I got into a brief but very interesting Twitter conversation with John Wiswell and Helen Howell the other night. John started it by mentioning the conflict of liking a specific book which may belong to a genre one generally dislikes (here's what he actually tweeted). It got me thinking though: hence this blog post.
Underneath the kitchen sink in my small apartment is a blue plastic recycling bin that is, by some counts, not a recycling bin at all. It's a stackable box I picked up for about $5 in the IKEA children's section. I just got it because I needed a recycling bin that fit under my sink, and it's the right colour and shape so visitors can tell what it's for.
Has this particular type of bin ever been marketed for recycling in small apartments? No.
Has this particular type of bin ever been advertised as being something adults may find useful even if they don't have any children? No.
But it's my recycling bin now, and it's been that for fifteen years. It works great.
That's okay at IKEA, because they even hack their own stuff, never mind having customers do their own hacks. But then there's the time that I bought a large-faced, longer-strapped Swatch watch. As a tall, big woman, it made sense to buy a watch more in proportion, with, well, me.
After I'd paid, the saleslady said, "Um, you do realise that's a man's watch, right?"
"It's mine now," I said, and that was that. I wore that watch for ten years, and the saleslady was the very last person ever to comment on its supposedly inherent masculinity.
And so it goes for a lot of things. On the director's commentary of the Star Trek DVD, J.J. Abrams said he included the Kirk birth scene at the beginning to draw women into the story, yet female Trek fans are famous as their own SF subculture. Why attempt to "draw" women to something they're already predisposed to like? Oh right, because marketers say that women don't like action films or SF films on their own — they have to be dragged to them by their boyfriends/husbands.
Robert J. Sawyer wrote a brilliant trilogy about a parallel universe where Neanderthals are the surviving hominid species, and had at its heart a wonderful romance plot. Audrey Niffenegger wrote a brilliant time travel novel about a married couple. Somehow, at least in the bookshops I've been to in person and on-line, Sawyer's work gets put in Science Fiction & Fantasy, while Niffenegger's is put in Romance. Yet they're both science fiction works that effectively use a romance between two major characters to move the plot. Having read both the entire Hominids trilogy and the Niffenegger novel, and having loved both about equally, all I can think is that it comes down to marketing. I suppose one could argue that the initiating action on Sawyer's work is from an invention, whereas the initiating action in Niffenegger's is a biological reaction, but that's a bit of hair-splitting. Substitute in The Chrysalids for the Hominids trilogy if it really bothers you.
The point is, it seems we are expected to swallow the marketing, the spin on something, as much as the something that the marketing is supposed to persuade us to buy. And it gets ugly, very quickly. "That toy's for girls." "Those are men's socks." "Harry Potter is for kids, not adults who read real literature." "Americans like that much sugar in their soda."
It's bizarre, because if the product was pushed ahead of the demographic, they might sell more of the things. I remember that my best friend in high school wanted to have a McDonald's birthday party for her eighteenth birthday as a sort of "farewell to childhood" gag event. All of her friends were into it, and she successfully organised the event with the local McDonald's — until we showed up for the party. The restaurant manager was furious with us, even when we offered to forego some of the extra service usually offered because the attendees were typically small children. How dare we buy something outside of our demographic?
If we can legally buy it, what the hell would anyone care if they're selling it? They're still making money from us.
As consumers, we're warned that businesses will try to make money from us any way they can. The demographic segmentation of products and services — including products and services which are nominally interchangeable before the marketing labels get slapped on them — makes me suspect otherwise.
I don't think there's an actual conspiracy going on. I just think certain people don't like having their apple carts upset by people making their own choices.