Reader, I have seen the future, and the news is grim. People are wearing bulletproof vests, flinging themselves from tall buildings, and stuffing themselves silly with gourmet bread products.
This much I gather from the freshly published findings of Iconoculture, a small Minneapolis trend-scouting consultancy. Trend scouting, itself an ever more trendy vocation wherein Faith Popcorn meets the brothers Yankelovich, entails tireless research into what a given population is thinking, doing, and—most important—buying. Scouts watch obscene amounts of TV, survey scads of passersby, then turn right around and sell their information for staggering fees to huge corporations. But you can get the lowdown for cheap in The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be: The 40 Cultural Trends Transforming Your Job, Your Life, Your World.
One realizes with a jolt that 40 is not only the kind of nice, round number that appears on books about cultural trends but also the creaky vintage rapidly approached by the original Generation X; that is, the twentysomethings first branded by Douglas Coupland’s novel back in 1991. Seven years later, and the sprightly Iconoculture trio—Vickie Abrahamson, Mary Meehan, and Larry Samuel—can’t seem to get Coupland’s way with a compound catchphrase out of their heads. Some of their coinages are clever enough: Vice versing, for example, means accepting ”that hedonism in moderation is natural and even healthy,” while themeparking is ”the encroachment of entertainment into all aspects of everyday life.” Zentrepreneurism is probably self-explanatory. But I’m still not entirely sure what torquing is, even though I’m told that Nike does it; nor, for that matter, how ”fragrances are kidnappers.” The book is also peppered with irritating gobbets of marketing wisdom called Iconogasms, or ”cultural climaxes”—a term that makes one shudder, though perhaps not in the manner intended.
Look beneath the jargon, however, and you’ll find some interesting, if general, observations. The imminent graying of baby boomers, the prototypical ”target audience,” means advertisers’ 50-year obsession with youth is about to end. Self-protectiveness is reaching an all-time high (hence the bulletproof vests). Body piercing is on the way out; Native American artifacts are on the way in. Circumcision is down; bird-watching is up; advertising is making its way into schools! As the authors put it, ”many ethical issues are perhaps at stake here.” But don’t expect them to enter into that muck. Iconoculture isn’t in the business of morality—it’s in business, period. In fact, the best thing about this encyclopedia is its inventory of wacko, only-in-America products that are already out there: Successories’ Deep Thoughts-esque line of motivational decor; Bereavement magazine; Victoria’s Secret CDs. When the prognosticators describe sightings of Jesus on a Wichita Pizza Hut billboard or propose Gumby as a celebrity spokesmodel of the future, well, you feel like they’re on to something.
But their research is often conveyed in broad strokes that cancel each other out. We want to experience adventure like never before (hence the leaping off tall buildings), but we also want to hibernate, or bunker, in our secure Pottery Barn-furnished nests. We want to pare down, but we also want the luxurious accoutrements of the good life (hence the gourmet bread). And if the future brings ”reduced reliance on experts,” what does that portend for our merry band of Iconoclasts? B-