Friday, January 30, 2009

Sign of the Times?

An odd piece of clothing--a blanket with arms--that looks like something a Franciscan monk might wear around the abbey, momentarily becomes the "raiment of the zeitgeist," according to Advertising Age. Surely this means something about the state of the country. But just what might that be? We'd love to hear your take, gentle readers.

14 Comments:

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous MilesB said...

My take, very simply, for those of us up north, is that when you get laid off and you're sitting around your house with lots of time on your hands and you're cutting back on the natural gas or heating oil, it can get a bit chilly inside.

 
At 11:58 AM, Blogger redhorse said...

Perhaps I'm more cynical. I certainly believe Americans are turning down their thermostats (I finally bought a programmable one this year), but the snuggie gives some people who love to shop a reason to both cut the gas bill and buy something.

I mean, don't we already have blankets and winter appropriate clothing? Is a simple armhole worth 20 bucks?

 
At 1:22 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I think you're right, Miles. You're obviously not alone in that these days. Great to finally catch up for breakfast yesterday, by the way. Always splendid to break bread with you. And Redhorse, how great to see your name back in the comments after a long absence. I miss your blog, but certainly understand that it can get tiresome after a time. Please keep us posted on your next venture(s). I'd love to keep like-minded readers clued in on what you're up to.

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger Copper said...

...I dunno. There's a sucker born every minute?

 
At 8:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Heck, they just want to stay warm. Besides, there are worse things than going around the house looking like a monk.

 
At 7:13 AM, Anonymous MilesB said...

Likewise, John.

 
At 10:07 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I guess I'm less cynical. (About this, at least.)

Don't underestimate the quirkiness and humor of the ad campaign that got the ball rolling. When people use the word "zeitgeist" in the consumerist context, I always think of the Pet Rock.

Some of this is the need to feel positive in difficult times. Comfort food for the spirit. Perhaps especially in difficult times, there's a desire to curl up on the couch and ignore the world. The appeal to saving money by turning down the heat is icing on the cake: it's symbolic. How many people in this accelerated, anxious age actually take time to curl up on the couch and read? (Well, I do, but I don't claim to be typical.) So there's also the subtext appeal to the slower, simpler life. The slower, simpler, older lifestyles always are appealing in an age when everything is accelerating beyond control; people retreat into a sense of home-like nostalgia. Nostalgia is always archetypal because it's always founded on an image of a life that never was like we imagined it to be. (Country farm life included freezing outhouses in midwinter.)

This is all Symbolic, not actual. But it's symbolism that appeals in a zeitgeist moment. Remember the Pet Rock? or the Cabbage Patch dolls? I always look at this stuff, courtesy of Arnold Mindell and C.G. Jung, from a group-psychology viewpoint. People are always forgetting that tribal-level big groups have a different psychology than the individuals who might make them up.

And there is a monastic archetype at play. It's already been pointed out, and I noted it the first time I saw the ad, a similarity to Franciscan monastic robes, including color choice. (Both the Jawa's robes and Obi-Wan Kneobi's robes in the original Star Wars film were modeled on monastic robes.) The monastic appeal is partly the "retreat from the world" appeal, but it's also on some level a subtext about putting meaning back into the world. in our little homes, huddled on the couch, maybe we'll take time to contemplate the meaning of life. Contemplation requires slowing down the pace of life. The tone of the ad gets at that at least a couple of times.

I also think the ad tapped into the positive message about slowing down time, taking it easy, feeling good. The actual practice of leisure time rather than the mere hunger for it.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'm with you on all of that, Art, which is wonderfully said, by the way. I kind of like the monastic motif (remember also that long-ago ad campaign for Xerox, which played off the notion of monks during the Middle Ages that had to laboriously copy documents by hand?), and while much of the world might mentally link nesting at home with watching TV, it could just as easily include lots of reading.

 
At 11:35 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

This article (link below) seems germane to the conversation. It suggests comfort is trumping fashion these days, even among the fashionable and those with plenty of disposable income.

http://tbm.thebigmoney.com/articles/news/2009/02/02/uggconomy

 
At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Donna said...

I don't think Snuggies are all that new. I think they existed years ago under a name that wasn't as heavily marketed.

One of my girlfriends, who good-naturedly teases me about my tendency to withdraw from the world into my own little literary world, always you to tease me about getting me one of those pre-Snuggie Snuggies for Christmas.

I kind of wish she weren't joking.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good point, Donna. After all, this began with a story I posted from a publication that covers trends in advertising. This is really just some new marketing for an old product.

 
At 3:03 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

This was a telling paragraph from that Uggconomy article:

Classic looks rule. Expect more classic shapes, fewer trendy flourishes, and less fanciful experimentation. One casualty, according to Kwesi Blair, senior associate at the luxury-market consulting firm Robert Burke Associates, will be shoes dripping with jewels, fur trim, feathers, or anything else that could be described by the word bling. These shoes are pricey to turn out (an expense which inevitably gets passed along to the customer) and enthusiasm for over-the-top embellishment has waned.

I think that marketing (I used to work in the field) frequently disappears up its own fundament. Few things are more susceptible to the vagaries of fashion, and few things are less stable.

So the paragraph above tells the real truth: classics endure. That's why they become classics. I hope the bling thing runs its course soon. I never liked it. The only thing worse than bling is the word "bling." Ugg, indeed.

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Oh, BTW, I loved those Xerox ads with the monks. I love technological anachronisms, in general. And that ad series was very witty.

I wonder if they're on YouTube . . . .

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Gee, whatever will we do without "shoes dripping with jewels"? There are some up sides to a tough economy. The country has been under a long spell of affluenza, and long overdue to come back down to earth, I think.
Interestingly enough, it turns out those Xerox monk ads debuted in the Super Bowl, way back in 1977. How appropriate.

And the answer is yes, just about everything is on You Tube. You'll find it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IgH2MO2xek

 

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