Discover more from The Sociology of Business
The other vibe shift
The court jester era
Happy New Year and welcome to the Sociology of Business. For those new here, in my last analysis, Storytelling Checklist, I analyzed three different narrative audience types, depending on their motivation to interact with the brand content. You can subscribe below, find my book The Business of Aspiration on Amazon and find me on Instagram and Twitter.
What do Triangle of Sadness, White Lotus, Squid Game and Parasite have in common? Aside of their global popularity, they are all social satires, told with a different degree of nuance and bite. They are also all new, released in the past two years.
More than a coincidence, this cultural output is a shift in aspiration. Culture is stories that we tell ourselves to make sense of what’s happening in economy and society. We may not be at the point of a feudal upheaval - pitchforks and all - but aspirationally, we already turned against the wealthy.
For the longest time, aspiration meant having what the rich have and behaving like the rich behave. With the increasing wealth inequality, the number of people can no longer emulate the rich. Instead, they reject them as a way of regaining identity and control. If the wealthy are so out-of-touch, morally corrupt and repulsive as the social satire represents them, who wants to be like them?
When people identify less with the wealthy, their consumption habits follow. The consequences are vast, and not just for the luxury, fashion and hospitality industries. We are our own representations, and they are political. When French philosopher Louis Althusser wrote about a “system of representations,” he was explaining how social classes are kept in check by the economic system through culture. Culture perpetuates aspiration. In the 1950’s, it was consumerism meant to power the economy impoverished by WWII. Women were represented suburban homemakers, drawn away from the factories and offices where they worked while men were in war, now brought to ecstasy by the sight of a new washing machine. In the 80’s, the swashbuckling capitalism found its representation in the Working Girl, Wall Street and The Color of Money. Every decade since had its own ideology, told through cultural products. When there was a strong middle class, the ideology - and practice - of consumerism powered aspiration. Counterculture and subculture was born as a response to this mainstream ideology (American Psycho, Fight Club, Pulp Fiction). 2010s gave us the Kardashians, 2020’s are taking them away, as I recently discussed with Amy Odell.
There’s more to it than the changing consumption habits, altho these will play out in the next decade and will go beyond the nondescript luxury shopping bags of the economic crisis of the 2008.
Squid Game ends with a belief in humanity. Triangle of Sadness’s ending is about survival. The latest season of the White Lotus ends with a win for the underdog.
The aspiration represented he is that, if we cannot beat the rich, we can at least make fun of them, trick them, outsmart them and out-humanize them. This vibe shift is not of the revolutionary ilk; it’s of the existential one. The system is a game; this game may be unfair, but the rules are arbitrary; everything is invented, so why not have fun with it?
Being an underdog does not guarantee a win. Nor does opting out. We are in the court jester phase, where all we can do is tell the truth through a joke.