Authenticity: If You Have to Ax, You Can't Afford It

As you may have noticed, the Tour de France bicycle race is underway (as is my Tour de France-themed webular log for Universal Sports, which you can find here). So far, the riders have been beset by crashes, and since today's race incorporates "samples" from Paris-Roubaix many people are speculating that the peloton will go down like Jenga blocks on the hood of a Chevy Nova. In particular, many fear for Alberto Contador, who does not have much "savoir pavé," and they're acting like the second his tires hit the cobbles he will be launched into the stratosphere like some sort of fingerbanging jack-in-the-box. Frankly, I think these fears are unfounded; not only is Contador an experienced professional, but he's also been coached by Peter Van Petegem, the most hirsute Classics rider cyclesport has ever seen. So blessed of follicle is Van Petegem that he served as Johan Musseuw's hair transplant donor, and Contador will doubtless be carrying a swatch of his thick and lustrous pelt in his jersey pocket for luck as well as crash protection.

Also, as the Tour passed through Belgium this past weekend it celebrated Eddy Merckx's 65th birthday. Speaking of "Merckx porn" (I was on Friday), the Cannibal himself presented Lance Armstrong with a new "kunstbox:"

(Merckx rummaging around in Armstrong's "kunstbox.")

I don't know what a "kunstbox" is, but they both seem to be enjoying it.

In addition to "Merckx porn," Friday's post also included "ax porn" in the form of a link to this New York Times article which was forwarded to me by a reader:

When I joked about the existence of "fakerjacks" some months ago (a term which subsequently made it into the "Urban Dictionary", alongside terms such as "Cleveland Steamer" and "Glass Bottom Boat," which is apparently not an actual boat but rather the act of squashing your "kunstbox" on a glass coffee table), I never thought that such a person might actually exist. Sure, I knew many "hipsters" looked like lumberjacks, hence the joke, but it never occurred to me that they might actually incorporate the tools of wood-hewing into their contrived self-images. Apparently, though, they do, which is why this guy makes money by what amounts to "bedazzling" axes. In retrospect, though, I shouldn't be surprised, for we live in an age based on the fetishization of the prosaic. Consider the ax-bedazzler's School of Visual Arts thesis project:

Mr. Buchanan-Smith has always been interested in the small stuff. For his thesis project at the School of Visual Arts, which he later turned into a book, “Speck: A Curious Collection of Uncommon Things,” published by Princeton Architectural Press, he invited artists and other obsessives to explore everyday ephemera — things like dust, the inside of a pocketbook, the bottoms of sneakers — in words and pictures.

To some extent confronting the ordinary with a childlike sense of wonder is an important part of being an artist, but at a certain point being fascinated by dirt and crap becomes the domain of the douche, and if I had to pinpoint when exactly this happens I'd say it's the second you decide to make dirt and crap the subject of your School of Visual arts thesis project. Similarly, it can be edifying to occasionally pause and appreciate the functionality of simple objects, but perhaps the best way to appreciate them is by using them. In the design world, however, people are so mired in uselessness that something as simple as a bar of soap or a tube of toothpaste is nothing less than a revelation:

Kim Hastreiter, an editor of Paper magazine and his former boss, said: “Peter is like a regular guy with an eccentric way of thinking, and he’s interested in things that function. You know he loves a Shaker table. He probably loves a yellow pencil or a bar of Ivory soap or a paper clip or a well-designed tube of toothpaste. It’s all about stuff that’s what it is. That’s an idea that’s really popular right now.”

What Kim Hastreiter of Paper does not realize is that "stuff that's what it is" has always been popular. Moreover, appreciating "a yellow pencil" or "a paper clip" does not make someone a creative genius--though I would argue that being impressed by somebody who appreciates a yellow pencil or a paper clip does make someone an idiot. Paper might want to consider dedicating an entire issue to the guy who "curates" the neighborhood stationery store, since I'm sure a back-to-school sale would completely blow their minds. Indeed, the ability to be completely transfixed by mundane objects seems to be something shared in common by designers, babies, and dogs.

But how do you come up with the idea of creating a more expensive version of a completely ordinary object like the ax-bedazzler did? Well, sometimes it comes to you in an "epiphany," and Buchanan-Smith had the idea for the pretentious ax while preparing for a pretentious barbecue:

Then came the ax epiphany. When Graeme Cameron, a Canadian environmental entrepreneur and Mr. Buchanan-Smith’s best friend from summer camp, came to visit that January, the two embarked on a gastronomic adventure to prepare Mr. Cameron’s birthday dinner — a whole day spent gathering ingredients in Manhattan, like $200 worth of wagyu. But when they realized they wanted to cook that pricey steak on an open grill, they were stymied.

Yes, after spending $200 and an entire day they still couldn't grill their meat. Why? They couldn't find an expensive-enough ax:

Long story short: in searching for an ax to chop wood small enough to make a really hot fire (charcoal wouldn’t do, he said), all they could find was a cheap plastic-handled number from Home Depot.

At this point, it would be easy to dismiss Buchanan-Smith as a total douche, but it's also important to remember that being a douche requires deep commitment and as such is a lifestyle as challenging as any other. Just as the vegan refrains from all animal products, or Amish person eschews modern technology, so does the douche refuse any item without sufficient pedigree or price tag. Really, it's Orthodox Consumerism, and if the douche cannot find a suitably-priced tool with which to chop his pretentious charcoal, then he will not cook his $200 steak and so will go hungry (albeit fashionably hungry). The truth is, some people need to feel as though they're overcoming adversity in order to feel special, and in the case of the douche this "adversity" is the construct of an inflated price tag.

Obviously many people take this same approach to cycling, and in turn this type of cycling is sometimes used to promote other endeavors. Consider the author currently on the cover of "Poets & Writers" magazine:

I mentioned this briefly some time ago, and you may also have seen it on "All Hail the Black Market." Apparently, the author, James Kaelan (who is one bedazzled ax short of complete "fakerjackdom") has embarked on a "Zero Emission Book Tour," and his book is so smug that "the covers are made of seed paper that, upon burial, germinate and grow into birch trees:"

I haven't read the book so I don't know if it's worth the post-consumer used toilet paper it's apparently printed on, but it seems to me that the lowest impact approach of all would be just to skip the book tour altogether and stay home. Of course, then he wouldn't be able to make videos like this:

Incidentally, as this other video shows, he makes sure to bare his chest tattoo even while cycling:

In any case, if he really wanted to eliminate all emissions, then he could have saved all the promotional riding and instead delivered every single copy by bicycle--or, better, he could have foregone all the paper and simply told his tale orally like our ancestors once did. He could even do so in front of a fire made of wood he has chopped with an artisanal ax.

That would be more in keeping with the New Douchery.

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