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A TCI Book Review

Street Trends - How Today's Alternative Youth Cultures Are Creating Tomorrow's Mainstream Markets

Janine Lopiano-Misdom and Joanne De Luca
HarperCollins, New York, 1997

This book is about ‘street culture’ — that subset of today’s youth that is expressing themselves and their values ‘on the street’, i.e. away from mainstream society and markets. (This notion of ‘on the street’ may refer to locations literally on the street and street corners, or it may refer to tucked away bars and restaurants, people’s homes, unused warehouses, parks, etc. - anywhere away from the mainstream, especially the glitz and glitter of mainstream shopping areas, police patrols, and unwanted prying eyes.)

Operating on what they call the ‘bubble up’ theory, the authors look to the youth culture living on the streets to find the trends of tomorrow. The idea here is that what’s cool and ‘happening’ out on the streets today will find its way into mainstream markets tomorrow, by ‘bubbling up’ through the social hierarchy. The authors are particularly interested in what is on the minds of the leaders of these alternative youth cultures, what they are doing, and how it impacts on their followers.

"Why is it important to listen to the progressive street cultures? Because these are the mind-sets — the collective thinkers and influencers — that are behind youth’s latest infatuation with digital pets, beverages with floating objects, wash-in glitters and mascara hair colors, electronic music that can’t be found on any contemporary music station — and the list goes on." (pp. xi, xii)

"The trend in electronic music is a good example of what was originally considered a street or local ‘thing’ and how it has caught on or ‘bubbled up’ from the clubs. Usually mixed by a DJ using a synthesizer and turntables, techno music has filtered into TV commercials and cartoon themes. Soon most music will be mixed and synthetically created, as technology brings us to new dimensions that man can’t mimic with traditional instruments. Look at the synthesizer as the new electric guitar (and we all know how that changed rock and roll forever.)" (p.19)

Through their firm ‘Sputnik’, the authors send young interviewers out into the street culture to find out what is on the minds of the youth there.

"Armed with a video camera, our nationwide network of young correspondents find those progressive thinkers and doers — young street designers, club promoters, DJs, web developers, filmmakers, electronic musicians — and communicate with them on their level, on their turf. We uncover their belief systems and translate how their thoughts and actions will eventually influence mainstream life style." (p. xi)

The authors identify several ‘segments’ within this alternative youth culture that are interesting; these are:

  • the Collective Intellect: "They are the group that are truly alternative; they are the musicians, artists, filmmakers and social activists. They’re the new force of what we knew of as hippies, love children, rockers. They’re the New Thinkers of our time. Ageless, classless, - and above all else, they believe in integrity. Making a mark in this world is more important than money to them." (pp. 29,30)
  • the Soldiers for Culture: These are the individuals who think and react for the sake of culture. "Their source is their "industry", whether it be music, poetry or film….They are the new Beats, … poets, …the urban performance artists." (pp.31,32)
  • the Hip-Hop Nation: "Hip-hop is the culture from which rap emerged, a lifestyle with its own language, style of dress, music and mind-set. Although born from the American black communities, the Hip-Hop Nation is a melting pot of African-American, Asian, Hispanic and urban (and suburban) whites whose main interest is the hip-hop music culture." (p.36)
  • the Speed Generation: " Playing far away from the everyday, these are the doers. You know them…labelled as the "skate rats", in-line "punks" and crazy kids who push new adrenaline rushes. They’re the "extreme" target of many marketers…" (p.40)
  • the Club Kids: "The Club Kids get their name from their roots — the underground club scene….[They] are the ones who live playfully through their underground music "family" or culture they embrace." (p.43)

So just what are the trends and movements that these alternative street cultures are embracing that may have implications for tomorrow’s mainstream markets? The authors identify seven of what they term ‘mindtrends’:

  1. the creation of new surrealistic environments (what the authors term ‘artificial playsures’): The authors see this trend as a ‘new surrealism’: a return to a fascination with unreal environments, landscapes, and personalities that can go all the way from occasional role playing or dressing up for some, to a serious adoption of another identity (which may be of the opposite gender, or perhaps no gender at all) for others. This freedom to adopt any identity includes full range of body decorative arts, from tattooing to piercing, to in extreme cases, mutilation and amputation.
  2. the bionic being: "Having been pierced and branded and tattooed before mainstream youth, the street cultures will be first in line for skin implants with time-release energy boosters or edible mixes of herbal and synthetic stimulants for hypermemory." (p.73) This trend reflects a keen desire to increase the limits of the body’s performance through whatever means necessary — again removing the boundaries on the possible or traditional.
  3. freestyling: "Basically, it is a no rules approach. But this doesn’t mean that "freestyle" stands for chaos or anarchy. Rather, freestyle is a mind-set that is creative and spontaneous in nature. It is the mantra to do your own thing….Freestyle is about everything this generation believes in: being an individual. Doing something unique, being creative — living, working, acting, mixing freely." (p.84)
  4. do it yourself: "The young street cultures today aren’t in it for the money. It’s the independence that drives them. Think about it…the job market is getting tighter, and the window of opportunities is closing. To go anywhere these days you have to do it yourself….The traditional mind-set of success was to climb the corporate ladder or to go into business for yourself. The idea of battling the corporate ladder isn’t even an issue with these DIYers." (p.104)
  5. positive anarchy: "Anarchy comes out of revolution and chaos, and it has always been a result of paranoia against government and the "establishment". But what we are talking about here, positive anarchy, is a logical revolution that is happening on the streets. It is anarchistic because it is a form of revolt, a break from the norm, yet it isn’t driven by angst or cynicism. This movement thrives off intellectual passion and it is a force bent on implementing positive change." (p.116)
  6. technorganic: This mind-trend is towards using environmentally friendly technology (like the Internet) coupled with organically healthy foods and practices. An indication of this trend is the strong movement among street cultures towards a vegan lifestyle (that is, a totally vegetarian philosophy that will permit neither the eating of dairy foods nor the wearing of animal products such as leather).
  7. immaculate perception: This trend underscores a desire to keep the body clean and safe from external threat (germs, pollution, and dirt). The trend towards urban ‘barrier clothing’ and protective gear exemplifies this concern. "Germs, the unseen enemies, plus the visible reality of pollution and environmental degradation in street life, have prompted new concerns about the body. Sex, cleansing, bodily functions will all become preoccupations as a new paranoia about "How can I keep myself pure, clean, safe, one with my environment?" develops." (p.157)

In summary, the authors are relatively optimistic about the impact that street culture will have on society:

"If you take anything away from this book, understand that this youth culture is the most resourceful, intellectual, and creative generation we have seen in the last fifty years. This generation is a force seeking out their own partnerships, mentors, avenues of capital and platforms for communicating. Tracking their interests through the likes of music, sports and entertainment is passé; combining the personal factor of human interaction with the netted world of computers is now the link to youth interests." (p.xiii)




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