Vancouver’s entertainment district has endured a steady decline this past year. With the pandemic shuttering the nightclubs, forcing thousands of college students to seek debauchery within the constricted confines of illegal house parties, the street is barely recognizable. Gone are the spent beer bottles, abandoned stilettos, and puddles of teenage vomit. In their place are spent hypodermic needles, abandoned encampments, and puddles of junkie vomit.
The other night, walking past the Vogue Theatre, I glanced up at the resplendent art deco sign rising six stories above the theatre’s marquee, and noted that one of its letters — a large neon ‘U’ — had burned out. Through the lens of the district’s new milieu, my first thought was to catalog this as nothing more than an apt metaphor for the current state of Granville Street.
But upon further thought, I realized I might be letting my own cynicism taint my rationale. Perhaps the extinguished ‘U’ isn’t a sign of decline, but a sign of ingenuity?
As establishments like the Vogue continue to navigate the pandemic, they walk a financial tightrope — weighing the cost of current losses with the promise of a considerable post-pandemic revenue stream. The greater the public’s pent-up demand, the greater the number of cash spewing patrons, lusting for social interaction, who will eventually storm their lobbies.
So it’s in their best interest to keep the neon lit — taunting the teens like a carrot on a stick — feeding society’s yearning for what it currently cannot have. But lighting all that neon is a costly gamble, and with neither income nor a known end to the ongoing pandemic, each establishment needs to make crucial decisions. Do they light the neon only on certain nights, and thus risk fading from memory and receding into irrelevancy? Or do they sink deeper into debt to keep their beacons of hope aglow?
Perhaps the Vogue has found a solution. There are five letters in the word ‘Vogue’, but only one of those letters is superfluous — the ‘U’. If one removes the ‘U’, the pronunciation of the word remains unchanged. The ‘E’ at the end informs us that the ‘O’ is a long vowel, similar to the way we know that ‘not’ and ‘note’ are pronounced differently. So, in practice, it makes no difference whether their sign reads “Vogue” or “Voge” since they sound the same — ensuring memories of happy times at the Vogue remain linked to the promise of even happier times at the Voge. And it was all done with a 20% reduction in cost! Clever folks, those Voge people.
So naturally, self-reflective introvert that I am, I started thinking about my own life, and whether it was plagued by any unnecessary ‘U’s.
My low hanging ‘U’ is probably that second bathroom of mine. Does a domicile of one really require two bathrooms? I suppose there’s some merit to the idea of a ‘guest’ bathroom, but self-reflective introverts don’t have guests. And even if we did, COVID laws forbid it. If this was 1991, I would have converted it into a darkroom by now. I once considered installing a room-sized hot tub, but in the absence of guests, all that extra bathwater seemed no less superfluous than a second toilet. Ultimately, there’s not really anything to be done about my redundant bathroom, other than rent it out. But that sounds like more bother than it’s worth.
Mentally touring my apartment — already a shining example of minimalism — I could think of only two other seemingly superfluous possessions: my synthesizers and my film cameras. One could argue that I have too many of each. But I would counter that not a single one of them is unnecessary — each has a different strength; a different character; and a different way of helping me voice whatever it is I wish to say. So what might appear superfluous to a non-existent guest is perfectly fluous to me.
Perhaps my own extraneous ‘U’ isn’t something physical at all. Maybe it’s abstract? Listening to my own music, I sense a tendency toward dense production and harmonic complexity. And looking at my own photos, I see a propensity to include a lot of elements in the frame. Neither inclination yields a product that’s easily consumed in a single swallow, which suggests that my artistic inclinations could stand some pruning. Except all that extra complexity isn’t superfluous at all — it’s fundamental to the music and photography I wish to create. So, since most people consider multiple engagements with the work to be superfluous (and since my own work is designed to require multiple engagements), perhaps what’s truly superfluous about my creative output is its very existence. And if my music and photography are what’s superfluous, then what does that make me? Am I the ‘U’?
At that point, with my introspective dive only a fathom or two away from exploring a nihilistic shipwreck — that humanity is, itself, one big evolutionary ‘U’ — I resurfaced; took a shot of the sign and carried on with my evening stroll.
The next night, as I walked along that same stretch of Granville Street, I glanced up at the marquee I’d found so inspirational the previous night. The Voge Theatre had once again undergone a name change, and was now simply called the Vog Theatre — its ‘E’ having followed the ‘U’ into disrepair, thus invalidating the very crux of this entire thought exercise. And it was then that I realized it’s not my creative output that’s superfluous — it’s my propensity to assign meaning where none exists. As Freud once said, “sometimes a chunk of burned out neon is just a chunk of burned out neon.”
©2021 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: Superfluous? was shot on Tri-X and developed in Rodinal 1:50, using a Leitz Minolta CL and a Minolta 40mm f/2 Rokkor lens. Superfluos is this month’s lone digital shot, coming courtesy of the Rocoh GRIII. Megafluous spooled out of a Widelux F7 on a strip of Tri-X, developed in Rodinal 1:50. Superfluous!, also shot on Tri-X and developed in Rodinal, popped out of a Hasselblad Xpan fronted with its drastically underused 90mm f/4 lens. Obviously, this is all superfluous information.
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