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Book Review: People of the Twenty-First Century


Book Review People of the Twenty-First Century By Hans Eijkelboom Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson We like to believe that we’re making choices. Not just in the larger things like deciding to go to college, get married, be an asshole, or have kids, but in everything: what we take home with us from the grocery store, the department store or optometrist’s.

Phaidon, 2014.
 
People of the Twenty-First Century
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

People of the Twenty-First Century
Photographs by Hans Eijkelboom
Phaidon, London, 2014. 512 pp., 6000 illustrations, 8½x6¾".


We like to believe that we’re making choices. Not just in the larger things like deciding to go to college, get married, be an asshole, or have kids, but in everything: what we take home with us from the grocery store, the department store or optometrist’s. That these things, especially the latter ones, define us by building up our external character and making up not so much what we are to ourselves, but who we are to others. “Tom likes chocolate,” “Susan is a Mets fan,” “Jasmine’s favorite color is blue.” These facts are like decals that we peel off of commercialism and apply to ourselves.

People of the Twenty-First Century shows us that the idea of these little choice is both true and false. Eijkelboom captures the ghost of our fashions, page after page, decades of the stereotypical unfortunates who, having been invited to the same party, arrive in the same gown so to speak and must confront one another in the pages of this book. But why does that happen at all? How is it possible?

People of the Twenty-First Century. By Hans Eijkelboom. Phaidon, 2014.

Despite clothing’s being mass produced, mass marketed and available to a wide range of social classes, there is still so much of it. Today’s consumer has so many fashion providers and, from those providers, so many options and, as if that weren’t enough, you can even go online and design your own clothes which will then be made and sent straight to you. Yet Eijkelboom is able to take this badge we all wear, fashion, and make it into an individuality crushing statistic. People of the Twenty-First Century is like a long hilarious info-graphic that reduces people to bars and Venn diagrams, more like shapes on a piece of paper than characters in a play.

People of the Twenty-First Century. By Hans Eijkelboom. Phaidon, 2014.
People of the Twenty-First Century. By Hans Eijkelboom. Phaidon, 2014.

In photos arranged in a grid form, sometimes 15 images, sometimes less, we see a brigade of flower-bloused forty-something women, a herd of serious looking be speckled men in slacks, and a host of young women sporting the same shopping bags. But fashion here is broad, it can be held in the arms and legs also; 15 women who all cradle their purses the same way, half a dozen men in hunteresque clothing who walk with their hands behind their backs, twelve folks asleep on the train.

People of the Twenty-First Century. By Hans Eijkelboom. Phaidon, 2014.

Is it funny to see people presented this way? As a unit or type? Yes, but I do have the feeling that it is all in the display. The fact is that most people, if they really sat down to think of the implications of this book, might ultimately feel an indignity because no one will get through the pages without alighting on some, “Oh, that’s just like mine,” or “They all stand and wait like I do!” At that moment, the viewer sinks down into the book themselves.

After all, the book isn’t called Those People of the Twenthieth-Century. We are all a part of it ourselves.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON


CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON is an artist, radio host, and poet living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His reviews, interviews, and essays on poetry can be read in the Philadelphia Review of Books. Johnson also hosts the radio program Collected Words on 101.5 KVSF, where he interviews authors, poets and artists.

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