#14: Dedicated Follower of Fashion
The demise of cool.
Heyo, happy Friday!
Not to brag but I’ve had a really good week. I feel a little guilty saying so, given you know...everything, and yet, it’s true. This whole week has been great! I’ve been really creative, productive, and high-energy. I rearranged my kitchen, glazed a lot of pottery, and even had time to binge Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for the third time.
My partner and I have been watching The Dropout, the Netflix miniseries about Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the fraudulent blood-testing start-up Theranos. It’s a fun show. I’ve found great pleasure in dropping my register a few levels and saying “this is an inspiring step forward,” every time we chuck out another superfluous piece of furniture. (We aren’t moving but after two years in this place we’ve decided to stop pretending we’re going to move and actually start investing in making our place more aesthetically pleasing. So we’ve been making some big changes.)
The Dropout is just the second in a trio of biopics about business-savvy con artists to appear on the streaming stage. Netflix has Inventing Anna, Hulu has The Dropout, and soon, Apple + will have WeCrashed, the story of Adam and Rebecca Neumann and the rise and fall of WeWork.
Most of the audience for these shows will find the stories familiar. Each of them has already been the subject of a magazine feature, a book, a documentary, or some combination of these. It’s part of a larger trend that has taken hold at major studios of investing more in adaptations, sequels, and remakes.
“From a business model perspective, this all makes perfect sense,” James Greig writes in VICE. “The idea is that audiences will be more likely to shell out for the cinema (or, in many cases, a Disney + subscription) if they’re already aware of the “intellectual property” that a film or series is based on.”
It’s not just film and TV, though. According to a spate of articles published last year, our lust for overconsumption has now consumed the idea of cool itself. With everything at our fingertips and social media making it possible to market to any given consumer at any given moment, these authors argue, the idea of cool is now defunct. Instead of being defined by novel trends, we've become a society of throwbacks, recycling media, fashion, music, and aesthetics from the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
Last month in The Cut, Allison P. Davis analyzed a coming “vibe shift,” which was theorized by the same dude who came up with the term “normcore” in the early 2010s. The piece’s featured picture is of a woman doused in Julia-Fox style eyeshadow wearing a fringed leather jacket with a fur vest and a black crop-top, her stringy hair covered by a trucker hat topped with a dollar-store red and gold crown while she leans against a white limo while puffing conspicuously on a cigarette. She styles herself Meg Superstar Princess, and she is the supposed poster child for the coming vibe shift.
Her whole look immediately transported me back to the proto-social-media era of the early aughts, when Cory Kennedy, a precocious 15-year old from the L.A. suburbs who became perhaps the first “internet it girl,” put sleazy hipster style on the map.
Kennedy came to fame when she started interning for and "dating" Mark Hunter, also known as the Cobra Snake. As the story goes, Mark took Cory to a bunch of hipster parties and posted her picture on his party blog featuring the likes of Steve Aoki and Agnes Deyn. Once he realized that his views went up every time he posted a picture of her, he decided to "make her famous," acting as her personal paparazzo and monitoring his blog traffic to see what was getting the most hits. As it turned out, people, especially teenage girls, were desperately craving pictures of cool, fashionable teenage girls with the kind of freedom they could only dream of: smoking cigarettes, going out on Tuesdays, and hanging out with various celebs. Cory’s MySpace views soared. She launched a blog and started making club appearances with Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and other relics of the early oughts—that is until her parents finally got fed up with her celebrity lifestyle and disappeared her, Earl Sweatshirt style.
****As an aside, I vaguely remember my shock after reading this L.A. Times article about Cory back in 2007, which details the relationship between Kennedy and Hunter, who was 20 at the time. How did this guy escape the clutches of #MeToo? His career seems to be going very well.****
I wasn’t surprised to find that Cobra Snake was the eye behind this Paper magazine photo spread of the Cory Kennedy copycat, Princess Meg. Scrolling through the gallery, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pity for someone trying to copy the career of a teenager from fifteen years ago. It says a lot about how plastic and hollow the notion of “coolness” has become. Is this the coming vibe shift Allison P. Davis was referring to? A rehashing of a thing that’s already been done to death?
It doesn't surprise me that members of the chattering classes feel as though they're facing their own little apocalypse. After all, taste-making is their bread and butter. But how can one fear being left behind on a carousel, unless it’s of the Mary Poppins variety?
There’s a kind of irony to this cynical recycling of trends. It signals an unwillingness to take risks that is anathema to the supposed ethos of American entrepreneurship. Greig suggests several reasons for this commitment to sameness in the film and television space: predictable engagement, the death of the movie star model, and the expansion of foreign markets that leaves little room for culturally specific nuance. Another answer is that the massive amounts of data being collected on consumer behavior have made it easier than ever to quantify success. Decisions on what to produce have become a kind of numbers game in the same way that intense focus on test scores has gutted creativity and critical thinking in public education.
But I think there’s more to it than risk-aversion. During the pandemic, I rewatched a lot of things, as I’m sure many people did. I wanted entertainment that would put me in a predictable mood, TV and movies that I knew would be satisfying and uplifting. For instance, I don’t think I could have handled episode six of Squid Game during year one of the pandemic. I think we’re all seeking the familiar comfort of our former delights in an era of increasing unpredictability and incoherence.
“We are undergoing a colossal vibe shift that extends beyond taste, aesthetics, politics, fashion, or policy,” Elamin Abdelmahmoud writes for Buzzfeed. “The world as we knew it is not coming back, and it’s entirely reasonable that we may find ourselves plagued with a general restlessness, a vague notion of disorder.” So, instead of facing what’s to come, we turn back to what we know. Novelty is for the future-focused, and right now, no one really wants to think about the future.
This desire for predictability is reflected in, and perhaps perpetuated by, the subscription boom. Everyone has a subscription model these days, and services are desperate to keep their current base hooked by producing familiar content. However, as streaming companies begin raising their rates and cracking down on subscription sharing in an effort to please investors who expect ever-increasing growth, this model is beginning to fail. Netflix is producing more misses than hits these days, and companies like Disney and Paramount are reclaiming their own properties to draw more viewers to their own platforms. Physical subscription boxes like Blue Apron and Birchbox are faring even worse, struggling to turn a profit as they fail to see growth.
Consumers, as Amanda Mull points out on The Atlantic, are reaching the point of subscription overload, unable to remember all of the subscriptions they have and why. (Though if you don’t have subscription fatigue and are looking for more, pick me, I’m not like the other girls ;)
Personally, I’m also reaching a sameness overload. I don’t want to watch another Marvel movie or another drawn-out television series about a minor controversy I’ve already read about—though I probably will, and companies know this.
Novelty is essential for progress, a way to challenge the status quo and aspire to something greater. Rather than retreating to our hobbit holes amongst our cache of creature comforts, we would all benefit from venturing out in search of something fresh and extraordinary. As Elizabeth Holmes might say, “this is an inspiring step forward.”
I have exciting news to share: You can now read Soup Season in the new Substack app for iPhone!
From Substack: “With the app, you’ll have a dedicated Inbox for my Substack and any others you subscribe to. New posts will never get lost in your email filters or stuck in spam. Longer posts will never be cut-off by your email app. Comments and rich media will all work seamlessly. Overall, it’s a big upgrade to the reading experience.
The Substack app is currently available for iOS. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can join the Android waitlist here.”
This Week’s Top Four:
This profile of ACLU lawyer and trans activist Chase Strangio and the work he’s doing to fights anti-trans bills in states like Texas and Alabama.
“Doing this work can feel like an unrelenting nightmare because it means being immersed in legal arguments and policy discourse that situates your entire life and body as either a threat or otherwise disposable,” Strangio said in an interview. “It can be draining to be confronting the people and systems that hate and want to eradicate you.”
It’s tweets like these that keep me hooked on that hellsite.
This incredible A-Z branding tutorial from Virgil Abloh. What a generous legacy to leave behind.