mardi 25 mars 2008

The Subject of Cool

Being cool and all that it means is the subject of Scott Westerfeld's book So Yesterday. It is written ostensibly for teen readers but an adult reader will be hard pressed not to feel a twinge or two of recognition at the characters and their predicament. The book is premised on the idea that society resembles a pyramid –divided into the Innovators, the small select few on top who are so original as to be beyond and above the average definition of cool, followed by the Trendsetters who are actually cool, keep watch on innovations and are watched by others so that what they wear and do becomes cool. Two steps down from the top are the Early Adopters who have the newest and latest in everything before everybody else but unlike the Trendsetters, find their stuff from the magazines. They are followed by the Consumers, the vast bulk of people who need to see tv, magazines and movies before deciding on what is cool. And finally we have the Laggards, those who resist all change. The story’s main protagonist is Hunter, a 17 year old Trendsetter whose work is to find the latest cool thing in the streets. Along with other trendsetters, he takes part in cool tastings or focus groups as known in the real world and they determine whether the Client’s product passes muster in the cool barometer. Things change when he meets Jen, an Innovator. Matters become complicated when his boss disappears and they stumble on a mysterious cache of the coolest shoes they’d ever seen. Worse yet is how the disappearance and shoes seem to be linked together. What follows is a hunt all across NY city to solve the mysterious disappearance of his boss and the mystery shoes and its implications for Hunter and Jen.
In So Yesterday, Westerfeld has written a fast paced and funny story of two teenagers on the brink of a huge discovery. He has written likeable characters who stumble about and make mistakes but ultimately make their way successfully. It is written in a breezy manner but underlying such manner is an examination of the way big business works and the necessarily related consumer process. The author tackles the question of who determines what people want, or at the very least think they want and the process is not necessarily a pretty one. And contrary to what we may want to believe, our choices in what we wear, what we buy or even places to patronize are not necessarily the result of free will. Underlying the breezy tone of the book is a worry that because of the need to belong, we have become too much the product of a fabricated environment which precludes original thinking. It makes for an uncomfortable thought and gives added gravitas to the think out of the box concept. It’s a clarion call to stand out and be different. We all have it in us. Somehow.

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