What do such different "things" as a banana slicer in stainless steel, a journalistic-literary hook (which should capture the reader's fleeting attention already in the first line) or a dubious financial derivative have in common with, for example, sitcom laughtracks (so-called canned laughter), the trivial but effective plots in porn movies, or the futuristic glasses, Google Glass? That question is posed by cultural theorist Sianne Ngai in her latest book, Theory of the Gimmick. The book follows on from her two previous books, Ugly Feelings (2005) and Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (2012), adding the gimmick to a list of completely mundane, almost banal, phenomena, concepts, words and emotions. which the Ngai has made its metier to analyze.
Creepy Google Glass
So what is a gimmick?
That, it must be said, is difficult to give a clear answer to. But it is precisely the fundamental ambivalence of the gimmick – an everyday category that falls indefinitely between aesthetic and economic judgment – that is the focal point of Ngai. For a gimmick is at once everything and nothing. Nothing, because it's not necessarily a 'thing' at all. The concept itself contains a judgment of taste, an aesthetic assessment.
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