Via Pitchfork, I just came across an especially amusing example of that “Above the Influence” anti-drug campaign, in which teenagers are exhorted to be their own, autonomous, individual selves by OBEYING OUR COMMERCIAL. Here’s the text of the spot:
FEMALE VOICE: (Computer voice) Being popular was all I could think about last year. I wanted to, like, be cool with everybody. I listened to music that I didn’t like and laughed at stuff that wasn’t funny. I programmed myself to be a totally different person to everyone.
Computer voice starts to change into a real human voice.
FEMALE VOICE: But I wasn’t myself. Now I’m not pretending to like indie rock or anything like that. And people think that’s cool.
This is pretty strange on a few levels. First, who’s the imagined audience for this? Is there some huge subset of high school students who really want to be listening to John Mayer and Beyonce, but are loading up their iPods with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah between bonghits to win the approval of a handful of indie kids?
See, the whole thing about multiple status hierarchies is that “liking indie rock” as a coolness metric is internal to a status system sufficiently music-centric that there’s very little reason to accept either the standard or the clique unless you already like indie rock.
Now, maybe the 20- or 30- somethings who are writing these ads are projecting: Either they genuinely like indie rock, or they recognize it as a status marker in their own circles (In the same way you might recognize, say, a refined taste in wine as a status signifier even if you’re a beer person). But I think teenagers tend pretty populist: Won’t the sort of person who’s going to affect a musical taste to fit in pick the stuff the majority if their peers like?
Also, you’ve got to love that final line: “And people think that’s cool.” See, kids, the ultimate goal is still to have other people think you’re cool.