Lehigh Valley Workshop’s Infinite Subversion

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I watch so many how-to YouTube videos. I’m sure I’m not alone, especially among readers of this blog, in enjoying watching people explain things we’ll likely never do.

I think this has a lot to do with a general estrangement from physical tasks. To put a finer point on this, Marx described a quality of what he called alienation that encompasses this separation but also has broader implications. In Marx’s formulation we are both estranged from production, but also human relationships, for instance that direct contact that used to exist between you and, say, the village blacksmith. These days we walk into a Costco and encounter a world of objects that seem to have a life of their own abstracted from the people that made them, likely, a continent away. Relationships between people get replaced by relationships between things.

I believe that one of the ways we compensate for these multiple levels of alienation is by watching people doing things. Mostly, I watch woodworking videos which is a task that I actually do almost every day. But here’s the odd thing about this. I pay for subscription to Fine Woodworking that includes hundreds of detailed videos, carefully edited, that actually show you how to perform specific tasks. Do I watch these? Sometimes, but I’m more likely to hate-watch a live edge table YouTube video of someone making something that I will never make on principle (I really hate live edge slab tables).

Recently in my Instagram feed, a woodworker appeared who does not ever mention his real name but goes by “Lehigh Valley Workshop” (I’ll call him LVW). LVW attempts, via self-reflexivity to subvert and comment on alienation directly. His work transgresses all of YouTube’s woodworking norms. His videos contain leftest rants that, judging from the comments, horrify and trigger a lot of viewers and contrast vividly with most other woodworking influencers with their Rifle Coffee sponsorships and American flag cutting board projects. He also points out the contradictions that generally go unspoken, such as beginning the video above by noting, “The first thing you’re going to need for this is about 10 to $15,000 worth of woodworking equipment.” He ends the video by poking at another sacred cow, the subversion of hobbies into our culture’s ubiquitous push to turn everything into hustle and grind,

Now you can make a bunch of these, put them up on Etsy, realize that you can’t compete with drop shippers if you want to make a profit, and ultimately give up, casting blame on everyone but yourself, end up back in some mindless company riding the spreadsheet fellatio train and go home staring at your tools wondering what could have been and waiting for the sweet embrace of nothingness.

LVW appeared in the social media woodworking firmament as a bright fiery object and I wonder what where his trajectory will go: towards chain reaction or implosion? LVW is smart and self-aware and I’m sure is fully conscious of the fact that late capitalism subsumes all transgression into yet another hustle and grind: punk rock becomes Hot Topic. Perhaps LVW will turn that subsumption into an infinite recursion, using this contradiction as a way to market more “basic bitch cutting boards” or, as is the ultimate goal of every social media star, to sell the idea of a basic bitch cutting board rather than the physical object.

Lest I seem to be criticizing, let me note that LVW is much more self aware than Root Simple was at the height of our popularity when our books came out. During my longish absence from this blog in the past few months I’ve been attempting to lift the hood a bid on the whole urban homesteading thing. As Frederic Jameson says, “We have to name the system.” This mapping and naming process is the first step towards constructive work. LVW is attempting to do just that and the fact that your right wing relatives and your hipster artist types all follow him in Instagram says something about the value of his strategy.

You can find LVW on YouTube and Instagram

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  1. So glad you’re back to posting, and this post was so worth the wait. What a great find in LVW!

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