British GQ – March 2023
English | 215 pages | pdf | 117.99 MB
In Praise of “Soft”
FOR WHATEVER REASON – the VB beer, the searing heat, the sheer geographical isolation, or the fact that Australian rules football is the closest thing we have to an agreed-upon national religious identity – Aussies have a tendency to lean on “soft” as an insult.
As in, the umpire makes a questionable free-kick call on a play that was kinda rough: soft. Guy orders a half-pint: soft. Someone bails on a party to go to bed: soft.
In the phenomenon of “soft”, there’s a prevailing pride in people – mostly men – leaning into stoicism, and not in a Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations sort of way. It’s stoicism as emotional imperviousness, a celebration and ratification of hardness.
Working at this great intersection of fashion and culture, so many times over,you’re reflexively driven to hardness. You know the stereotypical archetype of this industry: cynicism and sneers, dismissals and brush-offs, a dissociation from earnestness, and the eternal pursuit of cool – particularly any kind of cool that fuels social mobility. That’s my daily risk of “hardness”; that’s the bait that you get in this slice of the workforce. Of course, this kind of lame and corny unkindness – which is just social climbing masked as wit – is the kind of behaviour that leaves you feeling even emptier than you felt before you started, like a midnight KFC, or diving into a too-deep TikTok binge.
So what’s been on my mind is what we miss when we’re all hardened: what is it we lose out on in the name of ego or bluster or cool? Because you can’t be hard and curious. You can’t be dismissive and open. Hardness is the antithesis of a creative mindset, the opposite of empathy. When we move through our work (and our lives) like that, what ideas are fumbled? What connections are missed? What would-be creations are lost? Don’t the best ideas, the definitive memories, the most electrifying innovations all come from a mind that is calm and open and soft?
It’s a great indicator to me that the single most talented (and arguably most accomplished) person that
I have met in this corner of the cultural world has not yet left a meeting without peppering me with questions that have no right or wrong answer: ‘What have you been seeing? What do you like? What’s radical? Why do you think that?’
Earlier this year, my partner and I finally screened Aftersun, the spare and awfully moving debut by the writer and director Charlotte Wells, for which Paul Mescal received a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. That film – a brilliant, quiet film – could be lost in hardness. It paints in small strokes. You have to dial up your senses to fully engage with it. You have to be soft!
Aftersun will go over the heads of the hardened. Kendall Roy would fucking hate Aftersun. (Or would he just weep?) Because there’s no better posterboy for hardness than Kendall Roy, arguably the most compelling character on the most compelling show on television (Succession! It’s BACK!) Jeremy Strong, our March cover star, goes predictably deep on playing Kendall and well… everything else, too. I really enjoyed his New Yorker profile last year, as a sort of cinematic portrait. But in our GQ cover story with Strong, written by staff writer Gabriella Paiella, we peel away some of the theatre and meet a man that so many of us wish to be Kendall, a man that we’re all sort of inclined to protect, and a man whose aspiration, we learn, is to simply remain open – openly and truly himself.
If you’re looking for the chaser to that shot, consider our deep-dive into the world of Sadhguru, the Indian mystic whose teachings have regaled a generation on TikTok, brought believers to teary revelations, and made a few others ask a terrifying question: are we living in an era in which “soft” is being quietly, sweetly and tenderly weaponised?
Enjoy the magazine issue.