07 April 2010

Trendyland

Where I come from, “trendy” is not a compliment. Particularly when a straight man says it about another straight man, the implication is that the trendy person is a tool, someone easily manipulated by media and advertising into buying products whose appeal will only be temporary, someone without a mind of his own. The negative connotations of the term explain why it is never used in advertisements in the US. So I was a little surprised to see that the word is frequently used in HK advertisements. In HK, it seems that “trendy” is something to aspire to. To be trendy is to be high-status; trendiness proves one can afford to buy products whose appeal will only be temporary. The kids in the expensive pre-ripped jeans don't seem to understand why torn-up jeans got cool in the first place. It seems that in HK, being a rebel consists of knowing which corporation is currently cool.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I knew HK was one of the most capitalist places on earth, a center of global finance, and a city that had grown rich from its belief in free-market ideology. I just figured that, in a city as educated and cosmopolitan as HK, there would still be plenty of people who questioned the consumerist ethic. After all, New York and London are global financial hubs, but they’re also hubs of a growing anti-consumerist movement. Just in case you aren't familiar with the basic arguments of the anti-consumerist movement, I'll let Annie Leonard make it since I can't possibly explain it better than she does in her 20 minute video, which is getting attention in the US despite it's obvious anti-corporate sentiment.

Now I know where the epicenter of consumerism is, and it's the USA. So don't misunderstand me; I know who's fault this mess is. But good God, don't follow our mis-steps here. I'm not saying all Americans have this all figured out, and all Honkies are corporate stooges. The difference is a matter of degree. But there is a difference. Before I moved to HK, I don't think I ever met a straight man who named "shopping" as one of his favorite leisure activities. Now I have, more than once. And I've only been here half a year.

This is why I was so happy to find Libertines, and why I contacted Henry about blogging here. Finally, a place in HK where consumerist ideology is questioned (so far I've only found virtual places). So prove me wrong Libertines Pub fans! Tell me all about it. I'm a gweilo, so it's highly probable that my inability to speak Cantonese or read Chinese has caused me to totally miss the massive underground HK anti-consumer movement. Help me out here!

20 comments:

  1. oh. im always complimented by others as "trendy" and i have more than one S/S 2010 trendbooks at home. i also validate myself by thinking how much i contribute to the property market...
    shame shame shame...

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  2. I haven't lived in HK for a quarter of a century now, so this is only a wild guess. It could be the slight mis-interpretation of the words. Rather than trendy, perhaps what they mean is "cool" or "stylish". Afterall, it was only recently that I found out when a Hong Kong person describes someone as "cool", it may not mean that he/she has style, rather he/she is "unfriendly" and not approachable. Having said that, it could also be a difference in culture. I mean, how many straight man in Europe / America go for the latest gadgets, compare to those in Asia?

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  3. Well, I have my weaknesses as well...and being in HK isn't making me a better person. I have a smartphone that was new and cool 6 months ago, but now I covet my co-worker's newer version. So I don't profess to be above manipulation by advertisers. Marketers are professional manipulators; they are very good at using human nature against us. For women, it's fashion, for guys, it's gadgets. The ideology that consumption is always good because it contributes to GDP is morally bankrupt. We have to put some thought into our consumption choices. These choices impact people all over the planet, and the planet can't take much more of this hyper-materialism.

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  4. I don't know if it's just me or what. But I do find the hairstyles of many Hong Kong dudes pretty wild. As if all of them are on TV or something. I mean in my mind those hairstyles are for people who are in show (actually more like clown) business or if you are Lady Ga Ga. Actually it's true for most of the folks here in this tiny island. People wear the latest and greatest trends from Japan, Europe or America regardless of who and where they are. Take a ride on the MTR, you are practically in a fashion show--and I am not sure if it's a good thing after all. In most other big cities, maybe except Japan, people aren't all that "trendy" or gullible to fads but in Hong Kong, perhaps it's the size and the hyper concentrated population or perhaps some other factors like some say the "herd mentality," any trend can be freaking viral, be that the latest footwear, the latest it bag. It's just freaking awesome or awful, pick your own adjective.

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  5. Wesley,

    I suppose it depends on which parts of the States you live in. I think the word "trendy" is sometimes considered a compliment by the Americans as well.

    As a guy, I am a victim of both gadgets and fashion. Perhaps I'm particularly vulnerable under this consumerist ideology.

    And what's wrong with shopping as a leisure activity?

    Daveed,

    I think you are probably right. But the word "trendy" could also mean "stylish" in some sense. You can't be stylish if you are not trendy. And when they say cool, they sometime mean both.

    W

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  6. "You can't be stylish if you are not trendy." Is it some kind of typo? Or some irony which I don't get.


    The real fake sartorialist

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  7. will, you must be a billionaire to be the victim of both! i think you can be not that trendy but stylish. talking about class.

    there's a theory that because hk is so lack of personal space, ppl have no choice but to go out and shop and dine and sing karaoke as entertainment. when you are compelled by peer pressure to go out, you have to dress up and look good.

    btw, i do find guys with bed hair or shop at beauty counter pretty attractive, as soon as they're not my husband.

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  8. William, I've lived all over the US, and I've been to 47 of the 50 states. I've never heard trendy used as a compliment. Semantically, trendy and stylish are the same thing, that's true. But stylish is generally a compliment, while trendy is definitely an insult (a backhanded compliment at best, as in "look at this trendy mutherfucker!") It's like the words thrifty and stingy. The both describe the same objective behavior, but one is meant positively and the other negatively.

    Now, as for "what's wrong with shopping as a leisure activity?" As I said, I don't think I can make the case better than Annie Leonard does, so if you disagree with part of her argument, let me know and we can discuss specifics. But beyond the fact that it's killing the planet and is totally unsustainable, it's also emotionally unfulfilling. If you make yourself temporarily happy with material objects, you'll always want more and never be satisfied. This is the central teaching of Buddhism, as far as I can tell. And I think the cycle of samsara that the Buddha described is related to the cycle of consumerism depicted in the Annie Leonard video, only without advertisers egging you on the whole way.

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  9. This chat is so foreign to me. As I dress badly and never have enough dollars to splash out.

    The ASW bit of me today, LOL!

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  10. Bambi,

    Yes, you are right. We don't need to be too trendy to be stylish, but we need to be at least a little bit trendy to generate style. There are various styles within a trend.

    I suppose most people who live in a metropolis are more drawn to fashion than those who live in a less urban area. It's just too hard to resist those temptations out there.

    It's ok for men to shop at beauty counter. It's only a matter of degree and it depends on what they shop for.

    Wesley,

    I know I should believe someone who has lived all over the US, but I'm still a bit sceptical about that. I was once complimented as trendy by my classmate in school and I was quite sure she wasn't saying that in a negative sense, judging from the context of our conversation and her facial expressions.

    I generally agree with you and Annie. It's emotionally unfulfilling, but sometimes we do need material objects as a means to get emotional satisfaction. My point is we need strike a balance between consumerism and anti-consumerism. We cannot wholly abandon our habit of shopping. It's more a question of how than why.

    W

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  11. "I was once complimented as trendy by my classmate in school and I was quite sure she wasn't saying that in a negative sense, judging from the context of our conversation and her facial expressions."

    Willie, are you sure about that...?

    Here comes Henry's TROLL!

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  13. Henry,

    Yes! I am quite sure about that. I hope I wasn't that stupid to not get her sarcasm.

    W

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  14. William,

    I can't speak for the author, but I don't think this post is advocating an austere lifestyle with no room for indulgence. But there does seem to be something unnatural about purchasing material objects as a means of emotional fulfillment. Evolutionarily, we've gone without shopping malls and branded t-shirts for the better part of our 200,000 year human existence. What's more, material objects degrade literally and figuratively (and intentionally so as Annie Leonard points out). Attaching one's self worth and fulfillment to something that has been deliberately designed to deteriorate doesn't seem rational.

    On another note, there's a difference between purchasing an article of clothing that accentuates your features and makes you look good and purchasing an item that the TV tells you looks good but in actuality makes you look ridiculous. The former is stylish, the latter is trendy.

    Phuong

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  15. Phuong,

    I understand that it's not advocating an austere lifestyle. I am not suggesting material objects are always a means to emotional fulfillment, but they sometimes are. Like you said, we are all evolving. One of the things that makes humans different from animals is imagination. We are capable of creating new desires for ourselves and I don't think we can live the life that we had 200000 years ago. We are no longer in "the state of nature" if you know what I mean. Besides, if material objects can enhance our emotional fulfillment and pleasure, what's so irrational about them?

    What I meant was you wouldn't dream of calling something stylish that was popular in the 80's nowadays. In order to be stylish, we should more or less follow the trend. But within a trend, you can generate various styles.

    W

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  16. The difference between trendy and stylish? One word: Uggs.

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  17. lol. i know uggs are stupid but they're just so comfortable. (esp after my five-day-in-heels week)

    will, let's do some retail therapy together to heal our soul of vanity. we need that.

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  18. Bambi,

    Yes, sure. Let's do that together! :P

    W

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  19. Okokokok. I get it. You reject the notion that there's something wrong with mindless consumption. You will stay obedient to your magazines and tv, no matter how destructive it is. But now you're just rubbing it in ;- P

    I guess I have a better understanding of why recycling hasn't caught on here.

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  20. What's ASW stand for?

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