Posted by: nickgerlich | July 1, 2008

Cool Today, Cold Tomorrow

We were driving south of Lubbock last night and my wife interrupted me mid-sentence. “See that old travel trailer over there? It’s a Holiday Traveler. It’s like the one my family had in the 70s. Except we had the Holiday Vacationer.”

She went on to explain how the Vacationer, Traveler, and Rambler were the three trailers made by Holiday, in order of cost, appointments, and coolness.

And my wife the PK (Preacher’s Kid) knew all too well what it felt like to always settle for the least.

Coolness. Yep, it’s for sale. Marketers are the refrigerator salesmen of culture. Hot is out; cool is in. And it isn’t just something sold to young people.

CoolWhile Douglas Rushkoff in The Merchants of Cool may bemoan the fact that marketers often are anthropological manipulators among our youth, he overlooks the fact that it is no different as we age. The only difference then is that egos and checkbooks get in the way

I once had a student who told the class, “If you scrape the paint off a Lexus, you will find a Toyota Camry.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “but you would still have Lexus-sized payments.”

And so it goes. Marketers are quite familiar with the innate human need to differentiate oneself, to demonstrate uniqueness among the lemmings. We want to be the one with the biggest, baddest, most expensive model available, tricked out with all the custom doodads. The things we own are but a reflection of who we are, badges to be worn (driven, towed, whatever) down the parade of one-upmanship.

Of course, there is irony in that last paragraph, for in drinking the coolness Kool-Aid, we just cement our relationship to the crowd. In trying to be oh-so-cool and legends in our own minds, we merely become members of the latest consumption tribe.

I now know quite well the gimmickry sold by the RV industry, for my wife pushed me hard to replicate the experiences she had as a young girl. First we bought a travel trailer, and then a gas-sucking motorhome. While we settled on a nice used one, I had to endure countless hours of sales pitches as my wife did her due diligence at dealers. While most RVs are built on the same chassis with the same engine, the price range of these freeway barges can reach over $200,000, and mostly because of what you put in them.

Fortunately, my wife’s PK upbringing was not lost on her, and we agreed that the idea was simply to be able to go camping, not owning a mobile Taj Mahal.

But whenever we go camping, I cannot help but remember those models with the LCD TVs, leather sofas, and surround sound. And when I get passed by one of those rock star rigs, I realize that I am not cool. Nowhere near it.

But at least I didn’t blow all my cold cash in the process. .

Dr “Marry Frugal, Not Frivolous” Gerlich


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