Column: You Are 18 To 34
February 14, 2012 | Chris Koentges | Comments
Here’s a sneak peak at our Feb. 6 issue.
Youth bask in the evidence of an amazing life without having to live it
They’ve studied you hard. You are their most misunderstood demographic. You’re the age group that claims to prefer socialism to capitalism. Still, you are prized above all others because marketers want to “build a lifelong relationship” with you. Such logic could only have been invented by a 35- to 49-year-old.
Those Sunday nights with The Simpsons did not make Fox your lifelong brand, but your gateway to BitTorrent. Sony was your gateway to Apple. Wonderbra to Victoria’s Secret. Jesus Christ is the most perfect incarnation of youth, and the Catholic Church became your gateway to Xtube.
In more recent studies, they’ve redefined you as “the absence of functional and/or emotional maturity.” Which is to say you’ll abuse a credit card.
They’ve determined that 78% of you are optimistic about your future. You believe in potential as an end in itself.
Your brands must ask the question: why the fuck not? And never ever deliver the answer. Endlessly sorting through potential partners on Plenty of Fish, you want to be in Vegas like Hunter S. Thompson, Liberia like the Vice Media impresarios—it seems totally possible—but just to know that there are secret worlds and endless possibilities is enough. Hence vampires. Hence meth. Hence mainline Christianity.
The NHL had you the first time you got into the fourth period of sudden-death overtime. Your defining moment was September 11 (not the Cuban Missile Crisis)—the brand of NYC, where anything can happen at any given moment, including jet planes bursting through skyscrapers.
You don’t overtly like that shit. But there is potential in that shit, too. Because if jumbo jets can fly through skyscrapers, then maybe some guy with a cape can leap-frog them in a single bound.
The thing that’s hard to quantify about you is that while you might consume Vice and overtly seek a seat at the cool kids’ table, what you lust for more deeply is a seat at the adults’ table. The search string “youth demographic”+“vice magazine” only gets interesting when you + “david carr.” Carr is the reformed crack addict New York Times reporter who has been around the block. (Betty White, who has become more than a gag to you, packs similar resonance. She’s been around. Knows some things.) You want their secret crusty knowledge to rub off on you. This is the seat HBO sells. Nike nailed your ass to it with Gil Scott-Heron. But no matter how low your jeans or high the hooker boots, you will never be able to collect the right baggage. That would destroy your potential.
And so what you come to crave more is the moment that sugar and spice meet cold piss and vinegar. Enid (Thora Birch) meets Seymour (Steve Buscemi) in Ghost World. Carr sits down at the table in a conference room at Vice HQ halfway through the documentary Page One, about his flailing employer, known both proudly and dismissively as the Old Gray Lady. Vice’s “gonzo executives” boast about reporting on cannibalism and the lack of toilets in Liberia, while the Times “is writing about surfing.”
“Just a sec, time out,” says Carr, who looks up from his notes in agitation. It happens slowly, then suddenly, this weathered threshold crossed. “Before you ever went there, we had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet and looked at some poop doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do.”
He pauses, then adds: “So continue.”
It’s what your demographic calls pwned. And it’s neither Carr specifically, nor Vice specially, but the vague way the former rubs off on the latter. It’s why you like tattoos and lo-fi remixes and the vintage look and Japanese jeans that have been worn in for you. You want to bask in evidence of an amazing life—without having had to live it.
* – You recoil at the term “sincerity.” But sincerity is the sweet spot between wild optimism and crusty cynicism. The most incisive “youth brands” in Canada right now are based on profound authenticity. Naheed Nenshi, Jian Ghomeshi and Régine Chassagne can riff sardonically, but have found traction with candor, transparency, exuberance—sincerity. When it’s not making Peter Mansbridge stand up to deliver the news, the state broadcaster has figured this out better than any media brand in Canada.
Chris Koentges is an award-winning writer based in Vancouver. His work has appeared in The Walrus, Maisonneuve and Reader’s Digest.