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The Whippet: #78: Eigengrau

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Good morning!

The text below is from the Wikipedia page on the serial killer film Seven. It's a peak example of the way the words 'authentic' and 'raw' are used to describe horrible depressing things, and never light fluffy things. As though light fluffy things don't exist, as though awful things are somehow more 'real' than pleasant things.

I think it comes from an underlying instinct that if someone is being nice to you, they might be lying, but if someone is being mean, they must be telling the truth, because what would be the point of lying about that? How would that flatter or make you feel better?*

But look at that paragraph - it's describing an enormous amount of effort, and contrivance, and manipulation, and chemical processing of the film stock to make the setting look depressing and dirty - which they then describe as 'authentic and raw' - raw meaning unprocessed. Clearly that's not authentic! They decided on a tone they wanted, and then they worked hard to make the film look that way!

And Seven is a film about some really over-the-top theatrical murders based on the Seven Deadly Sins. It has nothing in common with any known serial killer who's ever lived. There is, and I can't stress this enough, nothing authentic about it.

That's not a criticism of the film by the way - deciding on a visual tone and then working hard to achieve it is a good thing for a film-maker to do.

I'm criticising the unthinkingness with which Fincher equates the word 'authentic' with 'depressing and violent' - and he does it because that's the way our how whole culture uses the word.

"Oppressive rain that falls without respite" is no more authentic than a bright blue sky with a few puffy white clouds lazily sailing by. They're both legit skies that happen.

* I have another theory that this is why negging, the Pick-Up Artist technique of insulting women, does work a little. Not because women like to be insulted, but because we think it's a sign that at least they're honest, and so a compliment delivered later is more believable. It's not gender-specific.

Eigengrau: the colour you see when it's 'pitch black'

Because "because contrast is more important to the visual system than absolute brightness", when there's no light at all, the blackness 'looks' less dark than, say, a clear night with visible stars. (Remembering that what you see isn't what's there, it's the image your brain creates for you, which is based on what's there but is also your brain filling in a bunch of gaps and making various assumptions - that's how optical illusions work.) Wikipedia

Eigengrau (German for 'own grey' or 'intrinsic grey') is also called 'dark light' and 'brain grey'.

Actually timeless style (or 'people don't wear opera gloves anymore, sorry')

People often refer to Audrey Hepburn as having 'timeless style' but a lot of her iconic outfits are pretty distinctly of their time. Not saying she doesn't look good, saying she doesn't look timeless - it's not normal to wear opera gloves and tiaras to brunch.

Reddit user u/ElephantTeeth put together an album of clothes that fit guidelines like:

  1. Would it be acceptable to wear this if you time-traveled to any random point* in the last 60 years?
  2. Is it difficult to tell which decade of fashion this outfit is from?

* in North America/Western Europe

For example:

(Francoise Hardy, and it's from the 60s).

It's not perfect - there's a pair of high-waisted pants that were considered stylish in the 70s and today, but would have looked super daggy in the 90s/00s. (Her earlier version of the album had a lot of capri pants - same deal.)

Anyway, it's a fun game to try and guess the decade of each photo before reading the text.

Noting again that timeless doesn't always equal good: one commenter said "I don’t really see the motivation of wanting to put together timeless outfits when they sort of just end up as plain outfits of made up of basics." - anything exuberant is probably going to date, and that's fine.

(Also gosh there was not a lot of body diversity in models of decades past, it's kind of eerie, like those Stalin-era photos where the purged politicians have been removed from the background. WHERE ARE ALL THE OTHER WOMEN? ARE THEY OKAY??)

Bioburden - super important concept to understand

The bioburden of an object is the number of micro-organisms on it
(bacteria, viruses, etc). (For the purposes of this, we're talking about bacteria etc. that's harmful to humans.)

The key thing is that almost nothing is totally sterile - it's a matter of degree. When a doctor disinfects a wound, there is no expectation that it will kill all the bacteria. The aim is to reduce the bioburden so it's low enough for your immune system to deal with. You've probably heard that all dollar bills have e.coli on them, and stuff like that - but they have a very low bioburden so there's no risk of you developing an actual infection.

People tend to have a sort of 'purity' attitude to exposure to disease.

Like, you hug a friend and then say "oh god, sorry, I have a cold right now, I shouldn't have hugged you" and they say "oh well, too late now" and don't take any further precautions to avoid catching your cold. Because they see exposure to infection as a binary, yes/no situation.

I mean, people do this with a LOT of things - thinking that eating one unhealthy thing 'ruins' the whole day so they may as well eat unhealthy for the rest of the day.

Almost all risks increase with repeated or longer exposure to the risk. If you've accidentally been exposed to a risk once, it's still worth it to intervene and stop there. It would be so nice and relaxing if that wasn't true, if it really was 'too late' and you could just give up. But six cigarettes are more dangerous than one. Higher bioburden is harder for your body to deal with than a low bioburden. Things aren't irrevocably tainted and it still matters what you do next.

Ramen illustrations

by Victoria Joh

Unsolicited Advice

A way to soothe yourself when you're frustrated that someone is being terrible at their job

in a way that is making your life harder. The first way, you probably already know it, is to remind yourself that they might be having a really hard day, maybe they have just received terrible news about a loved one and their mind is not on the job.

That works pretty well and is definitely the ideal. But it can be harder when the person is a) in some sort of ongoing situation with you, so it's definitely not just one bad day, and b) in a job that makes a lot more money than your job, so it's hard to have as much sympathy.

Like if a waitress forgets your order, it's pretty easy not to get mad about it. But if you're the waitress, and a real estate agent loses every letter you send them and doesn't organise repairs for three months, and sends the repair person to the wrong house when they finally do organise it, when you took work off (unpaid) to make sure you'd be home to let them in... yeah. Not so easy.

So what I do in these situations is think to myself: well, a certain percentage of the population is always going to be bad at their jobs. How high a percentage might depend on how cynical you're feeling. But clearly it's not going to be 0%, that would be absurd to expect. So if it has to be someone... at least they're just a real estate agent . At least this person isn't a surgeon, or an air traffic controller, or a firefighter, or a hazardous materials remover. If a certain % of the population has to be bad at their jobs, I should feel lucky it's just this guy, and not someone with actual lives in their hands.

I don't know if that will help you, but it helps me calm down and adopt a more c'est la vie attitude.

("But what if it WAS a surgeon or firefighter who was terrible at their job?" I dunno, I think you're probably just allowed to be real mad about it.)

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