How the Mason Jar Got Hip

That, in a nutshell, is why the Mason jar has become emblematic of gentrification: Holding a cocktail or a Slurpee, it’s removed from its original context—which is rooted in functionality—and made into an icon of ironic contrast. Used to serve a drink in Hackney Wick, the Mason jar becomes a vacant signifier. It’s meaningful in its evacuation of meaning—a far cry from delivering the pleasures of summer in the dead of winter, or ensuring that, in a time of need, there will still be enough.

This current incarnation of the Mason jar has a lot to do with the hunger for greater legitimacy: How can I be more real, and more unique in my realness? One of capitalism’s most enduring legacies has been persuading people that they can purchase a singular style. In some areas, like fashion, the effort to be unique has come full circle, so that the best way to be an individual is to dress with utter banality (hence the trend known as normcore). Mason jars—with their enticing aura of thrift, preservation, and personal labor—have become a potent signifier in this quest. Rather than ensuring against scarcity, however, Mason jars confirm the presence of abundance—and suggest that we’re rather fatigued by it.

Ariana Kelly, writing in The Atlantic about the invention and impact of the Mason Jar ─ that simple, indispensible glassware that facilitated rural American life ─ and what its current popularity in urban culture signifies. Kelly’s piece ran in September 2015.

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