Chances are every day we forget something for the last time. Every moment exists as a step away from the last until, by and large, we lose sight of them all. Each one haunted by the benign spectre of what it was and who we could have been. Each action a whispered echo of the moments it spent within us. It is this unintended loss that gives intended action purpose. It is what helps us feel the change of time, and remember to remiss when it feels as though we’ve taken it for granted.
When this becomes the default understanding of existence, it will manifest itself in the form that is of the greatest utility to those expressing themselves at their point in time. To what end does one express forgotten memories that we were forever forced to defer? Aesthetic. Of course, the colors of aesthetic will always change with time, but here, for the ends of this piece, the shade of choice is vaporwave.
First, however, we must address a misconception. There are those who have argued vaporwave to be a genre. That is, a category of art befitting a unique criteria so that it may be categorized. This is wrong. In part because the idea of genre is flawed to begin with, and in part because vaporwave serves a function independent of that served by genre.
Aesthetic stems from the old words for perception. It is that which can be sensed, and is therefore based upon recollection for the purpose of recognition. It is not a difficult jump to see aesthetic as not so much as how the individual wishes to be perceived, but rather a statement towards what sort of world the wish they lived in. Although even that choice is a conglomerate recollection of what they’ve experienced in life thus far.
The name “vaporwave” is itself a recontextualization of “vaporware”, a thing announced by a company that never comes to fruition because it was never supposed to. It is a lie sold as a promise of could-be tomorrows, to sell us the idea of the next best thing so that we may be forever distracted from building the perfect now. Where customers are not fellow citizens to nourish, but marks to bleed dry until their empty husks can be locked in boxes and stored in dirt. After all, contentment is in equal measure a natural antidote to consumerism, and an anathema to progress.
Even the freeware nature of vaporwave’s inception shows the beauty in redundant mundanity, in that the most perfect purpose is being able to exist at all, while reveling in the melancholic truth that we are mortal and it will one day end.
The blind ubiquity of modern technology has made the consumption of art into a passive action. Hours of work have become disposable distractions, with the fleeting nature of every moment now defining everything. And it is exhausting. Vaporwave, like all retro aesthetics, exists as a half remembered memory of those moments we forgot to care about. Of the loneliness found in momentary melancholy. It is to create a celebratory ambience of fatalism wrapped in a liminal space. In short, where memory is an art that can never be commodified, idea becomes an art beyond genre.
Therein lies the problem of aesthetic. When imagination informs memory more than experience, indescription becomes the function of that which exists to evoke what never was but always should have been. At best, it is a style in which the audio invokes the visual, and the visual invokes the audio. It is a casting for the role of how a memory should have felt, and nothing more. For when feeling eclipses experience, what is there to build upon?
The result of those raised within a simulacrum of culture. One created by prioritizing the commodible without considering that saturated ubiquity would lead to its own variant of beauty. For when all is commercial, all is disposable, thus leaving only the eternal immortality of feeling. That’s the point. Because the promised world never materialized, but the individual still lived through the vaporware promises, we must now find meaning in something, and there is nothing else left to turn to but the self. Here, it becomes an acknowledgement that, at best, decadence is a simulacrum of purpose. That our search for the self in the aftermath of hypermodulized consumerism, leads us to the same fate as everything ever made, bought, and sold. That we exist until we don’t.