Man at His Best

Opinion: In Defiance of Dumb, Stupid Shit

Esquire Singapore editor-in-chief questions the tastes of a dumbed-down media in a world hungry for it.

BY Zul Andra | Mar 14, 2017 | Culture

Photograph: Gigi Hadid, art direction by Erik Torstensson

Esquire Singapore editor-in-chief, Zul Andra is turning into a pile of goo. Thanks to the advent of anti-intellectual stimulants everywhere, he now has mental dystrophy. In a desperate attempt to prove that his critical thinking is as sharp as ever, he wrote a post on Facebook that might be confused for a eulogy. What sparked it off was a V Magazine online article on a Versus Versace spring/summer 2017 campaign with images of Zayn Malik as photographed by his girlfriend, Gigi Hadid. The edited and expanded Editor’s cut is indecently exposed here. Zul Andra would like to request that you take this moment to find a seat.

Have we finally reached the nadir of a dumbed-down world? Has the benchmark of top quality work been lowered to a state that this Limbo dance has broken our backs? Has the bubble of good work and ideas popped long ago that we are resorting to the delusion of it? But heck, if people are hungry for dumb, stupid shit, you ought to give it to them, right? 

Take this boring photo shoot, for example—a Versus Versace SS17 campaign of Zayn Malik as shot by his girlfriend, Gigi Hadid.

“The rights and wrongs of hiring a model with no experience for a photography job that talented and experienced artists would kill for is a separate cultural issue,” penned Jess Cartner-Morley, probably while holding her breath, for The Guardian. But wait, a separate cultural issue? No, it is the issue.  

Morley adds. “Fashion isn’t taking the rap for this one […] What concerns us here is how what being a model means has completely changed.” Changed to what? A photographer? To wit: Hadid is a celebrity, how celebratory does one need to get? Is this how you invent holidays?

Inhale. Exhale. 

Let’s be honest here, Hadid was hired not for her photography wizardry. Arguably, it was for her reach. Hadid is what we like to call an influencer. She has 31 million followers on Instagram. In contrast, NASA has 20 million, Malala Yousafzai has about half-a-million. How many times do you have to get shot or find another planet to be more influential? 

But you know what? (“What?!” You shout.) You can’t climb to a position of influence if no one wants you to be there in the first place. You were on the shoulders of those who have found value in you that fit their bias and belief. A queen never makes her own throne.

Here’s the funny thing. At the crux of it, my gripe isn’t even about Hadid’s newfound hobby or Versace engaging her. I know why it ended up on Versace’s plate because just like any other brand, the fashion house is a business, and businesses need money, and money requires a transaction and that requires supplying a demand. Fair game. Basic economics. But this demand is ever-changing, driven by impatience and, oddly, getting dumber. 

In the litmus test of demands based on a pool of real data, a brand—in fashion, for example—can choose to diversify its supply: haute couture for their 1 percent richest and ready-to-wear, collabs and what other gimmicky concepts for the other 99 percent. I get it. I really do. The consumer will devour it whole.

If a large portion of your demographic demand for a special coffee, you give them a pumpkin spice latte, right? Of course, you do. The data was right, the numbers head north and everyone's happy. But pumpkin spice latte? What a cuppa stupid. A curved TV? Steve Aoki remixing the theme song for Ghost In The Shell? Stupid.

Let's give a beat here for a sec. This microwave culture produces meals that are undercooked. Hadid's work here is bland, but at least it tastes like a million followers. So that's OK, right? Social media is one of the most open sources to figure the demands of the people. Versace's move is justified because you asked for it.

So what’s the big deal if people want dumb, stupid shit?

This begs the question: since we drink our media Kool-Aid from the glistening stream of Facebook, do you even remember what you read from it last week? No? What about yesterday? Who was the writer? What was the headline? Where was it published? 

What value did you get out of scrolling into the abyss of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? Don’t ask me. I don’t remember. Hell, I swear that you won't even remember this piece. I'm surprised you've even read this far. 

Everything in the echo chamber of my social media channel is nothing but a nauseating blur. I’m but a scrolling, clicking, swiping version of myself, looking for extensions to feed my own bias. Never full. Always empty.

After I slap myself awake and disengage from this wired hypnotism, the facade of knowledge and ideas and dumb, stupid shit disappears into thin air. I’m making myself a cup of coffee at midnight. I realised that I'd been plugged in since finishing my 6pm dinner, but I can’t even remember the colour of that cat that enjoys jumping into boxes. This concerns me because I’m starting to realise that once I unplug, my social media hangover rears its ugly binary head.

It doesn’t matter now, does it? Someone somewhere has collected my data, my interest and my habits from my social media insights. Then they will make more videos of cats jumping into boxes. Programmatic advertising will show me cat products on my Facebook, Gmail and wherever that can shove my “demand” to my face. 

I’ve asked for this in my drunken digital stupor and I don’t even have a fucking cat. I don’t even like cats that don’t jump into boxes.

Imagine a world filled with dumb, stupid shit on your tele, in your papers and whatever magazine that is committed to you getting your first six-pack and be great at blow jobs—disclaimer: unless its Attitude magazine, these are mutually exclusive; not like cats jumping into boxes, those should always come together.

If we continue at it, what does the future of media look like? Is that future, today? I take pause and think about what I do remember (because I drank that midnight coffee and can’t sleep anymore). 

I remember the books I’ve read, most of the main characters and some of the lines. I wonder why. Maybe because I've committed myself to doing one specific thing. Maybe because I searched for the book I wanted, considered to buy it, bought it, brought it home and made time for it. I remember conversations with my colleagues, friends and family years ago. Maybe because I committed every part of my living existence to being there. I was plugged in a different way. A more humanistic way. 

Maybe I should demand for more authenticity and adopt a cat and train it to jump into boxes. At this rate, maybe I'll just forget it all.

Have I finally reached the nadir of a dumbed-down me? Has the benchmark of quality work been lowered to a state that this Limbo dance has broken my back? Has the bubble of good work and ideas popped long ago that I'm resorting to the delusion of it? But heck, if I'm hungry for stupid shit, you ought to give it to me, right?