Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Edward Hopper: Together Yet Apart

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Hello Everyone:

It is a new week and another installment the socially distant blog.  Before we get started, The Blogger Candidate Forum nipped by with some news.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) has opted to remain in the Democratic primary race.  The news of the Gentleman from Vermont's decision sent Democratic National Committee officials into a mini-panic at the prospect of four more years of Mr. Donald Trump.  Before they or anyone else falls into a state of hysteria, stop, breathe, and keep in mind that it just may be for strategic purposes.  The Sanders campaign may realize that the path to securing the 1,991 delegates needed for the nomination has gotten very narrow.  Therefore, the best possible option would be to continue the race is form a working alliance with presumptive nominee VPOTUS Joe Biden (D-DE) and influence the party platform going into the fall campaign.  The Candidate Forum will be back as soon as the primaries come back.  Meanwhile Yours Truly is here for you.  Onward.

15 Things You Might Not Know About Nighthawks | Mental Floss
Nighthawks (1942)
Edward Hopper

Nighthawks (1942) by the late American painter Edward Hopper is perhaps one of the best known paintings in the history of art.  The painting presents four people: a short order cook and three customers in a diner, late at night.  The quartet appears disconnected, lost in their own thoughts.  The street is deserted, the nearby shops closed up for the night, the only light illuminating the oil painting appears to come from the diner.  The diner is a place of refuge, where these four people can find sustenance and human contact.  Nighthawks is an enigma: Is it a comment on our sense of disconnection or is the diner a meeting place?  Nighthawks is a metaphor for life under lock down.  The deserted late night New York streets could be daytime Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, or anywhere.  Why are Edward Hopper's paintings relevant in the time of COVID-19?

Early Sunday Morning | Whitney Museum of American Art
Early Sunday Morning (1930)
Edward Hopper

The social media provides us with a myriad of ways to stay connected with each other and at the same time, makes us feel isolated.  It was that sense of social isolation that Edward Hopper's canvases capture sense of isolation.  If you, like Yours Truly, live in a major metropolitan area and are used to the constant whirl of activity, the sudden quiet can be unnerving.  It can evoke a sense of of profound loneliness and disappointment with the urban life.

Edward Hopper's period of significance, the thirties and forties, coincided with a period of optimism,  The United States emerged from The Great Depression right into World War II.  Then, like now, the public sentiment was we are in it together.  The Hopper canvases offered a counterpoint to the sunny optimism that permeated the American consciousness.  The Hopper canvases, like the noir fiction of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, offered a gloomy counterpoint to that sunny outlook.  Books like The Big Sleep (1939) and Double Indemnity (1936), respectively, and paintings like Early Sunday Morning "were concerned with the negative effects of urbanisnation and increasing economic disparities" (theconversation.com; May 18, 2017; date accessed Mar. 31, 2020).  At the center of Edward Hopper's urban vision "are the paradoxes of the foundational democratic myths.  We are all created equal, and yet what makes equal is our absolute, inviolable uniqueness and individualism" (Ibid).

Automat (1927

Take a look at the image on the left, Automat (1927).  The woman sits alone at the table, looking down at her cup.  She seems to ponder the contents of the cup, eyes closed as if lost in meditation.  She sits alone at night in place where human contact is removed from food service, reinforced by the empty chair opposite her.  The food and beverages are dispensed from a machine, allowing the customer to grab a sandwich or a cup of coffee quickly and efficiently.  Symptomatic of the mechanized urban landscape of the early twentieth century. 

She is a metaphor for the profound sense of loneliness that comes with living in a city.  Cities are lonely places and you do not need physical solitude in order to experience it, rather it is the lack of connection with another human.  The reflection in the window behind her gives us the impression that there are more people in the diner, together yet apart.  The social media and messaging apps allows to stay connected to our friends (loose term) but social distancing has accentuated the all too human need for kinship and closeness.

New York Office, 1962 by Edward Hopper
New York Office (1962)

Edward Hopper typically painted solitary figures or uncommunicative groups, like the quartet in Nighthawks.  They are locked into poses that appear to telegraph a sense of anxiety.  The figure is looking out of the window at no one in particular, perhaps lost in deep contemplation of an urban landscape that he or she no longer comprehends.  The window reinforces that acute sense of loneliness.  Olivia Liang of The Guardian wrote, "Glass is a persistent symbol of loneliness, and for good reason" (theguardian.com; Feb. 28, 2016; date Mar. 31, 2020).  The glass in the Hopper paintings prevents physical contact: "...a feeling of separation, of being walled off or penned in, combines with near-unbearable exposure" (Ibid).  The glass offers us a glimpse into the interior space.  We do not know what that space is or what is taking place but it may hold a clue to who the figure in the window is.  A fishbowl existence.  Sometimes, you can experience loneliness within the context of a relationship.

Room in New York - Wikipedia
Room in New York (1932)

Practicing self isolation can be taxing on a relationship.  There is the obvious lack of privacy that comes with being stuck in the house with the same person day and night.  This, in turn, drives a couple to seek some refuge from each other by whatever means.  Speaking from experience, Earpods only go so far.  Back to Edward Hopper.

Take a look at the couple in the image on the left. Gabriella Sotirou asks us to assume that they are a married couple.  Alright, let us assume that they are a longtime married couple that has drifted apart.  Ms. Sotirou writes, "Alienation has affected this married couple who are now only through the domesticity of their home, symbolised by the table" (hasta-standrews.com; Feb. 28, 2019; date Mar. 31, 2020).  The man is settled into his chair with the newspaper, after a hard day's work while the woman is dressed for a night on the town.  He is seeking quiet solace from a day filled with constant contact.  She seeks the company of others after a day spent in silent domestic isolation.  Ms. Sotirou writes, "However, the firmly closed door positioned between the couple signifies the solidity of their physical and spiritual separation.  Not even the noise made by her hand tinkering along the piano keys can break her husband's attention away from his newspaper" (Ibid)

The paintings of Edward Hopper are snapshots of lives in isolation.  Together yet apart, our current, hopefully temporary, reality.  The necessity of self isolation has put our all too human need for physical connections into sharp focus.  Even self-confessed introverts need some sort physical contact.  Edward Hopper's catalog of urban isolation give visual form to just how disconnected we have become, even before self isolation.  No app can replace the all too human desire for in-person interaction.  Let us hope that once we can all go out again, we will take a moment to appreciate the people we interact with on daily basis, in person.     




Wednesday, March 25, 2020

X Marks The Spot

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Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely early spring Wednesday afternoon and usually The Blogger Candidate is here for you.  With the Democratic primary on hold for a little while and the candidates are doing video fireside chats in their basements, The Candidate Forum is in self-isolation.  Be that as it may, socially distant Blogger is he19re for you with a look at Generation X.

Generation X, the MTV Generation,  Generation Slacker.  These are a few of names given to the demographic cohort born, typically, between 1965 and 1980, although there is evidence that suggests the start date is earlier.  Why are talking about the generation that was sandwiched between two boldfaced cohorts: the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Millennials (1984-1996)?  The reason why we Yours Truly is bring up the subject today has to do with quarantine, social distancing, and self-isolation and why this cohort is better suited for it than their boomer parents (and older siblings) and Millennials (younger siblings and children).

Image result for Generation X

What is Generation X?  According to Dr. Gail Saltz M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospitatal Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the podcast PersonologyXers are generally characterized as

...on the whole, seen as happy and balanced in work and active compared with other generations... (parade.com; Mar. 19, 2020; date accessed Mar. 25, 2020).

The Xers lived through the AIDS and crack epidemics, part of the civil rights movements, recessions, and came of age when both parents worked outside the home.  Dr. Saltz elaborates,

Many were latch key kids growing up, learned how to fend for themselves early, and have lower expectations in terms of being taken care of,... They are noted for a heartiness and ability to soldier on (Ibid)

Image result for Generation X
Why are Xers trending on Twitter and thriving during this temporary quarantine period?  Easy answer, the Xers just put their heads down and deal with the situation.  "Keep calm, carry on," "stiff upper lip."  Shannon O'Neill, Ph.D, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Health System, explains,

If I could sum up Generation X in one word, it would be self sufficient,... This generation enjoys taking on responsibility, while also maintaining their personal freedom and prioritizing work/life balance (Ibid)

Another quality Xers possess is selflessness.  John Mayer, Ph.D, the author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life and licensed clinical psychologist, told Parade,

They understand and have empathy with the overall perspective of what needs to be done (parade.com; Mar. 19, 2020).

Licensed marriage and family therapist, founder of Chicago's Skylight Counseling Center, and the author of the book You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist, observed

I could see Gen Xers providing much-needed calm, while also following the rules needed to make out society a safer place (parade.com; Mar. 19, 2020).

The COVID-19 quarantine seems like prime time for Generation X.

Image result for generation x nirvana

Generation X seems to have finally found its purpose during the pandemic.  The risk averse generation raised on stranger danger and Just Say No is finally being celebrated for this quality, necessary to the survival of humanity.  Generation Xers are notoriously independent.

The independent streak was fostered by the need to look after themselves every day, while their boomer parents worked, learned to be comfortable with (the horror) a television with only three channels and video games.  Now, for the first time in the lives of these latchkey kids, the question on everyone's lips is Why can't everyone be more like Generation X? (nbcnews.com; Mar. 25, 2020).  The Xers have finally arrived.

Writer Lauren Hough spiked the ball with this tweet

Shout out to Gen X, the only generation who can keep our asses at home without being told, the motherf***ing latchkey kids, the generation used to being neglected by f***king everyone,... We'll be only ones left (nbcnews.com; Mar. 25, 2020).

Three cheers to the generation that survived Ronald Reagan, mass incarceration, the savings and loan collapse, and really bad hair on nothing more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sheer monotony.  Yet, the Xers' Baby Boom, Millennial, and Generation Z counterparts cannot help themselves, continuing to flip the double bird at COVID-19.

Image result for spring break: COVID-19
Spring Break 2020
Miami, Florida

  Far be it from Yours Truly to shame the Zs from crowding the beaches during spring break or the boomers for not taking the threat more seriously, and being more like the Xers.  Honestly, the differences in the generational responses has to do with where each one is in life.

Generation X is also known as the "sandwich generation," taking care of their aging boomer parents while raising their own families.  The ultimate role reversal: Telling mom and dad to follow the rules, getting mad when their high-risk category parents refuse to listen despite the evidence.  The boomer parents grew up during the post World War II period of prosperity, with a sense of optimism.  They fought the big struggles: Feminism,Vietnam, Civil Rights, which left a lingering doubt in authority.  Built successful careers and experienced a lifestyle their Silent Generation parents could not imagine.  While it is understandable that senior citizens do not like to be told what to do but there is a time and a place for this kind of stubbornness, this is not one of them.

The same sentiment applies for Generation Z.  The Zs have grown up with scandal, crisis, and fake news.  For all their digital know-how, the Zs value in-person contact, fueling their urge to go out and be among people.  Millennials are also part of the most socially connected generation.  They are also part of the most overscheduled generation, now faced with an abundance of free time and lack of direction.  This is not to say that Millennials are not complying with the restrictions.  Older Millennials are more likely to follow the Xers lead, out of concern for their families while younger Millennials are more likely to follow the Z's example and go out.

Generational differences are a primary factor in the way we respond to the demand to "flatten the curve."  Bottom line is this, whether you are a Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial, or Generation Z, if you want to make it all go away, stay home unless it is absolutely necessary, wash your hands, stay home if your sick, and maintain a six-foot social distance.  One more thing, big shout out to Generation X.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Experience

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Hello Everyone:

After yesterday's post, Blogger got crushingly depressed.  Yours Truly decided that a change of pace was in order.  

Today Blogger wants to revisit the subject of dead malls.  The inspiration for today's post came from a comment on Facebook, in response to empty malls.  The commentator suggested converting empty or near-empty malls into mixed-use developments--i.e. affordable housing and retail space.  Brilliant idea and something that is already happening in cities around the United States.  Let us take at what malls are doing to make a comeback.

Could 2020 be the year of the mall comeback? Will it be a comeback with a twist?  Why is the mall comeback important?  Over the past few years, retail industry experts have sounded the retail apocalypse alarm and the death of physical malls.  As great American writer Mark Twain once said "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated".  Although venerable retail behemoth Sears has shuttered its doors and the equally venerable Macy's is closing down some of its outlets, the major American malls and shopping centers are alive and finding new ways to thrive.

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American Dream Mall
East Rutherford, New Jersey

A year ago, American Dream--"a 3 million-square-foot mall in New Jersey 20 or years or so in the making..."-- (axios.com; Jan. 9, 2020; date accessed Mar. 24, 2020).  Amazingly, at a time when malls are struggling to find tenants, the American Dream Mall already leased 90-percent (Ibid) of its storefronts, according to the newsletter Retail Brew.  It followed the high profile opening of Hudson Yards in New York City and the New Jersey mall's developers are planning a second location in Miami, Florida (Ibid).  What sets the mall apart from the typical dying mall is that it is only 45-percent retail and 55-percent entertainment (Ibid).  "That trend is strengthening across the country" according to Todd Caruso, a senior managing director and retail expert at real estate company CBRE (Ibid).

Here are some points to consider:
  • Vacant mall anchor stores (i.e. department stores that drive foot traffic) are being replaced with gyms, cinemas, and co-work spaces
  • Between 2014 and 2018 traditional retail's leased square footage shrunk by 6.7-percent according to the International Council of Shopping Center
  • However, non-retail tenants--i.e. fitness and entertainment businesses, have experienced a 5.6-percent increase.  Leased restaurant space also grew by the 1.1.-percent
  • The hope is that people will go to the mall for the experiences and stay to pickup a few things (Ibid)
Mark Twain was right, reports of malls' death are greatly exaggerated.  Generation Z is also coming to the rescue of malls.

Image result for retail apocalypse

Gen Z, that cohort between the ages of 7 and 22, continue to confuse corporate America.  They do not drink, support retailers who take a political stand, and trust reality television personalities. Be that as it may, perhaps the most surprising thing about this cohort's spending habits is that they love shopping malls.  How much to they love malls?

About 95-percent of Gen Zs visited a brick-and-mortar mall during a three month period in 2018, as opposed to 75-percent millennials and 58-percent of Generation Xs, according to the ICSC study  (bloomberg.com; Apr. 25, 2019; date accessed Mar. 24, 2020).  Here is a surprise, three-quarters of cohort that cannot seem to tear itself away from a screen (Gen Z), told the ICSC that they love going to a brick-and-mortar store because the experience was better than online (Ibid).

Admittedly, Blogger does concur with that sentiment.  There is something extra special about touching the actual product and speaking to a person that makes the retail experience better than an app.

Image result for cellphone

Generation Z interact differently with stores than their millennial older siblings and Gen X parents.  Retailers that failed to adapt to this difference wound up in bankruptcy court.  Retailers catering to the adolescent age cohort who are savvy enough to understand this fact have found a way to adapt and thrive.

First, they do not fight the phone.  Retailers, like Forever 21, reward phone-clutching shoppers with a 21-percent discount if they take a selfie in a Forever 21 outfit and show it to the cashier.  Retailer apps send push notifications to shoppers to alert them to potential sales.  The stores are more Instagram-worthy, filled with assorted knickknacks that really no one needs but are just too cute to pass up (Ibid).

Second, savvy retailers allow customization to make their products more personal by adding patches and buttons.  EY consultant Marcie Merriman, who specializes in the Gen Z consumer, spoke to Bloomberg,

In the past, it has been a little more cookie-cutter...their mind just goes to a very different place because of their expectation that anything is possible (Ibid)

Even jeweler extraordinaire Tiffany & Co. launched a Make It My Tiffany program.  Chief Executive Officer Alessandro Bogliolo  told Bloomberg, You can have your bracelet, ring or piece of jewelry personalized (Ibid)

Finally, second-hand clothing is not second rate.  The Gen Z cohort is turning to pre-owned clothing at a quicker pace, according to a Thredup's 2019 Resale Report.  The pre-owned clothing e-retailer reports that one in three Gen Z shopper will buy second hand (bloomberg.com; Apr. 25, 2019).  High-end retailer Nieman Marcus have gotten into the mix by buying a minority stake in Fashionphile's website (Ibid).  The hope is that Nieman's involvement in the pre-owned market will translate into future new-product shoppers.  

Clearly malls are not going anywhere, anytime soon.  However, in order to survive and thrive malls will have to re-think their consumer strategy.  Contemporary consumers want an experience, a story when they go to a store.  Blogger is thinking something like the Apple Store where shoppers are, ideally, encouraged to develop a relationship with the product.  More recently, Blogger wandered into a cosmetic store that felt more like a glamorous, very feminine boudoir than a cookie-cutter makeup store.  The point is the mall as just a place to shop no longer holds.  The mall as an experience is the future.