Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sensitive Thugs

Before I went to Las Vegas last week, I wrote about the New York Times magazine called the "The Brand Underground" by Rob Walker. My issues with the article is that his take on street brands struck me as simplistic. The basic frame was that today's generation of kids are commercial sell-outs.

Julie of AlmostGirl yesterday made the point I would have made if I weren't such a lazy slacker. I very much agree with her argument about how this current generation's values are rather different than the one before it when it comes to their views on corporations:

"Walker clearly doesn’t get the fact that Gen-Y, which makes up the bulk of streetwear anyway you slice it, doesn’t care about “the system,” “the man,” or really defining themselves in opposition or relation to anything. We are too smart for that anymore, we watched Gen-X be wildly ineffective and frankly we are tired of it. We the media saturated, over marketed, hyper segmented generation know the system and are all right with it."

Gen-Y, as Julie points out, doesn't hate corporations and their brands. They don't love them indiscriminately either. But if you give them the right product, they will not only buy it, but promote it. Hell, if you don't give them them what they want, they'll start a petition campaign in an effort to make you bring it back!

As a an old crow member of Gen X myself, I can relate to how easy it is to try and shove the next generation into the frame one grew up with and conclude when it's not a perfect fit that they are somehow lacking. After all, I grew up with the generation responsible for not just punk rock, but hiphop.

The mistake I think is to look at today's kids and think, where is YOUR new music movement?? What have YOU created that's as cool?? It's quite possible that revolutionary music will never be a marker of Gen Y, but that does not in any way make them an inferior generation.

Personally, I think today's kids take on brands and the worldwide markeplace is equally fascinating. A while ago, I did an article for Footwear News (which isn't available online) on the international nature of sneaker collecting. One of the bloggers I interviewed was based in China and his site included an interface on which site members could translate posts from Chinese to English and vice versa so that collectors could communicate with, as well as trade and sell to each other. How cool is that??

And while all of Gen Y's international savvy seems to based in commerce, I somehow doubt that the next time our government tries to snooker its citizens by turning another country's government into the Red Scare du jour that this generation of kids is gonna be as fast as the ones before it to dive under their school desks.

And now on an altogether different note, I noticed that Walker has himself blogged about his article and the critiques he received from bloggers like myself and Julie. He waves away my critique as "an all out attack," which I find amusing if not sort of cute. My introduction to blogging comes from doing a lot of reading and writing on politically progressive blogs so I'm used to seeing traditional media reporters responding in either a dismissive or defensive way toward bloggers. I can almost hear them muttering to themselves, "Who are these damn gnats at the gate anyway??"

But I'll leave it at that. When I pointed out Walker's blog engry to Julie, she--ever friendly and willing to extend that branch--let me know that Walker and her had been emailing back and forth and that he's an alright dude. And seriously, if he's willing at least to have a dialog, he can't be all that bad.

At this point, I do want to take a second to speak to any readers who might be in a position to be similarly profiled by major media. Two words young entrepreneurs: BE CAREFUL. There's a reason people hire p.r. firms, and it's to avoid the type of negative slant that often occurs when you invite an intrepid reporter into your world.

Inevitably said reporter tells you that he wants to spend a few days following you around because he's doing a story on "X," but what he doesn't tell you is that while he is indeed going to report on "X," he's also going to add juice, aka human interest, to the story by taking a bite out of your left flank, the one you had no idea was even exposed. Silly you! You didn't realize that while he was studying your product, he found your office furniture JUST as interesting. Indeed, it makes for a MUCH more interesting and entertaining story, but as a young business person you have to decide whether or not it is in your best interest to be a source of public amusement.

Not only have I seen this happen again and again to people I don't know--and it's inevitably folks who are working class or poor--but I witnessed it occur to an artist friend of mine. A reporter for the NY Times, who was also his so-called friend (I was friendly with the reporter as well), told him he wanted to do a profile on him about his trials and tribulations as a struggling painter. Well funny that, it turned out to be a lengthy profile not on his life as an artist, but an expose on the life of a failing hustler! I know this sounds too extreme to be true, I mean this is THE NEW YORK TIMES I'm talking about, after all, but I kid you not. I'd link to the article and expose the backstabbing reporter, but this is seven or so years ago and there's been far too much water under the bridge.

Of course Walker's article doesn't go to nearly that extreme, at all, and in fact, I know that many of the people profiled in the article are happy about the exposure. The Barking Irons, one of the brands mentioned, even links to it on its homepage. Heh, then again, a person who's been shivved will often continue on with his activities, smiling unaware that his internal organs have been sliced like deli meat.

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