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Anyone who appreciated the skills that the crew from Revenge of the Nerds had beyond the football and dating fields knows that geeks always had a cool quotient, albeit one that was very covert in the 1980s. That characters like Lamar have since gone on to play a huge role in defining our culture’s assumptions and aspirations regarding what is currently cool is something of a table-turning victory celebration: injecting archetypes into the realm of stereotypes, it’s now common practice to credit nerds with everything that’s evolved in the hip intersections between society and technology since their boners first saluted the Commodore 64. (See: Bill Gates).

Today’s matrix of technology, interactive, design, strategy, research, interactive, innovation etc. is brimming with folks who probably didn’t score touchdowns and date cheerleaders in high school. Many of them – like the former and/or practicing DJs, rave promoters, comic artists, font freaks, and connoisseurs of tea, wine and chocolate who populate this realm and generally stand united against the alpha-male jock villains of 80’s cinema – have some degree of coolness under their belt. Some of them are even designing the next application, device, site or campaign you will think is cool.

As an anthropologist, that interests me. My apologies in advance for raising the specter of such an over-haunted theme, but I have to wonder if this professional matrix has become so enraptured by its own culture of cool that it has spawned an ethnocentricity that’s now reaching full maturity.

Case in point #1: I’ve recently been involved with an industrial designer in a single volley debate over the value (or meaning?) or ‘ordinariness’ on Idris’ blog. I understand that few, if any, designers strive for the ordinary; however, having done the ethnography, I am very familiar with those ‘consumers’ who prefer, if not thrive on, the ordinary.

Case in point #2: a recent posting on Dino’s blog led me to a Slide Share by Paul Isakson. Two of the slides read: “Great. But my product isn’t cool. What can I do?” The answer – and its simplicity isn’t that surprising considering Paul is one of those hailing the impending (if not accompli) ‘death of advertising’ – is “Well, frankly you’re screwed.”

I’m not so sure – about being screwed or about what ordinary is. Designers chasing the next iWhatever can’t be faulted for wanting to create the next cool thing. But who decides what cool is? And when did ordinary get set in stone?

The many on-screen humiliations suffered by the Lamars of pop culture served to dramatize our rooting for the underdog and the stark demographic reality that most of those watching are more like the pocket protector crew than the alpha-male jock villains of 80’s cinema. And while it’s far sexier to conduct ethnographies on the cool, I’d just like to stick up for the voice of those poor jocks and cheerleaders who might be forgotten as they shop for tube socks, bath mats, paper towel and all those other products that have slipped through the cracks of cool. Roland Barthes would not be pleased with this exnomination of the nerds.

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