Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Rebirth of the Cool

I've received some negative feedback concerning the Rust Belt Bloggers Summit thanks to my lack of branding imagination. Shrinking city boosters want to accentuate the positive and update the world's perception of the Postindustrial Heartland. Is economic development as simple as cultivating cool?

The problem, I think, is that El Paso has never marketed itself as a young person's town. We've never developed the assets. We've never cultivated an appeal to the prized 18 to 35 year old demographic. We've never cultivated cool.

Cool is a hot commodity for marketers. Marketers try to distill cool to imbue consumer goods, from energy drinks to pop bands, with its elusive essence.

I think we could encourage young people to stay in El Paso if we could convince them that El Paso is cool.

Good luck changing the mind of the native young adult demographic. Austin is offered up as the paragon of cool that El Paso can and should emulate. That's fine if the aim is to attract the "prized 18 to 35 year old demographic," not retain it. Anyone who thinks that the Austin miracle is all about keeping residents in the region needs to watch the movie Slacker. Richard Linklater put Austin on the mental maps of many twentysomethings, myself included, around the country.

I was a Gen X nomad during the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s. I have a good idea of how a city's reputation makes the rounds and induces migration. So, I took notice when MTV celebrated Columbus, OH as the new Brooklyn:

When you see MTV News producer CJ Smith’s report on the burgeoning lo-fi punk movement (clip above), you’ll notice that the phenom is spreading out around the country. From LA’s No Age and The Smell, to Portland’s Eat Skull and Little Claw, to Memphis’s Jay Reatard, the artists are from all over the place. But key to the movement — in fact, it wouldn’t be the same without it — is a zone in the USA known as the Rust Belt. That’s right, the same Rust Belt that Barack and Hillary have been courting in recent weeks, whose economy is largely in the dumps, is home to some of our most exciting music.

From Philadelphia’s Clockcleaner and the venerable Siltbreeze label, all the way west to Lafayette, Indiana’s TV Ghost, I-70 seems to be ground zero for lo-fi punk. The unexpected ground zero seems to be Ohio’s capital, Columbus. That city’s home to the most prominent of these bands, Times New Viking, whose two-minute-long offerings of fuzzed-out pop punk, on full display on this year’s “Rip It Off,” earn them frequent comparisons to those other Ohio icons, Dayton’s Guided By Voices. “We definitely came of age with that kind of stuff,” said Beth Murphy.

That's right. "Rust Belt" is cool. The locals just haven't figured it out.

No comments: