post-ironic nihilist catholics vs. sincere consumerist DMT trippers
(CHOOSE UR FIGHTER, AMERICA)
For those who don’t know: being Catholic is cool now. (At least if you’re extremely online and/or a regular at the Manhattan bar Clandestino.) While some rosary-toting scenesters are reclaiming childhoods spent in Cathechism class, others had Bat Mitzvahs and others never had any religious affiliation at all growing up. But the sincerity of the Catholic rising is irrelevant. As James Duesterberg points out in The Point:
the performative element of this political aesthetic is not hidden. It misses the point to say that these people aren’t really reactionaries or traditionalists. You don’t have to believe in the truth of the rituals of culture for them to have an effect [...] They were not “faking” their beliefs but mythologizing their lives.
The impulse to mythologize one’s life is easily achieved through religion. We can give our internal struggles meaning by calling them “spiritual awakenings.” We become part of a greater community by adopting its symbols, rituals and merch. (In America, no ideology is official until it has merch. See: Jesus fish bumper stickers, pussy hats, MAGA caps) And for downtown, post-ironic Catholicism, the merch is baseball caps that read “God’s Favorite” or bikinis with “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” printed across high touch points, made by a brand called Praying.
Praying — the (un) official brand of New York’s downtown, post-ironic Catholics — makes “spiritual” clothing that doesn’t require any abandonment of ego or body. In fact, a singular, sexy body (usually white, always very thin) is positioned as the pathway to transcendence. The Praying website encourages visitors to “protect your mortal husk” while listing the number of customers “saved.”
Clothing features phrases like “I’ll talk to God when I’m dead,” “Main Character,” and “God’s Favorite.” The website is littered with references to Ukrainian pharma giant Darnitsa, (what might be) a story about someone’s mom dying in the hospital, and testimonials like “PRAYING has not only allowed me to feel whole but experience truth.”
“In terms of intellectualizing the brand, we just liked the idea of putting messages on clothes that have unclear, multiple meanings, and presenting them clearly,” one of Praying’s co-founders, Skylar Newman, told Vogue. “Generally, the message has more than one meaning or reference. Some people see the messages as ironic, and some people see them being serious.”
This is a leading philosophy of Downtown Catholicism: the burden of interpretation is put upon the audience. It is a refusal to define oneself, at least not by old methods.Whether the messages are ironic or not, they obviously speak to a transcendental yearning. Praying’s spirituality is a new kind of asceticism: If I rid my mortal husk of any conviction, I might see god. I might escape pain. It’s a pathway that recognizes the utter bullshit of attempting meaningful communication through capitalist materialism. And yet, it’s a self-congratulatory and alienating position. (Just scroll through the comments on their IG for proof.)
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the trendy L.A. answer to Praying is Online Ceramics. Aesthetically, the similarities between the two brands are striking. Not only does the Online Ceramics website also speak a spiritual language (“deep gratitude for your support Jai Ma!”), it is also defined by a lo-fi Geocities nostalgia.
Online Ceramics (whose office is in the shadow of Dodger Stadium) was started by two Deadheads from Ohio who say things like, “This potato is laced with DMT, it’s an interesting object,” and drop collabs with the likes of Ram Dass’ Love Serve Remember Foundation and Heaven by Marc Jacobs.
The brand is, arguably, more death-obsessed than Praying. There are countless t-shirts proclaiming messages like “Anything as universal as death must be a blessing” or “Dying is like taking off a very tight shoe.” However, unlike Praying, Online Ceramics uses memento mori as a site for ego death, kindness and celebration of Planet Earth. There’s a sense of wonder and joy and utter silliness at the brand’s heart. They produce tie-dye t-shirts with maxims like “We must activate our capability to release our alter egos” or “How do you pretend to be human? Alcohol, music and art or do you need nothing” or “Don’t be a Fossil Fool.”
Whereas Praying won’t tell you whether or not its messages are sincere, Online Ceramics will grab you and tell you that they’ve seen the answer (while on DMT at a Grateful Dead show) and the answer was: be kind, laugh, ur gonna die. Then they’ll run to the printing press to make more t-shirts to tell more people. But the brand’s messages of ego death and conservation (which I do think are good-intentioned) are swallowed by its capitalist pursuits. I have to ask how much you actually care about climate change when you tell the New York Times that you’re considering outsourcing your production to China to save costs. I have to wonder how invested you are in releasing your alter ego when you tell the newspaper about that time you made $25,000 in a day.
Please forgive me if I turn snarky while considering the spirituality in this sector of fashion. It’s infuriating to look at these two brands and see how the forces that hold them back from something radical and profound are the same forces that hold us all back. Praying cannot leave behind the self and Online Ceramics cannot abandon capital gain. But if we could somehow integrate Praying’s hard-won knowledge that capitalism eats sincerity with Online Ceramics’ self-awakening from their last DMT trip, we might be able to create a new bicoastal ideology, one that proclaims identity-driven consumption is a meaningless and futile pursuit.
Despite believing this…why do I still feel the compulsion to buy Online Ceramics? Why do I want to wear Praying? It is not just a desire to prove my cultural relevancy through a socially-approved knowing. It’s the fact that despite my knowledge that this is all complete and utter bullshit, I want to benefit from knowing how to play the game. I want people to know that at least I’m, like, a hip objector. I still haven’t fully stepped outside the compulsion to have an identity and the compulsion to communicate it. I still care about those dumb things.
But I know that t-shirts that tell the world what we believe are a joke. (Thanks, Praying.) I also know that the world is a magical place that we can change through our existence. (Thanks, OC.)
I’m not saying that we need to immediately create a world outside of capital and materialism. (Every attempt to do so quickly turns into a weird cult, which turns into a hit Netflix documentary.) It’s impossible to create new ways of life overnight. But by slowly and steadily increasing our investment in modes of being and communicating outside of these faulty spaces, we make our first shaky steps toward utopia.
If one of you ballbags puts that on a t-shirt, I’m going to scream.
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Choose your fighter: irony or sincerity