This is the Dawning of the Age of Hilarious
Last week when I opened my Yahoo! mail homepage, I was immediately treated to the above image, one that I immediately saved on my computer for future blogger usage, under the file name "Yahoo douche."
After all, how could anyone not make fun of Yahoo!'s shamelessly transparent attempt to pander to the youth market. You could take one look at the guy and realize how carefully contrived this marketing campaign must've been.
I could almost read the mind of the executive, dreaming up the marketing pitch: "What we need is someone who represents youth and vitality. Someone who can show Generation Y that Yahoo! knows how to party. Fuck Google."
Inevitably, after the tens of thousands of dollars that were inevitably spent on market research, finally the day of the big photo shoot must've come, with a highly-paid stylist instructing the male model pictured above, to "tuck your hair behind your ears. It makes you look cool, confident and edgy. "
I could practically see her handing him a pair of sunglasses that she'd heard were trendy because all young, hip and cool people were sunglasses, right? Throw in a vintage t-shirt, some sort of tribal bracelet, and just the right amount of facial hair and by jove, she must've thought to herself, I've created the perfect archetype of the young American male in 2006.
At first, the whole thing seemed merely laughable, particularly the concept of Yahoo!,' one of America's largest corporations, trying to usurp American youth culture for financial profit. But I soon realized that I was being unneccessarily hard on Yahoo! After all, staid and stuffy corporations trying to re-brand themselves as cutting-edge avatars of youth culture, is as old as the concept of the American teenager itself. After all, do I need to really remind everyone of the epic "C'mon Buick Light My Fire," ad campaign scene from The Doors movie?
In fact, the reason why this advertisement rings so false isn't even Yahoo!'s fault. After all, Yahoo! probably has a team of relatively young marketing consultants who do their best to stay on top of American culture. The problem and the reason why this ad campaign seems so ridiculous is that for the first time since the 1950's, Yahoo! and other like-minded corporations don't even have a proper youth stereotype to exploit.
In the 50's Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and J.D. Salinger seemed to speak for the youth of America. If there had been such a thing as the Internet, Yahoo! probably would've depicted a goateed beatnik smirking for the camera. In the 60's, it was Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson and a vibrant musical movement that successfully put a voice to the dissatisfaction young people felt. Meaning that Yahoo! inevitably would've used photos of tie-died hippies, proudly brandishing flowers and face-paint.
In the 1970's, American film reached it's golden age in which young maverick directors tried to express their disenchantment with America in the post-Watergate era. In all likelihood, you'd have seen a guy with a leisure suit and chest hair, looking like a neutered version of Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever. In the 1980's, it was Bret Easton Ellis and the Brat Pack who seemed to best characterize the new morning in America and the nation's infatuation with glitz, glamour and success (for better or worse). This advertisement would've featured a guy with a flock of seagulls haircut and neon carefully placed somewhere in his undoubtedly retina-searing ensemble.
And if this ad had appeared in the 90's? Well, it likely would've capitalized on the stereotype of Generation X popularized in films like Reality Bites and Slackers. In many ways, the 90's would've been the most liberating time for cynical advertising executives, as not only could they have co-opted the Ethan "I'm bursting with fruit flavor," Hawke look, but they might've also plagiarized the Doc Martens and flannel trend that swept the nation with the rise of grunge music. Maybe they might've even thrown in something about extreme sports. After all, didn't everyone in Generation X dig the bungee, snowboarding and extreme BMX?
Which brings us to the present moment, a time that has left even the best marketing executives clueless as to what America youth culture looks like. Now I'm not the first writer to speculate on this topic, as others have posited the theory that the Internet and other forms of media have splintered "Generation Y" into a series of self-selecting groups based on mutal interests, hobbies, etc. They contend that this trend has led to the destruction of the concept of a unified youth culture, as in their minds, Americans under 30 are nothing more than the lump sum of a variety of sub-groups each with their own identity. On some levels, this makes sense, and it would help to explain the rise of hipsters, scenesters, yupsters and anybody else under 30 who the media can add a -ster onto the end of their name.
However, there's more to this trend than just the Internet and the fact that you can now get seven different channels of HBO alone. Take a glance at American popular media from 2000 on. You'd be hard-pressed to find any sort of literary, musical or cinematic movement involving young people. And don't tell me the Brooklyn indie rock music scene counts as a music movement because there are three types of people who like esoteric post-modern rock: people who live in Brooklyn, bloggers, and bloggers who live in Brooklyn. And no, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! doesn't count as a Brooklyn band either. Not when their lead singer and songwriter lives in Philly.
American mainstream youth culture in the year 2006 has presented nothing of any sort of merit that savvy marketers can steal from and stereotype. The most famous American novelist under 30 years old, Jonathan Saffran Foer, writes books that have nothing to do with youth culture in any sort of way. The best film of last year, The Squid and the Whale, was done by a 35-year old, still relatively young by artistic standards. However, for all of its many merits, the film takes place in the 1980's, making it more of a reflection of his personal experiences, than a commentary on the present moment. Probably the closest thing to a popular writer who writes about things that people care about is Chuck Klosterman. But as undeniably great as Klosterman is, his writing thus far has been limited to non-fiction, and he generally strays towards topicality rather articulating some sort of movement. In no way is this an attempt to hate on Klosterman, because I regard him as the most important writer in America today.
However, this situation makes it increasingly difficult for anyone trying to pander to the youth of America. Without any popular stereotype to draw from, marketing experts will probably just continue to recycle Generation X-type images like the one above. After all, the man in the photo does sort of look like he could just stepped off the set off of "The Grungies," the fake sitcom that satirized the grunge movement on the old "Ben Stiller Show." Until Generation Y produces a crop of artists that can describe life in the year 2006, expect to see a lot more of these awkward Frankenstein's monster-type creations about what adults think young people look and act like. In the meantime, I'll be out buying vintage tees, sunglasses and tribal bracelets. Gotta' fit in you know.