The case against "perfect" jawns
The PERILS of "optimization mindset" when it comes to getting off these Mach 3+ fits
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“PERFECT jawns” — do they exist? Marketing departments and W*recutter-type MFs are constantly telling us that they do, no matter what the jawn in question might be… This brand makes the perfect sunscreen… THESE are the best jeans… We found the 5 very best oscillating fans…
^ You see this kind of framing pop up all over the place, from swagless D.T.C. timeline-brand ads to “respectable” publications’ shopping verticals. Its basic allure is that people feel overwhelmed by all the products available to us, we fear that hucksters are everywhere trying to HOODWINK us into copping SUBPAR S**T, and as a result we yearn for some crystal-clear signal to ring out at us in “perfect pitch,” cutting thru all the noise….
Blackbird Spyplane — which many people have called “God’s perfect sletter” — delivers a crystal-clear signal in perfect pitch every d*mn time we smash “send.” We’ve probably called some fire s**t “the greatest” here and there ourselves … BUT despite our perfection, we view the marketing fetish around supposedly “perfect” things with SUSPICION, and think that it risks breeding an “optimized” mentality toward jawns specifically that is WACK and UNHEALTHY —
So we decided to dedicate one of our patented “perfect profound philosophical ruminations” to the subject…
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“This is the perfect / best [BLANK]” rhetoric is often deployed to help move mundane consumer goods of the sort that people don’t get much joy from thinking about (or using), but which we nonetheless find ourselves needing to buy… The typical sell is either that 1) yes, most air purifiers / laptop cases / tea steepers / socks / etc. are boring as f**k, but this version is sexy, or 2) yes, all air purifiers / toasters / socks / etc. are irreducibly boring, but if you get this OPTIMIZED execution of the boring thing then U can stop thinking about air filters / tea steepers / socks / etc. and turn yr thoughts to more exciting s**t.
“Optimization mindset” absolutely makes sense if you are doing, like, city planning, or mapping out fire exits in a skyscraper, or deciding which life-changing dope-joints newsletter to pay a mere $5/month for. It makes some sense if yr talking about, like, what toaster to cop — yr toast will be fine with a cheap department-store house-brand joint but, fine, splurge on the “best” Dualit and never brick a tartine again, player! And I truly love “optimization mindset” when it comes to highly arcane / mundane s**t that most people don’t think about at all, like, I don’t know, paperclips: Someone who cares so deeply about optimal paperclipping that they search far and wide for a better-performing paperclip and maybe even tries to design their own “perfect” paperclip instead of just copping a box of 200 generic joints from St*ples is living on an exalted plane of attentiveness and obsession that I fear & respect.
A more elevated version of this: years ago, Erin and I and our buddy George got hooked up w/ a private tour of Donald Judd’s loft in Soho (this was before any old schmoe could make a reservation, please trust and believe that THE SPYPLANE IS NOT REGULAR!!)
Inside, every square centimeter had seemingly been checked against and, if needed, tweaked to align with Judd’s OPTIMAL specifications, from the boxy pine dining-room chairs (each slightly different from the others and cut to sit perfectly flush with the dining-room table) to the bottoms of the walls (which “float” with a gap of a few inches above the floorboards, as is the convention in art galleries) to the compellingly confrontational placement of a staggered Dan Flavin sculpture along a wall of windows in Judd’s bedroom …
As with the imaginary paperclips obssessive, this is a case where “optimization mindset” translates to an enviably thoughtful & sensitive attention to detail — to deep thoughts about how spaces and objects come together and how they might be tweaked to make the people who interact with them happier — and in a way that feeds the imagination, rather than deadening it. After ~90 minutes inside Judd’s cribbo, I walked back out into the city with fresh eyes, noticing, appreciating and reconsidering all kinds of seemingly “invisible” elements of the built environment, from curb height to stop-sign design…
How much sense optimization mindset makes in other contexts is highly debatable, though. And yet — perhaps because work eats up more and more of our time, compelling us to chase extreme efficiency in everything we do, even leisure — the drive to optimize has wormed its way into untold facets of life. In the food world, the chef and author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt became a (semi-controversial) phenomenon because he explicitly approaches cooking from the perspective of a rigorous optimizer, applying exhaustively documented tests, tweaks and chemistry-based “food-hacking” techniques to his recipes for “perfect” chocolate chip cookies and “perfect” cheeseburgers.
The promise with Kenji’s recipes (and those of his many imitators) is that by following them to a T you can SLICE THRU all the potential for error lurking in a home kitchen and deliver delicious, predictable, repeatable, perfect results…
To which Kenji’s detractors ask, Where’s the room for discovery, improvisation, imagination and ARTISTRY, dog?? I profiled Kenji a few years ago for New York (cooking a ton of tasty s**t from his hit cookbook The Food Lab along the way), and I think he does treat “Optimization Mindset” as a springboard for discovery and improvisation.
But the anger and disdain he provokes points to a powerful tension between our reverence for the “optimal” and our reverence for the “magical.” I think this is a tension worth respecting, because if you swing too hard toward the "optimized” end of the spectrum you wind up slurping S*ylent, a “perfect” meal in only the most perverse and joylessly pragmatic sense of the word: food for people who seem to hate food.
Since Blackbird Spyplane is in the business of recommending INGENIOUS FIRE S**T — and since readers sometimes write in asking us to recommend the “perfect” chino or “perfect” hiking pant or “perfect” heavyweight hoodie — we’ve had jawn-optimization mindset on the brain for a minute, and we were happy to see Blackbird SpyFriend Rachel Tashjian address it in her sletter Opulent Tips a couple weeks ago…
Rachel wrote about her fear that, when applied to clothes, optimization mindset was stifling desire — wild, unkempt, intoxicated, head-over-heels desire — and she BEMOANED a tendency among some jawns enthusiasts to approach clothes-copping as merely “a series of problems to solve,” instead of an invitation to surprise & irrationality: “I JUST WANT A MATTRESS THAT ISN’T A THOUSAND DOLLARS AND FEELS FINE-style thinking has invaded not only products,” she wrote, “but the art of shopping and the very act of wanting.”
In other words, Rachel was saying, “Miss me with that CASPER-MATTRESS-A** LOGIC when it comes to these FIRE JAWNS, CHIEF, I’m trying to browse RACKS full of OPULENT CREATIONS with a HEADY disregard for practicality, baby!!”
This message resonates… After I posted a screenshot from Rachel’s ‘sletter to IG, I heard from a bunch of ppl weighing in on the perniciousness of “jawn-optimization mindset,” including a shop owner who messaged me to say, “THANK YOU — I rant about this all the time. So many guys buy clothes like they’re power tools, comparing specs, over-optimizing features and use-cases they will never use — and they lose all sense of imagination.”
Blackbird Spyplane is a pro-imagination newsletter, but we are also pro-positivity, so we will not name names as far as some of the Casper-a** clothesmakers out there, whose s**t bums us out precisely because it has been so putatively “optimized” that it’s lost ALL character beyond some vague & milquetoast aura of “clean, contemporary design.”
True perfection contains weirdness, whereas this is “perfection” with the edges shaved off (and the “scalability” and profit margins maxed out to VC-pleasing levels). The resulting jawns can be ugly, but calling them “ugly” is too charitable, because at least ugliness implies risk-taking and the possibility of SNEAKY JAWN GENIUS!
Rather than “call out” these optimized jawns themselves, let’s focus on remedying the “optimizing mindset” they encourage.
At bottom, the marketing-abetted notion of “the perfect jawn” preys on a deep dissatisfaction engineered into us by the machinery of our consumer culture — a hyper-abundance of products that, paradoxically, leaves us feeling HUNGRY & INCOMPLETE, creating the feeling in us of a bottomless void that, by design, can never be filled, because the moment we feel fulfilled is the moment the entire machine breaks down. Against this backdrop, some direct-to-consumer countertop-water-filter slinger (or a magazine that earns commissions off links to D.T.C. countertop-water-filter slingers) tries to convince you that this “perfect” water filter will satisfy you, so deeply and lastingly, that u will be FREED from the treadmill.
This can be true-ish in some cases, to some degree... Yr boy actually did cop a Dualit toaster with credit-card points 7 years ago, and with that purchase I got the F**K off the toaster treadmill POSTHASTE.
But to apply that same logic to fire jawns — “I SWEAR I’m gonna stop thinking about sweaters once I finally cop the ‘perfect’ one!“ — is to FOOL YRSELF about the essential nature of desire, the only cure for which is frequent and heartfelt affirmations of gratitude for Mother Earth’s nurturing abundance, shout out to the Haudenosaunee “Thanksgiving Address”:
Also?? To apply “optimization mindset” to fire jawns is to risk EMPTYING your relationship to clothing of all whimsy, idiosyncrasy, artfulness, fecund-mistake-making and, ultimately, FUN.
Go too far down that path and pretty soon U will be stocking yr JAWN PANTRY w/ top-to-bottom S*ylent instead of getting FREAKY at the JAWN STOVETOP with some farmers market quality jawngredients, cultivating and luxuriating in that flick-of-the-wrist JAWN NE SAIS QUOI while you chef up a SPICY FIT!!
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