S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 29 May 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 

 
Ye of Little Faith

 

[Popcorn]

Trend analyst Faith Popcorn is

not without her critics -

callous souls who call her work

a "blinding glimpse of the

obvious." It was, ironically

enough, Ruth Shalit who chided

Popcorn's lack of original

research, while others have

asserted that "entertainment

value has always been her most

marketable commodity."

 

[Beans]

But these critics miss the

brilliance of Popcorn's cultural

ambulance-chasing - for all of

her futuristic rhetoric, her

real appeal lies in the here and

now. Swaddling the familiar in

the emperor's new clothes, she

is the Camille Paglia of

marketing, her outrageousness

nothing more than the status quo

with the volume turned up.

 

[8Ball]

To be sure, her predictions are

less than earth-shattering. On

the Richter scale of marketing

intuition, advising clients to

appeal to customers' desires in

order to "make their lives the

way they wish they were" is

barely enough to rattle the

Crate & Barrel china. But when

one considers that trade

publications still debate the

importance of food's taste in

its popularity, it becomes

apparent that common sense is a

hard sell. But "trends"?

Popcorn's success in

masquerading as a conduit of

consumer desires proves that

there's gold in them there

shills.

 

[Bible Management]

It's difficult not to draw

spiritual analogies when talking

about Popcorn, but the lazy

references to either crystal

balls or star-gazing miss the

mark. The proper analogy for

Popcorn's work is not the

comparatively sexy and chaotic

mysteries of paganism, but

the staid rituals of

old-fashioned Christianity,

where miracles are to be

believed in but not

expected. How else to explain

the continued fidelity of

big-ticket clients to the

Popcorn trend tank, the

BrainReserve? A Smirnoff

executive explained away the

failure of one Popcorn-hatched

campaign with a piety worthy of

Abraham: "Faith's solution was

too good. It was the right

solution for the wrong people."

 

[Distribution]

Popcorn's own predilection for

prognostications is well known -

supposedly, the BrainReserve

once employed a psychic (let go

because her vision was less

accurate than Popcorn's). But

her ubiquity in the press and

her relative prominence in the

consulting industry has less to do

with the reliability of the predictions

themselves than the need of

certain corporations to believe

that anyone could ever predict the

vagaries of the marketplace.

 

[Disco Ball]

Reports from those whose Faith is

unshakeable make clear that

Popcorn excels not so much at

divination, but at selling the

ability to do so - a set-up

which proves that the upper

echelons of the culture industry

are as susceptible to bells and

whistles as the rest of us. Her

presentations, as recounted by

former clients, are savvy acts

of meta-marketing that elicit

testimonials lauding the way she

presents her data rather than

the data itself. Which is

probably just as well, as the

only numbers which make a

regular appearance in the Faith

Popcorn Show have to do with her

"95%" accuracy rate. Sounds

impressive, until you realize

that predicting a trend in

"Staying Alive" would have been

risky only if she had been

talking about John Travolta

vehicles.

 

Of course, Popcorn is not alone

in making a lucre brew out of

reading social tea leaves,

however cloudy the concoction

might be. Esther Dyson, John

Naisbitt, Alvin Toffler and the

Yankelovich Partners all squeeze

profit from that spongy mass of

data called "market research."

 

[Clicking]

But who's watching the

trend-watchers? They are all,

quite obviously, watching each

other. And Popcorn's new book,

Clicking, is an ingenious paean

to the growing (but still

insular) world of consumer

research. Perusing the

BrainReserve reading list, one

begins to hear the faint hum of

a feedback loop - one can

imagine a scenario where Dyson is

quoted in Wired which is read by

Popcorn who is read by Naisbitt

who is quoted in Fortune. And on

and on - pronouncements become

self-fulfilling.

 

Or almost self-fulfilling. That's

where a book like Clicking fits

in.

 

[Julie Brown]

The book itself is a tough read -

even as ghosted by her "best

friend," Lys Marigold, Popcorn's

breathless enthusiasm for

newspeak and dropping names is

mind-numbingly disorienting.

Plowing through all 400+ pages

of Clicking is a little like

being seated between Michael

Schrage and Downtown Julie

Brown on a cross-country flight.

And, unfortunately, Popcorn is

selling neither multisyllabic

neologisms nor a helpful

compilation of dance hits. She's

recycling.

 

[Crack Babies]

Popcorn has made a million off

selling common sense to the

"out-of-touch." Her

$12,000-a-year, bimonthly "Trend

Packs" offer the well-insulated

executive such reality bites as

a (presumably empty) crack vial.

Now, in a move of shrewd

self-cannibalization, she's

selling her insights back to the

people she supposedly got them

from. It's a perverse form of

trickle-down that's particularly

suited to the information

economy.

 

[Soup]

In casting Clicking as a manual

for regular folks, Popcorn

enters the grey area between New

Age and Business, a section of

Borders now bounded by

children's books for adults,

like the The Dilbert Principle

and Chicken Soup for the Soul.

But Popcorn gives her advice a

unique twist. While Deepak

Chopra's brand of celebrity

psycho-babble may be sickening

in its banality, at least he's

mainly hawking himself.

Popcorn's tenets have less to do

with spiritual fulfillment than

emptying your pocket book, and,

in perhaps the cruelest conceit,

Popcorn never suggests that

one's troubles might stem from

extenuating circumstances, or

any circumstances at all. The

tales of second chances

sprinkled throughout the book

(those of Meatloaf and Sergio

"New Coke" Zyman are especially

poignant) don't inspire hope,

they lay blame. Out of a job? You

were off-trend. And, Popcorn

implies, it's your fault.

 

[Opener]

Popcorn's trends themselves

reflect a bias for

self-immolation. "Pleasure

Revenge" is a perfect example -

when we splurge on a Dove Bar,

or inhale on a designer

cigarette, who, exactly, are we

getting revenge on? If you're

upset about how your parent

organization is run, wouldn't

letting the air out of the

President's tires - or writing a

nasty essay for a rival

publication - be much more

satisfying?

 

There are those who would read

figures about massive layoffs

and unprecedented job

insecurity and conclude that it

is the system that needs

adjustment. No, Faith pipes up,

the only thing that needs change

is your attitude. Besides,

systems are hard to change, and,

what's more, you can't sell a

cigarette to a system.




courtesy of Ann O'Tate