I guess it’s obvious why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about design lately — what makes it good, what makes it appealing, what people want from it. This story today, in which the Detroit News took a bunch of Motown everyfolk through the auto show and paid attention to their reactions, made me think about it more:
“The Imperial is gorgeous,” said Detroit teacher Zora Callahan Jones, 48. “If I drove it, it would say I’m a classy lady.”
I think the Imperial is a gorgeous car, too, but one I wouldn’t buy if I had all the money in the world and you held a gun to my head. And the thought of what “it” would say about me, as opposed to what I would think of myself for choosing such an overfed pig of a ride, doesn’t even enter my head. When it comes to cars, the thoughts of the message it might send about its driver is so far off my list of considerations, it’s in another county.
To me, great design — whether in a car, a computer or a hammer — is all about how it facilitates the job it has to do. Form always has to follow function. A great dress should make the wearer look great. A tool should do its job and feel as good in your hand at 5:30 p.m. as it does at 8 a.m. An electronic device should be easy to figure out. A saddle should be comfortable for both horse and rider and put you in a position to facilitate communication between the two.
I used to ride horses, and developed a lot of ideas about design from the time I spent in barns, working over and under those beasts. People have been riding horses for thousands of years, but someone’s always trying to build a better currycomb, so to speak. I was a sucker for geegaws for a time, until I finally figured out that no geegaw can substitute for hard work and understanding, and the whole business is expensive enough that if you can substitute hard work for a $20 geegaw, you’re better off.
Some advances really are — breeches made of modern miracle fabrics are better than those of wool. But spare me the saddle made of synthetic fibers; I don’t care if you can wash it with a garden hose, it’ll never beat leather.
One of the things I really liked about my particular discipline — hunters — was how every piece of equipment had a purpose, or else you didn’t bother with it. Buy me a drink sometime and I’ll tell you how everything worn by the pink-coated foxhunter and his horse has a specific purpose beyond the obvious.
Even the flask. When a person is suffering from a broken collarbone, a little brandy can be a powerful anesthetic.
Enough of that, then. On to the bloggage:
I’m so out of it — how out of it are you? — I’m so out of it that when the news of James Frey’s nonfiction-as-fiction caper broke last week, I had to do some supplemental reading. I’d never even heard of this book, probably because I pay little attention to memoirs and even less to Oprah’s book club choices. And oh dear lord, but if I wasn’t sure I was right before, I certainly am now, if the passage Seth Mnookin quotes in his very fair-minded column about Frey is any indication:
A Man walks out on stage and Everyone starts clapping. I recognize the Man as a famous Rock Star who was once a Patient here. He holds up his arms in triumph and he smiles and he bows and his black leather is shining and his long, greasy black hair is hanging and his patterned silk shirt is flowing … He claims that at the height of his use he would do five thousand dollars of cocaine and heroin a day mixed with four to five fifths of booze a night and up to 40 pills of valium to sleep. He says this with complete sincerity and with the utmost seriousness. … Were I in my normal frame of mind, I would stand up, point my finger, scream Fraud, and chase this Chump Motherfucker down and give him a beating. Were I in my normal frame of mind, after I gave him his beating, I would make him come back here and apologize to everyone for wasting their precious time. After the apology, I would tell him that if I ever heard of him spewing his bullshit fantasies in Public again, I would cut off his precious hair, scar his precious lips, and take all of his goddamn gold records and shove them straight up his ass.
My tolerance for writing this bad ends after one paragraph. (Why does he capitalize “Public?” Me no getta.) More to the point, in all the discussion about whether it’s OK to embellish in a memoir and whether people should get their money back and whether Oprah damaged herself by defending this heap of bilge (no, yes, yes), only Mnookin, a recovering addict himself, seems to see the problem here: Recovery only takes place when one is honest. Isn’t that one of the 12 steps, the “searching and fearless moral inventory?” How can you do that when you’re spinning a web of lies about spending three months in prison, when what you really did was spend a few hours in a police station?
It is to puzzle. I’m not a huge Mary Karr fan, but she gets it exactly right: Call me outdated, but I want to stay hamstrung by objective truth, when the very notion has been eroding for at least a century.
Elsewhere in the theater of Truth and Consequences, here’s one reason to be grateful I never went to work for People magazine. I could have spent the weekend freezing my ass off, standing outside the security perimeter of Eminem’s second wedding.
He remarried his first wife, the mother of his child, the mother of another child (whom Em adopted), his teenage sweetheart, his…god, you can’t call her a “muse,” can you, when he writes stuff like this about her: Sit down bitch / If you move again I’ll beat the shit out of you.
Ah, but that was another country, and besides, the wench is dead. Everyone’s grown up now, they’ve been down the bad roads, and hope springs eternal. The bride wore white. Their daughter was flower girl. Nobody’s perfect, and everyone deserves a second chance. All happiness to them.