Exploring Premium Mediocrity

Epistemic Status: Mediocre Premium

Response To (Rao / Ribbonfarm) : The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millenial

Builds Upon (not required): Play in Easy ModePlay in Hard Mode

Leads To: Expanding Premium Mediocrity

Good Other Commentary (Jacob / Put a Num On It): Escaping the Premium Mediocre

I

A few days ago I read this very good sentence by Venkatesh Rao:

Premium mediocre is the finest bottle of wine at Olive Garden.

Exactly, my brain thought. Say no more! Long have I waited for a name to put to this concept! Somewhere Plato was smiling.

Then Rao continued, and I wondered if he was pondering something different than what I was pondering:

Premium mediocre is cupcakes and froyo. Premium mediocre is “truffle” oil on anything (no actual truffles are harmed in the making of “truffle” oil), and extra-leg-room seats in Economy. Premium mediocre is cruise ships, artisan pizza, Game of Thrones, and The Bellagio.

As Elanor of The Good Place observed when given a list of supposedly sexy things, well, some of those are right. In particular, froyo, “truffle” oil, extra-leg-room seats in Economy and cruise ships are clearly right. Artisan pizza at first struck me as wrong but now strikes me as right, because the ones that are wrong don’t call themselves ‘artisan.’ Cupcakes are Actually Good, but kind of by coincidence, which is a strange gray area. Then there were two clear errors: The Bellagio is a terrible example given the casino options, and Game of Thrones, which is both Actually Good and outside the pattern entirely (or rather, it wasn’t until some point in the past two seasons, which is a clue).

Something was amiss.

Then he came back with a sentence that, while not quite as high Quality as the first, sums it all up perfectly:

Premium mediocre is food that Instagrams better than it tastes.

More examples follow:

Premium mediocre is Starbucks’ Italian names for drink sizes, and its original pumpkin spice lattes featuring a staggering absence of pumpkin in the preparation. Actually all the coffee at Starbucks is premium mediocre. I like it anyway.

Premium mediocre is Cost Plus World Market, one of my favorite stores, purveyor of fine imported potato chips in weird flavors and interesting cheap candy from convenience stores around the world.

The best banana, any piece of dragon fruit, fancy lettuce, David Brooks’ idea of a gourmet sandwich.

Premium mediocre, premium mediocre, premium mediocre, premium mediocre.

Heavy on the food examples, but quite good! I suspect he’s wrong about the best banana and quite possibly dragon fruit, but I’m unable to eat either without physically gagging, so I don’t have enough information to tell.

A more focused attempt at a definition is then offered:

Mediocre with just an irrelevant touch of premium, not enough to ruin the delicious essential mediocrity.

This isn’t quite right, but it’s close. Then the two of us completely disagreed and I knew we were going in different directions:

Yes, ribbonfarm is totally premium mediocre. We are a cut above the new media mediocrityfests that are Vox and Buzzfeed, and we eschew low-class memeing and listicles. But face it: actually enlightened elite blog readers read Tyler Cowen and Slatestarcodex.

I do read Tyler Cowen and Slatestarcodex (and only selectively read ribbonfarm)! I still call out this false humility, for it reflects a deep error on the part of Rao. Ribbonfarm does not fit the above example set at all. Or if it is, that fact is why it can’t take its place in that top tier. Ribbonfarm is doing an original, valuable thing with its own internal logic, for the joy of exploring concepts wherever they lead. That should be the opposite of the list being created above.

I will post the rest of the example list now:

Premium mediocre is international. My buddy Visakan Veerasamy (a name Indian-origin people will recognize as a fantastic premium mediocre name, suitable for a Tamil movie star, unlike mine which is merely mediocre, and suitable for a side character) reports that Singaporeans can enjoy the fine premium mediocre experience of the McDonald’s Signature Collection.

Anything branded as “signature” is premium mediocre of course.

Much of the manufactured cool of K-Pop (though not the subtly subversive Gangnam Style, whose sly commentary on Korean life takes some digging for non-Koreans to grok) is premium mediocre. Carlos Bueno argues that Johnny Walker Black is premium mediocre in the Caribbean. In Bollywood, the movies of Karan Johar are premium mediocre portrayals of premium mediocre modern urban Indian life.

The entire idea of the country that is France is kinda premium mediocre (K-Pop is a big hit there, not coincidentally). The fact that Americans equate “French” with “classy” is proof of its premium mediocrity (Switzerland is the actually elite European country).

At its broad, fuzzy edges, premium mediocre is an expansive concept; a global, cosmopolitan and nationalist cultural Big Tent: it is arguably both suburban and neourban, Red and Blue, containing Boomers and X’ers. It includes bluetooth headsets favored by Red State farmers and the tiki torches — designed for premium mediocre backyard barbecues — favored by your friendly neighborhood Nazis. It includes everything Trump-branded. It covers McMansions, insecure suburbia-dwelling Dodge Stratus owners and Bed, Bath, and Beyond shoppers. It includes gentrifying neighborhoods and ghost-town malls. It includes Netflix and chill. It includes Blue Apron meals.

At some level, civilization itself is at a transitional premium mediocre state somewhere between industrial modernity in a shitty end-of-life phase, and digital post-scarcity in a shitty early-beta phase.  Premium mediocrity is a stand-in for the classy kind of post-scarcity digital utopia some of us like to pretend is already here, only unevenly distributed. The kind where everybody gets a mansion, is a millionaire, and drives a Tesla.

After that point, Rao goes on to associate the concept with an entire generation and lifestyle, and wraps it up in a classic Rao-style theory that asks the question ‘what if the whole world, or at least some people’s worlds, revolved around this idea?’

His answer is ambitious, far-wielding, interesting in its own right and further proof of his own lack of premium mediocrity.

I’ll get to that.

First, we need to break down the small definition. The one that’s about small things, that explains what the above list has in common.

II

Definition:

Something is Premium Mediocre if and only if it is primarily optimized* to superficially appear to be, or sound like it is, to at least some people, the convenient or premium** version of a thing.

*: The extreme cases are where it is solely optimized in this way; you get premium mediocrity to the extent that this is being optimized for. I think using primarily here is the right compromise.

**: You can also appear to be any of superior, high-class, glamorous, fancy, etc, but I think simply saying premium here is sufficient. Convenient is an interesting case but seems intuitively right to me.

Alternate Definition:

Premium Mediocre is the set of things created in easy mode.

As Rao says, premium mediocre is intentional. It is about aiming for the symbolic representation of the (higher-level version of the) thing, rather than the thing.

You can tell yourself that you’re not doing that. Doesn’t matter. It is impossible to accidentally create something in this class. You chose to do that.

You can also tell yourself that you’re creating something premium mediocre, and even explicitly claim to be premium mediocre, and be wrong because you are actually optimizing for a real thing. This describes Rao. Rao does authentic things, but is surrounded by a world that is so lost in a meta-signaling trap that he is terrified of anyone finding that out, so he disavows it every chance he gets, even to himself.

To go Full Rao (Never go full Rao? Always go full Rao? Hard to say) the 2×2 would have the X-axis be Actual Easy Mode vs. Actual Hard Mode and the Y-axis be Self-Identified Easy Mode vs. Self-Identified Hard Mode.

Rao

Figure 1: Easy and Hard Modes, 2×2

(Easy, Easy) is Sociopath. They know what they want and they get it. They don’t care about anything else.

(Easy, Hard) is Clueless. They enforce the rules of the system, thinking they are fighting for something that matters, but instead are being tricked, either the tools of others or fighting for lost purposes.

(Hard, Hard) is Loser. They care about things that matter to them, even if that means they’ll work harder for less. They know the game and choose not to play.

(Hard, Easy) is Hero. The Hero thinks they are in Easy Mode, but their Easy Mode goal is to actually accomplish or create the thing. The Hero focuses on cutting the enemy. The Hero doesn’t think they’re a hero. The hero often doesn’t even want to be a hero. The hero simply wants something you can’t cheat on.

It isn’t a choice. The hero is a hero despite themselves.

Rao is a hero. He would be the first to say, he isn’t one, and also, don’t be one. Doesn’t matter. He is one anyway.

Meanwhile, as corporations create more and more of the things, and/or those things are built to hit explicit optimization targets, those things are built or ‘improved’ by Sociopaths directing the Clueless. Which all means, of course, Premium Mediocre.

III

How does this relate to things that are Actually Good?

It is common for Premium Mediocre things to in some aspect be Actually Good. The catch is that they are, whether in terms of money, time, or something else, expensive. Often, the easy path to making something superficially premium is to make the thing actually premium! You can then get the delicious high-grade mediocrity you crave, but you pay for it.

As Rao points out, Cupcakes are Actually Good. I love me a cupcake, but they are still Premium Mediocre, whereas cake brings you even more Actually Good at a fraction of the price.

He also claims Avocado Toast is Actually Good, which it might well be. I’ve never had it. What I know for sure is that it is shockingly expensive for a vegetable on a piece of toast.

Same thing with Starbucks Coffee. I don’t drink coffee, but by all accounts it’s good – it’s just shockingly expensive for what it is. I’ve had their hot chocolate, which is both good and shockingly expensive.

The finest wine at Olive Garden is premium mediocrity on top of premium mediocrity, so it’s going to be super expensive for what it is, but it’s still probably better than the median wine at Olive Garden.

This is my resolution of what Rao calls the Avocado Toast Paradox. This is not premium mediocrity deciding to occasionally treat itself, it is simply that Goodhart’s Law is not perfect.

What premium mediocre cannot be, is Perfectly Good or Really Good. And it certainly can’t be Insanely Great.

Things which are superficially flawed, but which do their functional job just fine thank you, are Perfectly Good. Perfectly Good things satisfice on functionality and entirely ignore superficiality. There, I Fixed It is their official website and slogan.

If something is either Actually Good or Perfectly Good, and that is surprising, then it is Not That Bad.

An easy way to end up with a premium mediocre product is to discard the Perfectly Good. We throw out Perfectly Good tomatoes because they don’t have the right shape. This results in premium mediocre produce. We throw out a Perfectly Good old and comfortable sofa, rather than patch it with duck tape. Instead we buy one from premium mediocre IKEA.

My parents would not have dreamt of throwing out something that was Perfectly Good.

Some products and experiences are the best versions of themselves. Given the restraints of their format and budget, they exceeded all your expectations. These are not merely Actually Good, they are Really Good. There’s nothing wrong with the Actually Good, but the Really Good will brighten up your day. You go out of your way for the Really Good.

If something spares no expense, with full attention to every detail, and still blows you away despite that, it is Insanely Great. Insanely Great changes your life.

Things that are some combination of Really Good and Insanely Great are The Real Thing.

2x2 Good Things

Figure 2: Good Things, 2×2

Can’t beat The Real Thing!

Note: Extending this to the left from Not That Bad gets us to That Bad, also known as Not Great, Bob. Paired with Looks Bad we get No Good, and paired with Looks Good we get what some would call Superficially Good but which I prefer to call Not Good. Subtle but important differences.

IV

A while back, I wrote a Restaurant Guide. This shares the best tools I have found for differentiating whether you’re dealing with The Real Thing and getting the highest quality experience and value for your dollar. Some of the tools are things like seeing what percentage of customers have their dishes, which is an impossible-to-fake measure of how fast service is.

Most, however, are about the signals the restaurants are choosing to send, because restaurants tell you who they are. Who are they claiming to be? If a place is The Real Thing, every subtle action they take will inform you of this fact. As Rao points out, the premium mediocre tells you what it is. A lot of my tactics are about identifying and thus avoiding the premium mediocre. Even when it is Actually Good, you’re still overpaying, so you can do better.

Premium mediocre can be a reasonable fallback, but you should almost always be sad about it.

That raises the question at the heart of the rest of Rao’s post. Why would one choose to live premium mediocre? Why would one self-identify that way?

Certainly it is fine to indulge in occasional premium mediocrity. If you like Starbucks Coffee, it can be better to pay $4 for that than go without good coffee. You would want to know about good $2 coffee around the corner, but it might not be there. It might be there but you might not know about or trust it.

Suppose equally good $2 coffee is there. Suppose you know it’s there. What the hell are you doing in line at Starbucks?

Good question. My plan is to address that in part two.

 

 

 

 

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17 Responses to Exploring Premium Mediocrity

  1. deluks917 says:

    I loved the graph. Very nice homage to ribbonfarm.

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  3. raemon777 says:

    Usually when I’m paying for Premium Mediocre (which I think I do on purpose a fair bit), I’m not paying for the food itself but for the overall experience/aesthetic. I usually do this by paying for the *cheapest* thing at the place that gets me that experience/aesthetic without feeling like I’m violating a social contract

    (Possibly also whatever the most efficient/good food is available if I need real food as well as wanting to feel surrounded by premium-ness)

    ((This strategy doesn’t quite work at Starbucks because their cheapest coffee is quite awful.))

    Main use-case is going to a fancy-ish diner to work, in a setting that is moderately novel, clean, polished.

    • TheZvi says:

      A case could be made that this does not count as consumption of premium mediocrity, since in your own way you are renting The Real Thing rather than buying the food. It certainly does not match my narratives for Maya’s motivation at all (which is in part 2).

  4. raemon777 says:

    Aside: I want to register a downvote for the practice of hyperlinks that link to a joke. (I think a superior practice is to just include the joke, i.e. in the “Pondering What I’m Pondering”, if you think the video is funny or important enough to be worth interrupting yourself and making us choose whether to stop reading your post for, just… actually include it in the post, so I can see it, chuckle and move on without having to decide whether to open a new tab, figure out if it was a link to something important or a joke)

    I’m not sure if it’s actively awful the way this article claims (http://fortune.com/2016/02/03/nicholas-carr-internet/), but it as least subjectively feels annoying. Sometimes it’s worth linking to things but I think each hyperlink should at least be treated as a cost.

    https://journals.tdl.org/jodi/index.php/jodi/article/view/35/37

    • TheZvi says:

      I am curious if others agree or disagree with this. It is a very DWATV argument!

      After reading your sources and thinking about it, I am tentatively convinced that you are right.

      • deluks917 says:

        I didn’t actually click any of the hyperlinks in the article. I assume not clicking the hyperlinks is a common pattern.

        If a hyperlink had led to a joke I would probably have found it funny.

  5. Quixote says:

    I am sad to see a wide variety of rationalist adjacent blogs linking to ribbon farm. Everything I’ve ever red at that website triggers red flags, warning bells, and alarm klaxons screaming info hazard.

    I think signal boosting this into a community is almost certainly going to be destructive.

    • TheZvi says:

      Thank you for saying this explicitly. If such alarm bells go off for someone, it is important that they speak up.

      I certainly can imagine how one might get that impression. A lot of the ideas on ribbonfarm are wrong, and many would be bad to take too literally and/or seriously. It is certainly not a careful or safe space. The post being linked to clearly contains many claims that are false.

      Despite that, I think there is enough actual/original thinking there that I am willing to engage. I believe that allowing people to do thought experiments where they take a crazy idea, model or perspective, vastly inflate its importance and see where that takes them is a worthwhile exercise.

      Based on this and previous comments of yours, I believe your instincts are that memetic hazards are quite dangerous, whereas I am more welcoming of ideas I think are interestingly wrong and much more reluctant to censor. I think the info hazards are worth it and trust us to be able to handle it on the margin; the memetic hazards I think are actively harming us are not things we could plausibly keep out.

      I fully recognize that I might be wrong, and if other people think that Ribbonfarm is doing or has done harm in this way, I encourage you to speak up.

      • Quixote says:

        If you don’t mind a little more length I’d like to expand a bit on how I think of info hazards to hopefully help you distinguish cases where we just have different risk tolerances vs cases where I am actually pointing to something you might be worried about.

        I think a useful taxonomy is internal vs external for the locus of threat and true vs false for the information itself.

        1) External False
        A woman in the middle ages knows that the true faith is that of the old pagan gods. Because of this she keeps the old faith the inquisition burns her as a witch.

        2) External True
        A woman in the middle ages know that there is a bitter herb that grows near a bend in a river and it blooms once a year in early spring and the petals of its flowers help with fever. Because of her herb knowledge the inquisition burns her as a witch.

        The prior note I had was regarding this kind of external hazard. I expect tolerance for this kind of hazard relates to how much the information in question relates to what you are doing and to your level of risk aversion. If you are a doctor then learning how to reduce fever may be worth the risk. If you are a general and essential to protecting your people from invasion then getting burnt over a side project would be catastrophicly bad.

        I start with this catagory to note that this is not what I worry about from ribbon farm. My warning here is meaningfuly distinct from PR concerns.

        3) Internal false
        Bob is actualy a perfectly nice and effective person but he erroneously believes he is a fundamental failure and this results in him being miserable all the time and not trying things because he is sure he will fail.

        4) Interal true
        This is where lovecraft stuff would go if it was true instead of fictional. Obviously, if I had an example of an actual info hazard that worked through internal mechanisms and was true so it couldn’t be addressed by correcting an error, I wouldn’t write it down and distribute it.

        I imagine that there is probably broad consensus on 4 being bad and something that should be warned against. This isn’t ribbonfarm.

        3 isn’t great, but it’s often non catastrophic. The fact that it’s based on being false means it’s often correctable with better information or better reasoning. I do think there is sometimes a bit of this there, but this wouldn’t have been enouph for me to air a warning.

        5) neither true nor false internal hazards

        Someone teaches a Carol a clustering algorithm. In turns out that all fonts fall into two broad categories. This is not just serif vs sans serif, it’s an entirely different axis that most people don’t use and don’t think of. They walk Carol though a number of examples, and sure enough the clustering algorithm puts each font into one of the two groups.

        Carol goes out and finds several store signs and looks at their fonts. Those fonts also go into one of two groups. It works! She gets emails and classifies those fonts. It works again. She feels so clever. Most people are going through the world unaware that there are two kinds of fonts, but Carol knows. Each time she checks she gets a little positive reinforcement from the pleasure of secret knowledge. Classifying fonts gets to be an automatic habit. Every time she sees text Carol spends the first second of engagement classifying the font into one of the two categories.

        She reads a blog post and it takes 15 minutes 38 seconds instead of 15 minutes 37 seconds. She reads an email and it takes 3 minutes 17 seconds instead of 3 minutes 16 seconds. She reads a text from her mom and it takes 9 seconds instead of 8 seconds.

        Over the rest of her life, Carol loses a cumulatively enormous amount of time to classifying fonts even though it’s relatively trivial in each case.

        A non productive meta layer has been imposed on her engagement with text and the meta layer acts as a slight but real drag on her ability to operate at the object level.

        This is the hazard that I think applies to ribbonfarm. It goes meta in a way that seems superficially interesting and productive, but the way it goes meta is designed to be habit forming. One a meta framework is internalized it will operate as a drag on people’s ability to operate on the object level.

        This is why I think ribbonfarm is an info hazard and why I don’t think it’s responsible to point people towards that site.

      • TheZvi says:

        Thanks, Quixote. I think that this is helpful in general and was worth the length.

        Based on this, I think that we disagree about both the hazard level and usefulness of Ribbonfarm in general and this post in particular, and also in our approach in general class 1 type 5 hazards (your type 5, Raymond’s level 1, basically distractions that act as a tax on mental energy but are not otherwise dangerous). On top of that, I am a much bigger fan of going meta.

        Given what your objection is, it seems safe to say you find Ribbonfarm in general and the original post here in particular not to be saying real/true or important things, whereas I do think they’re often pointing (eventually! sometimes! partly!) to real and important things. If I had your view of the level of value provided, I wouldn’t link to them for that reason alone. This is a crux for me.

        On the danger side, I think we’re actually reversed: I see MORE danger than you do, because I think he’s pointing to real things. I considered the possibility that making Rao’s warnings too explicit constituted a Type 4 (slash 3) more than it was a strike against a Type (2, 3 or 4 in some combination), but in general have decided that things are past the point where ‘ignore it and it will hopefully go away’ is a viable option.

        The ‘it trains you to go meta when you shouldn’t’ point is interesting to me, as someone who goes meta quite a lot. I think I get a lot out of it, but one can certainly do it in a non-productive way. I should give more thought to the possibility I am other-optimizing slash typical-minding to think that such actions are good slash worth the cost, in general for most people.

        In terms of dealing with hazards like the two types of fonts, my model says that this becoming a permanent mental drag is unlikely. If the fonts correlate with important other things, such as what type of audience is being targeted or the person’s self-perceived status, Carol might keep noticing this because she finds it useful. She might also choose her font more carefully at some point. If the fonts are not meaningful, she’ll grow bored of the whole thing and stop caring in a week. There are so many font-type-like-things for Carol to notice that if Carol is inclined to notice them even when they are useless, I don’t see how she makes it out intact.

        I DO place high importance on getting rid of distractions, and on noticing when distractions are not being useful. And I think that thinking about these questions more is worthwhile.

    • raemon777 says:

      I came here today actually, *mostly* independently from Quixote, to say something similar.

      I don’t think this Ribbonfarm is an infohazard per se (maybe a level 1 infohazard that just attracts more attention than it deserves). But I do think it was a mistake for this particular post to become The Rationalist Discourse For This Week.

      I think it might be *uniquely* reasonable for Zvi to weigh in on it because Zvi’s aesthetic/values are very much about finding The Best Things (in particular The Best Food) and Premium Mediocrity is directly relevant to his interests, but I think it was mostly a mistake for all the *other* rationalists who bothered reading the original post in detail.

      (I separately sometimes have trouble telling how much Zvi is distinguishing between his own aesthetic/values and other peoples, but

      Other Ribbonfarm posts have seemed more reasonable to me (Sociopaths/Clueless/Losers is also wrong but much more useful). I think they generally say interesting things, just way more long-winded than they need to be.

      But I generally endorse the criticisms of the Premium Mediocrity in particular in this FB discussion:

      PersonA:

      >I will repeat here what I have said elsewhere, in the hope that someone will enlighten me: this seems to vaguely describe a huge cluster of behaviors in a way optimized for pattern-matching as much as possible at the expense of being able to make any predictions. As such, it feels kind of like an extremely verbose horoscope – you can look *back* at almost anything and say “oh, just like that thing said!”, but there are no bets you can win against someone who hasn’t read the article.

      PersonB

      > It seems like 90% of the content of both linked blog posts is wide-ranging speculation about Society which is utterly irrelevant to “notice if something is trying to look fancy rather than be fancy.” And we already have a word for the narrow concept, it’s “middlebrow.” It is pretty silly to spend thousands of words reinventing the idea of things being middlebrow.

      • TheZvi says:

        I read the thread. I can certainly sympathize with the other perspective. There’s a lot that’s confusing, a lot that’s VERY specific to Rao’s corner of the world, and a bunch of stuff I think is simply wrong.

        I think that saying that premium mediocre = middlebrow is the kind of thing you say when you are trying to dismiss the concept. I agree that this is not the worst one-word approximation, but it’s pretty different.

        It certainly doesn’t match the definition Google gives it, which is:
        Demanding or involving only a moderate degree of intellectual application, typically as a result of not deviating from convention (or a person with only a moderate degree of intellectual ability). That’s obviously a very different thing.

        It also isn’t PersonB’s definition of middlebrow. PersonB is defining both concepts as:
        “Notice if something is trying to look fancy rather than be fancy.” That’s closer, but still something different. Fancy is a particular subset of quality, and mostly not the thing that PM things are going for. Fancy is especially interesting because looking fancy and being fancy are VERY CLOSE to each other. Being premium, in the sense of Actually Good or high quality does not have this feature.

        Fancy also totally does not simulate Rao’s model of Maya properly, at all.

        I do think Rao makes predictions, but they are implicit. There’s a reasonable case that implicit predictions don’t count.

        One prediction I am explicitly making is that things which are created by aiming primarily at other people’s explicit targets will be judged by those people to be PM, and those created without doing so will not be PM. See the Restaurant Guide for some ways to use this to make practical predictions that can be evaluated and bring one utility.

        You can also go in reverse: Ask yourself what targets were being aimed at by PM things, what targets were being aimed at by non-PM things, and compare. See if the pattern holds.

        Rao’s biggest prediction is that Maya’s actions are useful to her – that she will succeed more often by embracing PM than by avoiding PM, given her decision to move to the city. That’s not as easy to test but it is a real prediction. He predicts that caring about real things will be anti-correlated with success in the tech industry and other similar places. Another real prediction.

        He makes predictions about how people will relate to cryptocurrencies.

        He’s also screaming that everything is f***ed and trying to explain how and why in a way that he hopes will get through.

        (On the issue of differentiating my preferences from those of others and those I think others should have, I try to make it clear, but I agree that sometimes I don’t do a great job of it.)

      • TheZvi says:

        Part 2 is posted (of an originally intended 3-4) even though I don’t love it, because I feel like it is my full response to such positions and I want to get it out there and move on. You are under no obligation to read it.

  6. Glen Raphael says:

    Agreed on the casino thing. Caesar’s Palace is the obvious Las Vegas example of premium mediocre – everything is marble and gold in order to *look* shiny and expensive. It’s about as tasteless as Circus Circus, but it’s a *style* of tastelessness intended to appeal to (some) wealthy people. (Trump’s casino aesthetic might be another good example.) Places like Caesars are trying to look classy without much sense of taste or restraint, whereas Bellagio’s style has definite redeeming qualities – many parts of it are *actually good* – and deliberately so.

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