The year in vibrations | The New Yorker

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At some point during 2021, the word “vibe” has become quite ubiquitous. I tried to count, but I would lose track of how often it was deployed in conversations with friends. I couldn’t help but use it either, as you can’t help but yawn after someone else does. It spread like the dancing Strasbourg plague of 1518, extending far beyond the point of semantic satiety. What did this mean? What does not have that means? “Vibe” was a placeholder for an elusive feeling or impression, an atmosphere that you couldn’t or didn’t want to express. You didn’t like a bar because the atmosphere was off. The new Netflix show has a sort of “Sopranos” vibe to it. The two did not vibrate as a couple. It is a linguistic shortcut for the ineffable.

2021 in review

New York writers reflect on the ups and downs of the year.

Maybe we’ve used the word so much because 2021 itself offered a vibe that can’t be found. It’s a year that feels like it exists and doesn’t exist, a hangover from the depths of terror in 2020 that offers significant improvement while remaining empty and unstable. For a moment, with the arrival of the vaccines in the spring, we all thought we were on the cusp of the roaring twenties, a summer of Hieronymous Bosch orgy and excess. Instead, with the serial announcement of new COVID-19 variations, we became stretched by tightrope vibrations, as if we could go back in time at any time. A year that never started can’t really end either, and so the New Year’s border also seems unreal. But time has passed, and looking back we need to recall grace where we can.

In April, I described the vibrations as, ultimately, moments of audiovisual eloquence, ephemeral and multisensory collisions so vivid that they are akin to poetry. They can be saved and shared as TikTok videos or just watched as fleeting impressions. Sometimes a particular image is a vibration. Or an action is a vibration, or an aesthetic, or a feeling. It is all that becomes representative of a mood in society in general, towards which one can point and say: “It is an atmosphere. Here are some of the strongest vibrations I recorded in 2021. Call it my attempt to capture the ambiguous non-verbal phenomena of the year, both positive and negative.


“Preliminary spaces” vibes

Corridor of the office building. Dead end. Loading dock. Atrium of the hotel at night. @SpaceLiminalBot is a Twitter account with over four hundred and eighty thousand followers that tweets photos from “frontiers”: disused, out of business hours, haunted. The atmosphere is scary but also calm; in these spaces, nothing happens. By definition, “liminal” means “transitional”, a threshold. (What qualifies, exactly, is the subject of a lively debate on the r / CriminalSpace subreddit.) But it became a meme in 2021, the year of liminality, its meaning has broadened to describe just about anything empty and weird. Examples of liminal vibrations include the Twitter account @gameauras, which collects “video game images with elegiac auras” and tweets screenshots of virtual liminal spaces, and the TikTok account @pineacre, who films montages of banal institutions (laundromats, grocery stores) in the Ozarks of Arkansas.


“Mask crumpled in a puddle on the sidewalk” Vibes

Philosopher Jane Bennett noted that matter is vibrant – everyday trash, even trash in the gutter, can emit its own vibration that capitalist consumerism encourages us to ignore. The most poignant piece of waste of the year was a crumpled face mask, made of paper or cloth, left strewn on the floor, its strings tangled, its symbolic hygiene demolished. There is an abjection to the mask; this is the kind of detail that a future film would overlook to evoke the general despair of the time. Perhaps the mask was accidentally lost and its owner anxiously debates the embarrassment of entering a store without one or simply giving up and going home.


“Uncanny-Valley Upstate New York in” Master of None “, Season 3,” Vibes

Photograph courtesy of Netflix

Due to pandemic restrictions, the third season of the Netflix show “Master of None”, which debuted in May, was filmed primarily in the UK. That wouldn’t be a problem if the season’s planned location wasn’t in upstate New York, where Lena Waithe’s character buys a sprawling historic home after the success of her novel. I felt a creeping unease watching the season, with its detailed settings and sleek cinematography. I didn’t understand why, exactly, until I read behind the scenes. The landscape of the house was too lush and cut out for the northern part of the state; it was unlike the outskirts of any run down Hudson Valley town I had ever seen. More than the thread of the story, this dislocation stuck in my head, the strange feeling of being told that something is true but knowing deep down that it is not.


“Dark Academia” atmosphere

“A famous young novelist moves into a dilapidated mansion on the Irish coast” is the plot of Sally Rooney’s 2021 novel, “Beautiful people, where are you», But it also evokes the ideal of Dark Academia enthusiasts, a Tumblr aesthetic that has become a TikTok atmosphere and then a model of lifestyle. (People seem to be studying abroad in Edinburgh these days just to shoot cranky videos.) Dark Academia is all about staying indoors, watching the rain through a brick-lined window, leafing through a book. without reading it, lighting candles, in other words, a cozy forties when it doesn’t make sense to go outside. The dark streets of Rooney in Dublin, the lively evenings in magazines and domestic dramas both describe and serve the ambiance.


“Microwave your coffee for the fifth time” Vibes

Photograph by DonNichols / Getty



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