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Endless Details

2019.03.20 09:58
關鍵詞:VANCL style Contemporary mass culture
Nearly every detail becomes a nerve ending for the capitalist system of production and consumption, just as VANCL products take advantage of the proliferation of VANCL style, which has been etched into everyone’s memories Sooner or later, the excess of “VANCL style” will become “VANCL annoyance,” causing those who were once captivated by it to loose all interest


Endless Details[1]  

by LENG Jia Shanghai Normal University
Front. Lit. Stud. China 2014, 8(2): 347-357; DOI 10.3868/s010-003-014-0019-5

 

I love going on and on about things. I’ll tell you whatever I love: if I love it I’ll shout “love it, love it, love it”, or if I don’t I’ll shout “hate it, hate it, hate it.” Please believe that people will always love genuine creativity in advertisements. I am not some over-the-top vitamin drink[2] or a certain annoyingly repetitive commercial[3]—I am VANCL style.

 

Not bad, using “VANCL style” (fanke ti 凡客體) to define “VANCL style”—this was the most eye-catching advertising campaign of the latter half of 2010. This line of ads from the internet-based clothing retailer VANCL also touched off the most popular style of writing on the internet, with the younger generation taking it as a model for personified description. By now, however, the height of its popularity has already come and gone, while new styles have continued to spring up and follow suit—the “explosive style” (paoxiao ti) using lots of exclamation marks, the cutesy “taobao.com style” (taobao ti), the “Smurf style” (lanjingling ti) riffing on the Smurf theme song—continuously allowing netizens to discover new outlets for their abundance of creativity. Lovers of VANCL have shown that the ads have given them certain expectations for reading, hoping that after “love love love” they’ll continue to see new things. Luckily, the company has kept up its hard work and not disappointed fans. It has continued to put out a series of its dubious testimonials, including a sappy monologue from the widely mocked pop star Huang Xiaoming, in which he

encourages everyone to persevere.[4] Just recently, the company came out with another masterpiece, which caused fans to go wild. Centering around a certain kind of product, ad, or vision of life, disparate spheres of contemporary society are fusing together to create a distinct type of cultural impact. Perhaps this is the more profound and enduring result of VANCL style.

For now, though, we won’t discuss this “masterpiece.” Language is said to be a vehicle of culture, so the preponderance of this sort of web-based language and interaction, which clearly departs from traditional modes of expression, is actually establishing a new type of cultural atmosphere. If words that imitate clumsy pronunciations, such as zhongme (腫麼, meaning zenme 怎麼),[5] meizhi (妹紙, meaning meizi 妹子),[6] and saonian (騷年, meaning shaonian 少年),[7] become standard set-phrases on the internet, then perhaps VANCL style should be regarded as a classical literary example of the “new culture”—or in other words, the poetry of a generation.

A child has told me that in class the teacher taught them to write in VANCL style. When I was young, we were taught to write in the “Yang Shuo style,”[8] which unfortunately cultivated in us a preference for a polished succinctness that sounded profound and grandiose. Although today students often study literary patterns, they don’t ever quite reach this mark of pigheadedness in their thought. But, now that VANCL style has entered the scene and become a part of modern education, what will the intellectual consequences be?

When writing in VANCL style, the most important thing to do first is find a string of key “feeling” words. They can’t be too abstract and should ideally consist of either material things or emotionally evocative details, trivial yet appropriate; if a bit of cool indifference is added which mocks the mainstream, it’s even better. So, you could say that writing in VANCL style is both simple and profound. Randomly gather together some key words, put them in the online “VANCL style generator” tool, and you can create the perfect VANCL text. If you want to design an outstanding one with an original flair, however, it will depend upon the selection and careful consideration of individual words and details, just like Han Han’s testimonial: “I love the web, I love freedom. I love sleeping in, I love night markets. I love car racing, and I love 29-yuan T-shirts....” A first-rate VANCL text like this is a kaleidoscope of words, a representation of the internet which is simply an endless string of seemingly unrelated details.

But what sort of world of meaning is this? The spokespeople for VANCL say this is an advertisement with an attitude that promotes an efficient, meaningful, carefree, and environmentally friendly lifestyle. With these several adjectives, “efficient” and “environmentally friendly” qualify the products themselves, while “meaningful” and “carefree” are more like descriptions of a lifestyle. Actually, this attitude does not necessarily have any relationship with the nature of the products, but it is extremely important for increasing the added-value of the brand name as well as the degree of consumer identification with the product. Of course, the two words “meaningful” and “carefree” paired together by themselves don’t mean much, making it difficult to clearly identify a certain lifestyle. This ambiguity, however, marks the brilliance of advertising and mass culture: only in this way can there be sufficient space to accommodate and synthesize different memories and experiences.

We thus discover that this state of ambiguity is the mainstream society in which businesses and products have placed themselves. Businesses use modern advertising methods to react sensitively to the consumer environment, and advertisements borrow poetic rhetoric to artistically dress-up mainstream society, giving mass culture the appearance of an independently-minded, individualistic culture. The conclusive statement “I am something something something” indicates a modern person of depth, but creating this sort of modern profundity is not an idealistic beckoning of the individual, nor is it the individual turning to and identifying with an already existing moral intellectual system. No, it is none of these. Ever since the 1980s, more and more people have felt that, in regard to the individual, these sorts of large-scale patterns are too external and estranged. Everyday life is borne out of the accumulation of innumerable details, and it is only those specific, emotive details that can demonstrate the true, ordinary self. The general public’s sensitivity and attention to details has become a new sort of tradition of mainland Chinese life since the 1980s. Colored by this new sense of tradition and inundated with VANCL ads, in 2010 netizens latched onto this “poetry of details” and wildly set about quoting it, rewriting it, and spreading it, while the VANCL company believes that all their ads allow everyone without exception to “feel the loneliness and warmth of an era.”

Of course, in this period of online activity in which “everyone is having their way with VANCL style,” the most interesting creations are those which poke fun at celebrities and others in the spotlight. In one ad, for example, the actor Ge You glibly says that “the result is really quite serious—I’m not some sheng you or bu you, I’m Ge You....”[9] In another, Tang Jun mocks Westerners by saying, “I love to copy, I hate to paste—I’m not Tang Jun; they call me Jun Tang....”[10] Steve Jobs had a more artistic manner, stating that he “likes perfection, yet uses a damaged logo....” While the images of these famous people who have been given over to VANCL style are not exactly dignified, but rather more like Facebook, the general public—all authors themselves—feel as if they’ve found a form of expression which particularly suits their own lives, including what they like, dislike, laugh at and ridicule. All of this comes easily from a pastiche of details which keeps the public endlessly amused. On forums everywhere, the cranky voices of netizens could be found asking: “Everyone’s obsessed with VANCL style—WTF?”[11]

An obsession like this is a kind of choice, as well as a kind of abandon. According to the character Mark’s pearls of wisdom in the film Trainspotting, 

 

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television; choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth....[12]

 

This is certainly a storehouse of material for VANCL style, yet Mark continues on to say, “but why would I want to do a thing like that? I choose not to choose life: I choose something else.” We all know, however, that in a city bursting with details of capitalist life, which continuously gives rise to new details, Mark actually has no other choice but heroin. This being the case, I still very much like Mark’s disdainful refusal, “I choose something else!” Although it’s not heroin, it isn’t clear what it is—but in a distant past, or an unknown future, it certainly exists. Another world is possible, and it’s worth searching for.

Right now, we seem to be comfortably perched amongst endless details. Nearly every detail becomes a nerve ending for the capitalist system of production and consumption, just as VANCL products take advantage of the proliferation of VANCL style, which has been etched into everyone’s memories. Sooner or later, the excess of “VANCL style” will become “VANCL annoyance,” causing those who were once captivated by it to loose all interest. The form of the relationship between people and things, however, will have been shaped by a certain participation, interaction, and revelry, and the effects of this are difficult for an outsider like myself to realize or estimate.

At what point did Chinese people start regarding the self, material things, and the world in this way? When did art and beauty, creativity and enthusiasm become gas stations for capitalism? The masterpiece most recently put out by VANCL features Chris Lee as the spokesperson, alongside the phrase “Born in 1984: We are VANCL.” As soon as this phrase was publicized on the tenth of October, before the day was over it had been shared on Weibo over 200,000 times, causing people to marvel at the enormous potential of combining VANCL with corn.[13] Although the media channels in cities had not yet been inundated by the ad, and this new style had yet to take shape, VANCL’s explanation of 1984 on its Weibo feed tells us something about the spirit of this new VANCL style:

 

In 1984, so many things happened all over the world! In 1984, university students called out, “Hello Xiaoping!”, and over two million people went to see Michael Jackson on tour; in 1984, the New China appeared at the Olympics for the first time with a breakthrough performance; in 1984, Apple defined the era by selling the personal computer; in 1984, Chris Lee’s generation was born: now, they’ve become the epitome of the times, the most truthful representatives of China on the internet. Chris Lee, “Born in 1984: We are VANCL.”

 

In 1984, many things happened in both China and the rest of the world. We can carefully go through a chronology on WikiLeaks to see just what took place, but VANCL has cut and pasted this group of events, cleverly reflecting the mainstream view of development as well as the cultural imagination.

1984 was a key year in China’s reform. Both the Rural Work Notice for 1984 (Guanyu 1984 nian nongcun gongzuo de tongzhi) and Decisions on the Reform of the Economic Sysytem (Guanyu jingji tizhi gaige de jueding) were issued, further reinforcing the direction of rural and urban economic reforms. An era taking efficiency and material wealth as its basic demands had quietly commenced in China. Now, after thirty years of reform policy, we’ve arrived at the best period, and also the worst. We are VANCL, we have VANCL and VANCL style—it is almost as if we can now allow ourselves to settle in, with any remaining metaphysical discomforts melting away. I don’t know if choosing 1984 is coincidental or deliberate, but I can’t help but think that, in terms of politics, capital probably has the most sensitive sense of smell. It can accurately sniff out its own kind and give it added protection, and the various forms and techniques of this protection constitute a large part of our contemporary mass culture. Who says “VANCL style” isn’t political?

 

[1] Translated from Chinese by Todd Foley.

[2] Translator’s note: This refers to ads for the drink Naobaijiin, literally “brain (nao) platinum (baijin).” The VANCL ad here refers to this by saying “a certain platinum” (mou baijin).

[3] Translator’s note: This refers to a television commercial, aired during the Beijing Olympics, by the textile company Heng Yuan Xiang. The ad lasted a full minute and featured a static image of the company’s name, while a voice repeated the same phrase twelve times over, followed each time by a subsequent animal of the Zodiac. The VANCL ad here refers to this by saying, literally, “a certain zodiac animal, zodiac animal, zodiac animal” (mou shengxiao shengxiao shengxiao).

[4] Translator’s note: In the song “One World, One Dream” which he sung during the Beijing Olympic ceremonies, Huang Xiaoming belted out the English phrase “not at all” with particular force, which netizens mockingly translated into Chinese characters as naotaitao. Both the print and television versions of this VANCL ad feature the line “not at all” in English.

[5] Translator’s note: A variant pronunciation of the word for “how” made popular by the character Tang Youyou in the television series Apartments of Love (Aiqing gongyu).

[6] Translator’s note: A variant pronunciation of the word for a younger female, usually indicating prettiness or cuteness.

[7] Translator’s note: A variant pronunciation of the word for “youth” in which the first character is taken from the word mensao 悶騷, which indicates an outward reticence belying a rich inner world.

[8] Translator’s note: This refers to the author Yang Shuo (1913-68), whose works were often included in standard high school textbooks following the cultural revolution.

[9] Translator’s note: This refers to a well-known television commercial from the 1990s in which Ge You appeared to promote Shuanghui brand sausage. The ad ends with a play on words involving the character you (優) of his name, which means “excellent.” Another person in the commercial brightens Ge You’s day by giving him a Shuanghui sausage and declaring “provincial excellence, categorical excellence, Ge excellence” (shengyou, buyou, Ge You 省優,部優,葛優).

[10] Translator’s note: Tang Jun is a famous software mogul and is currently the CEO of GAOTIME Information Co. as well as the honorary president of Microsoft China. In the ad, “Jun Tang” is written out in pinyin romanization instead of Chinese characters.

[11] Translator’s note: The Chinese actually reads zhongme ban? (“what to do?”) rather than “WTF” (see footnote 4). The joke is simply that an internet-based speech variation is used to complain about an internet-based style of expression.

[12] Translator’s note: All English excerpts from Trainspotting are taken from http://www.generationterrorists.com/quotes/trainspotting.html.

[13] Translator’s note: Chris Lee (Li Yuchun) is a female singer and actress who became famous in 2005 for winning the televised singing competition Chaoji nüsheng. Through a play on words, her fans refer to themselves as “corn” (yumi 玉米), which has the same pronunciation (though with different tones) as the phrase “Yu[chun]’s fans” (宇迷 yumi).