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On "Undecorating" III: Tolerance, Anxiety & the Tyranny of Influence 

[ED: This is the third and final post in a series on "Undecorating", both the book and the movement/brand, as it were. The previous two can be found here and here. They have, I hope, become maybe about something more; about trend and personal branding; about how we consider the concept of home, and how that concept relates to our sense of identity and collective notions about "lifestyle"; the way we presently disseminate information and inspiration, and moreover, the various ways we internalize and contextualize this stimuli within our present moment.

In lieu of posting one or two songs as companion pieces to this post, I've compiled a mix which can be found here, or in the sidebar yonder—the unifying theme being one of blatantly audible influence, be it through covers or songs built on samples of songs built on samples. A PDF of the references contained therein is available here.

As an aside, it's been brought to my attention that certain images and files on this site no longer appear in RSS. This is a browser caching issue within the architecture of Squarespace, and I am unfortunately unable to address it myself. Until Squarespace implements a fix, the best thing to do is to view 2TW through the site itself.]


"Too many influences, too many voices, too much identification." - Henry Miller, July 17, 1962, from the introduction to Just Wild About Harry

[2, 3]

"A few months ago, the editor-in-chief [of House of Fifty] Janell Beals emailed me about doing a possible feature.

'Hi Lisa,

I just found your blog after wanting to find the person behind the living room I included in my latest ideabook written for Houzz. I selected your room to be included in a piece on how bringing floral patterns into a room can introduce a bit of spring all year long. I particularly liked your room because of its interesting mix. However, for some reason a couple readers decided it was time to bring on the criticism full force.

The comments left on the ideabook started a conversation between my husband and me about subjective design, which led to me deciding to write an article for my upcoming e-zine on this very topic.'

I emailed Janell back that I found it kind of amusing that someone would choose to get so worked up about pairing a zebra rug with Peter Dunham's "Samarkand" fabric...and to write whatever she wanted. Absolutely.

Well, the premiere issue launched today and I think Janell's article is fascinating because it addresses something that I notice happening more and more frequently in the blog world.

I'll let her tell it:

'Why is it often difficult to experience disagreement with another's point of view without getting upset? Is it not possible to express that one would not have made the same choice, without tearing down what another has done? Why is it so hard to have a difference of opinion and be comfortable with the fact that not everyone shares our point of view?'"

- Lisa Borgnes Giramonti in correspondence with Janell Beals, taken from A Bloomsbury Life, "Can't We All Just Get Along?", 4.25.2011

[4, 5]

"The two-step flow of communication model hypothesizes that ideas flow from mass media to opinion leaders, and from them to a wider population. It was first introduced by sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld et al. in 1944[1] and elaborated by Elihu Katz and Lazarsfeld in 1955[2] and subsequent publications.[3] Lowery and DeFleur argue the book was much more than a simple research report: it was an effort to interpret the authors' research within a framework of conceptual schemes, theoretical issues, and research findings drawn broadly from the scientific study of small groups [4] Unlike the hypodermic needle model, which considers mass media effects to be direct, the two-step flow model stresses human agency.

According to Lazarsfeld and Katz, mass media information is channeled to the 'masses' through opinion leadership. The people with most access to media, and having a more literate understanding of media content, explain and diffuse the content to others.

Based on the two-step flow hypothesis, the term 'personal influence' came to illustrate the process intervening between the media’s direct message and the audience’s reaction to that message. Opinion leaders tend to be similar to those they influence—based on personality, interests, demographics, or socio-economic factors. These leaders tend to influence others to change their attitudes and behaviors. The two-step theory refined the ability to predict how media messages influence audience behavior and explains why certain media campaigns do not alter audiences’ attitudes. This hypothesis provided a basis for the multi-step flow theory of mass communication." - via Wikipedia, "Two-step flow of communication"


"Let me make this clear: I'm SO NOT offended whether people like my house or not. It's small and weird and colorful (like me) and if you're a beige-on-beige addict, I would kind of expect you to run screaming from it. And that's fine. Because one's home is a visual autobiography of the people who live there -- not anybody else.

Here's the bigger issue:

1. Why are the personal choices of total strangers such an affront to some people?

2. Has it become impossible for us to co-exist peacefully if someone has a different point of view?

3. Why is it still so darn hard for us to celebrate each other's differences?

Janell goes on to write:

'Perhaps a key to being okay with a conflicting opinion begins with not only being comfortable, but secure, in our own; understanding that there is nothing to be lost by accepting and hearing another's opinion.'"

- Lisa Borgnes Giramonti in correspondence with Janell Beals, taken from A Bloomsbury Life, "Can't We All Just Get Along?", 4.25.2011

[7, 8, 9]

"Why are today so many problems perceived as problems of intolerance, not as problems of inequality, exploitation, injustice? Why is the proposed remedy tolerance, not emancipation, political struggle, even armed struggle? The immediate answer is the liberal multiculturalist's basic ideological operation: the "culturalization of politics" - political differences, differences conditioned by political inequality, economic exploitation, etc., are naturalized/neutralized into "cultural" differences, different "ways of life," which are something given, something that cannot be overcome, but merely "tolerated." To this, of course, one should answer in Benjaminian terms: from culturalization of politics to politicization of culture. The cause of this culturalization is the retreat, failure, of direct political solutions (Welfare State, socialist projects, etc.). Tolerance is their post-political ersatz:

The retreat from more substantive visions of justice heralded by the promulgation of tolerance today is part of a more general depoliticization of citizenship and power and retreat from political life itself. The cultivation of tolerance as a political end implicitly constitutes a rejection of politics as a domain in which conflict can be productively articulated and addressed, a domain in which citizens can be transformed by their participation.

Contemporary liberalism forms a complex network of ideologies, institutional and non-institutional practices; however, underlying this multiplicity is a basic opposition on which the entire liberal vision relies, the opposition between those who are ruled by culture, totally determined by the life-world into which they were born, and those who merely "enjoy" their culture, who are elevated above it, free to choose their culture. This brings us to the next paradox: the ultimate source of barbarism is culture itself, one's direct identification with a particular culture which renders one intolerant towards other cultures. The basic opposition is thus related to the opposite between collective and individual: culture is by definition collective and particular, parochial, exclusive of other cultures, while - next paradox - it is the individual who is universal, the site of universality, insofar as s/he extricates itself from and elevates itself above its particular culture. Since, however, every individual has to be somehow "particularized," it has to dwell in a particular life-world, the only way to resolve this deadlock is to split the individual into universal and particular, public and private (where "private" covers both the "safe haven" of family and the non-state public sphere of civil society (economy)). In liberalism, culture survives, but as privatized: as way of life, a set of beliefs and practices, not the public network of norms and rules. Culture is thus literally transubstantiated: the same sets of beliefs and practices change from the binding power of a collective into an expression of personal and private idiosyncrasies." - Slavoj Zizek, "Tolerance as an Ideological Category", taken from lacan.com, Autumn 2007; block quote: Wendy Brown, "Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire"

[10, 11]

"I'm basically happy with the way the interior looks now. But because I work in the business, I'm constantly thinking about changing things. I get invited to every design show, trade fair, and new store opening. I always look at books and magazines all the time. I am always bombarded with newness: new design ideas and new products. Whatever I saw last is what I want. I'm constantly tempted to change things. But then I remember how hard it was to reach any consensus the first time around and that usually stops me in my tracks. I also have a hard enough time on my own to make changes. I trust my own judgment, but I am very strongly influenced by my designer friends. I value their judgment perhaps too much." - Arlene Hirst, taken from Home by Stafford Cliff, 2007

[12, 13]

"3.  People depend on their primary groups to validate their interpretations and evaluations.  Mass communication scholars have long recognized that people do not evaluate a media message solely on the merits of the message.  Rather, they compare the advocated position against those held by people in their social network, and then decide whether the media message should accepted. Thus, when an individual is presented with a media message, s/he is likely to discuss the message with his/her peers to gauge their assessments of the message.  Social network opinions are compared against the media message to decide whether to accept or reject the media message.  According to intermedia theory, a media message is likely to have its greatest influence when its arguments are supported or corroborated by an individual’s social network.

In short, intermedia theory posits that media messages are most likely to be effective when they are reinforced or validated in social network interactions." - taken from "Katz and Lazarsfeld Revisited: Using Intermedia Theory to Enhance Health Campaigns" by Randy Y. Hirokawa and John B. Lowe

[14, 15]

"When I began to do residential projects, the most enjoyable thing was finally arriving at a level of experience and self-awareness, knowing that I was able to help people make decisions about their home that they felt good about. When people are paying for your opinion you have to know yourself very well and that is one of the things that has shifted the notion of decorating private homes for me. It was developing a degree of honesty with my clients and allowing them to feel comfortable enough to truly tell me how they live. I don't really work very well with people who aren't comfortable in their own skin. I don't want to create an interior that someone won't be able to appreciate - I mean really love living in. That applies to the projects we do for my company, as well as the makeovers I do for television. I need to understand peoples' motivation behind their decorating. Is it for them and their children; are they decorating to impress other people; are they open to collecting things they truly have a passion for, or because they just want a wall of books?

I sort of react viscerally to peoples' personalities, and one of my most rewarding projects was for a couple who were getting married a bit late in life and who had collected outsider art and created this sort of manic collection, and they had no idea how to create a shell to house it and to live gracefully with those things. That to me was a challenge that I could sink my teeth into. They were surrounded by things that they loved, and came to me to find out how to make it enjoyable. We also get a lot of projects where we collaborate with the builder and the architect before the ground has been broken.

I find that the most talented people in my business are really not ego-based. As long as you have the capacity to communicate clearly, the more the merrier. We all steal ideas from everywhere. There are very few people who have truly original ideas outside of sculptors and painters, so design is based on inspiration and the interpretation of that inspiration. I've never closed myself off to the opinions of others." - Nate Berkus, taken from Home by Stafford Cliff, 2007

[16, 17, 18, 19]

"I love listening to this piece because I can hear my influences but I can also hear them melting into each other and correlating in a way that has little to do with their original contexts. This is, for me, a good thing. Influence is uncontrollable, like genetics, but I like to think that what you do with it is what defines style.


So it is with some anxiety that I read Kyle Gann’s blogpost the other day, entitled “A Couple of Complaints.” It’s worth a read, as everything Kyle writes is. But then check this out:


Secondly: I think young composers might want to think about diversifying the composers they base their styles on beyond John Coolidge Adams. Not that there’s anything wrong with Adams’s style, he’s as good a place to start as any. But I get CDs from composers in their 20s and 30s, all very talented, very accomplished – most of them sounding like they’re trying to be the next John Adams. Then I get asked for recommendations, and I can’t make distinctions among them, because one’s as good an Adams epigone as the next.


And this attitude, of course, begetz this in the comments thread: “Good thoughts as well on broadening influences. I wonder if a lot of younger composers see JC Adams’ style as a fast track to success.” Guh. These people have the whole thing backwards. Style is not a hat that you just buy. Style is a weird, growing, plant-like thing that reacts against and works with a bunch of different input sources: experience, age, what you listen to, what you don’t listen to, what you read, what your roommates read, what you heard one time in a car when you were 13, what you listen to now in a car that you’re 29. If anybody wakes up and is like, “I should like to be successful! How shall I do that? Ah! By writing music by John Adams, who is, himself, Successful.” I really don’t think anybody wakes up and thinks that, and if they do, surely their music would sound as flawed as their logic. Think about it like food: David Chang is a successful restaurateur, in all senses of the word – although from what one reads, he sounds a little depressed and hyper, which is something I understand all too well, where commercial stroke press stroke general on-dit success doesn’t necessarily osmose into the interior life. Yes, you could wake up and want to build a restaurant like his. But if you can’t cook, it’s just not going to work, because style is a process, and not a jacket that you just throw on and suddenly people are making it rain. Instead, surely what you do is get a job in his kitchen, and learn technique.


It’s the same thing with Stravinsky: what makes him amazing is, for me, his spacings, the way he gets air into the chords and controls textures. With Adams, I love a west coast visual sensibility combined with an east-coast neurosis and internal metronome. Reich writes fast music inside slow music, which is kind of like those French desserts which are simultaneously hot and cold. Just keep telling yourselves that style is a process and a technique, and don’t let other generations lure you into the trap of style itself being a commodity. It ties in too quickly to boilerplate jealousy and issues of composers being “overrated” and “underrated” as if there’s some kind of Style Death Panel in the sky somewhere assigning Schönberg a rating of 60, Berg an 82, Gann a 45, Gubaidulina a 54.5 — it’s just not how it works and we have to stop wasting our time on this shit. The idea that a musical history text and how many column inches a certain composer should get, gets now, might get later… it’s really beside the point. Trying to contextualize a process is well and good, but I think the nature of an organic process is that you never quite know where it’s going to end up. - Nico Muhly, 8.12.2010, taken from "Distractions and the Tyranny of Influence" via nicomuhly.com


[20, 21, 22]

"Naturally it takes time for us to catch on, to discover where we are heading and why. When we wake up the sun is already setting. Once again we find ourselves imprisoned in a mold. And once again, of a bright morning, we wake up and shake ourselves free." - Henry Miller, July 17, 1962, from the introduction to Just Wild About Harry


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