After The Storm
When Superstorm Sandy—an innocent name for a massive American catastrophe—swept away much of the Eastern seaboard, it was one more indication that the 20th century had been blotted out. It was the storm that pulverized the infrastructure, shook the faith of the average middle-class homeowner in the conventional safety of the coastal shelter, not to mention The Grid, and it inadvertently swept the ancient regime of the 20th century Republican presidential candidate to sea as well when the typhoon—and his typhoon of an advocate, the governor of New Jersey—affirmed the leadership of the Democratic President of the United States with his affection and gratitude.
But that’s how it goes in history. Superstorms of all kinds blow out the debris of the past and new infrastructures are demanded. Some are physical, some are political, cultural, social, economic, technological.
This issue of M is devoted to the Reboot that comes after the storm—when reassessment not only demands change but drives it. Baz Luhrmann has rebooted The Great Gatsby as a giant 3-D dream of the Jazz Age, something F. Scott Fitzgerald never could have guessed when he died in Hollywood in 1940. But it would have seemed natural to H.G. Wells—who in his novel Things to Come imagined new super-civilizations with massive three-dimensional projections following the wars and decimation of the 20th century. Jim Windolf interviews Tobey Maguire—the retired Spidey who has been remade as Gatsby’s confidante, Nick Carraway, and has rebooted himself as a kind of new tycoon of Hollywood. And Women’s Wear Daily’s fashion critic Bridget Foley analyzes the revisionist Jazz Age fashions designed by Catherine Martin—the director’s creative partner and wife—for the new movie. Michael Bloomberg, a mayor, media mogul, and billionaire, might have retired to horse farms or taught business at Johns Hopkins—but as the historian and political columnist Terry Golway discovers, national crises and issues seem to be spurring his rebooted ambition and driving him forward. Newsweek’s print edition folded in 2012, but Matthew Lynch goes inside its cultural replacement—the social media news website BuzzFeed that seems to be serving the needs of the next generation of information devourers.
There is not a sentient person alive who does not somehow feel that we are within a period of massive reassessment in the world. Some will clock it back to September 11—as Philip Weiss recalls in a personal essay—and some will chart it to the financial shudder that has rattled the world in the past few years. Some will chalk it up to the digital revolution.
And within our own focused field of expertise—men’s fashion is our business!—house after house has retooled—as Matthew Schneier points out in his essay on The Rebooters of Fashion. New designs and new uniforms for a new age.
The American historian Bernard Bailyn admired something that Kenneth Clark, the British art critic, had written differentiating between metropolitan and populist art in an essay called “Provincialism.” Metropolitan art, Clark wrote, becomes “repetitive, overrefined, academic, self-absorbed.” But “artists on the periphery introduce simplicity and common sense.”
Bailyn then weighed in. “The most successful provincial artists,” he wrote, “have the vigor of fresh energies; they are immersed in and stimulated by the ordinary reality around them.” They transcend their environments, he wrote, “by the sheer intensity of their vision, which becomes at the height of their powers, prophetic.”
We are all provincials these days, if we want to be. The digital and information culture has made each American voice on the periphery capable of transcending his or her environment and becoming—on an ongoing basis—prophetic. It is an almost terrifying onrush of information and change. And that is changing the culture—from fashion to politics to our internal clocks—faster than any of us can guess. Rather than decimating the analog culture, it has preserved it. But the digital culture has given us the potential to reassess almost everything in a moment and step into what Fitzgerald called “the orgastic future.” In this issue of M, we take a fast snapshot of the Rebooters, who are reinventing themselves and the culture with style, brio, and a new velocity of know-how.
— Peter W. Kaplan’s editor’s letter, M Spring 2013.
Tobey Maguire cover photo by Matthew Brookes