It's A Culture Thing

Passing cultural commentary, critiques and opinions with a touch of humor and satire. All opines are my own.

That’s Not Very Nice

I’m starting this post with a new attitude. I realize that many of my past posts, which are, let’s face it, pep talks to myself, often end up with a blanket “this should apply to everyone” missive. And no, it shouldn’t. I’m speaking to a specific subset of people. And I’m not Epictetus or Marcus Aurealis; I’m not in a position of authority (or experience) to throw out philosophy like one of the masters. So let’s say, going forward, everything I say is based solely on my experience. And yes, it’s me talking to myself with the hope knowledge that there is a subset of people who will benefit and be interested—at their own risk. :)


I read this article on Psychology Today that’s intriguing because of how much I’ve struggled with the cultural chasm between the way I was raised in the Midwest and the way I grew up in New York. 

It has to do with the idea of being “nice.” Nice at all costs. Never upsetting the apple cart, never say what’s on your mind if it’s going to hurt someone. I also grew up “knowing”, like everyone else, that New Yorkers were rude. Impatient. And holier-than-thou in their sense of importance and busyness. 

So let’s go back to 2006, when I first landed in Brooklyn and started dealing with the locals. Or at least people who’d been a transport longer than I had. They were brash. They talked too fast. They did drugs. And they asked questions as soon as they met someone that I’d always been told not to ask. What someone’s ethnicity is and even sometimes why. Where they originally come from (and why). What they do for a living (and why)…I mean this was prying. Right? You waited until they offered this information on their own time, like three weeks into the relationship. Otherwise this was opening up a can of worms that could force someone to talk about something they were embarrassed about or sensitive to. You might be forcing them to lie (oh, that’s bad!) or worse, you might be implying the two of you aren’t the same, and Jesus would definitely not like that.

This was only the first of many culture shocks, but it may be the most emotionally jarring and significant. Because even though I thought people were “rude” in the beginning. (In spite of being a Midwest bitch to begin with) I slowly started to come around to their way of thinking.  Was I just trying to fit in? Or had I been utterly corrupted? No. Not all. I’d been forced (against my will) to see the light.

It took coming back to MI as an adult to understand. 


Back in the flyover state, I saw a lot of highly sensitive individuals whose sensitivity had been heightened by a lifetime of being coddled and coddling one another. As such these people were in a state of constant fear. Fear of offending, and fear of being offended. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being outside their comfort zone. I realized I’d once been one of them. 

I saw people who were scared to death to be by themselves, who clung tightly to any people they could and were familiar with, whether they were the best people for them or not. I realized I’d done the same in those Brooklyn years.

And when they tried to coddle me and kiss my ass, I realized that I was supposed to do the same to them. That was the bargain you made. Over and over again. So that offering support and praise wasn’t about the person you were praising it was about getting approval and an unspoken agreement that they would do the same for you. And that became this burden I never knew I’d carried around with me, and had let go (eventually) in New York. A burden I didn’t exactly want to pick up again.

I saw some people living these sort of miserable, meaningless lives led around by their fears and the burden of “being nice.” I saw people who were at their core depressed but because everyone around them was just so damn nice felt they couldn’t be honest about how they were feeling and so perpetuated a centuries long cycle of emotional repression, which inevitably leads to…

A shit ton of passive aggression. I realized this was how I’d been raised to express myself, too. In code. So as to minimize offense as much as possible and also protect my own ring of uber sensitivity.

Nice is…not always the nicest way to go about living life. I found. And when someone tells you the truth about how much you suck (and we all do in one way or another) they really are doing a favor. Not just to you (who sucks) but for themselves, too (who also sucks). Maybe the delivery isn’t so great, maybe it could in fact have more compassion but imho it’s better to hear the truth, any way, than not hear it at all. 

As a sort of random aside, in my advancing age I’ve been thinking a lot about raising kids. Even though I don’t feel having children is a personal priority, I wonder (if I did) what would be best for them? And I have to say, raising them in an environment that forces one to be nice, all the time, no matter what, by being surrounded by so many smiling faces isn’t my ideal. I’d want better for them. 

On Beauty and Its Industry, and Advertising in General

The Gambit: There is a young woman, a Harvard B student and self-described serial inventor, who has found a way to create 3-D printed makeup. In this video you can see her give a speech in which she says nothing of the quality of the makeup printed and little about how it’s going to actually change things, instead relying on the implication that all women, everywhere, who buy cheap, mass market makeup will shell out $300 to buy her printer and get any color they want at home, never needing to buy it at the store again. She briefly mentions her demographic (the mass market shoppers) and the market size. 

The Flaw: Okay. I saw. And really, I’m calling it now, it’s going to be an uphill battle for this chick to get women to change their beauty brand preferences. In fact, she’s just making YSL more covetable. But I digress. 

Her speech gives so few details, except for the cost of the initial unit and the ability to use basic software we all have, eschewing the need to buy it. 

She also seems to have forgotten that over the years the beauty industry sells the same old, same old, by promising better, more effective ingredients. If I know that Revlon mascara is supposed to give me the fattest lashes ever with some special ingredient that this printer couldn’t possibly have, would I go Revlon? Probably. Can she print 24-hour wearing lipstick? Or organic lipstick that includes moisturizing jojoba oil? No. 

She might say, well I’m not going after niche beauty brands or products or their buyers. I’m going after teenagers and college-age girls shopping at Wal-Mart for their necessities who just want the hottest color, and the hottest color I can give them with my printer. To which I say, Darling, these girls want the hottest color, but they’re also poor. What do women strapped for cash often buy to feel pretty (instead of a $200 pair of shoes?) The hottest color in the prettiest package with the sexiest designer name. What do they ask for as a gift? The same. What do they gift each other on birthdays? The same. Especially if their dorm mate already has it or the the captain of their field hockey team.

Will she sell her product? Probably. Will it be the runaway hit she seems to hope it will be? Meh, probably not. Like Go-Go My Walking Pup was to the 90s, it’ll likely be a high-end novelty gift that will likely sit in disuse until the owner grows up or Mom sells it in a yard sale. Will it disrupt the beauty industry? Not unless competitors come along (as with eReaders) creating a saturation point that heightens desire and awareness. She needs to create a market and then share it to succeed. 

The Fault in Our Logic: But this is actually indicative of a bigger cultural issue here. In the video she says her motivation is to allow the consumer to “take control” of her own beauty, not let the “corporations” dictate what it should be. 

She has made the illogical conclusion that advertisers and corporations are arbitrarily picking trends, forcing them on consumers and raping them of the $20 they spend on high-end lipstick. 

In truth, fashion designers and makeup artists use their creativity each year to make art in clothing and makeup. This art gets sent down runways. Editors, corporations and retailers pick what they think consumers want (not what they want consumers to wear, they don’t give a fuck) copy it, mass produce it and sell it. 

That’s how it works. The age old question of evil fashion magazines making people feel ugly and fat and beauty companies telling you you’re worthless unless you have this product—that is all a projection of YOUR insecurities. 

You cannot hate Glamour magazine for talking about beauty unless you’re already feeling impossibly un-beautiful. You can’t hate Self for talking fitness unless you feel hopelessly unfit. You can’t hate Facebook for helping people endlessly throw their marital and childbearing status in your face, unless this is a sensitive issue for you to begin with. 


Why Advertising, So Far, Works I agree on the general principle that consumers are (thank god) much smarter than ever before. And for that reason the blatantly condescending Mad Men era ads need to be altered.

However, traditional advertising works because it speaks to aspects of our inherent, never changing, human nature. The need to fit in, feel part of something bigger than ourselves, along with the contradiction to feel like an individual; the need for father and mother figures long after we’ve left our parents’ nest (Hey, religion!) guiding us through life and our choices.

Studies have shown humans prefer to be guided. We sort of break down when we’re faced with too many options, we’re immobilized. Instead of choosing, we do nothing. Traditional advertising helps us choose, whether we like it or not. (And, ps, studies have shown we do like advertising when we’re expecting it and it’s good—Hello, Superbowl). 

It’s okay to like something just because it makes you feel special (little gold lipstick tube) or like a movie star. The traditional form of beauty marketing actually speaks to the inherent nature of a woman, to her femininity. A simple, rather benign, desire going back thousands of years as evidenced by archeological findings: a desire to be pretty. A desire to be admired.


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