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We live in the era of mids
Unbeatable year-end reflection on the insult of our time, from your No. 1 “mids-free” sletter
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Wow — it’s late December, the sun’s low in the sky, and (for our Northern Hemispheric SpyFriends) the trees hath weepethed their autumnal foliage like so many tears of orange and purple flame, baby.
It’s a moment for reflection… A time to gather like dolphins in the blessed bioluminescent bay that is a Year-End Blackbird Spyplane Essay, gaze into the gloaming, and take stock of what happened, good & bad, in 2022.
To that point, though: Last year, how many things did you dismiss, or hear other people dismiss, as neither good nor bad — but mid ?
How many mid dishes hit the table when you were out at dinner? How many mid moments racked up on that vacation you finally took? How many TV shows did you hear lots of buzz about, so you tapped in, only to discover the s**t was “prestigiously mids” at best? How many mid gallery shows did you check out? How many mid designer collabs crossed yr feed? How many hotly anticipated albums did you listen to once, only to seal them in some mental “mids music” folder never to be heard from again? How many mid Avatar sequels did you see (trick question: no such thing, Avatar 2: The Way of Water is incredible!!!)
Somehow, “mids” has become the insult of our era. And as a wise man once put it (me, in the sentence you’re reading now), “If you want to truly understand an era, look at how people complain about it.” So why did we start calling everything mids — and what can the answer tell us about life?
Mid (and its interchangeable variant, mids) originated with our pot-smoking brothers & sisters as a term for weed strains that, on one hand, are not low-potency reggie, bammer, dirt or schwag, but aren’t high-THC loud, dro, sticky, or gas either.
Calling weed mid is often an implied pejorative, and its rise in usage among stoners reflects how — thanks to enormous leaps in weed-cultivation technology — the menu of high-potency options has become unimaginably bountiful. The once-common question of, “Yo does this weed I’m smoking suck s**t??” is largely moot. Smokers are hoping and able to get oblivion-level zooted, the bar has been raised, and the more-salient question now is, “Does this weed I’m chiefing produce anything less in me than a state of ‘total euphoric cataclysm’?”
All of which implies a state of plenty — i.e., there’s so much preposterously strong s**t out there that anything that approaches the merely average is a severe disappointment.
Over the past few years, though, people started to extrapolate the concept of mids beyond weed, applying it to all kinds of products, creations & experiences — not in reaction to a state of plenty, but in reaction to a choking blob of mediocrity. And this reached a saturation point in 2022.
For illustrative purposes, let’s take the example of TV. With weed, growers brought an abundance of unprecedentedly high-quality product to the market. With TV, the current model is bringing abundance to the market, period. When linear broadcasting started giving way to streaming platforms, execs went into a development frenzy, greenlighting tons of new shows & movies and buying up old “content libraries” in order to stock the yawning digital chasms. (I wrote a piece at the New York Times Magazine in 2019 about the streaming wars, here, which ended on a GRIMLY PROPHETIC note about corporate consolidation, growing risk-aversion, and imminent mids from Spyfriend Nick Weidenfeld.)
Meanwhile, on the scrappy, post-web-2.0 end of the spectrum, the increased availability of high-def cameraphones and video-editing tools meant that non-professional work could proliferate, and free, decentralized distribution platforms with massive user bases gave this work a shot at finding enormous audiences. There was a decline in the absolute power of “industry gatekeepers,” who still exist but can now be more easily bypassed than before.
These developments resulted in many good things, a few brilliant things, and a vast flood of mids. That’s ultimately what people are talking about when they refer to “the endless scroll” — a phenomenon that obviously exceeds TV. Whether you’re navigating the same handful of quasi-clever joke formats on Twitter; the same “Gunna type beat” copycats circulating on Soundcloud; the same competent but indistinct true-crime documentaries and “When did James Marsden, Jennifer Lawrence and O’Shea Jackson Jr. make this??”-type thrillers filling Netflix menus; or the same anodyne “Here’s what my day in middle-management at Deloitte was like” TikTok recaps, a major experience of looking at a screen these days is trying to find the bottom of a bottomless pit of mids.
As the TikTok example underscores, the self has become just one more artistic creation online, forged out of an agglomeration of publicly shared opinions, fit pics, quote-dunks, “performative” IG-infographic re-shares, etc. And the barriers are now lower not just when it comes to getting ourselves out there, but also when it comes to taking information in — including information about what is cool and popping. Ideas and trends travel farther and faster; communities of knowledgeable, opinionated obsessives are just a few clicks away; “tastemakers” broadcast intel about dope s**t far and wide, and so on...
And so, much the same way that an amateur sketch-comedy troupe’s YouTube videos can appear more professionally produced these days (even if the jokes themselves remain fundamentally mid), a clothes-curious-rando’s fit pic can be full of all the “right designers” (even if the fit is still mid as h*ll)…
Now, it’s a mathematical truism that most people are by definition mid. (Not anyone reading this, of course, you are the Mach 3+ “swagger angels” of Spy Nation.) But most of us would like to think of ourselves as exceptional. In that light, calling something or someone else mid in 2022 is a closely related status-war descendant of calling something or someone else basic ~10 years ago: It’s a breezily haughty (as opposed to an uncool, overly emotional, getting-mad-online) type way to position yourself as implicitly not-mid, by cutting “pretenders to high status” down to size. (Mid-size.)
BUT LET’S GET deeper … and reveal a sweeping multi-generational truth hiding in this topic:
I was out riding bikes the other day through beautiful rolling East Bay backroads with a buddy who grew up in the MIDwest 😉, and he mentioned that his boomer pops has always considered himself something of a sauce lord…
These days his dad is retired and wears sick old colorblocked rugby shirts and drinks coffee out of a Kokopelli mug. But he used to make it a point to dress nattily. For instance, my friend recalled, he’d periodically go into town to treat himself to “a new pair of shoes from Allen Edmonds.”
Allen Edmonds was probably always a mids brand, relative to the lower-end Cole Haans and Johnston & Murphys, and the higher-end Aldens and J.M. Westons or something (I’m not really a shoe guy). But today Allen Edmonds reads as powerfully mid in a way that it didn’t in, say, the ‘80s and ‘90s, because back then the bar for what constituted a “fancy brand” was way lower. (Low enough that, like, J. Crew, and Banana Republic were seen as high-end, as opposed to mid!!)
This is because — as distinct from the boomers — millennials came of “money-making age” right when the housing crash triggered a recession and, perversely, right when a PANOPLY of decadent new highs hit the market, designed to cater to the prerogatives and drain the finances of the burgeoning “creative class.” Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s there was like maybe one “fancy sushi place” tops in any given town, and you know their “chef’s deluxe sashimi combo” was, by today’s standards, mid as h*ll. There was no nation-spanning legion of farm-to-table restaurants — “fancy dining” meant going to a place like La Grenouille if you were balling and lived in the Tri-state area or, if you lived most other places, it meant going to a white-tablecloth spot with a name like “Pamplemousse” where they served a MIDS coq au vin on square plates. There was no Van Leeuwen or Jeni’s — if you wanted “gourmet” ice cream, yr a** had to hit the Häagen-Dazs !!
But by the end of the ‘00s into the 2010s, the income gap was broadening, the American middle class was shrinking and the social safety-net was disintegrating — depressing developments that, if we were a politics sletter, we’d blame on the policies of “Wack Ronald Reagan,” “Cursed Bill Clinton” and all subsequent “Demonic Presidents and Congresspeople” that perpetuated & sharpened those policies. And during this same period the ultra-high-end exploded across all kinds of consumer categories. Brooklyn was the punchline / global epicenter / patient-zero of this new “small-batch luxury” wave, sprouting mad “$18-craft-cocktail bars”; gourmet groceries; a widely clowned-on artisan mayonnaise shop; etc.
Interestingly, the #menswear boom occurred during this exact same time, and as the years went on — and as dudes with discretionary income got more comfortable with the idea of splashing out on J. Crew, then A.P.C., then Acne and Our Legacy, and so on — more and more new lines sprang up to sell designer clothes to the broskis at higher and higher price-points. As with weed, yesterday’s jawn highs (Allen Edmonds??) rapidly became today’s mids.
Now let’s get even deeper… then close this s**t out profoundly.
Boomers didn’t have dealers, much less dispensaries, where they could readily cop weapons-grade loud. They didn’t have three gourmet markets on every corner where they could cop jamon iberico flown in from Spain that morning. They didn’t have Porsche SUVs — in the ‘90s a Jeep Grand Cherokee was seen as a “top-notch” whip!! They didn’t have third-wave coffee spots, and they didn’t even have chocolate-chip cookies with sea salt on them.
Instead they had long, stable careers; robust savings accounts; diversified investment portfolios; viable paths to homeownership; and a materially and symbolically ingrained belief that a bright & comfortable future lay ahead of them. This helps explain affluent boomers’ die-hard belief in the patently mids politics of incrementalism. In 2020, when younger generations rallied en masse behind the candidate with the most economically transformative Democratic presidential platform in modern history, boomers with “Any Functioning Adult 2020” yard signs threw their weight behind the guy whose no. 1 selling point was an explicit assurance that “nothing will fundamentally change” — in other words, a promise that he was mids.
It’s a core Spyplane tenet that unique, ingenious, idiosyncratic, fire s**t is very cool. Amazing things deserve to be celebrated and cherished, and “we can and should do better,” as a culture, than settle for swagless, characterless, joyless, mass-market mids. Lots of the highs that have hit the market, over the past decade, in other words, are things that, in a vacuum, we’re happy exist.
But millennials and zoomers, on balance, do not live in the same world boomers and many Gen X-ers do, and so they do not encounter these highs in a vacuum — they encounter them in the economy as currently configured, which is to say, stacked increasingly in favor of the ultra-rich. The bottom is dropping out for more and more people, particularly younger people — even relatively privileged ones — and with it, their sense of the future is dimming.
When you start to lose faith in the prospect of a viable future, you clear space inside yourself for (among other things) a fatalist, “f**k it we ball” ethos: No mids, highs only.
And if society refuses to give you much besides constant precarity, you might reasonably start to regard stability and security as mid. No, you don’t have much $$ in your savings account, and owning a home might be laughably out of reach, but if you manage to squirrel away ~$3k you can flex on these lames and (November 2021 voice) buy yrself a couple NFTs of 8-bit cartoon raccoons and chimpanzees driving DeLoreans — or, if you are not a massive dork, you can book one night off-season at Post Ranch for you and bae. If you manage to sock away another $1.5k you can haul yr s**t there not in some mids-a** timeline-brand suitcase, but in a Rimowa joint. If you post an IG story of the Big Sur views from yr windowseat with the suitcase positioned just so in the frame?? You stand a good chance at many DMs telling you to “GO OFF KING 😮💨😮💨😮💨”
If that sounds bleak, it’s because it is. Seen at its darkest, you could say that the aversion to mids and hunger for highs reflects a growing sense that time is running out: That before long, there will be no more highs, and no more mids, either, just unknowably h*llish lows, so let’s get it in while we can.
Far be it from this brilliant yet deeply humble sletter to purport to know the way forward, but we know this much: If humanity is indeed on a downward spiral, there’s no such thing as buying your way off. There is no meaningful individual escape-pod available for purchase, not even for the ultra-rich. “Moonsteading” and its assorted Elysium-a** variants are stupid: abject cynicism about the future dressed up as techno-utopianism, and cynicism, however tempting or even rational it might sometimes seem, is corny. Who, besides weird freaks, really wants to give up Earth for fantasies of life on a space colony, or “the metaverse,” or life in any other kind of hermetically sealed bubble? Earth is impossibly beautiful. Space and bubbles are sort of beautiful, too, but living in them would be (best-case scenario) mids!!
Contrary to what the contemporary consumer culture tells us — rolling out app after app and product after product designed to make us think that staying inside by ourselves is what’s up — isolation diminishes joy and breeds depression. Whereas nature & fellowship amplify joy exponentially.
When you think about it that way, maybe the aversion to mids and hunger for highs will be be what ultimately drives things to a better place. Because stagnant, defeated acquiescence to an increasingly immiserated status quo = textbook mids. Whereas JOY is the ultimate high, and life contains too much joy for us to ever stop imagining cooler, more-joyous futures — and then fighting them into existence.
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