In this post I want to write about the concept or phenomenon of something being "hip", "cool", "trendy", "in", or "the latest thing". And I will make a distinction between what I see as a healthy way of recognizing (and acting on) trends, and an unhealthy way of viewing or chasing them. This is what I describe as the "dark side of trends".
Pictured here is an image representation of a human hip bone; picture by Stephen Woods, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
The relationship between the body part and the slang expression is not clear. Wikpedia's article on Hip (slang) has some good discussion on this matter, if you are interested.
Trends are natural, and it is good to be aware of them:
Because this post risks coming across otherwise, I want to begin by acknowledging that trends are a natural part of human society, and that it is good to be aware of them and to work with them in positive ways. It is especially important to be aware of trends if you run a business.
For example, if you run a small tea shop, and some specific type of tea or herb suddenly explodes in popularity, it would be wise to stock the tea or herb in question, if it fits naturally within your offerings. If it does not fit naturally and you wish not to stock it, it would be benificial to have something in mind, such as a truthful and convincing sales pitch, that would help connect customers seeking that tea or herb with the products you sell.
Another example, which I hope to expound fully in a later post, is that Teavana is very popular, and is one of the most common entry points into loose-leaf tea for Americans. Teavana is a bit of a trend. It can thus be beneficial for people running a loose tea business to be familiar with Teavana's most popular products, and to have something compelling to say (and teas to recommend) to people who express that they like certain of the teas sold by Teavana.
The dark side of trends:
Just like in Star Wars, where there is a good and bad side of the force, I think there is a good and bad side to trends, or to the concept of something being "hip". So that you can get into the mood for understanding this dark side of trends, I would encourage you to meditate on this picture of Darth Vader. Darth Vader is one of the classic "bad guys", but, like all people, he is not wholly evil, and he exhibits good qualities when he saves Luke Skywalker's life at the end of the Star Wars Trilogy.
The above picture is included courtesy of Andres Rueda, Licensed under CC BY-2.0.
How does the concept of trends go wrong? How can the idea of something being "in" or "cool" or "the latest thing" be harmful in society?
- Unhealthy ideas can become trendy - A good example of this is the negative ideas of body image, which can contribute to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Yes, this is an issue that comes up in the tea industry; see my earlier post on tea and gender roles, in which I go into this issue in more depth.
- Trends can be manipulated by money and power interests - Trends can be shaped (or even started) by money and power, such as when a corporation pumps money into a marketing campaign to create demand for a new product, or when an individual or business uses their social connections (a form of social power) to induce influential or high-profile individuals to support their trend.
Because of the profit motive, these manipulations usually lead to trends that enrich the wealthy and powerful interests behind them, rather than trends that are actually most beneficial to society or beneficial to the people following them. This phenomenon is common in the fashion industry, where companies work hard to fuel trends of certain clothing being "in" and then "out", in order to encourage people to continuously spend more money on clothing, when it would be more beneficial to these people and to society to embrace practical clothing and timeless fashions.
In the tea industry, these sorts of power interests and profit motives are less pronounced, but they do create an incentive for companies to create trends for the teas that generate the most profit for them, and these teas are not necessarily the highest quality teas, since the highest-quality pure teas often result in a greater share of profits reaching the producer, with less room for mark-up by retailers. I explore this issue in more depth on my recent guest post Fair Trade and the Tea Industry on the Journey for Fair Trade blog.
- The concept of "trendiness" can become associated with an unhealthy way of thinking and acting - I explain this below, because I think it is the most sinister element of the culture of trends.
Trendiness and healthy thinking:
One belief that I embrace as a fundamental belief, is the idea that all people are valuable--innately valuable, not valuable because of their wealth, appearance, or even because of their intellect or character. One way that I think trends can become unhealthy are when they are used to negatively judge or dismiss other people (or groups of people, or businesses or organizations) as being somehow less worthwhile, because they are seen as less "trendy". Some examples of this are:
- That dress is SO 90's (when said in a negative tone)
- I can't believe he's still thinking like that (said with disgust)
- This business doesn't sell X, they clearly don't know what they're doing.
These statements have in common that they express some sort of negative judgement on a person, business, or group, like disdain, disgust, disapproval, because of a failure to follow a certain trend. I find that this is overstepping a boundary for me, crossing the line from disapproval or dislike of the activity or action (which is okay by me) to complete dismissal of the person or group (which I do not think is healthy).
Think you don't do these things yourself? I'd be cautious about jumping to the conclusion that you don't. There's one particular example that I've struggled with recently, and that is racism.
This photo of the KKK was taken by a photographer only identified as "Image Editor"; the photo is Licensed under CC BY-2.0.
Racism, at least in its more overt forms, like those symbolized by the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), is "out". It is "uncool". A majority of people in the US not only dislike it, but, in its more extreme forms, find it disgusting, disturbing. The trend in American society is away from overtly racist statements. But when someone makes a remark that you perceive as racist, it is easy to jump on them, in your mind, or even out loud. But there is a difference between calling out a person on their remark, or believing that the remark is genuinely racist and disrespectful, and dismissing the person as a human being. This distinction took me quite some time to grasp; I do not think I had fully grasped it even at the age of 28. I find it hard to communicate this distinction, but here is my best attempt to sum it up:
- The unhealthy approach is to think or say something like: you're a really rotten or worthless human being for thinking or saying that.
- The healthy approach is to communicate something like: you're so much better than a rotten remark like that.
If you struggle with embracing the second way of thinking, remember Darth Vader; if Luke had killed him, he would have himself been killed. Luke, indeed, had tried to kill him repeatedly, and had solidly expressed the first way of thinking (disgust, hate) again and again. Yet Darth Vader still came through and saved Luke's life. If Darth Vader, one of the most famous bad-guys of all time, can come around, think of what a typical KKK member is capable of.
Hopefully, most of us are past (or were never into) the idea of judging another person by how "trendy" their clothing is, but I suspect that many of us still wrestle with the tougher issue of judging or dismissing people on the basis of things they do which we genuinely dislike or are genuinely disgusted by.
What do I do with this?
Because of the potential ugly side to the cultural construct of "trendiness", "coolness", or "hipness", I try to avoid promoting things as being "trendy" or "in", and I invite others to do the same. If you wish to promote something, whether it be a specific tea or type of tea, or a specific concept or idea, or even a certain fashion, I think that the most compelling way to do so is to share your own personal reason for liking it. The same goes for when you dislike something. Share your reasoning or just your feelings or intuition. But I would recommend to avoid making statements about something being "in" or "out", or any equivalent statements, because I think that this way of thinking can easily go in an unhealthy direction.
What do you think?
How do you feel about trends and trendiness? Do you think the advice I give tea companies in this post is sound? Do you believe that there is a relationship between a certain view of trendiness and the unhealthy ways of thinking that I described above? Does the racism example resonate with you? Can you think of other examples of these sorts of things in your life?