I’m not sure if it’s just the vaporwave aesthetic, or if the promises of the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson are just slowly coming true as we approach the year 2050 – but neon is back, baby. There was a brief moment in the ’80s where people were using neon in interior decorating, but it’s largely fallen out of fashion and I get it.
Neon lights are challenging in a home setting. First of all, they’re not energy efficient. They’ll suck up way too much power, just to give you that beautiful glow. And even the best neon signs buzz. It’s the nature of the huge switching transformer. They just buzz like a ’90s hacker on too much Jolt cola.
The other issue with neon in a residential space is that it’s just too damn bright. Most neon signs are designed for commercial applications in large spaces intended to draw customers from all around. When you put an old bar light in your house, it will be the brightest little supernova. And that’s not at all the look you’re going for.
Residential, architectural neon is softer. It’s less bright. It’s transformers are hidden in the ceiling to keep the buzzing at bay. It’s also incredibly custom and highly expensive. And yet – with all that said – it’s still having a moment. It’s finding it’s way into more and more homes. Why?
China. In the ’80s, dystopian futures were full of fear about a Japanese takeover. Japanese cars and electronics were just crushing the quality and features of similar American products and it makes sense that people thought the not-too-distant future was going to belong to the Japanese.
But they didn’t count on the corrupting nature of Hentai and the tens of thousands of Japanese men who will never touch a boob. They didn’t count on a 20 year long recession. They didn’t count on China.
China has been banging out small, quiet, low-cost neon for years, but with the help of Ali-baba and by proxy, the Amazon Marketplace, you can get a charming little piece of Cyberpunk for yourself. It’s less than 100 bucks, so you get that vaporwave glow with just disposable income. Thus – you’re seeing a resurgence of neon.
The other x-factor is LED. Dimmable, dirt cheap faux neon is made of LED and it has a ton of advantages. It’s a passable simulacrum for neon. It uses very little power. It lasts forever without burning out. And cheap, Chinese, faux neon LED signs have been transforming the homes of little aesthetic boys and girls for the last couple years.
Do not expect this trend to die anytime soon. The Great Recession turned a lot of us into permanent renters, unable to paint our walls or tear out the carper. So they gave us multi-colored LED light bulbs like the Philips Hue and cheap disposable fake neon signs. This is the only way some people will experience color in their lives. Of all the commodified trends that have saturated internet marketplaces, this one earns the least of my ire.
We were promised gleaming cities of glass and neon. We were promised thick rich synth heavy soundtracks. We were promised mega corporations that spied on our every move and sold us out to the highest bidders. We were promised a corrupt police force and bought and paid for politicians. And they gave it to us.
They just didn’t tell us we couldn’t afford to live in those cities. That the neon would be LED and cheap. We didn’t expect those synth soundtracks to be more Skrillrex and less Vangelis. And how disappointing is it that our mega corporations aren’t cool names like “Renraku”, “Tyrrell Corporation” or “Globex” – they’re Disney and Amazon and Google.
Regardless – I’m here for the neon. Fake or not. Skip me on the rest.
Have a great week everybody.
Rest in peace, Ric Ocasek. I hope you found your nuclear boots and your drip dry gloves.