We’re all lost in a supermarket.
The newest trend on social media for young people appears to be testing or spoiling products in supermarkets. Instagram and Twitter are littered with posts of young men and women trying on deodorant and putting it back on the shelf, licking ice cream and putting it back in the freezer, or simply draining the contents of shampoo or sunscreen in the aisles.
What is it all for? Is it a critique of capitalism inspired by the pages of Teen Vogue? Is it a consumer revolt meant to raise awareness of harmful ingredients? Is it a grassroots campaign to stop products that were tested on animals? Is it anything even remotely understandable like that?
No. It’s empty people with empty lives expressing empty narcissism driven by the insatiable need for clicks, likes, and retweets.
The most notorious recent case of product tampering on social media is that of the ice cream licker girl.
The video has been viewed over 12 million times and has even produced copycats. The young woman has been identified by police and she now faces up to 20 years in prison for a second degree felony charge.
I have two major issues with this product tampering trend. First, it’s gross: it should go without saying that it’s extremely unkind, cruel, and disrespectful to spoil and contaminate products for a cheap laugh.
Second, and more important, it’s unimaginative. When you consider the endless possibilities for creative youthful rebellion, it’s utterly depressing that this is the kind of stuff young people are coming up with. Whatever happened to beautiful graffiti art, Andy Warhol stencils, and culture jamming? Acts of civil disobedience should require a basic level of artful and artistic acuity.
It seems to me that one of the reasons that people are acting like absolute trash and trashing products and stores is that they are in need of some sort of transgressive moment that they aren’t getting in their cultural diet. It feels like acting out—the way children act against their best interests because they cannot yet use their words. They act like trash on the outside because they feel like trash on the inside.
Culture is driven by youth, and right now the youth are mostly crashing bores. Are millennials the first generation in history that are lamer than their parents? The evidence has been mounting. As a result, our culture mirrors the deeply uninteresting lives of woke millennials (made so by the bloated, unchecked, monolithic ideologue factory that is modern academia).
Of course, not all millennials are the lame woke type, but those who dare to be interesting in our culture are almost immediately unpersoned. We are left with acts of rebellion that are so disgustingly bland and tasteless that it would be a shame if we didn’t deserve it. You see, the thing is, the woke millennial doesn’t know how to rebel. And that’s the fault of their boomer and Gen X parents who were so obsessed with keeping them safe. Millennials grew up without barely scraping a knee, and so any discomfort they feel seems to cause them PTSD. Perhaps the psychic trauma of a bad date is what leads them to open up boxes at Duane Reade?
Perhaps one day soon, we will tire of the tepid, shallow pool of self-expression that we have been wading in. Perhaps the overwhelming banality of modern culture will soon lead us transgress by turning back to art, literacy, and self-improvement.
We see glimpses of it in the rise of the independent creator on YouTube, the success of the longform heterodox magazine Quillette, the arena-packing tour of Dr. Jordan Peterson, the platforms being built that insist upon principles of free speech.
Evidence of life is also found in the provocations of edgy outliers like Red Scare—a podcast that rails against political correctness from the left, and Cum Town, an unbelievably funny project that savagely roasts America’s cultural and political norms.
There’s hope, too, in the hyper-intelligent, digital natives of Generation Z—where a bit of a low-key, free-speech renaissance may be occurring. The satire of young troublemakers is not to be underestimated, especially considering the fact that the major target of this satire is the woke millennial.
People want more meaningful cultural products, more difficult conversations, and more freedom. But governments, big tech, and legacy outlets don’t want to loosen their grip on what we are meant to consume. That’s what all of these digital charters, new terms of service, and censorship drives are all about.
For the time being, pre-approved and banal creative expressions still dominate the cultural marketplace. Cheap, empty gestures and the politics/poetics of personal destruction still rule the day. For the time being, you’re more likely to gain notoriety for going to the store, taking a video of yourself applying a topical cream to a sensitive area, and then putting the tube back on the shelf.
For the time being, we can no longer shop happily.