Dec 15, 2005

gladwell (part 2)

One of the more popular documentaries that PBS ran a few years back was called "The Merchants Of Cool." It chronicled how businesses try to market to teens by understanding what is "cool" and then feeding that vibe, creating an endless loop between the teen and the business.

Malcolm had some interesting things to say in an interview regarding "cool hunters" - people who are hired to identify the difference between a cool kid starting a trend and a misfit whose style won't go anywhere:

What about the irony that discovery of cool does something to cool?

The irony of cool hunting is that the kind of person who starts trends, and also the kind of person who spreads them... the reason they play this game is they're interested in occupying a unique position in the culture. The person who starts trends would like to be different. The person who spreads them would like to be the one who connects this weird undercurrent world with all of their friends in the mainstream. So they see a social role for themselves, only insofar as those ideas are out there to be discovered. As soon as the idea is blown wide open and revealed to everyone else, then both of those people lose their social position, and so they're driven to the next thing.

So the faster you pick up on these trends and blow them out and show them to everybody and reveal them to corporate America, the more you force the kind of person who starts them and spreads them to move on and find the next. There's no kind of solution to this. You can't ever solve the puzzle permanently. By discovering cool, you force cool to move on to the next thing.

It's "chase in flight." That's a phrase that comes from illusionary biology. It's kind of a treadmill--not an unpleasant treadmill. But nonetheless, it's the wonderful way the cool hunters stay in business, because by being in business they make their own role even more necessary. . . .

The thing to remember is that the person who discovers trends, the person who is cool, is interested in discovering trends precisely because they're hidden. They want to be the one who is distinctive and unusual. That's their kind of social currency. . . .

So, by intervening in the process, you have sped it up. And you've also created a condition where there will always be something you don't know, because you're simply pushing the cool person even further ahead in to discovering new kind of mysterious and hidden cool delights. The irony of the cool hunter is that, by their very existence, the more the cool hunters do their job, the more their job is necessary. The more they do their job, the more they create these hidden pockets of coolness that require discovery and interpretation.

It could be argued . . . that Madison Avenue is so good now that they've taken over and corrupted a lot of what used to be much more authentic street culture. I actually don't believe that. I do think that Madison Avenue is better at what they do. But by virtue of being better, they have in certain ways ensured that there will always be a pocket of cool out there. They've pushed the cool person even further ahead. So I don't buy this argument that we're all somehow becoming slaves to corporate America, and that corporate America can entirely colonize the cool process. . . .

As long as adolescents are adolescents, and so long as adolescents have that hormonal make-up, they're always going to place a special value on authenticity. And authenticity is defined in the adolescent world as something that starts and ends with adolescence. It explicitly excludes the intervention of adults in business suits. Nothing will ever change that fact. This is a moment in human development when we are acutely and primarily and overwhelmingly interested in what our peers are doing. . . .

4 comments:

Basketball Is Life said...

"trends make us contenders in the fall."

Wonder Girl, Sparks

really good post!!

Tony Myles said...

I like that quote!

derek bethay said...

Merchants of Cool was a great documentary... I bought a copy of it for myself.

Tony Myles said...

I wonder how much of it still applies... MOC was filmed pre-911. I wonder how much the values of teens have changed since then.