There’s A Sucker Shoed Every Minute

Payless Shoe Stores, a low-cost shoe outlet found in many American cities, recently conducted an interesting social experiment testing the utter gullibility of American consumers.  In an effort to see just how much people would pay for its shoes, Payless created a new website and Instagram account and opened a pop-up store called Palessi — get it? — in a Los Angeles mall.  It then invited “influencers” to attend a grand opening of the store in exchange for receipt of a small stipend.

screen-shot-2018-11-29-at-11-36-09-amOf course, there really was no new store called “Palessi,” and the shoes being sold at the pop-up were just standard Payless shoes.  But guess what?  The “influencers” were suckers who apparently fell for the ruse and were willing to spend many multiples above the standard prices charged by Payless for its footwear.  One woman said she would pay $400 or $500 for tennis shoes that retail for $19.99.  Another sap paid $640 — 1800% above the normal cost — for a pair of boots.  Apparently, if you want to up the price of shoes you just create an Italianized name, throw in some glitz, and make the sales clerks wear black, and some hapless “influencer” will fall for it and presumably get others to do so, too.  Payless will use the experiment to advertise the fact that its shoes are fashionable and are valued by some people at far above their actual price.

I’m not surprised that Americans are willing to overpay for shoes, but what the article linked above doesn’t say is who the “influencers” were, or how they were selected.  If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting book The Tipping Point you know that there are people who are at ground zero of the creation of trends — by, for example, starting to wear Hush Puppies shoes — and there are others who introduce the new trends to a wider audience, and then finally the mass of followers who start buying Hush Puppies after the creators have already moved on to the next trend.  I’m sure there are many people who consciously strive to be “influencers,” and it would be nice to know how Payless identified the credulous group who were willing to grossly overpay just to be the first in the area to wear “Palessi” shoes.

For the rest of us, the Palessi experiment should teach a valuable lesson.  Who, exactly, are the “influencers” who are starting and promoting the stupid trends that often sweep America, and how easily duped are they?  Why should anyone pay attention to them or their “influence”?  I’m no trendsetter, but I’m reasonably confident I’ll never pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of sneakers, either.

Advertisements

Duck Dynasty Days

In the fascinating book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about one curious aspect of our culture — the moment when something seems to just be everywhere you look, being talked about by everyone.

We’ve reached that point with Duck Dynasty, don’t you think?  It’s got all of the buzz in the world going for it.  The ratings are through the roof.  Even highbrow publications are writing about the show featuring the guys with the signature ZZ Top beards who manage a duck call fabrication business, trying to figure out whether the show’s success is the result of carefully cultivated entertainment savvy or southern Christian values (or stereotypes).  The show’s not quite an overnight success — after all, it’s in its fourth “season” — but it’s reached the popular culture pinnacle.

I don’t watch Duck Dynasty. I don’t watch much TV, and most “reality” shows don’t appeal to me.  For all I know, Duck Dynasty could be a fabulous, richly entertaining show or it could be idiotic, but at this point it doesn’t make much difference.  What’s fascinating is that the tumblers have clicked into place, the PR campaigns have succeeded, and the opinion makers are all heading in the same direction.  When seemingly everyone is talking about the same thing in this broad and diverse land of ours, it tells you something about the power of popular culture, and  the power of peer pressure.  How many people have started watching Duck Dynasty because everyone seems to be watching it, and they don’t want to be left out?

We also know one other thing about popular culture — no one and no thing stays on the top of the heap for very long.  Just ask the producers of American Idol.

Our Timbers Should Shiver

The Somali pirate drama is one of those small, but potentially telling, incidents that happen from time to time. The pirates attacked a ship flying an American flag and took its captain hostage. Days have now passed, the captain remains a captive, and the pirates continue to thumb their noses at our government.

I am a subscriber to the “broken windows” theory described at some length in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. That theory posits that people who live in a neighborhood that features little signs of unaddressed lawlessness — like broken windows, graffiti, and other petty crime — can lose hope and conclude that there is no law. Events then can spiral downward and out of control as people perceive that there is no order or authority. I think the same concept applies to international law. An attack by pirates may be a small matter — indeed, the concept of modern-day pirates seems ludicrous — but it is one of those signs of lawlessness that could promote more reckless illegal behavior by other renegade actors on the international stage.

Unfortunately, many civilized governments don’t seem to have the stomach to deal with the Somali pirates. Instead, they seem to hope that the pirates, or the terrorists, will realize that we mean them no harm and just go away. Our country, on the other hand, seems to have the will but is so bound up by concerns about legality and the perceptions of the international community that we shy away from taking unilateral action. In the meantime, outright piracy goes unpunished — and the number of broken windows in the neighborhood grows.

I think it is time for us to realize that our failure to act in these situations is sending a strong, but negative, message. It can only encourage other “bad actors” to commit acts that risk the mere disapproval of the civilized world, but no other consequences. If inaction continues, and piracy, kidnapping, and other guerilla tactics proliferate, the impact on things like international trade, democratic institutions, and global progress will be devastating. What is the point of being an economic and military giant if we cannot crush pirates who flout international law, and thereby send a message that such intolerable lawlessness will be dealt with swiftly, and with finality?