Growing up, I heard about “pinning” as part of family history. When a fraternity boy really likes-slash-loves a sorority girl, he pins her. The girl gets pinned. It’s a big deal, a commitment. You don’t pin just anybody. On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to remove a pin than a ring. Pinning is provisional.
The verb (okay, gerund) came to my attention again recently in a different, or perhaps not-so-different context. Pinterest is a fast growing company that has raised $27 million in venture capital. It was the topic of a social media synch I attended earlier today at The Grove in New Haven. Pinterest is a virtual pinboard where people can put up images they really like-slash-love and share them with the world.
Pinterest offers a framework that can effectively nourish cultures of enthusiasm because it weds visual response with curatorial impulse. One can put together a view inside the mind’s eye, and see what others have in theirs.
A few observations thus far:
There is a hilariously defensive quality to the company’s assertion that Pinterest isn’t just for women. It seems most men hear about it through their wives and/or girlfriends, and have been slower to set up their own accounts. This may seem counterintuitive since we are fed the notion that “men are more visual.” But that has to do with visual consumption. Within the world of Pinterest, yes, one is gazing, but you don’t need an account to gaze. With an account, you’re mainly arranging for The Gaze, inviting it, creating various displays for other gazers to enjoy. While men are destined to catch on to the usefulness of this form of visual exchange, perhaps the viral message waiting to be spawned within the meterosexual fraternity with regard to Pinterest could be “Just because I pinned it and you liked it, doesn’t mean you’re gay.”
Meanwhile, at-home-moms are in Pinterest heaven. It’s such an easy way to display the sensualities of domestic production. A close-up of watermelon slices cut into star-shapes, arranged on a platter near a plastic pail and shovel: this is an image that says not only “summer” but “guess who shapes the experience of summer for an entire family? ME, that’s who!” It doesn’t matter if you, yourself actually sliced that melon. This is the world you aspire to produce.
Attracting followers in this context becomes a satisfying way to tag The Gaze and see it quantified in one’s direction based on visual, not verbal content. “I see you seeing me; and I love that you see me loving what I love.” There is a purity to this kind of narcissistic display and response. It’s fun!
Picture mingling at a cocktail party where you don’t have to chit-chat. That’s Pinterest.
It can also be experienced as an antilogue to blogging. In the collective consciousness that is the Internet, blogs are like egos. One is self-consciously putting thoughts “out there” through narrative discourse aimed at intellectual exchange. One’s Pinterest boards, on the other hand, are perhaps more akin to the id, a fluid pool of images to be sorted, grouped and re-grouped based on easily-shiftable categories and visual appetites. What you “pin” is intuitive and non-linear. For the moment, in this early stage, it defies any story but Gaze -Want-Grab, and that is what makes it so seductive.
This seems like a platform for raw, authentic experience, but we know that cameras can be tools for obscuring rather than revealing. Visual curation focused on polished moments of perfection will no doubt invite rebels and party-crashers setting up pinboards depicting medical oddities, items recovered from dryer lint, pimples needing to be popped… the Martha Stewarts won’t rule Pinterest for long.
I picked up a nifty little book at a tag sale in Brooklyn called “Punk Shui, ” by Josh Amatore Hughes. Published in 2006, the subtitle is “Home Design for Anarchists.” My Pinterest account to-be will be dedicated to Josh, who says things like:
“…inspiration is not some warm and fuzzy impressionistic painting print that you got at Barnes & noble – it can be gritty, nasty, weird, and completely unique to you.” pg 152
“It’s not a secret that holidays were created to sell crap…I advocate partying for no reason in particular…Have some dignity.” pp 198-99
“use punk shui anywhere to embrace the innate chaos of life…basically we’re looking for anything that would disturb someone with OCD…use someone you know who has OCD as a punk shui meter.” p 203
“The cliched innate need to belong is nothing when compared to the alive feeling you have when you’re original.” p231
The best fraternities/sororities to socialize with, in my experience, are the ones composed of misfits who feel they don’t belong anywhere else. The most interesting stuff happens in their company. Sam Wagstaff, the famous art collector and curator (see film Black, White + Grey) knew and lived this. Like me, he escaped the world of debutantes and fled toward underground art scenes. Incidentally, he had an early thing for photographs, paying record prices when they were hardly even considered art by the likes of Sotheby’s, though later the Getty jumped at the chance to purchase his collection. He understood the power of photographs in aggregate to construct dreamworlds from scores of frozen, fleeting moments. He was the embodiment of Pinterest, in slo-mo. We can all be Wagstaffs now.
He and his partner Robert Mapplethorpe both died of AIDS in – guess when – the 1980s. It is sad to me that there aren’t more culturally understood and appreciated forms of provisional commitment. There should be WAY more public ways to show the world you you like-slash-love someone – and have the world respond – besides marrying them and/or leaving them your collection of American silver.
Hmm…I wonder if people will start to say, “I’m Pinterested in him/her…”? Welp, that would mean, wouldn’t it, “he/she’s important to me, but not all-important.” I’ve pinned that person onto the corkboard of my heart. Yeah.
The moral of this latest fad for me is we should make a punk game out of like-slash-loving, not a stiff, gender role-based ritual. Have fun being selective but inclusive, making provisional commitments. Love hard, share loves enthusiastically, record them for posterity… if a company can make some money off nurturing visual cultures of enthusiasm, well, that’s okay, isn’t it? Guess we’ll see if it can.
Meanwhile (yes this is one of my favorite words!), just know – with that tingling kind of body-knowledge beyond words – that this is our chance to gaze, our chance to curate the mind’s eye, our chance to make a scene. Meanwhile, it’s also true that over-treasuring of fleeting moments can freeze them way too quickly. I guess, all in all, it’s like my friend Rob says. “Look, but don’t stare.” Good advice for cocktail parties and spending time on Pinterest.