Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
How a thing becomes a THING - Stanley Cups to T. Swift | 3.10.24

How a thing becomes a THING - Stanley Cups to T. Swift | 3.10.24

All Things Recycled - The Sunday Edition
We don’t have a photo WE took of a Stanley cup, because we don’t have one, but here’s one someone else took. ©STANLEY; RENA LI

There’s a difference between a thing, and a Thing, and if you haven’t been keeping up at all with the recent capitalistic and insane trend that has swept the entire nation, you might not know this.

This is a rant, I’m sure of it, though it’s not even begun yet. I can feel it bubbling up inside me like a geyser buried beneath years of sedimentary soil. It’s like the Yellowstone Caldera sometimes in this mind of mine, all the build up and years of thoughts and only through the routine purging do I stave off the cataclysmic eruption that would probably decimate half the continent. I suppose this Signal Fire is my Old Faithful, and I’m just lucky that every Sunday a few thousand of you gather around it to watch the way it sprays into the early morning air. I’m writing this in advance, as we’re often on the road and I have to pre-plan some of these as they pop into my mind, so what I’m saying may have already petered out and been replaced by something else, and that’s ok, that’s kinda the point of this whole thing. Anyway, onto the thing vs. Thing rant that I just can’t stop thinking about.

A thing, with a lowercase ‘t’ and little fanfare, is something that we all see, acknowledge, and move on from. It’s a pair of socks, it’s a pen sitting in a jar, it’s a movie we watched, enjoyed a little, and then forgot about a few days later, it’s a water bottle you fill up at home and then drink from over the course of the day, and say nothing to anyone about, because it’s a water bottle and it holds water and lets you drink from it. This is a thing.

A Thing, is a different beast entirely. A Thing, is a fucking Stanley mug that completely inconveniently comes in two thousand colors, it’s Barbenheimer somehow becoming a thing, where people binge watch Oppenheimer and Barbie back to back despite the fact that neither has anything at all actually in common, it’s fidget spinners (remember those?), it’s charm friendship bracelets at the Taylor Swift concert despite those tickets costing your mortgage…each. This rant is about Things, and comes from a place of zero judgement, ok maybe a little, but mostly from a place of serious confusion and dismay at the recycled nature of the beast we’ve all learn to live with.

I read an article recently about the Stanley mug phenomenon that showed someone who owned over $3,000 worth of the exact same mug. Every color combination, every limited edition release, every possible iteration that often required standing in line overnight to spend actual money on, was displayed on a wall of those cheap closet shelf units with the little plastic coated bits of metal that have a smell and a tactile feel that you can’t forget once you’ve touched. $3,000 for a Thing.

This rant will not be one about the capitalistic nature of our society, though good gracious it should and could very well be, but instead is about the conditions that lead to people believing with such vigor that they need to own the things that end up becoming Things. Over the years, trends have emerged that are undeniable and stand out clearer than the rest. We’re a society that recycles, but not in the way that will save the planet but instead will probably bring about its downfall, as all these Things end up populating the landfill of some sinking city, or the great garbage island that floats aimlessly around our planet. It’s our culture that’s recycling, instead of inventing new. Movies are all sequels or remakes of older movies, as once comic book movies became a Thing, the entire landscape of Hollywood changed.


Everywhere you turn these days, everyone looks the same. Kids are all wearing the exact same clothes with the exact same haircuts drinking out of the exact same water bottles and then defining themselves by this sameness. The internets have whittled down the edges of so many, muddying the borders and making everything meet in the middle, in some strange no-place where nothing stands out, nothing deviates, and if anything dares to it’s seen as an outlier. It’s seen as weird, it’s seen as off. Perhaps it’s always been this way, as I know when I was a kid everyone wanted SilverTab jeans, or JNCOs, or those yellow Sony Walkmans, or Tamagotchis, or NES systems with Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers, or whatever current fad was spreading like wildfire. The difference was, however, not everyone could get them, not everyone had them, because either not everyone could afford them, or not everyone bothered to follow the trend. Now, social media and the pressures it puts on the youth of this world like some great vise slowly clamping it all together, means that so many people feel like there’s no option but conforming, that to not have means to not be, and to not be means to hardly exist at all.

This internet culture of connection, I fear, has actually created a world that’s quite the opposite, a side-effect the scientists who created the world wide web would have never seen coming. What promised connection, actually delivered the antithesis, spreading a serious disconnect between us all, isolating us not only physically from others at scales never-before-seen, but also from ourselves, from what we actually love, who we actually are. In this great disconnect, we’re now all looking so desperately for something to hold onto, for something that ties us to others and makes us feel, if only for a moment, like we belong to something bigger and unified.

Maybe this is the pull of the Stanley Cup, this idea that if we just have this one Thing, we’ll be ok, we’ll dissolve into the great big pile of acceptance that looks like everything else, or nothing else, I don’t know. I know that kids begged their parents for them this year, that fully grown adults are making videos about these mugs and the accessories you can purchase for them, and I’m sure, somewhere in their minds they truly believe that adding a little charm to the handle, or snagging that limited edition color release from Target really will be the thing that just makes everything else feel ok. There’s nothing to be done about this, because I think it’s how it’s been since Instagram first came out, since Facebook started spreading beyond college campuses, since TikTok swooped in and convinced everyone to dance the same dances, buy the same shoes, listen to the same music, and drink out of the same giant water mugs that used to be found only on job sites and in the dusty cabs of construction trucks.

I will sound old again by saying I miss the days of things, the lowercase things that didn’t have to become viral phenomenons or must-have-like-your-life-depends-on-it items. I miss the days where sure, you wanted to own the jeans that everyone else did and probably asked your parents, or Santa, or grandparents, or whomever for each year, but if you didn’t get them, the world didn’t end, you didn’t hate them for not being able to afford them, you didn’t get ostracized to the point of depression for not rocking them on the first day of school. I miss things, and I am so very weary of Things, and I probably talk about it too much. My gut reaction to most of the big bold italicized Things is to instantly be turned off, immediately mistrustful, and hopeful that they’ll fade away into obscurity like the rest before them.

Maybe this is judgmental, maybe it’s an out-dated viewpoint on a natural progression of culture, I don’t know. I just know that all things feel recycled, all things are landing in the middle, and so many things become Things simply because it’s so much harder to be new, to be different, to dare to stand out.

It’s scary, but it’s worth it, and I hope we knock down the capital T and with the rubble it leaves behind, bury all we never really needed. Maybe that’s just me, maybe it all doesn’t really matter in the end, maybe this is the new way, and we’re all just going to be given front row seats to the never-ending bombardment of Things that are on their way to us already.

Maybe, but in the meantime, please don’t spend $3,000 on mugs, please don’t think you have to stand in line for a cup. Please.

All things recycled,

all things becoming the same,

obsessing us all.

Haiku on Life by Tyler Knott Gregson

Song of the Week

Instead of a Stanley cup, spend $5 here! You could buy a full year and support this beautiful place for less than a single special-edition Stanley Mug. Plus, it keeps your tea hot too.

Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Tyler Knott Gregson and his weekly "Sunday Edition" of his Signal Fire newsletter. Diving into life, poetry, relationships, sex, human nature, the universe, and all things beautiful.