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From the Merchants of Cool to Generation Like
March 20, 2014 9:53 PM   Subscribe

'The media is a chaotic place. Like an ocean or a weather system, it no longer respects authority. In fact, those who attempt to impose their authority are ridiculed, while brilliant and valuable tidbits emerge from the most remote and seemingly inconsequential sources.... Younger, media-savvy viewers instinctively reject authoritative voices and laugh at commercials in which people try to act "cool." ' That was Douglas Rushkoff's assessment of companies courting the youth demographic as covered in print in 2000, and the next year in video as the PBS Frontline documentary, Merchants of Cool (streaming documentary; prev: 1, 2, 3, 4). Earlier this year, Rushkoff revisited the topic with PBS in Generation Like (streaming documentary), in a time when young people are generally happy to tell the world what brands they like as a way of identifying who they are.

The new program came about because high school teacher Ryan Weber had been showing his students the program (accompanying George Orwell's Animal Farm). But over the years, Weber found that The Merchants of Cool had become so dated that his students could no longer relate. "The [first] kids I taught it to were TV creatures," he said — obsessed with MTV. "The kids I teach now are social media creatures."
posted by filthy light thief (44 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
a time when young people are generally happy to tell the world what brands they like as a way of identifying who they are.

Basically, the goals of the manipulative fiends laid out in Adam Curtis' The Century Of The Self have been achieved perhaps even beyond the wildest dreams of Edward Bernays or Anna Freud.

There is a reason I watch that series every year...
posted by hippybear at 10:06 PM on March 20 [24 favorites]


I cannot favorite hippybear's comment enough. My feelings and thoughs exactly and much more concisely than I could hope to state.
posted by daq at 10:21 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I think the most interesting part is that the kids being interviewed either don't know or don't care about the concept of 'selling out.' Does counter-culture exist anymore?
posted by Strass at 11:20 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I think the most interesting part is that the kids being interviewed either don't know or don't care about the concept of 'selling out.' Does counter-culture exist anymore?

Bring up hipsters some time and watch people trip over themselves to mock people for seeking authenticity.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:24 PM on March 20 [11 favorites]


I enjoyed the updated Frontline, but I had such a hard time watching the parts about the lady who overtly pimps her daughter on YouTube, for money...and even says CREEPY AS HELL things like "full body shots" get her more views/likes/whatever. I'm gonna close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears and pretend it's not super obvious how that story is going to end. :(
posted by trackofalljades at 11:25 PM on March 20


Pope Guilty: "Bring up hipsters some time and watch people trip over themselves to mock people for seeking authenticity."

Not to beat a dead horse, but my problem with hipsterdom is that it's an aesthetic that doesn't really seem to have an ideology (although perhaps that's because it was co-opted by consumerism so goddamn quickly compared to punk, grunge, hippiedom, et al.)
posted by Strass at 11:37 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I think the most interesting part is that the kids being interviewed either don't know or don't care about the concept of 'selling out.' Does counter-culture exist anymore?

There is no such thing as selling out. The fundamental issue is a band has got to have money to buy guitars and amps etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


(although perhaps that's because it was co-opted by consumerism so goddamn quickly compared to punk, grunge, hippiedom, et al.)
The Sex Pistols were the brainchild of young entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren. The owner of a London clothes boutique [...]
In the early months of 1976, McLaren's carefully cultivated word-of-mouth about the Sex Pistols made the band the leader of the nascent punk movement.
Hard to get more goddamn quickly than "from the very start".
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:09 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


Selling out often just means buying different shit. If ascetism is your virtue, say that instead.

When I see the words selling out, I often think it means "buying else."
posted by oceanjesse at 12:17 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


There is no such thing as selling out. The fundamental issue is a band has got to have money to buy guitars and amps etc.

There absolutely is such a thing as selling out. Plenty of bands paid for their amps and guitars out of their own money and never sold out. Selling out means you play what you think people want to hear, instead of what you think is good music.
posted by alex_reno at 12:34 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I still understand the rationale behind the comment I was replying to, though. 25 years ago, when I was spinning discs at CFUV campus radio, there was the whole concepts (which now, at 43 years old, all seem kind of half-baked in retrospect) of "alternative" and "indie", and "garage." Well maybe not garage. That was and is still the Real Thing.

Of course, since then Apple produced software called "GarageBand", and which indicates what I think is the biggest difference between being a university student then and a university student now (perhaps only cohort on the planet that cares about "selling out"): the total shift towards basically fetishizing consumer electronics.

Back then, in those pre-Internet days, barely anyone I knew had an actual computer - that was what the Mac Lab at school was for. Status objects for students were perhaps clothes, a car, or a bike, not an iPhone or MacBook.

Since then, consumer technology has taken over, since the Internet has become such a core part of our culture. And you need shiny things to participate in that culture. So brands, and interacting with brands, are much more acceptable than they were 25 years ago when I was a freshman undergrad and lo-fi DIY grunge was dominating campus.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:48 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


"The Merchants of Cool" is a great documentary that correctly tells me that, as a consumer, I'm an idiot. Fuck Pepsi and Marlboro. Coke and Camels for me. Or Djarum and RC. Or Jaritos and rolls.

I do think though that there is an aesthetic difference between certain products that is meaningful.

But yeah, the kids wanted an ipod for christmas, not an MP3 player.
posted by vapidave at 1:57 AM on March 21


The Generation Like episode of Frontline is worth an hour of your time. Honestly it's frightening to see dudes my age so cynically manipulating and exploiting kids 20 years younger than we are. Welcome to the Reconstructionist future I guess.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:58 AM on March 21


the kids being interviewed either don't know or don't care about the concept of 'selling out.'

Ever notice you don't really hear about Generation X anymore? As a concept, I mean. Sure, there are lots and lots of us who were in our 20s during the 1990s, but you rarely hear the bloated shambling adults we've become referred to collectively as Generation X. There is a nascent 90s revival underway, but that's all aimed at those who were little kids at the time.

I hope I don't sound too paranoid when I say that I believe this is at least partially intentional. Well, not "intentional" like it's a huge conspiracy, but rather in the sense that a lot of unconnected advertising folks came to the same conclusions at about the same time.

So: you work in advertising and it's the beginning of the 2000s and there's a whole generation just entering their prime disposable income years. The only problem is we inherently distrust corporations and brands and marketing. And on top of that, we still give lipservice to the idea that "selling out" is bad. (Never mind that there was never any real consensus on what that even meant, and never mind that a good chunk of us moved west during the first bubble and sold out on a level unprecedented by any other generation before or since...) How do you work around something like that?

First, you erase the generational identifiers. Again, when's the last time you ever heard anyone talk seriously about Generation X? We don't even get made fun of: there's long been the comic trope of the deluded aging hippie and the narcissistic aging disco king, but where is the beflanneled aging Gen Xer, still ranting about Sell Outs and trying to sell you a zine?

In the 80s, when the Boomers were about the age that we are now, the nostalgia machine was already fully up and running. But no one even tries to sell nostalgia back to us. Seriously, nobody's had the spectacularly bad idea of making an explicitly Gen X version of The Big Chill or thirtysomething?

(By the way, I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that I'm complaining about this, or saying that our generation was too-beautiful-to-live and is thus being dealt some kind of injustice here. Have you spent any time around Gen Xers? We're terrible.)

Second, you sideline us. This was a lot easier than you might think and something that we actually helped you do: think about how many Gen X heroes are snarky observers rather than participants, making cynical asides to the fourth wall. We were much more comfortable out of the spotlight, where we could comment on the world without ever feeling the need to be a part of it, the backs of our heads silhouetted against the movie screens of our lives.

Third, you make the very concept of selling out laughable. You argue that it never existed, that those who believed in it were naïve ideologues.

Fourth, you go a step further and you make the concept of selling out irrelevant. Wow, Khloé Kardashian is in a commercial? What a sellout!

Fifth, and probably most importantly, you make damn sure the next generations don't give two shits about any of this. You go beyond making accusations of "selling out" seem ridiculous or old-fashioned…you make them inscrutable, incomprehensible, the quaint and worthless handwringing of a long forgotten people.

You raise an entire crop of eager brand-conscious teenage consumers, all too happy to fill the void left by their Prufrockian older siblings. The rest is simple: you take all the money you can get from them.

But there's one last step...you turn us into them. You don't leave us alone to grow old curating our collections or pursuing our proudly obscure passions. We have a lot more money than these young people, and you want all of it.

By now you've gotten us to the point where all of your old tricks work on us even better than they did before: fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of not fitting in, fear of getting old, fear of never getting to live the life that we know we deserve.

And now, after years of getting closer and closer, you've succeeded at last in creating a society entirely built on the worship of Youth. Before, a 40-year-old trying to stay relevant or even "cool" to teenage culture was considered pitiful at best. But now you've made it that teenage culture is the only culture that matters, and not participating is unthinkable.

Oh, don't get me wrong, we'll still make jokes about being "so old", and shake our heads when we realize there might be 200 people on Earth under the age of 25 who name a single REM song, and we'll act incredulous when the new kid at work quotes The Simpsons, and god knows we'll never let go of the "get off my lawn" joke.

But at the same time we'll be posting fanart of our Teen Wolf OTPs to our Tumblr dashes, we'll reply to office memos with image macros and reaction GIFs, we'll speak in exaggerated Internet slang. We'll just tell ourselves that we're doing it in a completely ironic way, that's all. OMG, it's totes ironic.

Which is fine! There's nothing wrong with being young or wanting to participate in youth culture regardless of your age. Wait, where was I even going with all this? Sorry, there was this really hilarious hashtag trending and now that I've tabbed back over I totally forgot what I was talking about. Oh well, whatever, never mind.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:26 AM on March 21 [43 favorites]


If you're interested in FRONTLINE, there's a feature from the Generation Like site that's an interesting example of our process.

At some point in an episode's production, a decision is made that it's close enough to the finished version, and the Digital Team can watch it in the screening room. When it ends, we turn on the lights and throw around ideas for web site features.

This episode was a tough one for that-- online examinations of what kids are doing online is a potential trap of meta-analysis, and we wanted to avoid looking alarmist or lame. It was pretty clear that we needed some sort of feature to break down habits, but doing anything too flashy had serious potential for the tragic "journalists trying to look hip" effect.

I had an idea, and I think it was a very good one: "We should go in the complete opposite direction," I said. "Lets have an infographic, but it should be totally low-fi. Cutouts and drawings, like a pre-Internet notebook collage or a 90's zine." Our graphic artist was excited about it, and we discussed it a bit further.

That was my last involvement with the idea. Evan ran with it, did some research and contacted a friend who's an amazing visual artist in Toronto. Together, they created this feature. I was proud of myself for the concept, but they made it much better than I ever could have. I was blown away by what they did with it. It's visually one of the best things FRONTLINE's ever done. I'm really proud of them, and I want more people to see it. If you like it, please pass it along!
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:44 AM on March 21 [18 favorites]


I hear about Generation X semi-frequently, but that's in discussions of politics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:54 AM on March 21


I think that "selling out" (and "counterculture") has become less important for a few reasons. These are a little disjointed, forgive me, but I do think they all have a role to play.

First, the Internet allows us to separate ourselves into as many subcultures as we need, and derive support for those subcultures without physical-space signifiers. Brands, for previous generations, were often totems; I belong to this group, and this group buys Vans, so I buy Vans. Now, there's a Reddit or a forum somewhere for every interest group. The Internet has also broken down some age barriers. In school, most teenagers interact with only teenagers within a year of their own age. This age segregation made the social environment pretty artificial; Internet socialization, however, means that you're likely interacting with people from a much wider range of ages.

Second, the economy for "Millennials" has been shit. The Bush economy might have been nice for middle-aged people or someone, but it was shit when I got out of college in 2005 and it's been shit since. I've been lucky enough to fall into a profession where it's not actually horrible, but most people haven't, and brands become less important than "being alive" and "not paying too much for shit."

Third, the "countercultural" movements had their results played out for us already. I knew an aging hippie who I actually respected in the late 90s; I thought, you know, she held on to her ideals and didn't sell out. In 2001, after the massive propaganda campaign that followed 9/11, she became completely and unabashedly pro-war in Iraq. This is the first time that an adult I respected showed me exactly how unworthy of my respect she was; and it taught me a valuable lesson.

Last, and perhaps most fundamentally, the "Total Media Availability" singularity of the last few years has eliminated media-based subcultures. Oh, you like REM? I listened to a few of their songs on Youtube. I think they kind of suck. Have you ever listened to Shivaree? No? They're pretty good... and so on. What is the concept of selling out in this environment? Putting yourself on Youtube? In the pre-TMA era, what you listened to was a function of what was playing on the radio and what you bought when you had disposable income. That was usually limited to a couple of genres. Discoverability was nonexistent. There was always the cool 17 year old who had heard of bands you'd never heard of, of course, and who used it to get girls; but now?
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:47 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


in a time when young people are generally happy to tell the world what brands they like as a way of identifying who they are.

I'm a Gen-Xer but there were a lot of Calvin Kleins and Nikes and Ray Bans and Guess when I was growing up. And Simpsons t-shirts. And loyalty toward particular bands (bands are brands). Granted, during the peak of grunge there was a bit less of it, but that Tommy Hilfiger logo got flashed around well before the social media thing came along.

Again, when's the last time you ever heard anyone talk seriously about Generation X?

I was in a cabal meeting at work yesterday and the marketing guy tried to classify everyone present as either boomers or millenials. I pointed out I was a Gen-Xer. He looked dubious and said "well that's basically the same as a millenial, right?" And now to him I am a millenial. One of my friends said I just wasn't wearing enough flannel.


But no one even tries to sell nostalgia back to us.

I think there's a lot of 80s nostalgia, where it comes to music and games. Less so in movies or fashion or some other aspects of culture.


the "Total Media Availability" singularity of the last few years has eliminated media-based subcultures.

As far as music goes that may be more or less true. But fandoms are very much alive and well, and I would call those media-based subcultures.
posted by Foosnark at 5:08 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


As far as music goes that may be more or less true. But fandoms are very much alive and well, and I would call those media-based subcultures.

That's true, but there's often less "ongoing outlay" for fandoms versus music. There are exceptions (I guess MLPers buy toys and stuff?), but for the most part it's just... there.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:12 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


We hear about the Boomers because for the most part it is Boomers who are senior managers and editors in the media.

We hear about Gen Y because the Boomers, who run the media, are their parents.

We don't hear some much from Gen X because we've been through the recession of the early and mid-90's. The only jobs in my town when I graduated from university were washing fucking dishes. So I got out. My parents did not offer to put me up.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:47 AM on March 21


The PBS site must be getting hammered because all I am getting is that busy icon when I click on the play button. I did notice the opening shot is an apple cell phone.
posted by bukvich at 5:53 AM on March 21


The idea of counter-cultures (and especially of the importance/necessity thereof) is really just the product of an arrangement of media that no longer exists.

It was vital when there were three TV stations and maybe ten-fifteen radio stations. (Hippies and punk, to a lesser extent). It still held sway when the costs of reproducing media limited most people's choices to a small number of record companies.

But today? What would a counter-culture be countering?
Obviously there are still dominant norms of society, and there are probably always going to be hits and celebrities. But it's just trivially easy to avoid them.
posted by graphnerd at 6:14 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


But today? What would a counter-culture be countering?

Does 4chan and anonymous count (no pun intended)? I mean, i dont know that they do, but they certainly feel counter-cultural to me, an admittedly aging gen-x-er.
posted by valkane at 6:24 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


But today? What would a counter-culture be countering?

It strikes me that the Maker movement seems to be pretty countercultural in a society which seeks self-expression through brand alliance and display of purchased goods.
posted by hippybear at 6:41 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


The Maker movement is still an expression of consumerism, and the seeking of "self-expression" that defines it. The desire to create a Pinterestable DIY place mat is born of the same impulse to purchase a place mat from Crate & Barrel, but it signifies a much more elite status right now to acquire the former.
posted by deathmaven at 7:21 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


hippybear: Basically, the goals of the manipulative fiends laid out in Adam Curtis' The Century Of The Self have been achieved perhaps even beyond the wildest dreams of Edward Bernays or Anna Freud.

Thanks for drawing my attention to the mini-series. It was posted before. The Archive.org links are dead, but it has been re-posted there.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:22 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Strass: I think the most interesting part is that the kids being interviewed either don't know or don't care about the concept of 'selling out.' Does counter-culture exist anymore?

KokuRyu: There is no such thing as selling out. The fundamental issue is a band has got to have money to buy guitars and amps etc.

Check out the documentary (or skim the transcript):
ALISSA QUART: I say that, like, selling out doesn’t even exist as a term. I don’t hear young people talking about selling out. I don’t even— I’m not sure they even know what it means.

GIRL: Selling out? Can you define that?

BOY: Well, selling out means, like— it could mean different things.

GIRL: I guess, I don’t know, I think first about a concert that’s, like, totally sold out, like, no tickets left. That’s probably not what you meant, though.

GIRL: I don’t know what that means.

BOY: You can sell out, like, an album or you could, like, sell out, like— like you’re a sellout, like you’re nowhere in life. You’re never going to get back on top.
Sellout used to mean that you gave up your ideals for a paycheck, either by signing with a major label that changes your sound/style to fit some preconceived notion of what is popular, or by selling a song to a company for a commercial.

When people form bands, they don't sign a contract or sell a song before they have equipment, so they have to get their money somewhere else, either by working and saving, or having family or friends give them money or gear. It's only after a band has "made it" to some degree that they can "sell out" and accept money from some agency that will "corrupt" their prior selves.

But now corporate sponsorship is the goal for many young people, and not just in music scenes. I recently heard from a MeFite that young kids who play paintball will form a group and canvas companies for sponsorship before even getting well-known or winning competitions. To those kids, getting backing from a company is the goal, not a product of being good.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:08 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


"Selling out" is definitely still A Thing - or at least it was when I was in college ten years ago. It may not have meant all that did did from the 60s to the early 90s, but people still talked about it.

That I was in college ten years ago brings me to my second point: these kids are not millennials. They're whatever comes after millennials (Gen Z? Aughtsies? Tumblrers?). Older millennials are in their early 30s now, the youth culture is moving away from us - and I'm fine with that.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:10 AM on March 21


Sellout used to mean that you gave up your ideals for a paycheck, either by signing with a major label that changes your sound/style to fit some preconceived notion of what is popular, or by selling a song to a company for a commercial.

Well, the record labels are way less influential these days, and the Information Wants to be Free ethos has made licensing one of the only ways to make any money at all off of music.

The concept of selling out just can't hold as much salience today.
posted by graphnerd at 8:53 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


But today? What would a counter-culture be countering?

The establishment, of course. It's way more than just the bands you like and the brands you use to define yourselves. OWS was a shining example of establishment rebellion, eventually put down by The Man (who's become much too powerful).
posted by Rash at 10:13 AM on March 21


I recently heard from a MeFite that young kids who play paintball will form a group and canvas companies for sponsorship before even getting well-known or winning competitions. To those kids, getting backing from a company is the goal, not a product of being good.

My son plays baseball and they're sponsored by a local dentist's office. I don't think it has to do with selling out, it has to do with getting free uniforms. I think youth sports outside the school setting has always been this way (see e.g. The Bad News Bears.)
posted by escabeche at 10:14 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Good point, though I got the feeling that the paintball groups were different, more like a kid who gets a skateboard for her or his birthday then tries to get sponsorships because that's what you do, before they can even really stand up on the board too well.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:43 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Sellout used to mean that you gave up your ideals for a paycheck

Are there actually kids who wouldn't do this?

That's the difference, I think. At one point people felt like this was a choice that could and maybe should be made, but now - in this crappy economy, where a liberal arts degree ***may*** get you a job as a barista, and where your own identity and self-worth is wrapped up in whether you've got an iPhone 5 or 5c and the number of people who follow you on Twitter - do those kids even know a choice COULD be made, that they could opt out of this and choose instead to understand that technology does not = happiness, that connectivity doesn't necessarily make you better off and can make you worse off, and that they, in fact, are no closer to achieving the elusive "happiness" that Gen Xers like myself thought we were chasing way back when.

Does this even register as a possibility? I've got a 12-year-old at home. I don't know that it does.
posted by kgasmart at 10:57 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


"The desire to create a Pinterestable DIY place mat is born of the same impulse to purchase a place mat from Crate & Barrel, but it signifies a much more elite status right now to acquire the former."

Hmm... I'm not seeing this as the exact same thing simply because the urges are similar. I can have an urge (anger) and choose to punch someone in the face or I can channel that energy into something productive like helping solve the problem irking me or repair harm done by whatever is causing the frustration.

To channel your urge to be liked and seen as productive and good by others into doing productive activities seems much more worthwhile than to simply collect a lot of consumer goods often made by people who are overworked and tired and not enjoying themselves-- wheras if you're collectively motivating each other to make your own goods AND like each other at the same time it seems an appropriate use of praise or desire for it.

It's not innately bad to want to be liked or seen or appreciated. It can be harmful to judge each other based on silly things like who made the prettiest place mat, but I don't think that innately means wanting to do things that other people appreciate is bad or "selling out."

I think sometimes we get so caught up in shaming people for having any urges at all that we're really kind of harming people just for having and doing things that are very healthy to do as a social species that loves affirmations and support from each other. Being AWARE of how your urges and behaviors wind up affecting yourself and others simply means trying to interact with your own urges and direct them in a way that is as mutually beneficial and harmonious as possible, not that you stop having any urges at all and behave like a robot with no social needs or enjoyment of being liked.

I threw myself into asceticism and came out of it with a very firm belief that asceticism and self deprevation for the sake of it is a very harmful ideology to the human condition- and that self reflection, understanding, and redirection of needs and wants whether physical or emotional while allowing them to play out and interact with reality is a much more healthy way to go.

Not to mention, self deprevation is also motivated often by an attempt to acheive at proof of refusing own's needs and showing others that you're better than them at this achievement. It's still an attempt to climb a ladder of social heir-archy rather than something that actually raises up the welfare and quality of life of either the individual or others in society. If anything it brings everyone down-- to the expectation of having no needs or wants and proving how little you can consume or need in a compition that makes life worse for everyone. Self restraint and awareness and practices of self discipline can be great but self deprivation to the point you can't want money, or food to eat or a job, or for people to like you, or to achieve something creatively that just plain makes you feel good, or even to create something that OTHERs like and feel happy about that-- or to say- earn money from the music you make starts getting harmful if unchecked.

I'm a socialist-- no one should need to sell out because we should have a better safety net from which people could meet their basic needs working less hours and have more time for their own pursuits. If you want music to come from a place where people are not doing it out of desperation to get financial or emotional needs met- get better at meeting those needs for the population as a whole so we have more people free to generate truly freely created expressions of art and music that aren't based on attempts to get their needs met.

Eating comes before artistic expression, and I would say the need for empathy and social connection comes before "purity" as well. The problem is most artists don't ever get the emotional support they really need from their artistic endeavors-- they are often just getting used by people who like their consumer good. If we really cared about artists we would care about them before they ever become artists- care about them for their humanity not just waht they can do for us.

Since we only care ONCE they do something impressive, people are desperate to do something impressive, understandable so. Everyone needs to feel they have a place in their world so they can get their physical and social needs met.
posted by xarnop at 11:08 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


The reason anyone would want a beautiful place mat at all (or a renovated bathroom, or an app that does "one thing well", or a cool new blog post) is because of a taste for novelty manufactured and disseminated by industry. Never being taught to want is not the same thing as exercising self-deprivation. It's the default state.

Wanting to make your own place mat is just an higher expression of wanting the place mat in the first place. Not only do you show off your taste, but you show that you can afford the time to invest in creating one and the knowledge that all the cool kids are doing this instead of going to Frette like they would have before. And the place mat isn't conjured from mana at will; it's made will participating in the craft and social media industries.
posted by deathmaven at 11:49 AM on March 21


Yeah but humans have been doing crafts for thousands of years. I don't think industry forced us to have such an urge to create and share those things with each other. People like beauty and art and to interact with it in their daily lives.

I'm not part of maker culture so I believe you that maybe maker culture has a really icky "trendy thing" vibe, but I don't think wanting to create things is innately the result of industry pressure. Is the urge to make music also purely the result of industry forcing us to want to interact with music or think we want to listen to it or produce it?
posted by xarnop at 11:55 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


Obviously the desire to create itself isn't the result of industry pressure; just the rate of our desire to consume stuff and, as you pointed out yourself, the desperate pace of our attempts to make a stake in the production side. But yes, when I was talking about "Maker culture" I was talking about a social Web/media trend.
posted by deathmaven at 12:16 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


when I was talking about "Maker culture" I was talking about a social Web/media trend

When I mentioned it, I was talking about the emerging group of people who are into designing and building their own things, sometimes artistic, often low-tech and machined, who are doing things like Maker Faire and such. I had never even though of Pinterest or any of that kind of thing when I mentioned that loosely affiliated group of people. I don't think there is much placemat creation going on in the Maker Movement that I had in my mind.
posted by hippybear at 4:43 PM on March 21


The reason anyone would want a beautiful place mat at all (or a renovated bathroom, or an app that does "one thing well", or a cool new blog post) is because of a taste for novelty manufactured and disseminated by industry. Never being taught to want is not the same thing as exercising self-deprivation. It's the default state.

Wanting to make your own place mat is just an higher expression of wanting the place mat in the first place. Not only do you show off your taste, but you show that you can afford the time to invest in creating one and the knowledge that all the cool kids are doing this instead of going to Frette like they would have before. And the place mat isn't conjured from mana at will; it's made will participating in the craft and social media industries.


I don't think being a smug jerk qualifies as Right Speech.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:26 PM on March 21


I'm not trying to be smug or dismissive, I'm just saying that it's not an example of rejecting consumer culture. It's still a part of the same race for status and accumulation within the same context that buying an expensive car would give you status. I'm not saying I'm above it and have no idea how to be outside of it.* And that Maker Faire site has a lot of sponsors with obvious stakes in the Movement.

*EDIT: scratch that, I have a clear idea of plenty of subcultures that opt-out - we've all heard of them; freegans, dumpster divers, squatters, crust-punks, rotm "homeless people", vagrants, drifters, hobos
posted by deathmaven at 7:19 AM on March 22


Homeless people and squatters are still consuming, they've just stopped producing. You have to consume in order to live-- I too had a hard time with this concept (and still do) dreaming of living off the energy of sun and absorbing the nutrients straight from the soil as plants do, however the idea that refusing to produce anything in order to "drop out" is ethically more beneficial to, anyone, is debatable- given that others are just going to be doing all the "wrongful" work within the system so that you can eat and squat somewhere.

I have had a lot of various types of of the grid friends; anarchopunk, couch serfing, dumpster diving, drug dealing, sex working, and sometimes homeless friends (though if you know how to work it many can avoid actually being on the streets too often especially during winter but you'll probably have to be willing to do sex work or run drugs) and did they ever consume and have cultural hierarchies and bullshit ideologies like every other subculture.

I've also worked with supporting homeless folk who were not so voluntarily homeless-- people with heartbreaking lives and disabilities-- the crusty/voluntary homeless punks were often the group that was the most violent to the truly disabled and abandoned homeless--- how many nights did we close up shop having to kick some poor kid out to the street who was trying to hide from a gang of punk fucks ready to beat them up.

Human nature is wretched and this is a human thing, it's very hard to escape regardless of attempts to create a "pure" ideological system in which people have no selfish urges and act only out of "pure" reasons which even as an ethical concept when broken down doesn't even really make sense. Desiring to be a part of a tribe and get affirmations and do activities together that support survival and enjoyment is just plain not innately bad. Producing goods that are fun to create and fun to interact is just plain not bad. People like to emulate each other and be part of each others activities. They like to try out what they see others doing. They like to do things that bring them attention and praise.

I don't see anything innately better about suppressing perfectly natural urges to belong and participate socially as opposed to finding healthy ways to use these urges for the good of the self and many.

Now what I think you're trying to say is that a lot of things about our culture and way of thinking about production and consumption suck and the Maker Movement seems to be a movement generated by people "in the system" who are fooling themselves about changing it by producing more of their own goods-- it's a good point and worth making and I'm not familiar enough with the subject about from reading a general synopsis about it to generate good criticism of it-- I just think you're using arguments about how no one would want a pretty place mat that are simply not true at all... there is nothing wrong with liking pretty pictures and thinking they are nice on your household items! I had a friend whose mom painted their whole house with beautiful scenes of rolling hills and vinyards, pretty flower vines everywhere... I just loved it. It was a peaceful place and created a wonderful atmosphere. Tying up activities like this with social status is problematic of course but social status is a thing that happens no matter what-- some people will be more liked than others and people will want to be on the liked side of the fence.

I had a good friend who after nine eleven gave away "his last dollar" pronouncing he would no longer participate in "the system" or with money. His next question was who would bum him a cigarette? I'm a fan of supporting people who can do very little or nothing at all in the workforce, but I'm also a fan of valuing non-traditional forms of contributing as well as flexible work spaces that allow individual choice and creativity in the means of production. Even people who live in very rural spaces still have kids that play with sticks and rocks-- people like to use their hands to play with things, to make things. What's changed is that many people in cities have no access to nature itself and have to buy toys or else their children and themselves will literally be sitting in a chair staring at the wall, or sitting on a cement porch, watching cars go by. Playing in dirt can be awesome, but you still have to have access to the dirt.

As the good old NOFX hath spaketh; One own the air, one pay to breathe.
posted by xarnop at 12:01 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]


I didn't watch it but I did read the transcript.

and you read every comment on your YouTube

That seems like a recipe for losing your mind. I have never been able to read four consecutive youtube comments in my life. Are these folks serious? Are they all conspiring taking the piss?
posted by bukvich at 8:09 AM on March 23


I think the most interesting part is that the kids being interviewed either don't know or don't care about the concept of 'selling out.'

Yeah, I found that bizarre. Agree or disagree with the idea, sure, but to not even understand what it means? Damn.
posted by homunculus at 8:00 PM on March 23


I just noticed that this comment makes MeFi is one of the top results for googling the phrase "If you're not paying for it, you're the product."
posted by homunculus at 8:01 PM on March 23


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