Two stories in today’s Wall Street Journal show new trends (and old patterns) in the ongoing relationship between culture and commerce.
Story # 1: Postcard from the edge
The WSJ says Neuvo Casual, mens clothing with a Latin flare, could be a ‘transformative trend. It is “colorful, sexy clothing that offer a dressier take on the usual chinos and tops.
Plainly, this is a market that was going to happen in any case. A newly prosperous Hispanic community is 14% of the US population and 20% of the youth population.
What interests the clothing industry are the cross-over possibilities. Neuvo Casual can now be seen in the Perry Ellis International line and at J.C. Pennys and Marks Wearhouse.
Several things catch the attention of the anthropologist:
1) the gender war continues:
The old code said that extravagant, elegant, sensuous clothing belonged to women and that men were supposed to hew to the plain, the sturdy, the unornamented. Both African American and Latino men, some of them, are prepared to make their gender claims in the language of extravagance. They are inclined to make the male the “marked species and this takes us back to male strategies from the 16th century in which men expected to be more splendid in their clothing than women. There is plenty of other evidence that men are preparing to reclaim their status as the “marked gender and this will have interesting implications for the highly dynamic gender contest that continues to play out in North American culture.
2) the ceremonialization of casual life continues:
The conventional cultural distinction in North America has been to dress up for work and special occasions and distinctly down for casual occasions. Nuevo Casual takes up a position in between. “Its a hot look that fits into what we call the “missing middle in casual sportswear. It gives the guy a sportswear option thats jazzy and elegant and still fun to wear to go out to dinner or to a party, says a J.C. Penny’s spokeswoman in the WSJ.
3) the margin and the middle speak to one another:
Most strikingly, the Nuevo Casual trends marks once more how porous the mainstream continues to be. The influence of the “margin is now par for the course. Outliers, like the gay community, African Americans and Latinos, now routinely influence a community that scorned and stigmatized their aesthetic choices as recently as the 1950s.
Story # 2: Nostalgia already?
They’re back. Pong, Centipede, Asteroids and Missile Command have been reissued.
The numbers are tiny: around $250 million in sales in an industry that racks up $10 billion. But everyone is apparently surprised how fast these little games are doing.
The anthropologist notes three things:
1) how fast things move:
These games are only 20 years old. Technology moves so quickly they have been supplanted by many generations of innovation and their “stick figures now looked ludicrously primitive when compared to what we get from X-Box and the Sony PlayStation. Or to put this in terms that an anthropologist can understand: 20 years is one human generation and it is 5 or 6 technology generations. The “pour through rate is phenomenal. Many people have noted our speed of change, but we have lots of work to do to understand what happens to cultures that attempt to change this fast.
2) how intense the nostalgia is:
These games are only 20 years old and they are crude, but the consumer is responding to them, the WSJ says, with a deep feeling of nostalgia. These games return as “old friends. They come back to us as time capsules from a distant world. The faster we move, the less time it takes for the nostalgia effect to kick in. If nostalgia is a way of mourning a world we have lost, what do we say about a culture that is mourning not the 18th century but 20 years ago? We get to the future faster, we look back to the past more longingly.
3) the “plenitude effect in effect:
One of the things the post war social scientists failed to predict was how powerfully the world would multiply with options. In this case, we are looking at an inclination to hang onto the old even as we embrace the new. The post war social scientists accepted the prevailing notion that said that the juggernaut of modernism would cut away the past as we entered the future. Perhaps its the nostalgia effect again, the faster we go, the more we multiply, the more we want to take the familiar with us, even if its just 20 years old.
Agins, Teri. 2004 Nuevo Casual. Wall Street Journal. May 21, 2004, p. B1.
Pereira, Joseph. 2004. Atari, Sega and Pac-Man are Back in Retro Splendor. Wall Street Journal. May 21, 2004, p. B1.