Monday, October 10, 2005

This Makes Me Very Tired

I don't know why but I skimmed an article about the state of trendspotting or "coolhunting", and the whole thing made me want to lie down with a book--preferably one that hasn't been on a bestseller list for a hundred years or so--and forget about the outside world. But someone might spot me, and then EVERYONE would be doing it.

Today, fads ping across continents and disappear so quickly
that the coolhunter, even the whole notion of "cool," has become

Fortunately we can show our contempt for "cool" by buying the brands favored by the all the other people who are also immune to the lure of cool new fads.

Every big-city scenester or bored teenager on the planet
has a blog or mass e-mail anointing the moment's hot restaurants, hobbies and
handbags. Add to this, mass obsession with celebrity style and global
corporatization and you can get nearly the same chai latte or
straight-off-the-runway skirt in Columbus, Ohio, that's available in Manhattan
or Milan.

One nation, under advertising, with liberty and blandness for all.

Trend-spotting has, in essence, become just another trend.
Consequently, the most successful trend forecasters are repositioning themselves
as something more than mere arbiters of taste. They're now social scientists
with a hipster edge.

So they're no longer people who spend every waking moment trying to stay a few weeks ahead of rapidly passing fads, they're cultural anthropologists.

IN a way, this desperate need among advertisers to "divine"
our intimate truths has indelibly linked consumerism to culture. Now, there's
hardly time to discover and explore a new experience or a new approach to living
without also considering the new line of products, technologies or services that
has been tailored to that discovery. Life is being captured, repackaged and sold
back to us as quickly as we live it.

How can the effectiveness of trend forecasting be measured,
anyway, when the line between a genuine societal trend and one manufactured by
media and advertising is now so blurred?

Am I the only person who finds this scary? No, not the possibility that corporations may find it hard to assess the effectiveness of their trend forecaster, but the linking of culture and consumerism. Why do so many of us now equate who we are with which trends we choose to follow and what we buy to show we're in on that trend?

And if we are going to define ourselves by what we buy, do we really need the Color Marketing Group to tell us what colors to buy it in?

The value and lifespan of information changed rapidly in the
late 1990s. Just as Internet access and download speed rocketed, so did the
transfer of ideas, making what was "cool" obsolete from the moment it was

"It used to be that you had to have the Louis Vuitton Murakami
purse," says Buckingham. "Well, now you can get the $10 version on [Manhattan's]
Canal Street. So when you talk to teenage girls, they say they buy the fakes
because it's all about just showing you know the trend — not even the value of
the trend itself."

I can't say that I'm bothered by girls opting for cheap knockoffs bags over the genuine overpriced handbag (although making your own version seems better than buying the knockoff), but why buy even the knockoff (or make your own copy) if you don't genuinely like the thing? I guess if your life is all about following trends then it doesn't matter what you like, only what other people like; and with our current ten-second attention spands causing trends to change so quickly, anything you can do to save money so you can afford to buy the next trendy purse a few weeks from now is okay.

But as for grumpy old me, I'm starting to wonder if, as a nation, we're not either too rich or too shallow. If we weren't so rich, we couldn't be continually replacing handbags, decorative kitchen canisters, etc. as the next trend comes in. And if we weren't so shallow we wouldn't care whether our neighbors think our stuff is out-of-date or not.

Reading this article and contemplating the speed of fashion not only made me tired, it put me in mind (as so many things do) of something G. K. Chesterton said: He said that the Catholic Church is the only thing that can save us from the degrading slavery of being a child of our times. Of course he was talking about succumbing to intellectual fads, but I think it still applies. If we focused more on eternal matters, we would care less about the passing trendiness of a particular kind of coffee or style of slacks; if we defined ourselves in light of eternity, we wouldn't need to define ourselves by the kind of cologne we buy or purse we carry.

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