Saturday, April 16, 2011


"All around the Mulberry bush,
the monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock.
Pop goes the weasel!"

For the longest time, the phrase "pop" would most likely take the listener's brain back to something from his childhood -- the nursery rhyme, pop-up toys themselves, a jack-n-the-box, soda 'pop', or even that feeling of sudden dread quickly erased by amusement when a slightly older cousin would 'pop' out from behind a door to scream 'boo!' or to end a long overdue game of hide-and-go-seek.

Speaking of the nursery rhyme... are those some of the strangest lyrics you have ever heard? The general consensus is that they are mere nonsense (which is, of course, the "safe" interpretation.) It's interesting, though, to discover that Victorian who's who (them again!!) were quite concerned about the pernicious innuendos inherent in the song (which, by the way, has spent a significant portion of its life not as a children's song, but as a rather vogue dance...yo, let's pop the weasel!) In an 1841 educational charity's journal article, the perturbed author wrote in a dither:

The want of school songs is still so great that, in several recent numbers of the Monthly Paper, correspondents have felt themselves justified in offering very questionable verses to be sung to the meagre melodies of ephemeral street or negro songs. Last, and worst of all, there is one gravely put forth for "Pop goes the weasel," an air so thoroughly debasing in its character, that almost every species of ribaldry and low wit has been rendered into rhyme to suit it. There is nothing more contagious and pestilent than some kinds of harmony.

Well, we all know how 'contagious' particularly annoying song lyrics can be ("Tik tok on the clock, but the party don't stop"); however, it appears we have safely entered an era when all that is coarse, salacious, risqué, and 'thoroughly debasing in character' is not only enjoyed immensely but deemed perfectly appropriate to share with and teach to our five year-olds.

Of late though, the phrase 'pop-up' has gained a distinctly more seasoned and, indeed fetishizingly hip, aspect. The movement from childhood memories to adult dining choices (skipping thankfully over the profusion of computer pop-up ads with which you have to deal every day) has proven both swift and perhaps long overdue. For where could the trend of pop-up restaurants and stores take hold better than a country founded upon manifest destiny -- always racing after the newest, the cutting-edge; always racing after what thrills in the moment, always pushing and chasing after the last and greatest frontier. In this case, it isn't the 'first' that matters at all, but, in fact, only the very last.

And so, to stay au courant, to sail ahead of the curve, one now remains alert to what will pop-up and then disappear, what must be sampled, experience, bought not only because it is the newest but now (exquisitely, electrifyingly!) because it will just as rapidly vanish. Sweet honey-dripping, lip-smacking, drool-inducing deliciousness of the exquisitely ephemeral.

Most every major newspaper in the country now lists pop-ups as part of its Weekend Events section. This weekend in L.A., for example, the skate-alt-beach culture magazine Foam is hosting a party with pop-up shops with proceeds going to Japan relief. This party and its shopping frenzy will take place at the swank destination of a Venice parking lot, no less. Talk about temporary. Talk about L.A. and its cult of the car.

The social website, Ning, has a new page devoted to all events, restaurants, and shops popping-up in London. Pop-up retail has long been materializing in big-box stores like Target, KMart, and Kohl's as popular designers like Vera Wang, Paul & Joe, Zac Posen, and Alexa Chung create looks and make-up and styles that have made over-sized, chain stores trendy again. Those in NYC may be following the website, Socially Superlative which claims to put you on the front lines of the ever popping-up and down battle by helping you "Be the First in the Know."

And so we jump on the bandwagon of massculsivity, of planned spontaneity (omg!!! I mean just look at this very blog's tagline -- thank god I am so on trend!), of "nowism." Perhaps initially derived from poor market conditions (pop-ups require little overhead and no long-term commitment), the pop-up power is passing now to branding and marketing firms wise enough to take advantage of the trend. Agencies like Alt Terrain offer nontraditional guerilla strategies with street teams, online postings, ambient media, and even 'cultural influencer marketing' -- this last working on the age-old knowledge that word-of-mouth 'buzz' from those in-the-know is much better than paying millions for a Superbowl ad.

So what's the latest? Well, it certainly seems appropriate to take a look at some of the buzz-worthy pop-ups in New York City, our very own 'global city' in the sense of Saskia Sassen's sociological take on the term wherein cities are:
sites where the many different cultures of resistance, subversion, contestation of power can become present to each other, aware of each other, in a way they cannot on a plantation or in a small town where the diversity is lacking. Cities have become international spaces for a diversity of actors and subjects. They have of course always been so, though perhaps a bit less than today and in a different way from today. Cities are new frontier zones where actors from many many different types of struggles and national origins can come together. (Saskia Sassen, "Women in the Global City: Exploitation and Empowerment," LOLA Press No.1)
There is Limited Time Only, a new pop-up venture by James Beard Award winning chef RJ Cooper with a "20 course journey menu nightly from April 27-May 8."

There is What Happens Now, from Dovetail's John Fraser... an experience that will last for only 9-months with a menu and decor that shifts thematically every 30 days... right now, life once again imitates art as the current theme revolves around the atmosphere and creative interpretation of Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881), Washington D.C.

And the Guerilla Culinary Brigade will most likely soon be hosting another Feast, so get on their mailing list to be kept abreast.

Despite the appearance of breezy aplomb with which it seems these experiences pop up and then dissolve like mist, Alan Phillips (operator of the aforementioned Guerilla Culinary Brigade) addresses the sweat, blood and tears that lies behind the veil of finesse and facility. Those who make it through the obstacle coarse of challenges, he ultimately deems "either clinically insane or very stupid." Welcome to the club.

Time and identity are again re-arranged and metamorphosed when a 1920's Speakeasy bar will pop up this weekend on Wooster Street.

Blink and you will miss all of this and not be part of the here-today-gone-tomorrow refreshed, re-envisioned, transient vanguard. And it makes one wonder what we are striving for. With 'creating a moment' being the goal, what is lost of those places, restaurants, experiences that build and develop and prevail? Why are we so enamored with whispering secrets of the cool, the "in," the exclusive in each other's ears as high school cliques revive through a sort of pop-up in-crowd? Why has even our branding gone 'underground' through guerilla tactics borrowed from warfare where surprise attack, ambush, and awareness of vulnerable targets have created countervailing strategies of the counter-insurgency?

Perhaps, like so many forces in opposition, the prevalence of pop-ups may make us appreciate the long-lasting sustainability of brick-and-mortar firm realities... such as Delmonico's in New York City or the Union Oyster House in Boston.

The reliable, the persistent, the survivors clinging onto abiding existence: these all speak of a strength of endurance that we may yet still value, despite the lure of the always new and always temporary. For in that beguiling unexplored territory lies a potential snare... that what others will say when they look back at us is that we lived in "a culture that chose to bury itself in order to definitively escape its own shadow..." that like the mirage of Vegas when we witness it "rise whole from the desert in the radiance of advertising at dusk, and then return to the desert when dawn breaks..." we are participating in a moment, an experience, a bursting bubble that is only that which it effaces and it "effaces any support and any depth, and that it is this liquidation, this reabsorption of everything into the surface.... that plunges us into this stupefied, hyperreal euphoria that we would not exchange for anything else, and that is the empty and inescapable form of seduction." (Jean Baudrillard, trans. by Sheila Faria Glaser, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), pgs. 92-94)

1 comment:

  1. So timely! A New School pop-up class!