Kardashian Type Two-and-a-Half Civilisation

"I can recognise a culture in decline when I see it. America is now what anthropologists call a Kardashian Type Three civilisation: more than fifty percent of GDP is in the attention economy."
This is a quote from "In the Ruins", a short story by science-fiction writer Greg Egan. There's an allusion there to Nikolai Kardashev, an astronomer who proposed measuring a civilisation's technological advancement by how much energy it is able to use for communication. A Kardashev Type One civilisation would be able to use all the energy falling onto its planet from the sun. A Kardashev Type Two could use all the sun's energy, not merely the tiny portion radiated onto its planet. It might do this by building a gigantic shell around the sun to capture the energy. And a Type Three would not be satisfied with one miserly sun, but could control the energy emitted from its entire galaxy. We are nowhere near being even Kardashev Type One. But there's another scale, the Kardashian scale, that we are fast ascending.

In Egan's near-future America, celebrity is everything, while being curious or interested in science has become socially unacceptable. The story's protagonist is a physics student: the only way she can make her studies socially acceptable is by live-blogging them as a kind of stand-up comedy show, while disowning pride in her cleverness by calling herself a "poopy-head" or "snot-face". Unlikely? It seems to me a logical extrapolation of a Daily Telegraph feature published in 2009.

The feature was headlined:

Research reveals how to be both clever and popular at school

Clever schoolchildren can avoid being labelled "nerds" if they follow fashion and have a "fall guy" friend who is badly-behaved, new research has found.

It went on to say that children who were both clever and popular tended to be good-looking and extrovert. Girls wore make-up to school and used lots of hair accessories. Boys were often had styled or gelled hair, wore their ties in a "jaunty" way, carried branded sports bags, and were good at sports.

There's no formal definition of the Kardashian scale, of course: it's a joke by Egan. Who, by the way, loves physics, is a skilled mathematician, has just published a book called Dichronauts which explores a universe which has two space dimensions and two time rather than three space and one time, and uses "In the Ruins" to teach some nifty geometrical facts about four-dimensional rotations and electron energy levels in the atom. So you can be sure that he does not admire civilisations that rank high on the Kardashian scale. The Kardashians, of course, specialise in grabbing attention: in being famous for being famous, in being celebrity influencers. And one of the things they influence is denim styles.

[Photo: Pixabay]

I reckon we're up to Kardashian Type Two-and-a-Half.

Pavement Pain

The opposite of pavement pleasure must be pavement pain. I like graceful flowing lines, such as those of the satin and velvet full-length harem pants made for me by my tailor in Tangier. I dislike the graceless wrinkles in jeans, especially around the knees. But in truth, most clothes I see do not grab the attention enough to cause pain. Drab, shapeless, beige: they're merely pavement bleurgh.

Pavement Pleasure

One can take pleasure in vividly coloured clothes, so it's a shame more people don't. A friend of mine coined a phrase about this:

Pavement Pleasure: dressing to please other people on the pavement.
We'd had coffee and come outside, and he was admiring my turquoise Moroccan top over which I'd draped a salmon-pink silk scarf. In the sun, the contrast was striking and enlivened both colours. "Wonderful colours!" he burst out. "Pavement pleasure!"

Badges with the words 'Pavement Pleasure' on.

Moroccan Embroidery

I said that the decoration on the front of my turquoise shirt is called the Moroccan Cross. Here's another example, this time in white on dark blue.

Dark blue Moroccan shirt with white embroidery (worn in Oxford High Street near Magdalen Bridge)

Dark blue Moroccan shirt with white embroidery (worn in Oxford High Street near Magdalen Bridge)

Like the turquoise shirt, I bought this one in 2009. Despite almost daily wear during some summers, it's survived almost unscathed. The main wear is that the collar folds over, obscuring some of the decoration.

A Strange Moroccan Fabric

This is a very unusual pair of qandrissi. They're a kind of turquoise, but the weave contains some orange cross-threads. It's also very open. Although the trousers initially were very good against the wind, some threads tended to fibrate apart in the way that worn shoelaces do. This happened particularly on the pockets, which is why they've been bound with ribbon. My thanks to Carole Duma for doing this.

Blue qandrissi shot with orange

Blue qandrissi shot with orange (detail of weave)

Blue qandrissi shot with orange


Today is the first of March, an appropriate time to mention an item not of clothing but of adornment, the martenitsa:

This is Bulgarian, and its name would be written in that language as мартеница. I have been to Bulgaria, but I think I was given mine at a party in Oxford. What I was told is that it symbolises spring. You start wearing it on the first of March, and continue until you see the first stork (or possibly the first tree in leaf: I can't remember). You then throw it into a wood or under a tree. I may also have been told that the colours relate to a legend about two babies abandoned in a snowy wood and saved by a stork which tears out its feathers to cover them with. The white stands for the snow or the feathers, and the red for the stork's blood.

My reading found numerous other origin-legends, some linking the martenitsa to the founding of Bulgaria. But everyone seems to agree that this adornment is worn to give thanks for the ending of the long and brutal winter. With which I can fully agree. I shan't be throwing mine away, though, because I wouldn't be able to get another to replace it.

The jacket holding the martenitsa came from the vintage shop Unicorn in Ship Street, Oxford. I buy a lot of my clothes there, as posts to come will show, and recommend it.