Hmm Weekly for June 22, 2021

Today is Tuesday

Hmm Weekly for June 22, 2021


GOOD MORNING, loyal readers of the HMM WEEKLY email newsletter! We hope that you have been enjoying our product, especially because we are here today to announce that we are preparing to give you a new and more abundant product:


With the help of an advance grant from Substack, Hmm Weekly's editor, Tom Scocca, will be quitting his current job to work full-time writing more of the essays, arguments, advice, observations, complaints, and bagatelles you have come to expect from the Hmm family of publications—so many more, we will deliver them under a whole new banner, the banner of INDIGNITY.

Specifically, beginning the first week of August, INDIGNITY will send out two email posts a week: one for free, as you currently get from Hmm Weekly (albeit earlier in the week than you currently get from Hmm Weekly), and an additional one for our paid subscribers. Still more items will be published directly to the website, for dedicated readers. Paid subscribers may also have the opportunity to comment on posts, or to participate in live chats with the INDIGNITY staff.

Notice how we already said "paid subscribers" twice in that paragraph? We are trying our utmost not to be bashful or reluctant here: Substack agreed to back this project with money because we believe that enough of you will want to read INDIGNITY that you, and others like you, will spend money for it.

Hmm Weekly's existing readers and subscribers will automatically be enrolled as readers of and/or subscribers to INDIGNITY. If you enjoy something we publish, please—please!—share it with other people who might also enjoy it, and encourage them to subscribe.

Thank you for reading, and please read some more. We are here for you—full-time! Let's make this work.


I WENT TO the drugstore over the weekend to buy four things—one thing more than I can comfortably keep in my head, so I had to keep repeating them—and while I was searching the aisles and trying not to forget what merchandise I was searching for, I came across this non-merchandise:

Once upon a time we were supposed to pity the Soviet Bloc for their empty store shelves, left barren by their refusal to participate in consumer capitalism. Now American consumer capitalism has produced something beyond empty shelves: shelves filled with manufactured nothingness. Someone designed and printed and shipped and built these cardboard boxes, so that they could be put on the shelves to indicate that something is not on the shelves. "MORE PRODUCTS ARE ON THE WAY." Which products? Whatever it is that you want but aren't able to get.

"DON'T SEE YOUR PRODUCT? FIND IT ONLINE!" said the outward face of one box, placed there by a worker whose job is, or formerly was, to put things on the shelves of a retail store so that people could pick them up and buy them. One such worker had enterprisingly put out one of the boxes upside down, adding an extra layer of improvised nonperformance to the drugstore company's designed nonperformance. The whole setup was too perfunctory to even qualify as Potemkin; the literal idea of not having empty shelves had displaced the substantive idea of having something to buy.

Here was the spirit of a phone-robot chanting "Your call is very important to us," manifested in three-dimensional space. Of my own four items—lens fluid, socks, shampoo, kitchen trash bags—I ended up finding one and three-halves: the shampoo was as needed, the socks were the slightly wrong cut labeled as the right cut, the usual lens fluid had been crowded off the shelf by a new Acuvue-branded line of lens fluid products, and the only garbage bags were house brand.

Long ago, when I was learning about buying things, I had made it a rule never to buy any garbage bags but the real major brands. The off-brand ones, I had discovered, tended to split and leak, and a failed trash bag was worse than no trash bag at all. And yet, now, the trash had to go somewhere. I bought the inadequate bags.


FORMERLY, WE MIGHT have run the previous two items in the opposite order, beginning with the story about placeholder fake products and then using that to archly transition into pointing the reader toward our own placeholder site for our future publication. But we are serious about INDIGNITY, so we sacrificed the self-effacing or self-indulgent gag to make sure we told you what we were doing. Thank you again for reading!

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