5 'Vintage' Items That Are Hugely Overrated
Quick show of hands: How many of you have heard an old person say, "They just don't make 'em like they used to"? There are plenty of reasons to like old-timey things: they harken back to a simpler time, when a ticket to the witch burning was only a nickel and we all rode dinosaurs to work (at our union jobs). And it isn't my job to come here and shit on whatever gives you joy -- that's my passion. If you like the feel of Victorian clothes, by all means go down to your local fifth-hand clothing store and get your 1800s on. If you think old stamps are objets d'art, go ahead and collect the shit out of them. You'll get no guff from me, a guy who looks like a '90s MTV cartoon come to life.
But it is my sworn duty as a guy with an internet connection to point out weird trends in movies when I see them. And it seems weird that movies are trying to convince us that all the old ways of doing things are objectively better than our modern methods; like if it weren't for the pressure to manufacture faster, cheaper hashtag memes, we'd all be reading first editions of War And Peace while doing 1970s-quality cocaine by the pool. You know, quality good times. To that, it is my solemn responsibility to take up the rallying cry of entertainment bloggers everywhere and say, "Um, actually ..."
Straight Razor Shaves Are Face Torture
Before Julia Roberts can properly Pray or Love, she has to learn the Italian concept of "dolce far niente." This is translated as "the sweetness of doing nothing" by an Italian man getting -- you guessed it -- a shave from a barber with a straight razor. As he explains that Americans are overworked and overstressed, he embodies the attitude of Italians, luxuriating with his straight razor shave.
But a straight razor shave isn't actually such a great embodiment of the Italian "hakuna matata" as it is the Italian "Gimmie the Gary Oldman from Hannibal!"
Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of articles on the internet claiming that you can get a really great shave from a straight razor as long as you follow the proper steps:
1. Sharpen your blade before each shave
2. Apply a hot towel to your face to soften up those hairs
3. Lather a specialized foam by hand, using a badger brush
4. Train for 20 years on a Tibetan mountaintop with a master of shaving
5. Apply foam to face using the brush from earlier, making an effort to get your hairs to stand up (re-whip the foam if it's lost some volume during the decades of training)
6. Take your time shaving, concentrating all your attention on the divine task at hand
7. Find your master's dead body. You didn't notice he was killed because you were shaving
8. Vow revenge
9. Rinse off any excess foam
10. Dispatch leaders of enemy shaving academies one by one
11. Realize that your bloodlust has driven you to violate the very shaving principals you had trained so hard to learn, yet never understood
12. Apply a generous amount of skin-soothing aftershave because it's gonna sting pretty bad until your face gets used to its top layer getting scraped off.
So if you master those techniques, and also don't apply any of that care or expensive balm to shaving with normal razors, yes. You can absolutely get a better shave with a straight razor. But barring that -- and especially if you are having someone shave you instead of doing it yourself -- get ready to bleed a lot. If you don't believe me, just ask the many, many, many Freddy Krueger-looking guys who decided to get a straight shave one day because they saw it on TV.
Just try to resist, especially when it is backed by such pumping music.
That isn't to come down on people who really like shaving with a straight razor: I like doing yoga even though it's time-consuming, expensive, painful, and I look like an idiot doing it. None of those are good reasons to stop doing something you think might make you feel good and/or get you laid. What I am saying is that in Skyfall, Naomie Harris shaves Bond with a straight razor and says, "Sometimes the old ways are the best." And I have no idea what the fuck she's talking about. Unless that's a total non-sequitur that has nothing to do with shaving, that makes about as much sense as "upgrading" your car to a luxurious horse.
Or, upgrading your new car for a "classic ..."
Classic Cars Are Expensive Deathtraps
There's a reason why the star of the Fast And The Furious franchise is a 1970 Challenger rather than its modern counterpart. There's a reason why it's drooled over by the Fast and the Furious alike. But that reason isn't its horsepower, torque, handling, 0-60, or time sprinting a quarter mile, because those are all improved in the 2015 Challenger Hellcat. No, the reason is that it looks cooler.
Uh, cooler than lime green?!
But aren't new cars built like plastic toys that will just crumple up in an accident? Don't new cars break all the time? Aren't new cars for dumb babies who don't know the value of a good thing so we can feel superior to them?
In a word: Nah, brah. Newer cars do indeed get more damaged in an accident, but that's done by design, not because they're made out of Ninja Turtle plastic. (Though, honestly? Would buy that car.) Prior to about 1970, cars were made with strong, rigid skeletons that were designed to stand up to as much strength as possible without deforming; it's true that they were built like tanks.
But what weren't made out of a strong metal skeleton were the fleshy people inside the car. The fact that the car didn't deform in an accident meant that it didn't absorb any of the force of the collision. Instead, it transferred all that force directly to you, the customer! That meant that there were fewer customers around.
So many innocent wallets lost.
In 1967, Mercedes came out with the first production car to feature "crumple zones." These were parts of the car -- the parts without people in them -- that were designed to crumple on impact, absorbing a ton of energy and improving the survivability of crashes. The fact that you aren't driving a car built out of I-beams put together like Lincoln Logs means that you're a lot less likely to get sharp steel through your head in an accident.
There is a reason you might legitimately prefer classic cars other than their good vibes (not during a collision). And that's that they are a lot simpler. Clearly, being simpler means that they lack some of the nice advantages of modern cars (like, say, anti-lock brakes) but it also means that they can be fixed with less specialized knowledge and a basic set of tools. But that's the one virtue that runs completely counter to how they're sold to us in popular culture: Nobody in Fast And The Furious 9: 9 Fast 9 Furious is drooling over the '70 challenger thinking, "Oooh boy, I'm going to need so little knowledge to know how to fix this! Plus, I'll save some money on simpler repair jobs, which will help offset the single-digit MPG ratings."
Mechanical Watches Are Meticulously Crafted ... To Be Mediocre
There's no accessory that says "This guy cares about precision" like an expensive watch. A high-quality watch shows that someone knows the value of meticulous planning, exacting measurements, and making sure everything runs like ... well ... clockwork. And everyone knows that really expensive watches are mechanical.
That means they run based on the same basic principals that watches have run on since they were invented. There's no battery, just dozens or even hundreds of fastidiously crafted, tiny mechanical pieces, engineered to fit together perfectly. It also keeps time about one-tenth as well as a $10 watch from the gas station.
About five cents of which was spent on its classy design.
Yes, to anyone who doesn't care about romanticizing obsolete technology, a cheapo quartz mechanism is better than a mechanical watch in basically every way. They keep way better time, don't have to be tended to 100th as often, are simpler and cheaper to service or replace ... If what you really care about is making things run on time, a mechanical watch is just one more thing for you to be fussing with instead of making sure your nefarious plans are in order.
But watch enthusiasts insist that people of "discerning tastes" will go for the mechanical watch every time, because ... uh ... they're more "interesting" (despite the fact that most mechanical watches have an opaque casing, so you'd never know the difference unless you cracked the thing open) and "have history," even though factories are stamping them out faster than free speech in Russia.
The truth is, few of us need watches at all anymore since our phones are never out of reach, so watches are just a fashion accessory. And for the vast majority of these fashion accessories, you'd never know whether the mechanism was mechanical or quartz by the look of it, so meticulously engineering all those tiny sprockets is an enormous waste of effort and money. The only advantage they have over quartz is that they'll survive an EMP blast and planning for that is some serious supervillain shit.
Soon we'll be running our supervillain lair from our wrist anyway.
For some people, the appeal is just snobbery: a way to show that you're rich enough and stupid enough to waste a literal boatload of money on something virtually useless. But other people just fucking like watches, and they don't have to explain that to me or anybody else. Who am I to judge? I prefer Javier Bardem over Jeffrey Dean Morgan even though he's more expensive, and I probably can't really tell them apart. I just ask that we drop the pretense that they're somehow cooler or more discerning than the rest of us. Nobody's more discerning than me, a man who once consumed nothing but bottom-shelf whiskey for 40 hours.
You Can Pass A Fountain Pen To Future Generations, So It Will Be A Pain In The Ass To Them, Too
There are plenty of ways to leave marks on paper. The one most of us peasants use a majority of the time is a ballpoint pen, like the kind the bank gives us when we deposit our first sheaf of wheat into our peasant checking accounts. But when the fat cats who run the bank need to sign something, they don't use some plastic ballpoint. They reach for the signingest implement known to man, the Cadillac of putting dye on mashed-up trees, a fountain pen.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that both ballpoint pens and fountain pens put marks on paper just fucking fine, and if you're that worried about how your pen feels you have too much time on your hands. No. Fountain pens really are different from ballpoints. They use a much less viscous, freer-flowing ink that some people prefer because it offers them the opportunity to get ink all over their clothes.
Are pocket protectors the sign of a nerd or a rich nerd?
They have to be refilled far more frequently, and the ink takes longer to dry, meaning it's more likely to smudge or bleed on a variety of papers. They also require less pressing down into the paper, so they are useful for the portion of the population that has low hand stamina and has to sign documents all the time.
The point is that when you see a character with a fountain pen, it shouldn't be taken as a sign that they can afford the finest money can buy, it should be taken as a sign that they really care about calligraphy for some reason. On the plus side, a fountain pen is something you can pass on to future generations so they can also be inconvenienced by it.
Vinyl Would Be Amazing If Computers Couldn't Do Anything You Want
If you're a real audiophile, you know that there's only one way to listen to music: on a wax cylinder played by a phonograph. But to young bucks like Jack White, "vinyl is the real deal." And he isn't alone: Last year vinyl sales hit a 25-year high, forcing us all to wonder how many quirky, idiosyncratic vinyl enthusiasts you can have before it stops being quirky and idiosyncratic.
There are a whole fucking lot of articles discussing whether vinyl actually sounds better than "digital music" but they're complete bullshit. That's because our ability to manipulate digital representations of the real world is staggering. You think we can CGI Benedict Cumberbatch into looking tough but we can't make a song sound like it's being played off a record?
You thought those muscles were real? Wait ... wrong movie.
The main reason most people prefer the sound of vinyl is that they're comparing it to horribly compressed digital files (as so many of them are). And indeed, the more compressed an mp3 is, the less emotional impact it has. It just sort of sounds flat and lame.
But there's no reason in principal that a digital file can't have as much or more information than a record (even analog technologies like the lathes used to cut records have a maximum fidelity and signal-to-noise ratio). Hardware manufacturers have started experimenting with "high resolution audio" that could deliver digital files that sound richer than ever before, and even audio purist Neil Young believes in digital enough to start his own streaming music company.
The other thing that makes old vinyl records sound better is that they weren't victims of "the Loudness War." Essentially, record companies got it in their heads that louder albums sold more copies. This led them to crank up all the parts on a track, which was a supremely stupid thing to do. After all, the engineer mastering a track doesn't have control over the listener's volume dial, so all this did was ruin the dynamic range on tracks and clip off sounds that used to be actually loud. It's like if a restaurant noticed that customers liked the salt on their food so started serving bowls of salt. As an example, here's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" if it had been released at the height of the Loudness War:
So people complaining about modern music (or at least music released from the mid-'90s to the late '00s) have a point, but vinyl isn't the magic answer. A lot of the vinyl that gets sold today is based on the same shitty master that makes the mp3s sound like they're being played on a radio inside a car wash. So they make about as much sense as antique wrapping paper for a new set of Justin Bieber pogs.
Look, I'm not going to beat you over the head with some overwrought BS about "people are realizing these days that faster and more convenient technologies don't always increase our happiness." Or "Maybe it's exactly the time and care it takes to master shaving with a straight razor that makes it a worthwhile experience. Maybe it's the fact that classic cars require more skill of their driver and need constant maintenance that makes us love them all the more. Maybe it's the having to pointlessly blow $3,000 on a watch that makes you feel superior to everyone else."
Owning older, higher-maintenance devices doesn't make anyone superior or have better taste. All it implies is that they're super into that thing. Or want to pay a bunch of money to make you think they are. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get these pages from my Underwood typewriter to my editor's roll-top desk.
Aaron Kheifets is on this hot new thing called Twitter.
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