Attention Versus Value

Of late, I’m doing more people watching than usual, and I’m particularly fascinated by those under 20 due to their clothing selections. Beau Brummell, THE male fashionista of Regency England, said that, “If people turn to look at you on the street, you are not well dressed.” Based on what I’ve seen of late, I think his words still apply and in more than one way.Muffin Top

In general, I’m not opposed to people dressing as their hearts desire. However, I’m perplexed by the seeming inability of teenagers (and adults) to gauge a situation and to dress accordingly. Beyond styles, I see more frequently than I’d care to someone either dressed in clothes that drown them or clothes that give them the dreaded muffin top (see right; I still can’t believe that Wikipedia has an entry this topic).

At this point, you may be scratching you head and wondering if I’ve lost my mind, but there’s a reason for my introduction of the muffin top to the discussion. From my perspective, the fashion trends of the young point to a bigger problem that extends outside clothing choices. When did we reach the turning point of believing that attention automatically equated to value or vice versa?

How many times during the last ten years did we see an Internet company make a splash, capture everyone’s attention for a short time, and then fade from memory? I propose that we’re seeing a shift to chasing attention over substance. I don’t claim this behavior happens in all instances, but you see it playing out among individuals, companies, and even countries.

Among individuals, it’s clothing , body art, and language. Among companies, you see it in poorly conceived products and services. Among countries, it’s threatening to wipe other countries off the map instead of repairing a crumbling infrastructure.

This behavior happens at all levels and for more reasons than I can catalog in one post. It’s intriguing though how accepting we’ve become, how rarely we call people on the attention seeking, if not the behavior itself, particularly in light of how some of the best things in life DON’T call any attention to themselves. Think about the best customer service at a hotel: it’s practically invisible, almost like the place in run by an army of ghosts who meet your every need.

Have we passed the point of no return? Will the extremes in society continue to garner attention and replace our pursuit of things with value that last longer than a season’s fashion?


(Image courtesy of Malingering. CC license: Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works. Some rights reserved.)


6 Responses to “Attention Versus Value”

  1. January 2, 2008 at 11:02 am

    NICE. The muffin top, I’m so glad to hear that it has a name.

    I share roughly the same sentiments when it comes to the way the younglings dress. I’m 25, but may sound 40 when I say that I hate it when male teens dress like pimps/coke dealers – and even choose to use that dress code when traveling, airports that is…

    And you make a good point with companies being able to see (or not) similar detail in their existence…”I propose that we’re seeing a shift to chasing attention over substance”…that’s well said, and something I’d like to address eventually in my blog/line of work. There are some things though, that I wish companies would draw attention to, when clearly they don’t. Maybe the younger generation will be the ones to make that choice…and I hope we can make it a good one!

    I’ll be back…

  2. 2 Britt
    January 2, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    @t h rive: ditto on the teenage male’s choice of attire. And I’m in agreement that I wish companies would draw attention to certain things. It seems like they highlight stuff with little value, while trying to capture your eye with the flash that lacks substance.

  3. January 2, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Interesting insight! The thought that came to mind is that our culture these days so embraces the expression of both individuality and cultural allegiances that it has mistaken this for a value. With youth, it often seems that the expression of choice is their greatest entitlement. It certainly is the most accessible and is the most easily defended: “it’s my choice”. However, it’s a surface allegiance, and carries no underlying substance. Clothing fashions fall in this category, except when it actually represents an allegiance to a principle of living. These are more tangible values, but since they are all signaled by surface appearances they are lost in the crowd.

  4. January 2, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Britt: when has substance ever had the upper hand over getting attention in America? I daresay not in our lifetimes.

    The photo you posted simply bespeaks the mindless conformism (I use that word rather than “conformity”; conformity is a behavior; conformism is an ideology, conscious or unconscious) which infects America is breathtaking.

    Go to Europe and you’ll see that the vast majority of the youth (outside of England) are emphatically NOT enamored of tattooing their bodies willy-nilly. OK, you might see the occasional young person with the occasional tattoo, but it’s shockingly less ubiquitous than here.

    My theory about America’s recent love affair with body art is that it has origins in the powerlessness that most Americans feel about their lives. When you feel, at root, powerless, you unconsciously want to exert control over whatever small piece of turf you can call indisputably “yours”; hence tattooing the body, which proves to everyone that you can control something.

    The “show off my muffin-tops” phenomenon is another story, but related. It also goes back to conformism. When the need to mimic other people’s dress becomes so powerful that one does so while totally disregarding the fact that at a tender age, one’s body has gone to pot, then yes, we Americans have crossed the proverbial Rubicon of shamelessness. There is no turning back.

  5. 5 Britt
    January 3, 2008 at 10:15 am

    @Dave: Wow. What a great addition to the discussion. I’ve found it ironic (if that’s even the right word) to see how many teenagers expressing their individuality end up looking alike. For all the talk of “it’s my choice,” a desire to fit in, even if it’s now with tattoos and body piercings instead of a particular clothing brand, still carries weight in the end, driving more personal choices that people might care to admit.

    @Joe: Your comment on what drives body art is interesting, especially in the context on wanting to exert control over something. I propose that today’s teenagers and 20-somethings have been raised to believe they have no control, in the sense that their lives are fated to be a certain way (usually rich and famous). It’s the perfect example of rejecting responsibility for one’s actions, because in this mindset, one has no outward control over life. Then, when something doesn’t go right, it can’t possibly be their fault because they had no control, the ultimate alibi.

  6. January 6, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Re: the picture, it’s unfortunate that we can’t see the full tramp stamp, because I think she coordinated it with her jean pocket designs. Now that’s what I call being “put together” about your wardrobe!

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