Posts Tagged consumerism

The Economics of Hipsterdom: An Interview with Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken“Is Christianity cool in today’s culture?” asks Brett McCracken. “And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord?”

McCracken explores this question (and more) in his new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. I outlined some of the book’s major themes in my recent review, but there are some other areas I found particularly pertinent for readers of this blog — namely, the societal systems and cultural institutions that influence and steer hipsterdom.

How should the church respond to “cool” in a capitalistic society? How does competition jive with Christianity? How do we avoid the artificial and attain the authentic in our pursuit of cool?

Although McCracken touches on these matters in the book, he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with Remnant Culture. If you’re intrigued by his answers, I highly encourage you to pick up the book. Enjoy!

Q: In your chronicling of the history of hip, you call America a country that was “born to be hip.” What about America makes it stand out in the evolution of hipsterdom?

America’s founding principles were utterly conducive to a thriving culture of hip. Individualism and a “self-made-man” ethos, in which status was no longer bound to blood or land but was determined by things like ambition and cleverness, were particularly hip-friendly values. America was founded on the notion that each man is sovereign and subject to no one but himself. The republic was governed by and for the people, and thus it was your right — indeed, your mandate — to be independent and upwardly mobile. America upended the old world’s hierarchies and power classes and made democratic, bottom-up populism the new force majeuer (well, in theory at least). America amplified the dance of power between hereditary elites, upstart entrepreneurs, and newly educated bohemian/intellectual classes, which was the hallmark of hip’s development in Europe in prior centuries. Furthermore, America was just this totally new, fresh, immigrant-heavy melting pot in which ideas, cultures, and ideologies from all over the place came together in dynamic ways. Hip always thrives most at the intersection of a plurality of voices and perspectives which can freely interact under the banner of democracy, and America has been ground zero for intersections of that sort ever since its founding.

Q: If American capitalism has led to “hyperindividuation,” and if the resulting self-centeredness opposes the Christian calling, how can Christians hope to achieve authentic Christian cool in a capitalistic society?

It’s difficult. Our capitalistic society is based on feeding our human impulses to want to stand out, be noticed, and be envied. In many ways, the economy is based on status symbols — buying and selling things that help us Read the rest of this entry »

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Hipster Christianity: The Quest for Authentic Christian Cool

Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool CollideWhen I first picked up Brett McCracken’s new book, I was expecting a simple, cheeky romp through the various fads and frivolities within modern Christianity. The title itself, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, sounded an awful lot like the pretentiously reflective, light-and-trite nonfiction that Christian twentysomethings flock to nowadays.

But McCracken takes hip seriously, and he has a strong message for Christians who don’t.

“[W]e have to think harder,” says McCracken. “…even with something that might seem trivial, like ideas of “hip” and “cool,” Christians need to think long and hard about what it all means for our objective on this planet.”

McCracken certainly has a lighter side, and anyone who has read his blog or his movie reviews will know that he has a great ability to write wittily and pithily on all things art and culture. But although he enjoys cracking church-culture jokes as much as the rest of us, McCracken is largely on a mission to find an answer.

The question, as McCracken sees it, is this:

Is Christianity cool in today’s culture? And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord? Or must it be cool in the marketed, presentational sense? … perhaps Christianity is hopelessly unhip, maybe even the anticool. What if it turns out that Christianity’s endurance comes from the fact that it is, has been, and continues to be the antithesis and antidote to the intoxicating and exhausting drive in our human nature for cool (for independence, for survival, for leadership, for hipness)?

Before answering this question directly, McCracken uses the first part of the book to offer an extensive history of hip, beginning in the Renaissance and proceeding all the way up to the modern church. Moving from Rousseau’s anti-aristocrat pose to Brummel’s eighteenth-century dandyism and bohemianism, McCracken eventually hangs the hat of hipsterdom on the birth of America, a country that McCracken describes as Read the rest of this entry »

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10 Hot Dogs, 8 Buns: The Moral Implications of Consumer Demand

Victor Claar recently posted an amusing video over at his blog which humorously illuminates our role in keeping producers in check.

You can watch the video here:




Since I don’t suspect this video was intended to serve as a serious indictment of Oscar Mayer or Wonder Bread, I don’t intend to get too serious with my comments.

I do, however, think it’s a fun opportunity to stop and think about consumer demand. Oscar Mayer and Wonder Bread will probably decide to ignore this guy’s complaint, and presumably there is a good reason to do so. But what if another hot dog company emerges that decides to do things differently? What if someone else finds an equally profitable way to package hot dogs in groups of 8? If the actual consumer demand is significant enough, the assumption is that consumers will migrate from 10-packs to 8-packs accordingly.

But this concept becomes much more important when we look at it on a deeper level. Free societies not only present us with material choices; they also present us with Read the rest of this entry »

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Materialism vs. Christianity: The American Dream, the Megachurch, and the Gospel

Lakewood Church, Houston, TXI have only recently heard of David Platt, but from what I have read, I am thoroughly intrigued.

Platt has a new book out called Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, in which he accuses the American church of manipulating Christianity to fit its consumeristic culture.

If you can’t tell already, Platt’s core criticisms are particularly relevant to the issues discussed on this blog, and thus I am looking forward to reading and reviewing his book in the near future. In the meantime, however, David Brooks has offered a thought-provoking introduction to Platt’s ideas, which I think is worthy of response.

On the whole, it seems that Platt’s main criticism has to do with materialism: American Christians have become wrapped up in wealth creation and individualistic pursuits and have in the process confused their worship of Christ with a worship of themselves.

Platt’s primary targets? Brooks explains.

Target #1: The Modern American Church

Platt’s first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.

Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude.

Target #2: The American Dream

Next, Platt takes aim at the American dream. When Europeans first settled this continent, they saw the natural abundance and came to two conclusions: that God’s plan for humanity could be realized here, and that they could get really rich while helping Read the rest of this entry »

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The Age of Adolescence: Peter Pan Syndrome in a Free Society

Video games - adolescenseI’m about one week late to the Web frenzy surrounding The New York Times Magazine’s most recent piece on “emerging adulthood.” I had a variety of reactions to the article (both positive and negative), but I wasn’t interested in saying much until I read Mark Driscoll’s provocative article in The Washington Post (“The world is filled with boys who can shave”).

The Times piece focuses on today’s ”emerging adults” and tries to answer why so many are taking so long to reach adulthood. Driscoll seems to accept most of the article’s root analysis, but he uses it more as a launching pad for his own discussion of adolescence as it relates to today’s young men.

As Driscoll explains:

Historically, a guy would go through two life phases: boy, then man…But here’s what’s happened. Rather than moving from boy to man by this succession of sociological transitions, we’ve created something called adolescence…

Today, adolescence starts somewhere in the teen years and continues indefinitely. There is no foreseeable end. The problem with adolescence is guys don’t know when they’re ever going to grow up and be men, and no pressure is exerted on them to do so.

Driscoll goes on to label this trend a “Peter Pan Syndrome epidemic” in which “men want to be boys forever.”

For me, as a twenty-something who has (hopefully) completed the transition through modern-day adolescence, it’s hard to deny the reality of what Driscoll is describing. It was always difficult to identify the exact time I was supposed to Read the rest of this entry »

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Pay What You Wish: The Origins of Consumeristic Charity

BreadI previously wrote a post discussing Panera Bread Co.’s new pay-what-you-wish business model and its macro implications.

Here’s a brief summary of how the new store works (from USA Today):

While the store does have cashiers, they don’t collect money. They simply hand each customer a receipt that says what their food would cost at a conventional Panera. The receipt directs customers with cash to donation boxes (there are five in the store). Cashiers do accept credit cards.

Last week, the Freakonomics blog posted a new study on pay-what-you-wish pricing, which suggests that the best way to maximize profits in such models is to “combine pay-what-you-wish pricing with an appeal to charity” (quoted from Freakonomics).

Marketing professor Ayelet Gneezy reached this conclusion by presenting 113,000+ theme park visitors with several pricing schemes for purchasing souvenir photos.

The four schemes, as summarized by Freakonomics, were as follows (and I quote):

  1. A flat fee of $12.95
  2. A flat fee of $12.95 with half going to charity
  3. Pay-what-you-wish
  4. Pay-what-you-wish with half going to charity

When it came to profitability, the “charity” factor provided a healthy boost in demand for photos sold under the pay-what-you-wish option.

As Gneezy explains in the abstract:

At a standard fixed price, the charitable component only slightly increased demand, as similar studies have also found. However, when participants could pay what they wanted, the same charitable component created a treatment that was substantially more profitable.

This would seem to bode well for the Panera model, even though Panera is far less explicit when it comes to the actual amount devoted to charity. Although “all profits” will go to charity, the consumer has no idea Read the rest of this entry »

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Eco-Consumerism and Moral Licensing: How to Hide Your Right Hand

Green Bags

A little subtlety would be nice.

A few months ago I wrote a post dealing with green consumerism and its side effects when it comes to priming and licensing.

In the post, I referenced a psychology study by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, which concluded that “mere exposure” to green products can increase altruistic behavior, but actually purchasing those products can result in the opposite.

Michael Rosenwald recently wrote an article for The Washington Post that points to very similar conclusions (“Why going green won’t make you better or save you money”). The article mentions the same Mazar/Zhong study that I cited in my previous post.

Rosenwald introduces the topic nicely:

We drink Diet Coke — with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald’s. We go to the gym — and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters — then take longer showers. We drive SUVs to see Al Gore’s speeches on global warming.

But why do we continue to make consumer decisions that conflict with the morality/practicality of others?

As Rosenwald explains:

These behavioral riddles beg explanation, and social psychologists are offering one in new studies. The academic name for such quizzical behavior is moral licensing. It seems that we have a good/bad balance sheet in our heads that we’re probably not even aware of. For many people, doing good makes it easier — and often more likely — to do bad. It works in reverse, too: Do bad, then do good.

When I read about these effects, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ warning about giving to the needy:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward Read the rest of this entry »

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To Birth or Not to Birth: Does Parenting Make Us Unhappy?

parentingJennifer Senior recently wrote a fascinating piece for New York Magazine titled “All Joy and No Fun,” in which she discusses whether having children makes us happier.

Although we all probably think we have a good idea of what happiness consists of, it becomes quite elusive when we analyze it as a scientific variable.

Senior adequately recognizes this elusiveness in her article. Rather than taking a firm position from the get-go, she instead drifts from study to study, illuminating some of the more persuasive points while still playing a fair amount of devil’s advocate.

Such an approach is necessary for this topic, for as Senior notes, the majority of mainstream studies say that parenting does not actually make us happier in the long run:

Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.

Most parents tend to doubt such findings (including me), but when you actually read the studies, it’s hard to doubt their conclusions (at least from a macro perspective). Certainly none of us are unhappy parents!

“So what, precisely, is going on here?” Senior asks. “Why is this finding duplicated over and over again despite the fact that most parents believe it to be wrong?­”

The only answers Senior is able to come up with are that either (1) “parents are deluded,” or (2) “the experience of raising children has fundamentally changed.”

I would say the second guess is probably more convincing.

As Senior explains:

Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological Read the rest of this entry »

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Intensive Farming: Why I Love Pesticides

I know that I very recently wrote a post discussing Matt Ridley’s new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. But he has posted another video that sums up the underlying argument I made in a different post on organic farming.




I don’t want to indicate that I am completely anti-organic farming. I would argue that it’s just another form of market specialization. However, I do think it is important to note — as consumers, as producers, as undercover economists — that from a macro view, organic farming is not the Read the rest of this entry »

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David Letterman Meets the Tea Party: Are You Satisfied with a Life on Welfare?

A few weeks ago, I was tickled by watching Pamela Stout appear on David Letterman.

Stout is the president of the Sandpoint Idaho Tea Party Patriots, before which she was a homemaker, a business owner, and a social worker for low-income housing residents. Like many in the Tea Party movement, Stout was never very politically active, but has since been aroused by out-of-control spending.

When Letterman asks her to explain why she thinks things are getting worse in this country, she replies with this:

I think [it’s] the fact that we demonize business… We need to give [individual responsibility] back to people. We need to give them a sense that America is a great place to live and that you can succeed. To be satisfied living on welfare and in public housing, to me that’s sad. I want people to believe that they can do better.

This is what I like about the Tea Party movement. It is so varied and so disorganized, and there is plenty not to like, but Stout represents the Read the rest of this entry »

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