Paul Ford’s [“The American Room”] (link is to Medium) should have been written by a folklorist, or, rather, it’s the product of the kind of careful observation that, I think (I hope), is the purview of folklorists. That is, when folklorists are at their best, they are simply paying attention, compiling an inventory of acts and artifacts, in order to allow us, potentially, insight into both the syntax and vocabulary of how others construct their world(s).
In brief, Ford’s essay begins with a (re)construction of the American room as glimpsed through Youtube videos — he notes at one point that he has friends who collect such videos (800 so far) and that he has watched 400 of them. It’s a familiar space, one which I have found myself considering through the windows of Reddit image posts or unboxing galleries on tech websites. The dimensions are familiar to anyone who has lived in — owned or rented — a tract home or apartment built in the last thirty years: white walls, carpets in an indeterminate range from beige to tan, eight foot ceilings, perhaps a sliding glass door giving onto a balcony or backyard. Ford notes two things about these rooms: their difference from other spaces, spaces of desire like those found on Pinterest or on webcams of sex workers, and how the space is now so conventional as to be available for faking or parody, e.g. “lonelygirl” of 2006 or Jimmy Kimmel’s fake twerking video.
I am reminded of a conversation with Henry Glassie twenty some-odd years ago. It was after the semester he taught his “American Home” course, and we were discussing the range of projects students had submitted. Glassie recalled that one student had, not knowing what else to do, described the living room of a couple, and then, sensing something was important in the collection of books that were tucked into a small bookcase along one way, inventoried the case’s contents. Each and every book. That list of titles, Glassie observed, really did tell its own story.
Who is [Paul Ford]? He is a writer and programmer who is also a terrific observer of the American scene. A previous essay of his, [“It Is Impossible to Believe How Mindblowing These Amazing New Jobs Are”][jobs], is a list of job advertisements that were written to mock the contemporary era’s love of *social-data-media*. (You have to say it, and think it, as one word.) In doing so, he also effectively mimics the quackery that takes place on the educational side of the equation to take advantage of the current moment’s obsession. Like, cinema, no image, no media, no data arts! (Yeah, throw *arts* after it, it’s like adding *-lytics*: it makes everything better.)
On that note, I leave you with this:
[“The American Room”]: https://medium.com/message/the-american-room-3fce9b2b98c5
[Paul Ford]: https://medium.com/@ftrain