I finally saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris this week, and I thought it was wonderful. You all should watch it. As with most Woody Allen films, and good films in general, it left me thinking about a lot of things, not least of which is the idea of the “golden age” and how it pertains to design, specifically design education.
The movie features contemporary protagonist Gil Pender, a writer that has been successful selling shallow, vapid scripts to big budget Hollywood productions. Though he has been prosperous in all quantitative measures in his career, he longs for the romantic life of an artist and yearns to write a novel set in Paris in the 1920′s, what he considers to be the “golden age.” He discovers if he waits at a certain street corner, when the clock strikes midnight, a vintage Peugeot will pick him up and drive him back through time that he might experience his “golden age,” rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, and T.S. Elliot. He falls for a brooding and curious woman in the 20′s (GASP! An affair in a Woody Allen film?) and ends up travelling with her even further through time to the 1890′s, what she considers to be the “golden age.” The resolution of this four-dimensional scandal is that everyone thinks that some time before theirs was the “golden age” because life is generally unsatisfying, and this is something that we simply cannot accept. Bleak, existential the–grass–is–always–greener.
This is something I have thought about before, and I find it to be generally true. People who work for others always tell me how lucky I am to be self–employed, and entrepreneurs I know wish someone would do their bookkeeping for them and give them a health plan and a 401k. I suspect this dissatisfaction is one of the major forces driving humanity ever forward, a whole species — or at least a whole hemisphere — chasing the carrot–on–a–fishing–line that is contentedness.
I have found this to be especially true of my peers, who all happen to be recent college graduates, most of which are still looking for gainful employment. I have seen first and second hand how important knowledge of basic interactive and web design is to getting a job in design today, and to put it bluntly, schools can’t seem to keep up with the lightning fast evolution of the web. The vast majority of my classmates at MICA, and I suspect students across the country, feel nostalgic for the “golden age” of graphic design. There is boundless passion for letterpress, screen printing, patinated signs, and 60′s logos and branding. People lament the death, or at least realignment, of print and designing for the screen is tiresome and limiting.
Everything is faux distressed or egregiously skeuomorphic. The web is in the throes of puberty; we have all sorts of new and exciting potential, but we’re uncomfortable in our own skin.
Students should and need to be excited about the amazing possibilities afforded by the Internet. As much as I love the tactility of paper, the sound and feel of a Vandercook, the smell of ink, we are not living in the age of print. Your counterfeit vintage poster is easy; your retro typography is irrelevant. Print is not changing the world, Facebook is changing the world, and not necessarily for the better.
May we all learn to not just accept, but love the times we’re living in, against all odds. Eyes on the future, everyone, not the past.