Detective: A Serial
few years ago a very good friend of mine who is not only a famous
writer but a great one too, passed on to me, in an act of conspiratorial
cultural demimonde dissemination, the very latest word coined in
the English language as spoken in the United States. I was very
proud. I admire my friend, and this act of bequeathment meant that
I was included among the 'keepers of the flame', members of an underground
hipster cultural disinherited gentry, whose power of understanding,
vision, and lack of apparent status both in society at large and
the academic community, insured the continuance of the esoteric
hipster sine qua non.
I remember correctly, and I'm not sure I do, my friend confided
that he had received this term and its meaning from the horse's
mouth itself, well almost: the acquaintance who had passed this
information on to him was some sort of a cultural scientist (a what?)
who had inherited the transmission of the term from the very individual
who coined it. The term was so new, I was told, that it wasn't even
included in the dictionary yet. That was proof enough for me that
not only was my friend very high up on the ladder of this underground
cultural hierarchy, but me too, like Dante after Virgil, tagged
along to the privileged position at the very hub of the two way
traffic between heaven and hell, where the underside of academia
grazes on the trends of the cultural demimonde which in turn straw-sucks
on the latest rages culled from the cream of the state-of-the-art
advances in street life styles not yet filched by the long arm of
short, it was proof for me that I had arrived.
is how my friend explained to me the meaning of 'skeuromorph'. We
were driving on Los Angeles's Interstate 10 going east, it was rush
hour, we were stuck in traffic, so his example was appropriate.
Take, he said, a bumper sticker with a simulated embroidered border,
like grandma might stitch on a knitted kitchen adornment bearing
such proclamations as "A house is built by hands, a home by hearts".
Now, once you simulate that in print and glue it on, let's say,
a bumper sticker, so as to invite positive emotional participation
into that older world by stimulating (simulating?) the impression
of the bygone era, then you have a skeuromorph.
concept itself attracted me mildly and I casually asked my friend
to write it down for me as the pronunciation did not readily reveal
the order of the letters on the page. My friend quickly scribbled:
'Julian Semilian, Skeuromorph Detective' on a leaf of his pocket
notebook, detached the tiny lined paper square neatly along the
perforation and handed it to me. I thanked him, shoved the sheet
into my coat pocket and promptly forgot about it. So much for my
dreams of underground glory.
three or four months later I awoke from a forest of feverish dreams
with the words 'Skeuromorph Detective' ambling through my benumbed
morning brain. I rushed to find the appropriate jacket and lunged
inside the pocket I recalled having unconsciously thrust my friend's
injunction into. It wasn't there. I searched all other pockets of
same said coat, but my snooping brought no results. Could it be
that I only imagined this incident? Or dreamed it? I phoned my friend.
He recalled skeuromorph vaguely, but remembered nothing of putting
the words 'Skeuromorph Detective' down for me. His new novel was
due to the publishers in a few days and he was nowhere near the
end, this was his third extension, he was closely watched by the
mob to boot. I took the hint and hung up. You don't piss off your
famous friends with personal trivia.
the next few months I surprised myself with the attention I paid
to means of transportation and with the socio- historico-philosophical
bend of my observations. Shoes, in the last fifteen years had become
more and more bulky. Trendy sections of the population who would
never before be seen in bulky shoes now sport the combat boot like
a delicacy. I recalled that around 1984 or so one of my best friends,
a Jewish Hungarian painter, who had survived WW II, complained to
me that his girlfriend, who was 21, Italian and a model, had stepped
right off the runway and into their date wearing a tight black mini
dress, which he liked, black stockings, which he adored, and...
to his horror, combat boots. It's the latest rage, she announced.
It's the beginning of the end, he proclaimed, who as a child had
witnessed the boots of Nazi storm troopers goose-stepping down main
street of his small Hungarian home town.
didn't pay much attention to his bitch (as in 'complaint'). At the
time I was too busy being envious: how could an old fart of fifty
get a gorgeous young model of 21 to date him, more, to live with
him and even support him when his paintings didn't sell, which was
too, had changed. Similar trendy sections of the population, who
would normally whoosh down the Sunset Strip in the sleek Italian
speedster or purr along Wilshire Boulevard in the German luxury
model, are booming down Rodeo Drive in army jeeps. Designer army
jeeps, to be sure, but army jeeps, nonetheless.
bend in hand, I reasoned the reason for this is clear: our cities
had become a combat zones. It was a kind of karmic payback for Vietnam
and other various invasions. The jungles we blasted with agent orange
had now invaded our veins and spilled out into the venation of our
cities. The thousands of tons of explosives we detonated in Iraq
have returned in scary mirrorings to haunt us in New York City or
Oklahoma. And since we live in a combat zone, being the trendy brutes
we are, we must dress up for the occasion, non? So, we have Versace
(well, sort of) to design our combat costumes, Arnold and Sly to
alternately teach us how to talk and gesticulate while wrapped up
in them, sweat shops in Southeast Asia to stitch them up. We rocket
in our Stealth bombers to the Middle East to insure the traffic
of oil to power our Hummers and their humbler resonance, the SUV's,
and the dumb show goes on.
here I was in the midst of rattling my philosophical bend, when
one day, while searching for some lost object or another, out spills
a bricollage of randomly abandoned pocket treasures: pieces of poems,
lines that seemed great at the time, rubber bands I had planned
to snap at friends but didn't, telephone numbers of people I will
never call, reminders to do things I will forget to do anyway, and...
surprise: a folded 8 1/2 by 11 1/2 page from whose middle glared
at me a photocopy of the minute square of paper my friend had scrawled
the words which are the raison d'être of this dissertation.
I left the original at Kinko's? The original I wished to protect
by making this copy? Was it now drossy dust in the pocket of a shirt
I washed? No matter how hard I tried to recall where I might have
left it, it was lost, both to touch and to memory.
now recalled vaguely having made the photocopy which I had wished
to file away in a filing system I had planned to put into effect.
And then... mon dieu! It dawns on me! I am a skeuromorph detective!
A skeuromorph is, I recalled my friend cogitating, something acting
like something else. Something acting like something it wants to
imitate. Thus, we have skeuromorphed ourselves into images of real
soldiers, two- dimensional in the drag of three-dimensional, icon
in the con of I, virtual cross-dressing as real. We ourselves have
become skeuromorphs of real people; what's missing is the real people.
Proud of myself for having spied the morphology of this skeuromorphic
metamorphosis, I silently thanked my friend for his prophetic illumination:
simply by scribbling 'skeuromorph detective', he caused me to turn
into one. Ah, poets! You are truly the ones who will outlive your
took it upon myself to live up to the dictates of my new moniker.
I meant to do my friend proud. Like a true detective, I slipped
on the gumshoes of my new mission and went a-snooping in search
of origins. There was something Greek sounding in 'skeuro' and I
wanted to know what it was. I opened up the pages of the Compact
Oxford English Dictionary, and with my detective's 8x spyglass spectacles
I plunged into its minuscule print. I will not dwell here on the
adversities I encountered in my encyclopedic odyssey. The hero -
and what is a detective but a hero? - in his modesty, never complains.
Suffice it to say I emerged from my snooping with a headache from
attempting to make out the microscopic scratchings. And found zero
under 'skeuro'. However, since my sad gumshoes were clumsily trotting
in that bad neighborhood, my distended pupils, so dilated that the
vitreous humors were nearly leaking on the humorless paper trotoirs,
spied the following word: skeuomorph. No 'r' between the 'u' and
the 'o'. From the Greek 'skeuos', meaning 'vessel' and 'morph',
meaning 'form' First spied in the English language in 1889. And
among its meanings: "An object or feature copying the design of
a similar artifact in another material", and "so called skeuomorphs
in architecture that involve conversion of originally necessary
features into purely decorative patterns."
'skeuromorph' a skeuomorph of 'skeuomorph'. You figure it out.