TODAY’S WRITING TIP: WRITING IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. A WRITER’S CREDIBILITY, AS WELL AS HIS IDEAS, IDEALS, AND IMAGINATION, IS WHAT ‘SELLS’ HIS WORK. HOW IRONIC THAT IN PURSUIT OF COMMERCIAL GAIN, SUCH AS ADVERTISING AND MARKETABILITY, THIS PRECIOUS CAPITAL IS SO EASILY COMPROMISED, ESPECIALLY IN TODAY’S MAGAZINES AND NEWSPAPERS.
It’s always fun to study pop culture or to even immerse yourself in it, guided by those who originate ideas, memes, trends, ideas, attitudes, even sensibilities. It’s one of the joys of living in this world. It’s one of the torments of living in this world. The irony is that, to the purist or to the naïve, like myself, pop culture often starts off from rebellion, the antithesis of—or at least a fresh, refreshing alternative to—what was previously and prevalently popular or generally accepted as good or true or beautiful, or even simply real and immutable.
We have a love/hate relationship with pop culture and all that’s popular. Some of us think of it as a mockery of reality, an assault against individuality. It’s true and then it’s not. Sure, it is consumerist, maybe sensationalist, but global commerce will go haywire without pop culture. There will be no Top 40, no bestsellers, no blockbusters, no Fashion Week, no magazines, no Facebook, no TV, no cult brands—and no loyal fans like you and me.
If I blow my nose, it gets written all over the world. —Audrey Hepburn
Come to think of it: That’s not such a bad idea. Just recently, J.K. Rowling released a book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, “a liberating experience,” said the true author in an official statement, “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation.” The book, masquerading as a debut novel from a retired military man, sold no more than 500 copies in three months, but once it was revealed that Galbraith was in fact Rowling of the phenomenal Harry Potter series, it was suddenly a runaway success, shooting up on the day the announcement was made, “in a single morning, from 5,076 on Amazon to number one, and not just in the U.K., but in America and around the world,” according to The Spectator. Rowling will never know if the success of this non-Harry Potter book rests on the story and how well she tells it or on the power of branding, of marketing, of hype, but should she care? The question is: Is this even only a publicity stunt, a marketing ploy?
In this day and age, marketing rules. It has invaded the most sacred of creative and artistic realms. It’s a good thing. It’s a bad thing. But I don’t believe in icons anymore now that some of them are reduced to endorsers, paid to influence my choices, especially when they would like me to believe they are big fans of what it is they are paid lots of money to endorse.
Still, I give it to them, these marketers, these geniuses who can make owning a pair of socks feel like a million pesos. The best marketing coup—or should I say the worst?—there ever is is that today nobody cares about authenticity anymore. I mean Jackie O was a Chanel girl, she was a Givenchy girl, she was a Balenciaga girl, she was European in taste, but as soon as she and her husband, the late US president John F. Kennedy, found themselves on the presidential campaign trail, she made a point of not just wearing but liking American fashion, going as far as collaborating with then Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and, later, with French-born American designer Oleg Cassini to ensure that her all-American look would be at par with her Parisian wardrobe. If she had to wear Seventh Avenue designers in her official capacity as first lady, she might as well be proud wearing them and look good in them. But back then, honor was in fashion and people brandished it about like a Birkin bag. Now, a star would wear an onion ring around her finger on a red carpet evening, should Monsanto or some other big multinational brand produce a budget for marketing onions.
Recently, I met Jerika Ejercito. The daughter of former Philippine president and now mayor of the City of Manila Joseph Estrada, this young girl trying to make it on her own, despite the pressure—as well as the ease—of just being her parents’ daughter. Back in Manila, after nine years of absence, during which she lived in complete anonymity and independence on the streets of London, she is turning a new leaf in her hometown, rebooting her life, and getting her Louboutin-clad feet wet in the world of celebrity and society, if only in pursuit of her passion project, a foundation for the mentally ill. Her decision came not without its attendant consequences, especially for a young woman like her whom we can pretend to know—and thereby judge—but whom we do not really know at all.
“People got the impression that I was a party girl, a socialite, which I’m really not,” she told me. In my book, she is doing it right. What good is gold if it’s buried in the ground, especially at a time like this, when no one bothers to dig deeper, unless some pop icon makes digging deeper the next big thing?
[This post was drawn from the editor’s note in the August 2013 issue of Sense&Style magazine.]