"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Advertisment uses graffiti
PHILADELPHIA - Sony Corp. scouted out an unusual place to advertise its PlayStation Portable before the holidays: the side of an abandoned building in a gritty North Philadelphia neighborhood.

The black-on-white graffiti shows wide-eyed cartoon characters riding the PlayStation like a skateboard, licking it like a lollipop or cranking it like a Jack-in-the-Box.

But there's no mention of the Sony or PlayStation brands — nor any hint the wordless display is an ad.

The stealth marketing campaign has popped up in San Francisco, New York and other large U.S. cities.

"It's all about hip-hop, urban and all that. They're just trying to get into the teenagers' minds," said Eddie Torres, 29, who works at a nearby furniture shop. "I think it's sharp."

Anti-blight advocates think otherwise.

"They're breaking the law," said Mary Tracy, who runs the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, a watchdog group that fights illegal or ill-advised billboards in Philadelphia.

Tracy said Sony ignored the zoning process that regulates outdoor commercial advertising in the city.

Philadelphia Managing Director Pedro Ramos on Wednesday faxed a cease-and-desist letter to Sony Computer Entertainment's U.S. division in San Mateo, Calif. He could seek modest fines allowed by city code or sue to recover any profit the ads produced.

"My fines aren't going to scare Sony," Ramos said. "What will worry them is what the parents and their users will think. This really flies in the face of everything we've been trying to do with our anti-blight initiative."

The Sony division did not immediately respond to the letter or to a telephone message left by The Associated Press. However, Sony spokeswoman Molly Smith told an Internet news site earlier this month that Sony was hiring artists in seven cities — Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago were the others — to spray paint the pre-drawn designs.

"With PSP being a portable product, our target is what we consider to be urban nomads," Smith told Wired News.

In San Francisco, the ads were defaced soon after they appeared as word spread that Sony was behind them. "Get out of my city!!!" and "Fony" were written on one.

"I thought it was sneaky. Not cool," said Zan Sterling, who works at a bar near one of the ads, which has since been painted over. "I hope that they paid for the cleanup and removal."

Critics and supporters agree the campaign is designed to crack through the clutter of marketing that pervades daily life. Others have criticized its visual appeal.

"They hired artists to just copy this same figure over and over, which isn't too creative," said 29-year-old Jake Dobkin, a New Yorker who writes for the blog Gothamist.com.

That matters little to North Philadelphia resident Leslie Griggs, 39, who said the Sony ad is an improvement over the handbills and scrawls it replaced.

"I don't think that's graffiti," Griggs said as she paused beside the PlayStation ad. "That's art."

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posted by R J Noriega at 1:02 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Group Think
malcolm Gladwell

What does 'Saturday Night Live'
have in common with German philosophy?

Lorne Michaels, the creator of "Saturday Night Live," was married to one of the show's writers, Rosie Shuster. One day when the show was still young, an assistant named Paula Davis went to Shuster's apartment in New York and found Dan Aykroyd getting out of her bed--which was puzzling, not just because Shuster was married to Michaels but because Aykroyd was supposedly seeing another member of the original "S.N.L." cast, Laraine Newman. Aykroyd and Gilda Radner had also been an item, back when the two of them worked for the Second City comedy troupe in Toronto, although by the time they got to New York they were just friends, in the way that everyone was friends with Radner. Second City was also where Aykroyd met John Belushi, because Belushi, who was a product of the Second City troupe in Chicago, came to Toronto to recruit for the "National Lampoon Radio Hour," which he starred in along with Radner and Bill Murray (who were also an item for a while). The writer Michael O'Donoghue (who famously voiced his aversion to the appearance of the Muppets on "S.N.L." by saying, "I don't write for felt") also came from The National Lampoon, as did another of the original writers, Anne Beatts (who was, in the impeccably ingrown logic of "S.N.L.," living with O'Donoghue). Chevy Chase came from a National Lampoon spinoff called "Lemmings," which also starred Belushi, doing his legendary Joe Cocker impersonation. Lorne Michaels hired Belushi after Radner, among others, insisted on it, and he hired Newman because he had worked with her on a Lily Tomlin special, and he hired Aykroyd because Michaels was also from Canada and knew him from the comedy scene there. When Aykroyd got the word, he came down from Toronto on his Harley.

In the early days of "S.N.L.," as Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller tell us in "Live from New York" (Little, Brown; $25.95), everyone knew everyone and everyone was always in everyone else's business, and that fact goes a long way toward explaining the extraordinary chemistry among the show's cast. Belushi would stay overnight at people's apartments, and he was notorious for getting hungry in the middle of the night and leaving spaghetti-sauce imprints all over the kitchen, or setting fires by falling asleep with a lit joint. Radner would go to Jane Curtin's house and sit and watch Curtin and her husband, as if they were some strange species of mammal, and say things like "Oh, now you are going to turn the TV on together. How will you decide what to watch?" Newman would hang out at Radner's house, and Radner would be eating a gallon of ice cream and Newman would be snorting heroin. Then Radner would go to the bathroom to make herself vomit, and say, "I'm so full, I can't hear." And they would laugh. "There we were," Newman recalls, "practicing our illnesses together."

The place where they all really lived, though, was the "S.N.L." office, on the seventeenth floor of NBC headquarters, at Rockefeller Center. The staff turned it into a giant dormitory, installing bunk beds and fooling around in the dressing rooms and staying up all night. Monday night was the first meeting, where ideas were pitched. On Tuesday, the writing started after dinner and continued straight through the night. The first read-through took place on Wednesday at three in the afternoon. And then came blocking and rehearsals and revisions. "It was emotional," the writer Alan Zweibel tells Shales and Miller. "We were a colony. I don't mean this in a bad way, but we were Guyana on the seventeenth floor. We didn't go out. We stayed there. It was a stalag of some sort." Rosie Shuster remembers waking up at the office and then going outside with Aykroyd, to "walk each other like dogs around 30 Rock just to get a little fresh air." On Saturdays, after the taping was finished, the cast would head downtown to a storefront that Belushi and Aykroyd had rented and dubbed the Blues Bar. It was a cheerless dive, with rats and crumbling walls and peeling paint and the filthiest toilets in all of New York. But did anyone care? "It was the end of the week and, well, you were psyched," Shuster recalls. "It was like you were buzzing, you'd get turbocharged from the intense effort of it, and then there's like adrenal burnout later. I remember sleeping at the Blues Bar, you know, as the light broke." Sometimes it went even later. "I remember rolling down the armor at the Blues Bar and closing the building at eleven o'clock Sunday morning--you know, when it was at its height--and saying good morning to the cops and firemen,"Aykroyd said. "S.N.L." was a television show, but it was also an adult fraternity house, united by bonds of drugs and sex and long hours and emotion and affection that went back years. "The only entrée to that boys club was basically by fucking somebody in the club," Anne Beatts tells Shales and Miller. "Which wasn't the reason you were fucking them necessarily. I mean, you didn't go "Oh, I want to get into this, I think I'll have to have sex with this person.' It was just that if you were drawn to funny people who were doing interesting things, then the only real way to get to do those things yourself was to make that connection."


We are inclined to think that genuine innovators are loners, that they do not need the social reinforcement the rest of us crave. But that's not how it works, whether it's television comedy or, for that matter, the more exalted realms of art and politics and ideas. In his book "The Sociology of Philosophies," Randall Collins finds in all of known history only three major thinkers who appeared on the scene by themselves:the first-century Taoist metaphysician Wang Ch'ung, the fourteenth-century Zen mystic Bassui Tokusho, and the fourteenth-century Arabic philosopher Ibn Khaldun. Everyone else who mattered was part of a movement, a school, a band of followers and disciples and mentors and rivals and friends who saw each other all the time and had long arguments over coffee and slept with one another's spouses. Freud may have been the founder of psychoanalysis, but it really began to take shape in 1902, when Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Stekel, Max Kahane, and Rudolf Reitler would gather in Freud's waiting room on Wednesdays, to eat strudel and talk about the unconscious. The neo-Confucian movement of the Sung dynasty in China revolved around the brothers Ch'eng Hao and Ch'eng I, their teacher Chou Tun-i, their father's cousin Chang Tsai, and, of course, their neighbor Shao Yung. Pissarro and Degas enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts at the same time, then Pissarro met Monet and, later, Cézanne at the Académie Suisse, Manet met Degas at the Louvre, Monet befriended Renoir at Charles Gleyre's studio, and Renoir, in turn, met Pissarro and Cézanne and soon enough everyone was hanging out at the Café Guerbois on the Rue des Batignolles. Collins's point is not that innovation attracts groups but that innovation is found in groups: that it tends to arise out of social interaction--conversation, validation, the intimacy of proximity, and the look in your listener's eye that tells you you're onto something. German Idealism, he notes, centered on Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Why? Because they all lived together in the same house. "Fichte takes the early lead," Collins writes,

inspiring the others on a visit while they are young students at Tübingen in the 1790s, then turning Jena into a center for the philosophical movement to which a stream of the soon-to-be-eminent congregate; then on to Dresden in the heady years 1799-1800 to live with the Romantic circle of the Schlegel brothers (where August Schlegel's wife, Caroline, has an affair with Schelling, followed later by a scandalous divorce and remarriage). Fichte moves on to Berlin, allying with Schleiermacher (also of the Romantic circle) and with Humboldt to establish the new-style university; here Hegel eventually comes and founds his school, and Schopenhauer lectures fruitlessly in competition.

There is a wonderful illustration of this social dimension of innovation in Jenny Uglow's new book, "The Lunar Men" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $30), which is the story of a remarkable group of friends in Birmingham in the mid-eighteenth century. Their leader was Erasmus Darwin, a physician, inventor, and scientist, who began thinking about evolution a full fifty years before his grandson Charles. Darwin met, through his medical practice, an industrialist named Mathew Boulton and, later, his partner James Watt, the steam-engine pioneer. They, in turn, got to know Josiah Wedgwood, he of the famous pottery, and Joseph Priestley, the preacher who isolated oxygen and became known as one of history's great chemists, and the industrialist Samuel Galton (whose son married Darwin's daughter and produced the legendary nineteenth-century polymath Francis Galton), and the innovative glass-and-chemicals entrepreneur James Keir, and on and on. They called themselves the Lunar Society because they arranged to meet at each full moon, when they would get together in the early afternoon to eat, piling the table high, Uglow tells us, with wine and "fish and capons, Cheddar and Stilton, pies and syllabubs." Their children played underfoot. Their wives chatted in the other room, and the Lunar men talked well into the night, clearing the table to make room for their models and plans and instruments. "They developed their own cryptic, playful language and Darwin, in particular, liked to phrase things as puzzles--like the charades and poetic word games people used to play," Uglow writes. "Even though they were down-to-earth champions of reason, a part of the delight was to feel they were unlocking esoteric secrets, exploring transmutations like alchemists of old."

When they were not meeting, they were writing to each other with words of encouragement or advice or excitement. This was truly--in a phrase that is invariably and unthinkingly used in the pejorative--a mutual-admiration society. "Their inquiries ranged over the whole spectrum, from astronomy and optics to fossils and ferns," Uglow tells us, and she goes on:

One person's passion--be it carriages, steam, minerals, chemistry, clocks--fired all the others. There was no neat separation of subjects. Letters between [William] Small and Watt were a kaleidoscope of invention and ideas, touching on steam-engines and cylinders; cobalt as a semi-metal; how to boil down copal, the resin of tropical trees, for varnish; lenses and clocks and colours for enamels; alkali and canals; acids and vapours--as well as the boil on Watt's nose.

What were they doing? Darwin, in a lovely phrase, called it "philosophical laughing," which was his way of saying that those who depart from cultural or intellectual consensus need people to walk beside them and laugh with them to give them confidence. But there's more to it than that. One of the peculiar features of group dynamics is that clusters of people will come to decisions that are far more extreme than any individual member would have come to on his own. People compete with each other and egg each other on, showboat and grandstand; and along the way they often lose sight of what they truly believed when the meeting began. Typically, this is considered a bad thing, because it means that groups formed explicitly to find middle ground often end up someplace far away. But at times this quality turns out to be tremendously productive, because, after all, losing sight of what you truly believed when the meeting began is one way of defining innovation.

Uglow tells us, for instance, that the Lunar men were active in the campaign against slavery. Wedgwood, Watt, and Darwin pushed for the building of canals, to improve transportation. Priestley came up with soda water and the rubber eraser, and James Keir was the man who figured out how to mass-produce soap, eventually building a twenty-acre soapworks in Tipton that produced a million pounds of soap a year. Here, surely, are all the hallmarks of group distortion. Somebody comes up with an ambitious plan for canals, and someone else tries to top that by building a really big soap factory, and in that feverish atmosphere someone else decides to top them all with the idea that what they should really be doing is fighting slavery.

Uglow's book reveals how simplistic our view of groups really is. We divide them into cults and clubs, and dismiss the former for their insularity and the latter for their banality. The cult is the place where, cut off from your peers, you become crazy. The club is the place where, surrounded by your peers, you become boring. Yet if you can combine the best of those two --the right kind of insularity with the right kind of homogeneity--you create an environment both safe enough and stimulating enough to make great thoughts possible. You get Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and a revolution in Western philosophy. You get Darwin, Watt, Wedgwood, and Priestley, and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. And sometimes, on a more modest level, you get a bunch of people goofing around and bringing a new kind of comedy to network television.


One of "S.N.L."'s forerunners was a comedy troupe based in San Francisco called the Committee. The Committee's heyday was in the nineteen-sixties, and its humor had the distinctive political bite of that period. In one of the group's memorable sketches, the actor Larry Hankin played a condemned prisoner being led to the electric chair by a warden, a priest, and a prison guard. Hankin was strapped in and the switch was thrown--and nothing happened. Hankin started to become abusive, and the three men huddled briefly together. Then, as Tony Hendra recounts, in "Going Too Far," his history of "boomer humor":

They confer and throw the switch again. Still nothing. Hankin starts cackling with glee, doubly abusive. They throw it yet again. Nothing yet again. Hankin then demands to be set free--he can't be executed more than once, they're a bunch of assholes, double jeopardy, nyah-nyah, etc., etc. Totally desperate, the three confer once more, check that they're alone in the cell, and kick Hankin to death.

Is that sketch funny? Some people thought so. When the Committee performed it at a benefit at the Vacaville prison, in California, the inmates laughed so hard they rioted. But others didn't, and even today it's clear that this humor is funny only to those who can appreciate the particular social and political sensibility of the Committee. We call new cultural or intellectual movements "circles" for a reason: the circle is a closed loop. You are either inside or outside. In "Live from New York," Lorne Michaels describes going to the White House to tape President Ford saying, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night," the "S.N.L." intro: "We'd done two or three takes, and to relax him, I said to him--my sense of humor at the time--"Mr. President, if this works out, who knows where it will lead?' Which was completely lost on him." In another comic era, the fact that Ford did not laugh would be evidence of the joke's failure. But when Michaels says the joke "was completely lost on him" it isn't a disclaimer--it's the punch line. He said what he said because he knew Ford would not get it. As the writers of "Saturday Night Live" worked on sketches deep into the night, they were sustained by something like what sustained the Lunar men and the idealists in Tübingen--the feeling that they all spoke a private language.

To those on the inside, of course, nothing is funnier than an inside joke. But the real significance of inside jokes is what they mean for those who aren't on the inside. Laughing at a joke creates an incentive to join the joke-teller. But not laughing--not getting the joke--creates an even greater incentive. We all want to know what we're missing, and this is one of the ways that revolutions spread from the small groups that spawn them.

"One of Michaels's rules was, no groveling to the audience either in the studio or at home," Shales and Miller write. "The collective approach of the show's creators could be seen as a kind of arrogance, a stance of defiance that said in effect, "We think this is funny, and if you don't, you're wrong.' . . . To viewers raised on TV that was forever cajoling, importuning, and talking down to them, the blunt and gutsy approach was refreshing, a virtual reinvention of the medium."

The successful inside joke, however, can never last. In "A Great Silly Grin" (Public Affairs; $27.50), a history of nineteen-sixties British satire, Humphrey Carpenter relates a routine done at the comedy club the Establishment early in the decade. The sketch was about the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed in the war, and the speaker was supposed to be the Cathedral's architect, Sir Basil Spence:

First of all, of course, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the German people for making this whole project possible in the first place. Second, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Coventry itself, who when asked to choose between having a cathedral and having hospitals, schools and houses, plumped immediately (I'm glad to say) for the cathedral, recognizing, I think, the need of any community to have a place where the whole community can gather together and pray for such things as hospitals, schools and houses.

When that bit was first performed, many Englishmen would have found it offensive. Now, of course, hardly anyone would. Mocking British establishment pieties is no longer an act of rebellion. It is the norm. Successful revolutions contain the seeds of their demise: they attract so many followers, eager to be in on the joke as well, that the circle breaks down. The inside becomes indistinguishable from the outside. The allure of exclusivity is gone.

At the same time, the special bonds that created the circle cannot last forever. Sooner or later, the people who slept together in every combination start to pair off. Those doing drugs together sober up (or die). Everyone starts going to bed at eleven o'clock, and bit by bit the intimacy that fuels innovation slips away. "I was involved with Gilda, yeah. I was in love with her," Aykroyd tells Shales and Miller."We were friends, lovers, then friends again," and in a way that's the simplest and best explanation for the genius of the original "S.N.L." Today's cast is not less talented. It is simply more professional. "I think some people in the cast have fun crushes on other people, but nothing serious," Cheri Oteri, a cast member from the late nineteen-nineties, tells Shales and Miller, in what might well serve as the show's creative epitaph. "I guess we're kind of boring--no romances, no drugs. I had an audition once with somebody who used to work here. He's very, very big in the business now. And as soon as I went in for the audition, he went, "Hey, you guys still doing coke over at SNL?' Because back when he was here, they were doing it. What are we doing, for crying out loud? Oh yeah. Thinking up characters."

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posted by R J Noriega at 8:56 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
The Coolhunt
By: Malcolm Gladwell

March 17, 1997

Who decides what's cool?
Certain kids in certain places--
and only the coolhunters know who they are.


Baysie Wightman met DeeDee Gordon, appropriately enough, on a coolhunt. It was 1992. Baysie was a big shot for Converse, and DeeDee, who was barely twenty-one, was running a very cool boutique called Placid Planet, on Newbury Street in Boston. Baysie came in with a camera crew-one she often used when she was coolhunting-and said, "I've been watching your store, I've seen you, I've heard you know what's up," because it was Baysie's job at Converse to find people who knew what was up and she thought DeeDee was one of those people. DeeDee says that she responded with reserve-that "I was like, 'Whatever' "-but Baysie said that if DeeDee ever wanted to come and work at Converse she should just call, and nine months later DeeDee called. This was about the time the cool kids had decided they didn't want the hundred-and-twenty- five-dollar basketball sneaker with seventeen different kinds of high-technology materials and colors and air-cushioned heels anymore. They wanted simplicity and authenticity, and Baysie picked up on that. She brought back the Converse One Star, which was a vulcanized, suède, low-top classic old-school sneaker from the nineteen-seventies, and, sure enough, the One Star quickly became the signature shoe of the retro era. Remember what Kurt Cobain was wearing in the famous picture of him lying dead on the ground after committing suicide? Black Converse One Stars. DeeDee's big score was calling the sandal craze. She had been out in Los Angeles and had kept seeing the white teen-age girls dressing up like cholos, Mexican gangsters, in tight white tank tops known as "wife beaters," with a bra strap hanging out, and long shorts and tube socks and shower sandals. DeeDee recalls, "I'm like, 'I'm telling you, Baysie, this is going to hit. There are just too many people wearing it. We have to make a shower sandal.' " So Baysie, DeeDee, and a designer came up with the idea of making a retro sneaker-sandal, cutting the back off the One Star and putting a thick outsole on it. It was huge, and, amazingly, it's still huge.

Today, Baysie works for Reebok as general-merchandise manager-part of the team trying to return Reebok to the position it enjoyed in the mid-nineteen-eighties as the country's hottest sneaker company. DeeDee works for an advertising agency in Del Mar called Lambesis, where she puts out a quarterly tip sheet called the L Report on what the cool kids in major American cities are thinking and doing and buying. Baysie and DeeDee are best friends. They talk on the phone all the time. They get together whenever Baysie is in L.A. (DeeDee: "It's, like, how many times can you drive past O. J. Simpson's house?"), and between them they can talk for hours about the art of the coolhunt. They're the Lewis and Clark of cool.

What they have is what everybody seems to want these days, which is a window on the world of the street. Once, when fashion trends were set by the big couture houses-when cool was trickle- down-that wasn't important. But sometime in the past few decades things got turned over, and fashion became trickle-up. It's now about chase and flight-designers and retailers and the mass consumer giving chase to the elusive prey of street cool-and the rise of coolhunting as a profession shows how serious the chase has become. The sneakers of Nike and Reebok used to come out yearly. Now a new style comes out every season. Apparel designers used to have an eighteen-month lead time between concept and sale. Now they're reducing that to a year, or even six months, in order to react faster to new ideas from the street. The paradox, of course, is that the better coolhunters become at bringing the mainstream close to the cutting edge, the more elusive the cutting edge becomes. This is the first rule of the cool: The quicker the chase, the quicker the flight. The act of discovering what's cool is what causes cool to move on, which explains the triumphant circularity of coolhunting: because we have coolhunters like DeeDee and Baysie, cool changes more quickly, and because cool changes more quickly, we need coolhunters like DeeDee and Baysie.

DeeDee is tall and glamorous, with short hair she has dyed so often that she claims to have forgotten her real color. She drives a yellow 1977 Trans Am with a burgundy stripe down the center and a 1973 Mercedes 450 SL, and lives in a spare, Japanese-style cabin in Laurel Canyon. She uses words like "rad" and "totally," and offers non-stop, deadpan pronouncements on pop culture, as in "It's all about Pee-wee Herman." She sounds at first like a teen, like the same teens who, at Lambesis, it is her job to follow. But teen speech-particularly girl-teen speech, with its fixation on reported speech ("so she goes," "and I'm like," "and he goes") and its stock vocabulary of accompanying grimaces and gestures-is about using language less to communicate than to fit in. DeeDee uses teen speech to set herself apart, and the result is, for lack of a better word, really cool. She doesn't do the teen thing of climbing half an octave at the end of every sentence. Instead, she drags out her vowels for emphasis, so that if she mildly disagreed with something I'd said she would say "Maalcolm" and if she strongly disagreed with what I'd said she would say "Maaalcolm."

Baysie is older, just past forty (although you would never guess that), and went to Exeter and Middlebury and had two grandfathers who went to Harvard (although you wouldn't guess that, either). She has curly brown hair and big green eyes and long legs and so much energy that it is hard to imagine her asleep, or resting, or even standing still for longer than thirty seconds. The hunt for cool is an obsession with her, and DeeDee is the same way. DeeDee used to sit on the corner of West Broadway and Prince in SoHo-back when SoHo was cool-and take pictures of everyone who walked by for an entire hour. Baysie can tell you precisely where she goes on her Reebok coolhunts to find the really cool alternative white kids ("I'd maybe go to Portland and hang out where the skateboarders hang out near that bridge") or which snowboarding mountain has cooler kids-Stratton, in Vermont, or Summit County, in Colorado. (Summit, definitely.) DeeDee can tell you on the basis of the L Report's research exactly how far Dallas is behind New York in coolness (from six to eight months). Baysie is convinced that Los Angeles is not happening right now: "In the early nineteen-nineties a lot more was coming from L.A. They had a big trend with the whole Melrose Avenue look-the stupid goatees, the shorter hair. It was cleaned-up aftergrunge. There were a lot of places you could go to buy vinyl records. It was a strong place to go for looks. Then it went back to being horrible." DeeDee is convinced that Japan is happening: "I linked onto this future-technology thing two years ago. Now look at it, it's huge. It's the whole resurgence of Nike-Nike being larger than life. I went to Japan and saw the kids just bailing the most technologically advanced Nikes with their little dresses and little outfits and I'm like, 'Whoa, this is trippy!' It's performance mixed with fashion. It's really superheavy." Baysie has a theory that Liverpool is cool right now because it's the birthplace of the whole "lad" look, which involves soccer blokes in the pubs going superdressy and wearing Dolce & Gabbana and Polo Sport and Reebok Classics on their feet. But when I asked DeeDee about that, she just rolled her eyes: "Sometimes Baysie goes off on these tangents. Man, I love that woman!"

I used to think that if I talked to Baysie and DeeDee long enough I could write a coolhunting manual, an encyclopedia of cool. But then I realized that the manual would have so many footnotes and caveats that it would be unreadable. Coolhunting is not about the articulation of a coherent philosophy of cool. It's just a collection of spontaneous observations and predictions that differ from one moment to the next and from one coolhunter to the next. Ask a coolhunter where the baggy-jeans look came from, for example, and you might get any number of answers: urban black kids mimicking the jailhouse look, skateboarders looking for room to move, snowboarders trying not to look like skiers, or, alternatively, all three at once, in some grand concordance.

Or take the question of exactly how Tommy Hilfiger-a forty- five-year-old white guy from Greenwich, Connecticut, doing all- American preppy clothes-came to be the designer of choice for urban black America. Some say it was all about the early and visible endorsement given Hilfiger by the hip-hop auteur Grand Puba, who wore a dark-green-and-blue Tommy jacket over a white Tommy T-shirt as he leaned on his black Lamborghini on the cover of the hugely influential "Grand Puba 2000" CD, and whose love for Hilfiger soon spread to other rappers. (Who could forget the rhymes of Mobb Deep? "Tommy was my nigga /And couldn't figure /How me and Hilfiger / used to move through with vigor.") Then I had lunch with one of Hilfiger's designers, a twenty-six-year-old named Ulrich (Ubi) Simpson, who has a Puerto Rican mother and a Dutch-Venezuelan father, plays lacrosse, snowboards, surfs the long board, goes to hip-hop concerts, listens to Jungle, Edith Piaf, opera, rap, and Metallica, and has working with him on his design team a twenty-seven-year-old black guy from Montclair with dreadlocks, a twenty-two-year-old Asian-American who lives on the Lower East Side, a twenty-five-year-old South Asian guy from Fiji, and a twenty-one-year-old white graffiti artist from Queens. That's when it occurred to me that maybe the reason Tommy Hilfiger can make white culture cool to black culture is that he has people working for him who are cool in both cultures simultaneously. Then again, maybe it was all Grand Puba. Who knows?

One day last month, Baysie took me on a coolhunt to the Bronx and Harlem, lugging a big black canvas bag with twenty-four different shoes that Reebok is about to bring out, and as we drove down Fordham Road, she had her head out the window like a little kid, checking out what everyone on the street was wearing. We went to Dr. Jay's, which is the cool place to buy sneakers in the Bronx, and Baysie crouched down on the floor and started pulling the shoes out of her bag one by one, soliciting opinions from customers who gathered around and asking one question after another, in rapid sequence. One guy she listened closely to was maybe eighteen or nineteen, with a diamond stud in his ear and a thin beard. He was wearing a Polo baseball cap, a brown leather jacket, and the big, oversized leather boots that are everywhere uptown right now. Baysie would hand him a shoe and he would hold it, look at the top, and move it up and down and flip it over. The first one he didn't like: "Oh-kay." The second one he hated: he made a growling sound in his throat even before Baysie could give it to him, as if to say, "Put it back in the bag-now!" But when she handed him a new DMX RXT-a low-cut run/walk shoe in white and blue and mesh with a translucent "ice" sole, which retails for a hundred and ten dollars-he looked at it long and hard and shook his head in pure admiration and just said two words, dragging each of them out: "No doubt."

Baysie was interested in what he was saying, because the DMX RXT she had was a girls' shoe that actually hadn't been doing all that well. Later, she explained to me that the fact that the boys loved the shoe was critical news, because it suggested that Reebok had a potential hit if it just switched the shoe to the men's section. How she managed to distill this piece of information from the crowd of teenagers around her, how she made any sense of the two dozen shoes in her bag, most of which (to my eyes, anyway) looked pretty much the same, and how she knew which of the teens to really focus on was a mystery. Baysie is a Wasp from New England, and she crouched on the floor in Dr. Jay's for almost an hour, talking and joking with the homeboys without a trace of condescension or self-consciousness.

Near the end of her visit, a young boy walked up and sat down on the bench next to her. He was wearing a black woollen cap with white stripes pulled low, a blue North Face pleated down jacket, a pair of baggy Guess jeans, and, on his feet, Nike Air Jordans. He couldn't have been more than thirteen. But when he started talking you could see Baysie's eyes light up, because somehow she knew the kid was the real thing.

"How many pairs of shoes do you buy a month?" Baysie asked.

"Two," the kid answered. "And if at the end I find one more I like I get to buy that, too."

Baysie was onto him. "Does your mother spoil you?"

The kid blushed, but a friend next to him was laughing. "Whatever he wants, he gets."

Baysie laughed, too. She had the DMX RXT in his size. He tried them on. He rocked back and forth, testing them. He looked back at Baysie. He was dead serious now: "Make sure these come out."

Baysie handed him the new "Rush" Emmitt Smith shoe due out in the fall. One of the boys had already pronounced it "phat," and another had looked through the marbleized-foam cradle in the heel and cried out in delight, "This is bug!" But this kid was the acid test, because this kid knew cool. He paused. He looked at it hard. "Reebok," he said, soberly and carefully, "is trying to get butter."

In the car on the way back to Manhattan, Baysie repeated it twice. "Not better. Butter! That kid could totally tell you what he thinks." Baysie had spent an hour coolhunting in a shoe store and found out that Reebok's efforts were winning the highest of hip-hop praise. "He was so fucking smart."


If you want to understand how trends work, and why coolhunters like Baysie and DeeDee have become so important, a good place to start is with what's known as diffusion research, which is the study of how ideas and innovations spread. Diffusion researchers do things like spending five years studying the adoption of irrigation techniques in a Colombian mountain village, or developing complex matrices to map the spread of new math in the Pittsburgh school system. What they do may seem like a far cry from, say, how the Tommy Hilfiger thing spread from Harlem to every suburban mall in the country, but it really isn't: both are about how new ideas spread from one person to the next.

One of the most famous diffusion studies is Bruce Ryan and Neal Gross's analysis of the spread of hybrid seed corn in Greene County, Iowa, in the nineteen-thirties. The new seed corn was introduced there in about 1928, and it was superior in every respect to the seed that had been used by farmers for decades. But it wasn't adopted all at once. Of two hundred and fifty-nine farmers studied by Ryan and Gross, only a handful had started planting the new seed by 1933. In 1934, sixteen took the plunge. In 1935, twenty-one more followed; the next year, there were thirty-six, and the year after that a whopping sixty-one. The succeeding figures were then forty-six, thirty-six, fourteen, and three, until, by 1941, all but two of the two hundred and fifty-nine farmers studied were using the new seed. In the language of diffusion research, the handful of farmers who started trying hybrid seed corn at the very beginning of the thirties were the "innovators," the adventurous ones. The slightly larger group that followed them was the "early adopters." They were the opinion leaders in the community, the respected, thoughtful people who watched and analyzed what those wild innovators were doing and then did it themselves. Then came the big bulge of farmers in 1936, 1937, and 1938-the "early majority" and the "late majority," which is to say the deliberate and the skeptical masses, who would never try anything until the most respected farmers had tried it. Only after they had been converted did the "laggards," the most traditional of all, follow suit. The critical thing about this sequence is that it is almost entirely interpersonal. According to Ryan and Gross, only the innovators relied to any great extent on radio advertising and farm journals and seed salesmen in making their decision to switch to the hybrid. Everyone else made his decision overwhelmingly because of the example and the opinions of his neighbors and peers.

Isn't this just how fashion works? A few years ago, the classic brushed-suède Hush Puppies with the lightweight crêpe sole-the moc-toe oxford known as the Duke and the slip-on with the golden buckle known as the Columbia-were selling barely sixty-five thousand pairs a year. The company was trying to walk away from the whole suède casual look entirely. It wanted to do "aspirational" shoes: "active casuals" in smooth leather, like the Mall Walker, with a Comfort Curve technology outsole and a heel stabilizer-the kind of shoes you see in Kinney's for $39.95. But then something strange started happening. Two Hush Puppies executives-Owen Baxter and Jeff Lewis-were doing a fashion shoot for their Mall Walkers and ran into a creative consultant from Manhattan named Jeffrey Miller, who informed them that the Dukes and the Columbias weren't dead, they were dead chic. "We were being told," Baxter recalls, "that there were areas in the Village, in SoHo, where the shoes were selling-in resale shops-and that people were wearing the old Hush Puppies. They were going to the ma-and-pa stores, the little stores that still carried them, and there was this authenticity of being able to say, 'I am wearing an original pair of Hush Puppies.' "

Baxter and Lewis-tall, solid, fair-haired Midwestern guys with thick, shiny wedding bands-are shoe men, first and foremost. Baxter was working the cash register at his father's shoe store in Mount Prospect, Illinois, at the age of thirteen. Lewis was doing inventory in his father's shoe store in Pontiac, Michigan, at the age of seven. Baxter was in the National Guard during the 1968 Democratic Convention, in Chicago, and was stationed across the street from the Conrad Hilton downtown, right in the middle of things. Today, the two men work out of Rockford, Michigan (population thirty-eight hundred), where Hush Puppies has been making the Dukes and the Columbias in an old factory down by the Rogue River for almost forty years. They took me to the plant when I was in Rockford. In a crowded, noisy, low-slung building, factory workers stand in long rows, gluing, stapling, and sewing together shoes in dozens of bright colors, and the two executives stopped at each production station and described it in detail. Lewis and Baxter know shoes. But they would be the first to admit that they don't know cool. "Miller was saying that there is something going on with the shoes-that Isaac Mizrahi was wearing the shoes for his personal use," Lewis told me. We were seated around the conference table in the Hush Puppies headquarters in Rockford, with the snow and the trees outside and a big water tower behind us. "I think it's fair to say that at the time we had no idea who Isaac Mizrahi was."

By late 1994, things had begun to happen in a rush. First, the designer John Bartlett called. He wanted to use Hush Puppies as accessories in his spring collection. Then Anna Sui called. Miller, the man from Manhattan, flew out to Michigan to give advice on a new line ("Of course, packing my own food and thinking about 'Fargo' in the corner of my mind"). A few months later, in Los Angeles, the designer Joel Fitzpatrick put a twenty-five-foot inflatable basset hound on the roof of his store on La Brea Avenue and gutted his adjoining art gallery to turn it into a Hush Puppies department, and even before he opened-while he was still painting and putting up shelves-Pee-wee Herman walked in and asked for a couple of pairs. Pee-wee Herman! "It was total word of mouth. I didn't even have a sign back then," Fitzpatrick recalls. In 1995, the company sold four hundred and thirty thousand pairs of the classic Hush Puppies. In 1996, it sold a million six hundred thousand, and that was only scratching the surface, because in Europe and the rest of the world, where Hush Puppies have a huge following-where they might outsell the American market four to one-the revival was just beginning.

The cool kids who started wearing old Dukes and Columbias from thrift shops were the innovators. Pee-wee Herman, wandering in off the street, was an early adopter. The million six hundred thousand people who bought Hush Puppies last year are the early majority, jumping in because the really cool people have already blazed the trail. Hush Puppies are moving through the country just the way hybrid seed corn moved through Greene County-all of which illustrates what coolhunters can and cannot do. If Jeffrey Miller had been wrong-if cool people hadn't been digging through the thrift shops for Hush Puppies-and he had arbitrarily decided that Baxter and Lewis should try to convince non-cool people that the shoes were cool, it wouldn't have worked. You can't convince the late majority that Hush Puppies are cool, because the late majority makes its coolness decisions on the basis of what the early majority is doing, and you can't convince the early majority, because the early majority is looking at the early adopters, and you can't convince the early adopters, because they take their cues from the innovators. The innovators do get their cool ideas from people other than their peers, but the fact is that they are the last people who can be convinced by a marketing campaign that a pair of suède shoes is cool. These are, after all, the people who spent hours sifting through thrift-store bins. And why did they do that? Because their definition of cool is doing something that nobody else is doing. A company can intervene in the cool cycle. It can put its shoes on really cool celebrities and on fashion runways and on MTV. It can accelerate the transition from the innovator to the early adopter and on to the early majority. But it can't just manufacture cool out of thin air, and that's the second rule of cool.

At the peak of the Hush Puppies craziness last year, Hush Puppies won the prize for best accessory at the Council of Fashion Designers' awards dinner, at Lincoln Center. The award was accepted by the Hush Puppies president, Louis Dubrow, who came out wearing a pair of custom-made black patent-leather Hush Puppies and stood there blinking and looking at the assembled crowd as if it were the last scene of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It was a strange moment. There was the president of the Hush Puppies company, of Rockford, Michigan, population thirty-eight hundred, sharing a stage with Calvin Klein and Donna Karan and Isaac Mizrahi-and all because some kids in the East Village began combing through thrift shops for old Dukes. Fashion was at the mercy of those kids, whoever they were, and it was a wonderful thing if the kids picked you, but a scary thing, too, because it meant that cool was something you could not control. You needed someone to find cool and tell you what it was.


When Baysie Wightman went to Dr. Jay's, she was looking for customer response to the new shoes Reebok had planned for the fourth quarter of 1997 and the first quarter of 1998. This kind of customer testing is critical at Reebok, because the last decade has not been kind to the company. In 1987, it had a third of the American athletic-shoe market, well ahead of Nike. Last year, it had sixteen per cent. "The kid in the store would say, 'I'd like this shoe if your logo wasn't on it,' " E. Scott Morris, who's a senior designer for Reebok, told me. "That's kind of a punch in the mouth. But we've all seen it. You go into a shoe store. The kid picks up the shoe and says, 'Ah, man, this is nice.' He turns the shoe around and around. He looks at it underneath. He looks at the side and he goes, 'Ah, this is Reebok,' and says, 'I ain't buying this,' and puts the shoe down and walks out. And you go, 'You was just digging it a minute ago. What happened?' " Somewhere along the way, the company lost its cool, and Reebok now faces the task not only of rebuilding its image but of making the shoes so cool that the kids in the store can't put them down.

Every few months, then, the company's coolhunters go out into the field with prototypes of the upcoming shoes to find out what kids really like, and come back to recommend the necessary changes. The prototype of one recent Emmitt Smith shoe, for example, had a piece of molded rubber on the end of the tongue as a design element; it was supposed to give the shoe a certain "richness," but the kids said they thought it looked overbuilt. Then Reebok gave the shoes to the Boston College football team for wear-testing, and when they got the shoes back they found out that all the football players had cut out the rubber component with scissors. As messages go, this was hard to miss. The tongue piece wasn't cool, and on the final version of the shoe it was gone. The rule of thumb at Reebok is that if the kids in Chicago, New York, and Detroit all like a shoe, it's a guaranteed hit. More than likely, though, the coolhunt is going to turn up subtle differences from city to city, so that once the coolhunters come back the designers have to find out some way to synthesize what was heard, and pick out just those things that all the kids seemed to agree on. In New York, for example, kids in Harlem are more sophisticated and fashion-forward than kids in the Bronx, who like things a little more colorful and glitzy. Brooklyn, meanwhile, is conservative and preppy, more like Washington, D.C. For reasons no one really knows, Reeboks are coolest in Philadelphia. In Philly, in fact, the Reebok Classics are so huge they are known simply as National Anthems, as in "I'll have a pair of blue Anthems in nine and a half." Philadelphia is Reebok's innovator town. From there trends move along the East Coast, trickling all the way to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Reebok has its headquarters in Stoughton, Massachusetts, outside Boston-in a modern corporate park right off Route 24. There are basketball and tennis courts next to the building, and a health club on the ground floor that you can look directly into from the parking lot. The front lobby is adorned with shrines for all of Reebok's most prominent athletes-shrines complete with dramatic action photographs, their sports jerseys, and a pair of their signature shoes-and the halls are filled with so many young, determinedly athletic people that when I visited Reebok headquarters I suddenly wished I'd packed my gym clothes in case someone challenged me to wind sprints. At Stoughton, I met with a handful of the company's top designers and marketing executives in a long conference room on the third floor. In the course of two hours, they put one pair of shoes after another on the table in front of me, talking excitedly about each sneaker's prospects, because the feeling at Reebok is that things are finally turning around. The basketball shoe that Reebok brought out last winter for Allen Iverson, the star rookie guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, for example, is one of the hottest shoes in the country. Dr. Jay's sold out of Iversons in two days, compared with the week it took the store to sell out of Nike's new Air Jordans. Iverson himself is brash and charismatic and faster from foul line to foul line than anyone else in the league. He's the equivalent of those kids in the East Village who began wearing Hush Puppies way back when. He's an innovator, and the hope at Reebok is that if he gets big enough the whole company can ride back to coolness on his coattails, the way Nike rode to coolness on the coattails of Michael Jordan. That's why Baysie was so excited when the kid said Reebok was trying to get butter when he looked at the Rush and the DMX RXT: it was a sign, albeit a small one, that the indefinable, abstract thing called cool was coming back.

When Baysie comes back from a coolhunt, she sits down with marketing experts and sales representatives and designers, and reconnects them to the street, making sure they have the right shoes going to the right places at the right price. When she got back from the Bronx, for example, the first thing she did was tell all these people they had to get a new men's DMX RXT out, fast, because the kids on the street loved the women's version. "It's hotter than we realized," she told them. The coolhunter's job in this instance is very specific. What DeeDee does, on the other hand, is a little more ambitious. With the L Report, she tries to construct a kind of grand matrix of cool, comprising not just shoes but everything kids like, and not just kids of certain East Coast urban markets but kids all over. DeeDee and her staff put it out four times a year, in six different versions-for New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin-Dallas, Seattle, and Chicago-and then sell it to manufacturers, retailers, and ad agencies (among others) for twenty thousand dollars a year. They go to each city and find the coolest bars and clubs, and ask the coolest kids to fill out questionnaires. The information is then divided into six categories-You Saw It Here First, Entertainment and Leisure, Clothing and Accessories, Personal and Individual, Aspirations, and Food and Beverages-which are, in turn, broken up into dozens of subcategories, so that Personal and Individual, for example, includes Cool Date, Cool Evening, Free Time, Favorite Possession, and on and on. The information in those subcategories is subdivided again by sex and by age bracket (14-18, 19-24, 25-30), and then, as a control, the L Report gives you the corresponding set of preferences for "mainstream" kids.

Few coolhunters bother to analyze trends with this degree of specificity. DeeDee's biggest competitor, for example, is something called the Hot Sheet, out of Manhattan. It uses a panel of three thousand kids a year from across the country and divides up their answers by sex and age, but it doesn't distinguish between regions, or between trendsetting and mainstream respondents. So what you're really getting is what all kids think is cool-not what cool kids think is cool, which is a considerably different piece of information. Janine Misdom and Joanne DeLuca, who run the Sputnik coolhunting group out of the garment district in Manhattan, meanwhile, favor an entirely impressionistic approach, sending out coolhunters with video cameras to talk to kids on the ground that it's too difficult to get cool kids to fill out questionnaires. Once, when I was visiting the Sputnik girls-as Misdom and DeLuca are known on the street, because they look alike and their first names are so similar and both have the same awesome New York accents-they showed me a video of the girl they believe was the patient zero of the whole eighties revival going on right now. It was back in September of 1993. Joanne and Janine were on Seventh Avenue, outside the Fashion Institute of Technology, doing random street interviews for a major jeans company, and, quite by accident, they ran into this nineteen-year- old raver. She had close-cropped hair, which was green at the top, and at the temples was shaved even closer and dyed pink. She had rings and studs all over her face, and a thick collection of silver tribal jewelry around her neck, and vintage jeans. She looked into the camera and said, "The sixties came in and then the seventies came in and I think it's ready to come back to the eighties. It's totally eighties: the eye makeup, the clothes. It's totally going back to that." Immediately, Joanne and Janine started asking around. "We talked to a few kids on the Lower East Side who said they were feeling the need to start breaking out their old Michael Jackson jackets," Joanne said. "They were joking about it. They weren't doing it yet. But they were going to, you know? They were saying, 'We're getting the urge to break out our Members Only jackets.' " That was right when Joanne and Janine were just starting up; calling the eighties revival was their first big break, and now they put out a full-blown videotaped report twice a year which is a collection of clips of interviews with extremely progressive people.

What DeeDee argues, though, is that cool is too subtle and too variegated to be captured with these kind of broad strokes. Cool is a set of dialects, not a language. The L Report can tell you, for example, that nineteen-to-twenty-four-year-old male trendsetters in Seattle would most like to meet, among others, King Solomon and Dr. Seuss, and that nineteen-to-twenty-four-year- old female trendsetters in San Francisco have turned their backs on Calvin Klein, Nintendo Gameboy, and sex. What's cool right now? Among male New York trendsetters: North Face jackets, rubber and latex, khakis, and the rock band Kiss. Among female trendsetters: ska music, old-lady clothing, and cyber tech. In Chicago, snowboarding is huge among trendsetters of both sexes and all ages. Women over nineteen are into short hair, while those in their teens have embraced mod culture, rock climbing, tag watches, and bootleg pants. In Austin-Dallas, meanwhile, twenty-five-to- thirty-year-old women trendsetters are into hats, heroin, computers, cigars, Adidas, and velvet, while men in their twenties are into video games and hemp. In all, the typical L Report runs over one hundred pages. But with that flood of data comes an obsolescence disclaimer: "The fluctuating nature of the trendsetting market makes keeping up with trends a difficult task." By the spring, in other words, everything may have changed.

The key to coolhunting, then, is to look for cool people first and cool things later, and not the other way around. Since cool things are always changing, you can't look for them, because the very fact they are cool means you have no idea what to look for. What you would be doing is thinking back on what was cool before and extrapolating, which is about as useful as presuming that because the Dow rose ten points yesterday it will rise another ten points today. Cool people, on the other hand, are a constant.

When I was in California, I met Salvador Barbier, who had been described to me by a coolhunter as "the Michael Jordan of skateboarding." He was tall and lean and languid, with a cowboy's insouciance, and we drove through the streets of Long Beach at fifteen miles an hour in a white late-model Ford Mustang, a car he had bought as a kind of ironic status gesture ("It would look good if I had a Polo jacket or maybe Nautica," he said) to go with his '62 Econoline van and his '64 T-bird. Sal told me that he and his friends, who are all in their mid-twenties, recently took to dressing up as if they were in eighth grade again and gathering together-having a "rally"-on old BMX bicycles in front of their local 7-Eleven. "I'd wear muscle shirts, like Def Leppard or Foghat or some old heavy-metal band, and tight, tight tapered Levi's, and Vans on my feet-big, like, checkered Vans or striped Vans or camouflage Vans-and then wristbands and gloves with the fingers cut off. It was total eighties fashion. You had to look like that to participate in the rally. We had those denim jackets with patches on the back and combs that hung out the back pocket. We went without I.D.s, because we'd have to have someone else buy us beers." At this point, Sal laughed. He was driving really slowly and staring straight ahead and talking in a low drawl-the coolhunter's dream. "We'd ride to this bar and I'd have to carry my bike inside, because we have really expensive bikes, and when we got inside people would freak out. They'd say, 'Omigod,' and I was asking them if they wanted to go for a ride on the handlebars. They were like, 'What is wrong with you. My boyfriend used to dress like that in the eighth grade!' And I was like, 'He was probably a lot cooler then, too.' "

This is just the kind of person DeeDee wants. "I'm looking for somebody who is an individual, who has definitely set himself apart from everybody else, who doesn't look like his peers. I've run into trendsetters who look completely Joe Regular Guy. I can see Joe Regular Guy at a club listening to some totally hardcore band playing, and I say to myself 'Omigod, what's that guy doing here?' and that totally intrigues me, and I have to walk up to him and say, 'Hey, you're really into this band. What's up?' You know what I mean? I look at everything. If I see Joe Regular Guy sitting in a coffee shop and everyone around him has blue hair, I'm going to gravitate toward him, because, hey, what's Joe Regular Guy doing in a coffee shop with people with blue hair?"

We were sitting outside the Fred Segal store in West Hollywood. I was wearing a very conservative white Brooks Brothers button-down and a pair of Levi's, and DeeDee looked first at my shirt and then my pants and dissolved into laughter: "I mean, I might even go up to you in a cool place."

Picking the right person is harder than it sounds, though. Piney Kahn, who works for DeeDee, says, "There are a lot of people in the gray area. You've got these kids who dress ultra funky and have their own style. Then you realize they're just running after their friends." The trick is not just to be able to tell who is different but to be able to tell when that difference represents something truly cool. It's a gut thing. You have to somehow just know. DeeDee hired Piney because Piney clearly knows: she is twenty-four and used to work with the Beastie Boys and has the formidable self-possession of someone who is not only cool herself but whose parents were cool. "I mean," she says, "they named me after a tree."

Piney and DeeDee said that they once tried to hire someone as a coolhunter who was not, himself, cool, and it was a disaster.

"You can give them the boundaries," Piney explained. "You can say that if people shop at Banana Republic and listen to Alanis Morissette they're probably not trendsetters. But then they might go out and assume that everyone who does that is not a trendsetter, and not look at the other things."

"I mean, I myself might go into Banana Republic and buy a T-shirt," DeeDee chimed in.

Their non-cool coolhunter just didn't have that certain instinct, that sense that told him when it was O.K. to deviate from the manual. Because he wasn't cool, he didn't know cool, and that's the essence of the third rule of cool: you have to be one to know one. That's why Baysie is still on top of this business at forty-one. "It's easier for me to tell you what kid is cool than to tell you what things are cool," she says. But that's all she needs to know. In this sense, the third rule of cool fits perfectly into the second: the second rule says that cool cannot be manufactured, only observed, and the third says that it can only be observed by those who are themselves cool. And, of course, the first rule says that it cannot accurately be observed at all, because the act of discovering cool causes cool to take flight, so if you add all three together they describe a closed loop, the hermeneutic circle of coolhunting, a phenomenon whereby not only can the uncool not see cool but cool cannot even be adequately described to them. Baysie says that she can see a coat on one of her friends and think it's not cool but then see the same coat on DeeDee and think that it is cool. It is not possible to be cool, in other words, unless you are-in some larger sense-already cool, and so the phenomenon that the uncool cannot see and cannot have described to them is also something that they cannot ever attain, because if they did it would no longer be cool. Coolhunting represents the ascendancy, in the marketplace, of high school.

Once, I was visiting DeeDee at her house in Laurel Canyon when one of her L Report assistants, Jonas Vail, walked in. He'd just come back from Niketown on Wilshire Boulevard, where he'd bought seven hundred dollars' worth of the latest sneakers to go with the three hundred dollars' worth of skateboard shoes he'd bought earlier in the afternoon. Jonas is tall and expressionless, with a peacoat, dark jeans, and short-cropped black hair. "Jonas is good," DeeDee says. "He works with me on everything. That guy knows more pop culture. You know: What was the name of the store Mrs. Garrett owned on 'The Facts of Life'? He knows all the names of the extras from eighties sitcoms. I can't believe someone like him exists. He's fucking unbelievable. Jonas can spot a cool person a mile away."

Jonas takes the boxes of shoes and starts unpacking them on the couch next to DeeDee. He picks up a pair of the new Nike ACG hiking boots, and says, "All the Japanese in Niketown were really into these." He hands the shoes to DeeDee.

"Of course they were!" she says. "The Japanese are all into the tech-looking shit. Look how exaggerated it is, how bulbous." DeeDee has very ambivalent feelings about Nike, because she thinks its marketing has got out of hand. When she was in the New York Niketown with a girlfriend recently, she says, she started getting light-headed and freaked out. "It's cult, cult, cult. It was like, 'Hello, are we all drinking the Kool-Aid here?' " But this shoe she loves. It's Dr. Jay's in the Bronx all over again. DeeDee turns the shoe around and around in the air, tapping the big clear-blue plastic bubble on the side-the visible Air-Sole unit- with one finger. "It's so fucking rad. It looks like a platypus!" In front of me, there is a pair of Nike's new shoes for the basketball player Jason Kidd.

I pick it up. "This looks . . . cool," I venture uncertainly.

DeeDee is on the couch, where she's surrounded by shoeboxes and sneakers and white tissue paper, and she looks up reprovingly because, of course, I don't get it. I can't get it. "Beyooond cool, Maalcolm. Beyooond cool."


posted by R J Noriega at 8:42 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t
Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t
Correction Appended

I was a free man until they brought the dessert menu around. There was one of those molten chocolate cakes, and I was suddenly being dragged into a vortex, swirling helplessly toward caloric doom, sucked toward the edge of a black (chocolate) hole. Visions of my father’s heart attack danced before my glazed eyes. My wife, Nancy, had a resigned look on her face.

The outcome, endlessly replayed whenever we go out, is never in doubt, though I often cover my tracks by offering to split my dessert with the table. O.K., I can imagine what you’re thinking. There but for the grace of God.

Having just lived through another New Year’s Eve, many of you have just resolved to be better, wiser, stronger and richer in the coming months and years. After all, we’re free humans, not slaves, robots or animals doomed to repeat the same boring mistakes over and over again. As William James wrote in 1890, the whole “sting and excitement” of life comes from “our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago.” Get over it, Dr. James. Go get yourself fitted for a new chain-mail vest. A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.

As a result, physicists, neuroscientists and computer scientists have joined the heirs of Plato and Aristotle in arguing about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place.

“Is it an illusion? That’s the question,” said Michael Silberstein, a science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. Another question, he added, is whether talking about this in public will fan the culture wars.

“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”

Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at Tufts University who has written extensively about free will, said that “when we consider whether free will is an illusion or reality, we are looking into an abyss. What seems to confront us is a plunge into nihilism and despair.”

Mark Hallett, a researcher with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said, “Free will does exist, but it’s a perception, not a power or a driving force. People experience free will. They have the sense they are free.

“The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don’t have it,” he said.

That is hardly a new thought. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, as Einstein paraphrased it, that “a human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants.”

Einstein, among others, found that a comforting idea. “This knowledge of the non-freedom of the will protects me from losing my good humor and taking much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as acting and judging individuals,” he said.

How comforted or depressed this makes you might depend on what you mean by free will. The traditional definition is called “libertarian” or “deep” free will. It holds that humans are free moral agents whose actions are not predetermined. This school of thought says in effect that the whole chain of cause and effect in the history of the universe stops dead in its tracks as you ponder the dessert menu.

At that point, anything is possible. Whatever choice you make is unforced and could have been otherwise, but it is not random. You are responsible for any damage to your pocketbook and your arteries.

“That strikes many people as incoherent,” said Dr. Silberstein, who noted that every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t random, he said, “It must be — what — some weird magical power?”

People who believe already that humans are magic will have no problem with that.

But whatever that power is — call it soul or the spirit — those people have to explain how it could stand independent of the physical universe and yet reach from the immaterial world and meddle in our own, jiggling brain cells that lead us to say the words “molten chocolate.”

A vote in favor of free will comes from some physicists, who say it is a prerequisite for inventing theories and planning experiments.

That is especially true when it comes to quantum mechanics, the strange paradoxical theory that ascribes a microscopic randomness to the foundation of reality. Anton Zeilinger, a quantum physicist at the University of Vienna, said recently that quantum randomness was “not a proof, just a hint, telling us we have free will.”

Is there any evidence beyond our own intuitions and introspections that humans work that way?

Two Tips of the Iceberg

In the 1970s, Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of volunteers to an electroencephalogram and told the volunteers to make random motions, like pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock.

Dr. Libet found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.

The order of brain activities seemed to be perception of motion, and then decision, rather than the other way around.

In short, the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to act was an illusion, the monkey making up a story about what the tiger had already done.

Dr. Libet’s results have been reproduced again and again over the years, along with other experiments that suggest that people can be easily fooled when it comes to assuming ownership of their actions. Patients with tics or certain diseases, like chorea, cannot say whether their movements are voluntary or involuntary, Dr. Hallett said.

In some experiments, subjects have been tricked into believing they are responding to stimuli they couldn’t have seen in time to respond to, or into taking credit or blame for things they couldn’t have done. Take, for example, the “voodoo experiment” by Dan Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard, and Emily Pronin of Princeton. In the experiment, two people are invited to play witch doctor.

One person, the subject, puts a curse on the other by sticking pins into a doll. The second person, however, is in on the experiment, and by prior arrangement with the doctors, acts either obnoxious, so that the pin-sticker dislikes him, or nice.

After a while, the ostensible victim complains of a headache. In cases in which he or she was unlikable, the subject tended to claim responsibility for causing the headache, an example of the “magical thinking” that makes baseball fans put on their rally caps.

“We made it happen in a lab,” Dr. Wegner said.

Is a similar sort of magical thinking responsible for the experience of free will?

“We see two tips of the iceberg, the thought and the action,” Dr. Wegner said, “and we draw a connection.”

But most of the action is going on beneath the surface. Indeed, the conscious mind is often a drag on many activities. Too much thinking can give a golfer the yips. Drivers perform better on automatic pilot. Fiction writers report writing in a kind of trance in which they simply take dictation from the voices and characters in their head, a grace that is, alas, rarely if ever granted nonfiction writers.

Naturally, almost everyone has a slant on such experiments and whether or not the word “illusion” should be used in describing free will. Dr. Libet said his results left room for a limited version of free will in the form of a veto power over what we sense ourselves doing. In effect, the unconscious brain proposes and the mind disposes.

In a 1999 essay, he wrote that although this might not seem like much, it was enough to satisfy ethical standards. “Most of the Ten Commandments are ‘do not’ orders,” he wrote.

But that might seem a pinched and diminished form of free will.

Good Intentions

Dr. Dennett, the Tufts professor, is one of many who have tried to redefine free will in a way that involves no escape from the materialist world while still offering enough autonomy for moral responsibility, which seems to be what everyone cares about.

The belief that the traditional intuitive notion of a free will divorced from causality is inflated, metaphysical nonsense, Dr. Dennett says reflecting an outdated dualistic view of the world.

Rather, Dr. Dennett argues, it is precisely our immersion in causality and the material world that frees us. Evolution, history and culture, he explains, have endowed us with feedback systems that give us the unique ability to reflect and think things over and to imagine the future. Free will and determinism can co-exist.

“All the varieties of free will worth having, we have,” Dr. Dennett said.

“We have the power to veto our urges and then to veto our vetoes,” he said. “We have the power of imagination, to see and imagine futures.”

In this regard, causality is not our enemy but our friend, giving us the ability to look ahead and plan. “That’s what makes us moral agents,” Dr. Dennett said. “You don’t need a miracle to have responsibility.”

Other philosophers disagree on the degree and nature of such “freedom.” Their arguments partly turn on the extent to which collections of things, whether electrons or people, can transcend their origins and produce novel phenomena.

These so-called emergent phenomena, like brains and stock markets, or the idea of democracy, grow naturally in accordance with the laws of physics, so the story goes. But once they are here, they play by new rules, and can even act on their constituents, as when an artist envisions a teapot and then sculpts it — a concept sometimes known as “downward causation.” A knowledge of quarks is no help in predicting hurricanes — it’s physics all the way down. But does the same apply to the stock market or to the brain? Are the rules elusive just because we can’t solve the equations or because something fundamentally new happens when we increase numbers and levels of complexity?

Opinions vary about whether it will ultimately prove to be physics all the way down, total independence from physics, or some shade in between, and thus how free we are. Dr. Silberstein, the Elizabethtown College professor, said, “There’s nothing in fundamental physics by itself that tells us we can’t have such emergent properties when we get to different levels of complexities.”

He waxed poetically as he imagined how the universe would evolve, with more and more complicated forms emerging from primordial quantum muck as from an elaborate computer game, in accordance with a few simple rules: “If you understand, you ought to be awestruck, you ought to be bowled over.”

George R. F. Ellis, a cosmologist at the University of Cape Town, said that freedom could emerge from this framework as well. “A nuclear bomb, for example, proceeds to detonate according to the laws of nuclear physics,” he explained in an e-mail message. “Whether it does indeed detonate is determined by political and ethical considerations, which are of a completely different order.”

I have to admit that I find these kind of ideas inspiring, if not liberating. But I worry that I am being sold a sort of psychic perpetual motion machine. Free wills, ideas, phenomena created by physics but not accountable to it. Do they offer a release from the chains of determinism or just a prescription for a very intricate weave of the links?And so I sought clarity from mathematicians and computer scientists. According to deep mathematical principles, they say, even machines can become too complicated to predict their own behavior and would labor under the delusion of free will.

If by free will we mean the ability to choose, even a simple laptop computer has some kind of free will, said Seth Lloyd, an expert on quantum computing and professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Every time you click on an icon, he explained, the computer’s operating system decides how to allocate memory space, based on some deterministic instructions. But, Dr. Lloyd said, “If I ask how long will it take to boot up five minutes from now, the operating system will say ‘I don’t know, wait and see, and I’ll make decisions and let you know.’ ”

Why can’t computers say what they’re going to do? In 1930, the Austrian philosopher Kurt Gödel proved that in any formal system of logic, which includes mathematics and a kind of idealized computer called a Turing machine, there are statements that cannot be proven either true or false. Among them are self-referential statements like the famous paradox stated by the Cretan philosopher Epimenides, who said that all Cretans are liars: if he is telling the truth, then, as a Cretan, he is lying.

One implication is that no system can contain a complete representation of itself, or as Janna Levin, a cosmologist at Barnard College of Columbia University and author of the 2006 novel about Gödel, “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines,” said: “Gödel says you can’t program intelligence as complex as yourself. But you can let it evolve. A complex machine would still suffer from the illusion of free will.”

Another implication is there is no algorithm, or recipe for computation, to determine when or if any given computer program will finish some calculation. The only way to find out is to set it computing and see what happens. Any way to find out would be tantamount to doing the calculation itself.

“There are no shortcuts in computation,” Dr. Lloyd said.

That means that the more reasonably you try to act, the more unpredictable you are, at least to yourself, Dr. Lloyd said. Even if your wife knows you will order the chile rellenos, you have to live your life to find out.

To him that sounds like free will of a sort, for machines as well as for us. Our actions are determined, but so what? We still don’t know what they will be until the waiter brings the tray.

That works for me, because I am comfortable with so-called physicalist reasoning, and I’m always happy to leverage concepts of higher mathematics to cut through philosophical knots.

The Magician’s Spell

So what about Hitler?

The death of free will, or its exposure as a convenient illusion, some worry, could wreak havoc on our sense of moral and legal responsibility. According to those who believe that free will and determinism are incompatible, Dr. Silberstein said in an e-mail message, it would mean that “people are no more responsible for their actions than asteroids or planets.” Anything would go.

Dr. Wegner of Harvard said: “We worry that explaining evil condones it. We have to maintain our outrage at Hitler. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a theory of evil in advance that could keep him from coming to power?”

He added, “A system a bit more focused on helping people change rather than paying them back for what they’ve done might be a good thing.”

Dr. Wegner said he thought that exposing free will as an illusion would have little effect on people’s lives or on their feelings of self-worth. Most of them would remain in denial.

“It’s an illusion, but it’s a very persistent illusion; it keeps coming back,” he said, comparing it to a magician’s trick that has been seen again and again. “Even though you know it’s a trick, you get fooled every time. The feelings just don’t go away.”

In an essay about free will in 1999, Dr. Libet wound up quoting the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, who once said in an interview with the Paris Review, “The greatest gift which humanity has received is free choice. It is true that we are limited in our use of free choice. But the little free choice we have is such a great gift and is potentially worth so much that for this itself, life is worthwhile living.”

I could skip the chocolate cake, I really could, but why bother? Waiter!

Correction: January 4, 2007

An article in Science Times on Tuesday about the debate over free will misstated the location of Elizabethtown College, where Michael Silberstein, who commented on free will and popular culture, is a science philosopher. It is in Pennsylvania, not Maryland.


posted by R J Noriega at 7:16 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Pseudo Marketing tips aimed at blacks
Marketing to the masses tends to miss many
Radio host has pointers for reaching black audience
By Del Jones, USA TODAY

Those who assume that African Americans who are both middle age and middle class watch pretty much the same movies and TV programs and read the same newspapers and magazines as do their white counterparts do so at their own peril. Try this experiment: Go around the workplace and say the name "Tom Joyner." When USA TODAY corporate management reporter Del Jones did that, white colleagues gave him an unknowing stare, while black colleagues lit up in recognition. Joyner reaches 8 million nationwide on 115 radio stations. His listeners average 40 years in age and have an average household income of $48,500. As the African-American market closes in on $1 trillion a year in spending power, Joyner warns that many companies have yet to figure out how to capture it.

Q: What is the biggest single mistake companies make with African-American consumers?

A: They think they can reach them through mainstream advertising. That's a huge mistake.

Q: I'm white. Am I really so different than my African-American colleagues that advertisers can't reach us both with the same commercials on the same programs?

A: They can, and it works up to a point. But they could have so much more if they specifically and unashamedly direct their efforts to an African-American audience. This strategy goes back 50 years when Ebony magazine convinced advertisers to use black models in their print ads. To this day there are generations of black people who are loyal to some of those brands. As a people, that's the way we are, and we've got a whole lot of money. Black people fly and love to fly cheap. Southwest Airlines advertised unashamedly on my show and with my endorsement and did things like recognize Black History Month at their gates. They went right after us.

Q: Are advertisers that have in the past targeted only upscale white consumers starting to target the upscale African American market?

A: Yeah, we've done a cruise for six years. The average price is like $3,500 a person not including airfare, and we sell out. Seventy-five percent of the people on the ship haven't cruised before. Why not? Are they afraid of water? No. No one's asked. Royal Caribbean understands that now. They use a black agency to advertise to the African-American consumer, and they get a lot of black people on their ships.

Q: Do companies have a right to target only white consumers, or should you expose them on your program?

A: Expose them as stupid? We can't do that, we can't really go after and expose companies, not and remain a media company. A look at the man behind 'Tom Joyner Morning Show'

*Grew up in Tuskegee, Ala. Father was a Tuskegee Airman, mother was a secretary for the military. Married fitness expert Donna Richardson five years ago. Two sons from previous marriage.

*Sociology degree from Tuskegee Institute (1970). Started broadcasting in 1969 at AM radio station WRMA in Montgomery, Ala.

*Vegetarian. Keeps his age a secret. Biographical sources peg him at 55.

*Earned the nickname "The Fly Jock" when he flew between a morning job in Dallas and an afternoon job in Chicago from 1986 to 1993. His show went into syndication in 1994; he broadcasts it from Dallas.

*Founded Reach Media in 2003, which includes the Tom Joyner Morning Show and website BlackAmericaWeb.com. In April, sold 51% of Reach Media to Radio One for $56 million.

*Among those who have been on his show: President Clinton, Sinbad, Spike Lee, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Patti LaBelle, Steve Harvey, Dick Clark, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Magic Johnson, Tyler Perry, Smokey Robinson, Beyonce, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Maya Angelou, Al Greene, Vanessa Williams, Sen. John Kerry, Jesse Jackson, The Rock, James Brown (The Godfather of Soul) and James Brown (the Fox TV sportscaster).

*Does he consider himself a celebrity? "No. A celebrity is somebody who sleeps late. I'm well known, but I get up too early to be a celebrity."

Lessons in advertising

*Don't try to catch African-American consumers with a broad net. Target them unashamedly.

*Upscale African-Americans also respond to targeted advertising.

*Remember the strategy Ebony magazine succeeded with decades ago: Use black actors and models.

*Don't assume everything offends. Sassy black women and black men saying "Whassup" is not the same as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben.

*Hip-hop is no longer a black thing. It's pop culture, and it's international.

Q: I was listening to your show on the Washington, D.C., affiliate and a local car dealership commercial promised to waive credit checks for car buyers. That's a pitch that I have not heard on the stations I listen to, and it seemed to make the assumption that African Americans have lousy credit. Aren't they offended?

A: No. We do have bad credit. That ad is good business. They're inviting the African-American audience to do business with them.

Q: I'm not understanding this. The car dealership is assuming your listeners do not pay their bills, and that's OK?

A: You can have bad credit by having a certain ZIP code. We need some credit.

Q: I'm starting to see. Your listeners take no offense because African Americans see bad credit to be discrimination. The dealership is not being offensive, but rather positioning itself as fixing the inequity?

A: We face redlining and profiling. You need a car and you ain't got no credit. What's wrong with a guy inviting someone to buy a car and he's going to waive the credit check? No one else will.

Q: It seems that African-American women are portrayed in advertising as sassy. In a Budweiser campaign African-American men greeted each other with "Whassup?" Aren't these stereotypical portrayals the modern-day equivalent of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben?

A: No. Not in an ad. The Whassup ad was not directed at the African American, but at the mainstream audience. What you call sassy is nothing more than going after that hip-hop generation, an attitude which crosses all ethnic lines. It's not black people who are keeping hip-hop alive.

It's not the same as Aunt Jemima ads when you had Hambone and "Yessir, boss, try my biscuits." It's not the same. This is just pop culture.

Q: You don't seem to find any advertising directed at the African-American market offensive.

A: Hmmmm. The Psychic Friends Network went after broke people who have problems.

Q: What about McDonald's? They made news when young African-American actors said, "I'd hit it," which suggested in hip-hop slang that they'd like to make love to a double cheeseburger.

A: Again, that's not directed at an African-American market. It's pop culture. Hip-hop is worldwide. There were probably a lot of sensible black people who thought it was offensive, but it wasn't as bad as the president of Mexico saying that Mexican people take the jobs that black people don't want.

Q: African-American ad agencies are complaining that too much of the diversity dollar is redirected to the Hispanic market. Are companies making a mistake?

A: No. That's very smart, and I understand. They have to specifically reach out to the Hispanic market. They don't always understand the same is true for us. Look at all the black advertising agencies that have folded in the last couple of years because they are targeting us through mainstream agencies. I don't see anything racial in it. They are just being stupid and making a huge mistake.

Q: Other than Southwest Airlines, what companies have figured out how to advertise to the African-American market, and what do they do right?

A: Did you get a list of our advertisers? McDonald's is one. They know how to do it. They sponsor things on my show like our black history fact. They show an interest in our culture and our community. It's not enough to light up the arches and open up the door.

Q: Some magazines publish lists like The Best Companies for African Americans. Those magazines are fat with advertising from the companies on the list. The perception is that companies that advertise make the list. Corporate diversity officers call this "pay to play." Shouldn't such lists be for those who hire and promote African Americans?

A: It's not a shakedown. If you are going to be one of the best companies for African Americans, you should advertise to African Americans.

Q: Momentum in advertising is shifting toward the Internet. Are companies making any big mistakes in how they market to African Americans online?

A: We're making money on BlackAmericaWeb. Yeah. I think that everyone who comes to BlackAmericaWeb, or our competition BlackVoices and BlackPlanet, are very smart. We are on the Internet. We're making money. Don't let anyone fool you that black folks aren't on the Internet. Oh, yes we are. ... And it's paying off.

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