 1990s. It’s also where the designer was tragically gunned down, and event best relived in Three Month Fever: The Andrew Cunanan Story by Gary Indiana, a writer whose life I once happened to save. Versace’s Mediterranean revival manse seems held together by leopard nostalgia and gold-painted spackle. Naomi Fisher, a Miami native, points out all of the changes that have been made since the property changed hands and left the Versace family – which she knows all about, having attended parties there in the property’s truly gilded and heady hay days. Seated outside by the pool, we and our appetizers get drenched from the tropical rain that starts pouring on our table. I quip that this is the second worst thing that has ever happened at the casa. One too many Bloody Marys before lunch, with my stomach already weak from the festivities of the night before, I excuse myself to the bathroom. And, like Kristen Stewart in one of the many pro-ana scenes from Spencer, I throw up into a gold bidet. Carved, fat baby angels gaze and point. Hunched over, I am quite aware of just how much we’ve gorged on glamour after being starved of it for the nearly two years of the pandemic.

Post-Miami I have dinner in LA with my friend Marta Fontolan, both of us having been too busy during the fair to spend time together, except for my brief pop in to her home base – the Sprüth Magers’ booth – during the preview. Over venison and Bolognese we exchange Basel post mortems, and I share some of my cringe findings. Marta studiously mentions Susan Sontag and “camp.” The difference, I respond, is that camp is un-self-aware. It’s a sincere appreciation and representation of vulgarity. Cringe is now corporate strategy and marketing, its assigned value ambiguous – and, like those of crypto and AI, its function is still being defined.

TO BE CONTINUED.

COME BACK TOMORROW – DECEMBER 31, 2021 – FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF TRANSMISSIONS: a communicable and speculative sociological research column wherein JORDAN RICHMAN traverses the globe, immersing himself into perceived moments of relevance to mine the fields of fashion and culture – extracting thoughts, encounters, and foreshadowings. Conclude another turn around the sun with reports from festivities in Doha, Los Angeles, Paris, Miami, New York, and the metaverse (kind of) – now through the end of 2021.

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