February 11, 2019

Food for Thought

My friend Mike and I went to Win Son, the popular Taiwanese restaurant in Williamsburg. I didn’t know that it’s a scene. As I waited for Mike outside, I could identify with near perfect accuracy which pedestrians were going to Win Son; they were all dressed to be seen. It’s not a place for 3 generations of Taiwanese or Chinese families to enjoy their weekend brunch. The host told us that the wait is 40 minutes, so we decided to go to Bahia, a Salvadorian restaurant nearby that Mike likes. Although it too was somewhat crowded, we felt at home. The food was great and interesting.

I feel disappointed whenever I see a promising restaurant that is a scene because it gets in the way of enjoying the food. The word “scene” is very apt because the key function of a scene is to be seen. In short, a scene can be defined as a herd mentality disguised as an anti-herd mentality.

A scenester achieves his inflated sense of self through two distinct groups: in-group and out-group. The in-group represents the object of desire at the cutting edge of our culture. As René Girard described, desire is “mimetic”; we desire something because others desire it. The object does not necessarily need to have anything inherently desirable. That is, desire can easily be manufactured. For instance, David Bowie, in his early days, hired a bunch of people to act as his groupies and arrived at his venue in a limo. He knew how to manufacture desire.

Scenesters do not realize that their desires are actually not their own. They simply follow the freshly manufactured desires in our culture, but subconsciously they don’t like that about themselves, so in order to deny their own herd mentality, they project it onto the out-group. They ridicule the mainstream herd who tries to copy their lifestyle, which allows them to believe that they do not have a herd mentality. But their self-esteem is fundamentally dependent on the out-group’s desire to copy them. The envy of the out-group is precisely what they need to feel good about themselves. Often the out-group is not good enough, so they project their herd mentality onto each other too within the in-group, which is why they are so competitive.