3_TRENDS_Vol.19: Dylan Viner: Nihilistic Hedonism, Confused Narcissism + Future's Nostalgia
3_TRENDS is an interview series with the world's leading cultural researchers and thinkers, sharing their favorite overlooked trends.
Dylan’s first 3_TRENDS volume can be found here.
Dylan Viner (DV) is CSO and Partner at TRIPTK, a transformation consultancy that decodes and recodes culture for brands. Prior to joining TRIPTK, Dylan served as Deputy Head of Strategy at Redscout, and previously held positions at R/GA, JWT, Grey and Schematic. His poison of choice is a negroni.
MK: Dylan, what’s on your mind?
DV: The increase of indulgence in culture feels like a natural consequence of, and counter-reaction to, a lot of what people dislike about modern wellness culture.
From overly prescriptive rules and unrealistic expectations, to judgement and joylessness — the resurgence of drinks like the martini feels like an example of permissible responses.
Interestingly, it is often the same people indulging here who are back guzzling celery juices the next day as some kind of self-imposed penance.
MK: In a sense, this is another manifestation of “Power to the People.” While often viewed through the lens of socio-political or -economic strife, this flock toward the excessive and extravagant is a push against another type of commercialized institutionalism: wellness.
From seductive night luxe, to innocent kidcore, it’s as if we’re fighting the oppressive “norms” of obsessive health and adulting. It’s a regain of control from once hypnotizing fitspo and exhausting Momfluencer pressures.
As Isabella Burton recently wrote for the New York Times: Binge-scrolling, canceling plans or a mere bubble bath are now seen as morally worthy. Self-focus and private pleasure as therapeutic.
Martini is the middle finger to matcha.
DV: Beyond indulgence, what I’ve seen emerge post-pandemic, and is gathering pace, is more hedonistic and maybe even nihilistic in its lack of control or rules. A deliberately purposeless “fuck it” mentality that takes things to a more extreme conclusion — not just as a counterbalance to wellness but as more of a deliberate, chaotic, feral, lifestyle choice. Part goblincore, part dirtbag: Pete Davidson is suddenly both aspirational and attractive.
MK: This nihilistic extremism can also tie into the rise of today’s messy maximalism. The tacky, cringy, glitzy, sleazy, and sensory-obnoxious is our moment’s anarchic aesthetic of choice.
We’ve traded Marie Kondo for Julia Fox, and green juice for pink sauce.
The stress of minimalism couldn’t possibly survive today’s already too high-strung climate.
Further, as Moya Crocket writes for Canvas8 on this movement in China:
“Given the historic snobbery about the ‘made in China’ label, young people’s deliberate turn towards ‘bad taste’ demonstrates a rejection of conventional narratives about who gets to set aesthetic standards.”
From wellness to style, again: “Fuck the Man.”
Rhinestones, Uggs, NFT aesthetics, fat dad shoes, FBOY Island, and Y2K kawaii thrive.
The untamed, uncaring, tasteless and raucous are a release. There’s purpose behind the cluttercore madness.
DV: I’m particularly interested in what’s driving this behavior. Is it born from a disillusionment with modern life? Or is this actually a form of unbridled optimism for what is possible if you lean all the way into what feels good?
And the beautiful irony there is that it’s not dissimilar to the foundational mantra of wellness.
DV: Our relationship with ourselves is changing.
There is a fascinating interplay emerging between how we identify ourself, and how we then choose to express it to others.
While I imagine no slowing of the evergreen desire to find belonging within a like minded community (the internet, as Reddit knows well, is allowing us to find increasingly niche cohorts), there also seems to be less of a desire or expectation to stay confined within a single interest group.
Rather than identify a single self, many want to keep exploring identity, not just to keep building it, but to constantly reimagine it.
Identity is more dynamic and multi-faceted.
MK: How can we not dive into academic theory here? We have to go back to Erving Goffman’s theory on “self-presentation” or identity management.
According to Goffman, We alter perceptions according to our goals, i.e. we put on presentations for our “audiences.”
This insinuates multiple identities or multiple required performances — an identity or role for each unique audience.
When Zuck famously — and wrongly — declared: “Having two identities for yourself is a lack of integrity” we got locked into a single static account, desperate for dynamism and more nuanced expression.
Our innate desire for personality multiplicity thrashed against the restrictions of claustrophobic profiles.
But over time, we’ve created Finstas, engaged in the Dolly Parton Challenge, took up gaming’s role playing, and prioritized visual-first mediums to communicate even more about ourselves.
We’re not entirely out of our prohibitive profile prisons though, but at least we’ve acknowledged we got it wrong. We’re feeling around, playing with identity via the tools we’ve got.
DV: What does this process of identity shaping mean for the prevalence of narcissism in modern culture and what commentators often describe as an “unhealthy epidemic of self-obsession?”
Will narcissism start to dissipate if we don’t really know who we are, or are constantly reconstructing it?
Narcissus looked into a pool of water and became mesmerized by his reflection. While the modern pool is more likely a selfie or TikTok video on a smartphone screen, will we be as obsessed with ourselves if the person looking back is an acknowledged work in progress?
Or — on the other hand, if we’re spending even more time building and considering identity, maybe we will become even more obsessed with ourselves?
The rise of Main Character Energy as cultural vernacular, ‘manifesting’ things for yourself and maybe even the growing interest among young people with astrology may suggest that many still see the world orbiting them.
Even if we are more self-obsessed than ever, this version of narcissism is not self-love. It seems more to be a form of self-loathing.
Shout out to the amazing TRIPTK strategy team who discussed this topic at length at our monthly Dim Sum debate, but failed to reach any unanimous consensus — aside from Dim Sum being delicious.
MK: We haven’t played with our identity more than today. With a proliferations of channels, gears, settings, and opportunities for anonymity, we’re consistently tinkering. And with larger audiences, the spotlight burns brighter.
But back to Narcissus, it also feels like we’re looking into the pool much longer today than ever before. Increased self-exploration and self-experimentation seem healthy... for as long as we’re ultimately getting closer to that self-acceptance.
I don’t know. Are we?
DV: Culture is accelerating, with the half life of trends shortening and people moving from one thing to the next with more fervor and speed.
One consequence of this might be an impact on nostalgia, with ideas resurfacing in popular culture in a matter of years rather than decades.
Beyond acceleration, I wonder about the long term shelf life of nostalgia in general as a prominent emotional experience.
To some extent I think the phenomenon of nostalgia relies on shared memories and sentiment for its potency. I think part of what allows the rediscovery of 90s style to capture our collective imagination and inspire column inches, is how many of us experienced it in the first place.
If culture is becoming more dispersed and fragmented, presumably that means we are having fewer cultural experiences that are collective in the broadest sense.
There will undoubtedly always be phenomena like major sports moments that a whole nation tunes in for and which carry significance in decades to come, but I suspect that everything from the brands we wear, to the number of movies we all watch will dilute as the choices we have at our fingertips continue to grow.
MK: Just as every decade can be defined by a fashion or musical style, looking back at our 2020s from the future, what will we yearn for?
Is there anything to iterate upon if our moment is already defined by prior generations’ sensibilities?
Let’s not even get started on our moment’s darkness... another variable in whether we look back on this time fondly.
As I’ve forecasted previously, in a fragmented, even faster moving culture — it not only is — but will become increasingly difficult for us sync back up and get back on the same page.
But this won’t be because of not enough opportunities. It’ll be because of too many opportunities: countless niche moments, memes, names, makers, styles, brands, and songs, will make it harder to reunite on one.
This won’t help with the medicinal nature of nostalgia in the decades to come. Not only is our moment already reliant upon the past, but as we produce even more, it will be harder to re-convene on what defined this moment. So...
Does nostalgia cease to exist? Unlikely.
Does nostalgia become hyper-personal? Arguably it already is, but nostalgia’s warmth can move more beyond collective experiences and into the realm of more individualistic ones. In decades ahead, nostalgia becomes more about me, over we.
Do we become nostalgic for the 20s, unaware of what the next eight years may include?
Or do we indefinitely rely upon the 80s, 90s and 00s as our last sacred, shared cultural moments together? Do these decades’ reminiscent warmth become permanent social portals, offering everlasting hospitality for those who didn’t even experience the moment themselves?