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To many participants, [crafting] is not a new shopping trend or even an art movement. It is a kind of consumption revolution, a community based on celebrating individual creativity and artisanal skill—and rejecting mass-produced goods. Like the brand underground entrepreneurs such as Barking Irons and the Hundreds, the DIY practitioners prized their independent, nonmainstream status. Crafters, however, often postioned their efforts as not just an alternative to or a luxurylike refinement of mass consumer culture, but an overt challenge to it.

“Crafting is a political statement,” Jean Railla, the founder of, argued in the first issue of a magazine called Craft, which appeared in late 2006. “With globalism, factory labor, and sweatshops as growing concerns, and giant chains like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Old Navy turning America into one big mini-mall, crafting becomes a protest.” Railla, whose 2004 book, Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec, placed self-made goods in the context of third wave feminism and a “bohemian” identity, returned in the new magazine’s second issue to argue on behalf of “the punk of craft.” Reiterating the political and “antiauthority” aspects of the “ethic of Do It Yourself,” she mused: “In the age of hypermaterialism, Paris Hilton, and thousand-dollar ‘It’ bags, perhaps making stuff is the ultimate form of rebellion.” . . .

[And yet . . . ] Grounded in commerce, the DIY movement not only accommodates consumption and even marketing, it depends on them. It’s not opposed to the meaning of objects, it’s about the meaning of objects.


In the mid-1990s, firms like Sputnik, the Zandl Group, Teenage Research Unlimited, and Lambesis were getting hired by companies such as Reebok, Burlington, and PepsiCo to enlist and study allegedly trendsetting teens. “We did no research,” Irma Zandl, who has been in the trend business since 1986, once told Time magazine of her early days as a professional Magic Person. “I just had a golden gut.” By the early 2000s, her company claimed a network of three thousand carefully selected young people whose take on the zeitgeist was funneled into a newsletter sold to the likes of GM, Coke, and Disney, for $15,000 a year. Some key people from Lambesis formed Look-Look, which claimed a network of twenty thousand. The results of these businesses have been mixed. Aprons for men was one legendary trend-spotting gaffe that emerged from the mining of Magic People thoughts. In the mid-1990s, Sputnik predicted such trends as “guys in vinyl skirts,” “see-through track shoes,” and “suspenders with African-print shirts.”

excerpt Multiple choice

If the key to the iPod had been individuality or togetherness, technology or style, form or function, it would not have been as successful as it has been. The more salient the iPod became, the more consumers discovered ways that it was relevant—but not because of any single specific property of the device. The key wasn’t in a single answer; it was in the variety of answers. And this is what connects it to the Livestrong bracelet. The iPod succeeded not because of any specificity, but because of multiplicity. It fit into many disparate personal narratives, by way of many disparate rationales. . . .

Red Bull, the Livestrong bracelet, and even the iPod built a mass audience by cobbling together smaller ones. They were multiple-choice success stories, and if the rationales of different consumer groups didn’t match up with one another (let alone some top-down official meaning), that didn’t matter.


Many of the consumers that McVeigh interviewed about Hello Kitty complained about corporations targeting them, making them buy things—things like more Hello Kitty products. But as he pointed out, “Capitalist forces do not simply foist knickknacks on the masses, and we must give credit to the individual consumer who, after all, chooses to purchase certain incarnations of Hello Kitty but not others (or chooses not to buy Hello Kitty at all).” After all, if Sanrio’s managers could create dozens of Hello Kittys, they most certainly would—and they are trying all the time. In more than three decades of effort, they have never come close.

Not only can logos have meaning, and not only can that meaning be manufactured—it can be manufactured by consumers. Ultimately, a cultural symbol that catches on is almost never simply imposed, but rather is created and then tacitly agreed upon by those who choose to accept its meaning, wherever that meaning may have originated. . . .

Here, then, is the real problem with the argument that this new generation sees right through traditional advertising and therefore is not fooled by its messages: Everybody sees right through traditional advertising. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognize that you’re being pitched to when watching a thirty-second commercial.

But recognition is not the same thing as immunity. And what’s striking about contemporary youth is not that they are somehow brandproof, but that they take for granted the idea that a brand is as good a piece of raw identity material as anything else. These are the consumers, in fact, who are most amenable to using brands to fashion meaning for themselves—to define themselves, to announce who they are and what they stand for.

excerpt This just in

The dimensions of the latest trends in consumer behavior were outlined in an overview in the Harvard Business Review. This new zeitgeist, the august publication explained, is being fueled by “the efforts of consumers themselves,” who have lately “become articulate.” One of the defining features of this fresh paradigm is the new consumer’s “demand for information.” They are banding together, becoming “better educated and better organized,” with a “growing familiarity with the mechanics of advertising” and the endless range of gimmicky sales tactics. They have “suffered from deceptive and stupid advertising” long enough, and it is only inevitable that power should shift to them in an economy that has moved from scarcity to abundance. “These changes,” the article summarized, “have tended to make consumers more critical and to enhance their importance.” Such was the state of things . . . in 1939.


When I was in grade school, we watched a lot of films. Perhaps they were a relatively easy way to quiet the children down for a while. But remembering this period as an adult, I’m struck by the realization that those films all had one of two themes.

One was: Deep down, each of us is different, unique, and special.

The other was: Deep down, we are all just the same.

For years I shared this observation, for laughs, before it finally occurred to me that this was no joke. In fact, it articulated what is more or less the fundamental tension of modern life.

We all want to feel like individuals.

We all want to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves.

And resolving that tension is what the Desire Code is all about.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

I’ve spent the past week reading a book that finds revealing patterns and surprising depth in even the most superficial trends of popular culture, that takes you on a journey to unlikely corners of our world, coins a number of would-be-buzzwords (Magic People, murketing, the “postclick” generation), and, like all the best journalism, puts into plain words things we already knew but didn’t have the language for.

And it’s not by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s way better than that.

The book is Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by New York Times Magazine “Consumed” columnist Rob Walker, and if ready-for-airport-bookstore titles like that make you suspicious (and they should), you should give it a shot anyway. Walker has that Gladwell-like knack for weaving together anecdotes and first-person reportage, combined with a better-than-Gladwell ability to weave them into a clear arc of careful argument about how consumerism has changed our culture and our sense of ourselves. Perhaps more importantly, he demonstrates that consumer culture itself is changing in ways that neither its critics nor its promoters have fully understood. Walker even ends his book with some intriguing observations that, to this reader, lead directly to the threshold of issues of faith—including a perceptive reading of the success of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life.

I’ll be excerpting some of Walker’s more piquant insights here over the next few days. Enjoy, and if you are at all interested in our consumer culture, I encourage you to take up Buying In and read.