Why Everyone Has Merch Now (Including Us)

Why Everyone Has Merch Now (Including Us)

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this video is brought to you by raycon [Music] what's up guys michael here in case you've been trapped in a weezer branded snuggie since 2009 allow us to bring you up to speed everyone is obsessed with merch there's the mcdonald's chicken nugget pillow there's a24 as film-themed candles and logo and blaze and packing tape there's merch for your favorite radio station your favorite art museum even your favorite fake girl boss hell there's even merch that lets you loudly and proudly identify as a salt
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aficionado it hasn't always been this way merch used to be something we bought to remember that green day concert where we almost made out with our crush almost or it was that ugly slash depressing swag thrust upon us by everyone from citibank to the humane society but as journalist adam bluestein observes in a recent marker article people are now not only willing to adorn themselves in branded merch they actually go to great lengths to seek it out and want to pay for it so what explains the merch revolution what does it mean when we actively seek out a plate from our
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favorite restaurant or shorts from our favorite billionaire are we in heaven hell or a swagified purgatory let's bravely find out in this wisecrack edition why everything is merch now but before we get into it i want to talk about today's sponsor raycon raycon makes earbuds that lets you listen to the sound of my voice or any other voice whether you're at home or on the go i mean that's what i use mine for listening to wisecrack videos and podcasts 24 7. whether you're cool like me or whether you actually have other interests like in music or movies you
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can still enjoy raycon's 32-hour battery life with eight hours of play time that's enough time to watch space jam 2 4.17 times totally uninterrupted but if you do get interrupted say by an incoming phone call you can pick up with the press of a button and chat with the built-in mic raycon earbuds also straight up look good as well especially now that they have an improved rubber oil look and they also feel good thanks to optimized gel tips that ensure a perfect fit another awesome thing about raycons is that they start at half the price of other premium audio brands but
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you can't really tell the difference well except for the happier state of your bank account that is and speaking of good vibes raycon's 45-day happiness guarantee lets you make sure these earbuds are totally right for you so click the link in the description or go to com slash wisecrack to unlock exclusive deals like up to 20 percent off your recon order that's by raycon dot com slash wisecrack to get a sweet deal on some new earbuds and now back to the show now for simplicity's sake we're
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going to define merch as products often shirts hats or tote bags that advertise a brand or company which typically doesn't make shirts hats or tote bags so your capital g gucci belt not merge your t-shirt proudly showing off your favorite egg salad sandwich totally merged and a real thing on a basic level the concept of merch is pretty simple it conveys taste whether in film distributors makeup music and even iced tea but for merch to fully emerge as such a cornerstone of contemporary consumption a few things
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had to happen first off what constitutes high status spending had to change dramatically see for most of human history producing consumer goods required artisan handiwork and was thus very expensive so it was easy for the very wealthy to show off via luxurious spending on items most people could never dream of affording in early pompeii that meant hiring an artist to painstakingly craft a mosaic for your wall in victorian england it's hilariously meant displaying medicine in your parlor to show you could afford to see a doctor less wealthy people would
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then find cheaper ways to copy rich people's spending habits via shortcuts like wallpaper or painting porcelain to look like gold in 1899 economist and sociologist thorstein veblen dubbed these wealth-establishing purchases by the leisure class conspicuous consumption these were any goods purchased in large part to convey high socioeconomic status now a lot has changed since 1899. the second industrial revolution coupled with increasingly sophisticated manufacturing practices dramatically decreased the cost of consumer goods
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since then buying fancy hair ribbons or leather-bound encyclopedias has become a lot less expensive this made it increasingly easy for less wealthy folks to copy the consumption habits of the uber wealthy they signaled aspirational wealth through dress home decor and so on nowadays in fact poor and middle-class folks spend proportionately much more on conspicuous consumption than the wealthy do this poses a problem as scholar elizabeth currie halcott explains in her book the sum of small things she asks if acquisition of material goods is now fairly accessible
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to all how do wealthy elites maintain their status according to courage hawkett the answer can be seen in the rise of the aspirational class which has effectively replaced the leisure class the aspirational class is defined less by wealth than by cultural capital like knowing which ethiopian restaurant to go to or which magazine to read as brand strategist anna angelic writes in a recent book the business of aspiration modern aspiration is not about having money to buy things but having the taste to know what to buy that is to say
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members of the aspirational class don't choose to consume goods and services based on what will make them look rich rather they choose based on what conforms to their taste which is largely based on their values that's in part because a lot of aspirational class members aren't even rich in the first place they're merely culturally savvy they buy products based on what sociologist pierre bordeaux called objectified cultural capital i.e the way certain objects accrue cultural and symbolic value rather than simple monetary value as curry hull could
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elaborate the aspirational class finds subtle symbols cultural capital and language to distinguish itself from other groups and if those subtle symbols include an ironic dad hat all the better but let's leave the aspirational class aside for a second because innovation and manufacturing also allowed for one other big consumer shift the rise of merch the core of the merch industry has long been that classic printed t-shirt cheap to make and typically cheap to buy printed shirts were probably first used for the 1939 film the wizard of oz in
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the film workers in the emerald city wear shirts that read oz as they restuff the scarecrow printed shirts went political in 1948 urging you to vote for noted never president thomas e dewey who who did not invent the dewey decimal system that's when printing businesses in miami started manufacturing screen printed t-shirts and towels adorned with popular vacation resorts logos we found evidence of a similar racket in 1950 cincinnati one of those companies scored the license for merchandising disney and things would escalate but what really
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changed the future of merch was technology specifically innovations in screen printing in the 60s couple that with the youth cultural revolution and merch was poised to explode as the british rock invasion captivated the hearts and ears of the youth buying banned merch became a prime way to express your hipness importantly printed shirts also quickly became a major tool of the counterculture to signal alignment with protest groups and social causes but merch wouldn't stay stuck in the counterculture in the 1970s the hard rock cafe and casino wondered what if
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merch could become a bigger business than our actual business they were almost right merch now accounts for up to 40 percent of their revenue this is indicative of something else that was also happening see throughout the 70s and 80s increasingly cutthroat competition among similar brands would change marketing forever suddenly brands had to start selling consumers not on quality and or innovation but on the brand itself as researchers wrote for management communication quarterly this was the elevation of branding's importance as a communication strategy in navigating a
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crowded market in other words brands became less about what they made and more about who they were the easiest way to be someone cool copy the counterculture of course scholar paul clements notes that marketers in the 80s and 90s had grown up during the height of the counterculture they savvily copied that era's impression of rebellion and revolt in their marketing remember that final scene of mad men [Music] i'd like to buy the world a home in
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post-draper years that also looked like burger king declaring that sometimes you gotta break the rules or toyota calling her new supra revolutionary over the following decades corporate branding and with it corporate merch would continue to pull from counter cultures to maintain their cool image they'd especially take inspiration from skateboarding rap and internet communities grabbing font styles and other design elements in recent years brands like makeup company glossier would also start to borrow streetwear brand supreme's marketing style they too
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manufacture scarcity for popular merch in order to generate hype and over the past 10 years merge has become more important than ever increasingly infiltrating fashion and culture at large this has been helped along again by increasingly streamlined manufacturing and distribution as well as you guessed it the internet and these days you don't have to be disney for merch to be profitable the rise of micro merch catering to niche markets now sustains everyone from musicians to podcasters to makeup influencers many creators now supplement their incomes
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with genuinely cool merch some of which might even feature a certain monocle wearing jackass during the pandemic merch became especially vital for those local bars restaurants and bookstores with enough cachet to sell you on a cute tank top branded weed grinder or a pair of earrings shaped like a sandwich the entangled phenomena of the value obsessed aspirational class the value-laden brand and of course cheap manufacturing all converged to facilitate the rise of merch as amanda mall writes in the atlantic for decades americans have been trained to see logos
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and slogans as a primary means of self-expression and even as a way of telegraphing values and nothing does so more clearly than merch but what is merch really doing on a deeper level to understand let's return to the aspirational class the way we see it merge has become a new kind of conspicuous consumption rather than showing off how wealthy you are though it acts as a potent flex about your cultural savviness and your values merge is the natural culmination of consumption as an expression of identity
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and if that consumption happens to be just a little bit ironic a la the kfc crocs that sold out in 30 minutes well that's all the better some of this is the result of successful marketing over the past decade as brand competition has increased even more than it did in the 80s branding has increasingly shifted to become more value oriented as angelic writes brands shifted from increasing value of their products through utility competitive comparison and creative advertising instead she explains they focus on things like sustainability
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artisanship and community in order to give their products identity and singularity you're not wearing a moon juice shirt because it fits better you're wearing it to show you value wellness clean living and crystals lighting up an a24 horror candle shows that you value independent cinema even if you like me are too scared to actually watch mitsumar their cultural potency can render merch even more desirable than the real brand of products themselves as bluestein notes whether or not they are actually buying your core product merge with a point of view can resonate with people who are
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somehow finding it to be a form of self-expression merch in representing a brand or artist cultural cachet confers that same status onto the buyer people are telegraphing their values and tastes by associating themselves with jstor over lexisnexis or with cash app over venmo but to really understand why a new yorker tote bag means so much to so many people let's return to what brands as a whole mean as media scholar adam arvinson writes in his book brands meaning in value and media culture
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although brands have a long history as a commercial institution reaching as far back as the 18th century their position as central components of the social fabric was established in the 1980s as we noted earlier this was around the same time when branding became less about the product and more about the story or personality of the brand itself the result was powerful as artwitsen elaborates brands now became something of an omnipresent tool by means of which identity social relations and shared experiences could be constructed the web
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of modern brands thus helps establish a common social world that we all inhabit this happened at the same time as the late 20th century collapse of community amidst widespread urbanization privatization of public spaces and so on so you maybe used to identify largely as a catholic or a dane or a new yorker but the erosion of religious ethnic cultural and other public communities also erodes the significance of that identity as angelic writes we are going through the imagined community renaissance thanks to
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modern brands stepping in as the social constructs of belonging left vented by traditional institutions she notes that increasingly brands target communities over customers merch is an obvious way of telegraphing your membership to a branded community whether via tote bag or koozie and for the aspirational class distinguish not by furs and jewels but by their taste belonging to the right branded communities is paramount lighting a dinnertime candle in victorian england meant you had access to something rare and expensive today
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sprinkling responsibly sourced spices on your dinner isn't about conferring wealth which few of us have anyway it's more about living your tastes and values it's not about prestige and exclusivity but about identity and belonging to certain taste communities and because humans are very literal creatures we've fixated on the most literal way to do this buy a merch that spells out your taste for everyone to see and this isn't inherently sinister here at wisecrack we love good merch in fact each of us owns
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an estimated average of 1.75 grateful dead t-shirts although i kind of skew the curve on that um but this one's i mean this one is like colored and this one is like a whiter thing this one has a totally different font and it's from a different tour and this one this one was limited edition okay they're they're all the same but we think it's interesting that as young people's economic opportunities become less and less plentiful our consumption habits are becoming increasingly important to our identities as angelic notes unable
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to succeed economically millennials are turning their attention to everyday things with an almost obsessive laser-like focus it's why really liking coffee or doing the right type of yoga can almost constitute an entire personality these days but what if our obsession with taste and thus with cool merch really has much more to do with what we can't afford you know the little things like houses cars advanced degrees and quality medical care unable to achieve the markers of success that our parents and grandparents aspired to
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we've found other ways to make our lives feel richer and more meaningful and more power to us for that but merch has emerged as an easy and relatively inexpensive way to accrue social capital especially in a world where most of us might never have you know capital capital it's enough to make you want to take a nice long hit from your limited edition seth rogen sculpted pipe but what do you guys think is the popularity of merch a sinister indicator of how much is wrong with our economy or is it just a fun way to signal that you too enjoy eating oreos let us know in
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the comments big thanks to our patrons for aligning yourself with the wisecrack brand and be sure to check out our podcast hit subscribe like it's the checkout button on a supreme drop day and don't forget to ring that bell and as always thanks for watching later [Music] you

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