During my 25+ year career as an independent financial planner, many clients wanted me to investigate “opportunities”, then to recommend action. That process is called due diligence. DD is very time intensive, often made even more difficult by financial and legal shenanigans. Two pieces of advice I gave my clients usually worked best: “Ask yourself ‘what emotions are they appealing to’, and how does what they say or write comport with their stated aims?” Specifically, for example, if their materials say “we are unbiased” and their pitch is “double your money in a month…without risk”, but they only recommend products that pay them a commission, and their pitch appeals to greed (significant short term gains with no effort), not much due diligence is required, just get running shoes.
On December 6, I read a “letter” from “We, the undersigned legal scholars”, who write that they “have concluded that President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct.” They further write “there is overwhelming evidence that President Trump betrayed his oath of office by seeking to use presidential power to pressure a foreign government to help him distort an American election, for his personal and political benefit, at the direct expense of national security interests as determined by Congress.” Who were they? How many were they? When did they reach their conclusion? In answer to the first two questions, they were 604 self described “legal scholars”, from hundreds of colleges. The answer to the third question is much harder to come by. A link to Protectdemocracy.org is provided in the letter, published on Medium.com, which is largely a forum for writers to showcase their work. The Protectdemocracy.org website writes “The evidence shows that the President attempted to corrupt the 2020 election by using his official power to withhold critical military aid in order to pressure the Ukrainian president into announcing investigations that would benefit Trump for his personal and political benefit.” I will return to the “overwhelming evidence” and the theme “attempted to corrupt”, as well as the claim that they knew what Trump’s motives were for withholding “critical military aid”.
The six “threats” to democracy listed on that website are: “politicizing independent institutions”, “spreading disinformation”, “executive power grabs”, “quashing dissent”, “corrupting elections” and “delegitimizing communities”. I followed the links for “executive power grabs” and “corrupting elections”, the two main criticisms of Trump. What did I find? They each led to “news items” about those offenses. Every news item was about Republicans or Trump. Could it be that since 2017, only republicans tried to grab power and corrupt elections? You might answer, “well the organization formed in 2017”, but they had charts going back to 2003, purporting to show that the public has continually lost faith in the central government. Here’s what that organization says about itself: “Protect Democracy was founded in early 2017 by a group of former high-level executive branch officials who served in the White House Counsel’s Office and upper-echelons of the Department of Justice and have unique knowledge of the norms that have constrained presidential power for decades and when those in power may be tempted to violate them.” Well, then they are well positioned to also write about Obama’s “executive power grabs”. But nary a mention….They do congratulate themselves for “materially impacted the national debate over whether Trump obstructed justice by organizing a letter from more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors asserting that any other American would have been prosecuted for engaging in the acts described in the Mueller Report.”
That website features a headline. BREAKING: 500+ Legal Scholars Conclude Trump Committed Impeachable Conduct. It’s dated December 6, 2019. When did they actually conclude that Trump “Committed Impeachable Conduct”? I want you to consider how difficult and time consuming it would be to get even two lawyers, i.e. legal scholars, to agree on anything and then put together a written document that they would broadcast to the world. Now consider how much more difficult it would be if 604 lawyers from all over the country had to sign on to that. When did the Ukraine testimony—the actual fount of the “overwhelming evidence”—occur?
I haven’t written for a couple of weeks. A “routine” biopsy for cancer cells, done October 17, ended up the stuff of nightmares. An infection followed, then other stuff. Getting out of bed is a major chore. I don’t know when, or if, I will recover enough energy to function. If the worst happens, and the Lord takes me to Him, I will bless the name of the Lord. The harder choice is living like I feel now, but I put myself in His hands regardless. Revelation 21 reminds me of what awaits. But hidden behind the clouds of suffering is, perhaps, the answer to the biggest questions of life: Why am I even here? Why do I exist? Why should I continue to exist if I have no purpose except to consume enough to stay alive? Therefore, why should I remain alive?
No, I am not suicidal. Every time I go to the V.A. hospital, or now, when the visiting nurse comes, they are required to ask, “do you have thoughts of harming yourself?” I answer no, because I don’t, but the thoughts I do have—the questions I ask myself—would alarm them. Today I read the following meditation by Charles Spurgeon.
“God is a good paymaster; he pays his servants while at work as well as when they have done it; and one of his payments is this: an easy conscience. If you have spoken faithfully of Jesus to one person, when you go to bed at night you feel happy in thinking, “I have this day discharged my conscience of that man’s blood.” There is a great comfort in doing something for Jesus. Oh, what a happiness to place jewels in his crown, and give him to see of the travail of his soul! With every soul you bring to Christ, you get a new heaven upon earth. But who can conceive the bliss which awaits us above! Oh, how sweet is that sentence, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!” Do you know what the joy of Christ is over a saved sinner? This is the very joy which we are to possess in heaven. Yes, when he mounts the throne, you shall mount with him. When the heavens ring with “Well done, well done,” you shall partake in the reward; you have toiled with him, you have suffered with him, you shall now reign with him; you have sown with him, you shall reap with him; your face was covered with sweat like his, and your soul was grieved for the sins of men as his soul was, now shall your face be bright with heaven’s splendor as is his countenance, and now shall your soul be filled with beatific joys even as his soul is.”
I have the option: be a sourpuss, lament my “unfair” suffering, be an off-putting example of a son of Christ, or be joyous in this minor inconvenience while sharing the reason for being joyous. I choose the latter.
Has all the furor over the “Grace from Boston” Peloton commercial distracted the misogyny police from noticing other toxic patriarchy ads? Dr. Pepper features a (presumptive) husband, a young gorgeous mom (presumably), both with faces painted red and white, representing some college known only as State, and their young son, who is holding a ball and a foam finger. The kid says, “go State”, while the woman smiles indulgently and the man exults, “he’s a State fan, he’s definitely my son!” No doubt resenting his dad’s (we presume) equating paternity with football loyalty, the kid reverses field and declares “State stinks…overrated.”, throwing a ball at dad’s face. The man sputters helplessly while the woman rolls her eyes as she sips Dr. Pepper, her expression one of feigned innocence. What’s happening here? Her expression says it all. Her husband is about to berate her for secretly teaching their son to hate State, just as he blames her for everything that’s wrong in their marriage, as well as State being behind in the game. She imbibes the drink with a desperate haste, fearing it might be her last for awhile; she will soon be cringing at his upraised fist, while trying to protect her son from hubby’s fury. You can bet her State sweater hides massive bruises and her face paint will soon be running from tears. So far, people still drink Dr. Pepper…….but don’t buy the stock.
Then there’s the GMC commercial, where a man and woman (the husband-wife presumption continues) stand in deep snow. He whistles, and a cuter than cute St. Bernard puppy suddenly appears, frolicking towards them. She cradles the puppy lovingly, then with a sly smile, she whistles even louder, and what should appear heading their way but a GMC truck. At first, it appears that he will sweep her off her feet with love, but to her (presumed) disappointment, the commercial ends with him hugging the truck. Once again, women show up more generous but less appreciated than men. I worry that his ego will not be able to withstand the pathetic contrast between her getting him a $34,000 truck, and he getting her a $500 purebred puppy (and what if she finds out it was a pound puppy?), and he will later lash out at her for some minor infraction of his arbitrary and oppressive rules.
However, the ultimate in misogynistic subtexts is Mayhem–actor (yes) Dean Winters–licking Tina Fey’s face while she’s driving. Mayhem is the ultra-popular mascot of….Allstate Insurance Co. Everyone knows that, as one of the GEICO opines. Mayhem humorously just wrecks things, misdirects people parking their cars to cause dents, tailgates when he’s driving to cause accidents, floods the house by leaving the water running in the bathroom and rides the Roomba self propelled vacuum, while pretending to be a cat. But pretending to be a dog, and madly slurping at a woman’s face as she tries to concentrate on driving, while his hands no doubt probe her where they shouldn’t, is not even subtle. Misogyny is not a subtext here, it’s a full throttle, out of control vehicle.
Sometimes misogyny is disguised by making an assertive woman the star of the commercial, but you really can’t fool this misogyny detective. Apple is advertising their iPhone 11 with a cameo from notably irascible celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey. It takes place in a Costco or Sam’s Club type warehouse, where Ramsey is preparing little appetizers for the customers. A young white woman who is together with a young black man approach Ramsey, the woman adjusting her cellphone camera to take his picture, while she breathlessly exclaims, “Gordon Ramsey!” While Ramsey is forcefully pontificating, no doubt to impress her while entertaining thoughts of seduction, she is seen in side view, her facial expressions changing as he bangs on the table to make a point. Sexist pig that I am, I notice how cute she looks every time she jumps a little with each bang. Her boyfriend (I presume) has eyes only for the appetizers, but as he reaches out his hand to grab one, Ramsey slaps it away, with the abrupt admonition, “use a cocktail stick.” Her formerly cute visage immediately twists into a grimace, not at Ramsey’s rudeness or his assault on her friend’s hand, but at her friend’s lack of etiquette. She angrily stamps her foot, while chiding him quite superfluously, “use a cocktail stick.” Is she angry at being embarrassed by the guy she came with in front of a celebrity? Is she racist? Is she unpleasantly surprised by his lack of manners? The misogyny here is her mercurial shift from good- natured photographer to angry overseer, adopting an expression and peremptory tone worthy of Django Unchained. Misogyny and racism in a single commercial! Apple, I thought you were woke!
Meet actress Monica Ruiz and actor Sean Hunter, the actual human beings who portray the “Peloton couple” in that company’s much maligned commercial. This post is NOT about the commercial. If you haven’t figured out what I am really addressing by the end of the post, I invite you to sign yourself up for a low rung on the stupid ladder.
Ryan Reynolds is a really good looking actor, married to Blake Lively, a truly classy looking actress. More importantly, they are both really smart and funny, so smart that Reynolds recruited Ms. Ruiz of Peloton’s controversial commercial to star in an ad for his Gin Company, Avalon. The clip begins with her looking into the camera in silence for nearly twenty seconds as “Grace in Boston”-Ruiz-sits with her friends at a bar. She then says, “This gin is really smooth.” Her friends then reply that they can get her another one and that the bar that they are in is a safe space. (Safe from what, or probably from whom…..perhaps her “Peloton husband”). Then they toast to new beginnings. Reynold’s ad is a riff on the social media “firestorm” the otherwise straightforward commercial caused on social media last week. For those living in Greenland or Madagascar who have not seen the commercial, it goes like this: A young woman (who is addressed by her virtual Peloton instructor as “Grace in Boston”) with eyes closed, on Christmas morning is led into the living room by her daughter. When she opens her very doleful eyes, there in front of her is a ($2,245) Peloton bike, the gateway drug to a $39/month subscription to interactive exercise videos. “Grace” gradually begins to use the bike, while vlogging the whole process in short Instagram-esque videos, and gradually becomes more accustomed to the Peloton “lifestyle” (everything’s a lifestyle, even where you put your sexual organs). The commercial ends with “Grace” showing a compilation of the videos to her husband, as a sort of thank you (?) for motivating her by buying the bike. ‘A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,’ Grace eventually proclaims in the video. Critics of the ad were incensed that she was thin to begin with, and they couldn’t see the changes (maybe she meant the consistency of her exercise habit). Wouldn’t they would have been more incensed if “Grace” started out wearing a “fat suit” (or heaven forbid, if she were really obese)?
Viewers trashed the ad on Twitter, calling it sexist, misogynistic, humiliating and cringeworthy. Others have knocked the privileged consumers they portray and market to (gee, the pitchforks and torches would really be out if the ad had been for their $4,295 treadmill!). Inc. Magazine weighed in with, “It’s the ad that launched a thousand diatribes and a million page views of horror. Surely no one has remained unaware of the Peloton ad in which a woman who stares stricken at the camera, apparently trapped in her marriage, attempts to show delight that her husband has bought her a Peloton. Something that’ll help her lose perhaps two pounds from her slight frame. Oddly, Peloton has stood by the ad, claiming its intent has been misunderstood. But when millions misunderstand the problem may, in fact, be yours.” Inc. Magazine used to be a reputable business tome, but apparently couldn’t resist the lure of clickbait hyperbole. No Inc., when “millions” see a facial expression of an actress in a commercial and, forgetting that they are watching actors, make up a whole story about what the expression means, and feed the stories with archetypes of oppression, it’snot the commercial nor the actorswho have theproblem—it’s the supposition that your own fantasies and mind reading of motivations are real.
The poor guy in that commercial is now saying that his part could actively damage his career, which is not what you want from a small part in an ad for a stationary bike. Sean Hunter, a Canadian actor and gym teacher, says he’s glad he filmed the commercial and that his friends and students know his true character. I have seen the ad countless times during televised football games, and I would not even recognize him. If he is truly worried about a career hit, it would probably be due to the blood sport of the Internet age—being turned into a meme, which then outlives him. For their part, Peloton is sticking by their ad and saying that they found nothing troubling about the entire endeavor. The Female Quotient CEO and #SeeHer co-founder Shelley Zalis opined that many users were likely taking the message of the commercial the wrong way. “It’s just about being healthy,” she said. “I think that we need to not go overboard with micro sensitivity in just assuming because a man gives a woman an exercise bike, that insinuates it’s to lose weight.” Shelley, it ain’t about micro sensitivity, it’s about having something else to get outraged about, for those whose lives lack meaning otherwise. Of course, old line media, desperate for eyeballs, cannot let an opportunity for hyperbole go to waste.
From the Washington Post. An Internet that rarely agrees on anything was seemingly united on this one thing: The Peloton ad was downright dystopian. It was spousal abuse, viewers cried. It was sexism, a descent into wellness hell, society’s “nightmare before Christmas.” Many ascribed misery to “Grace,” imagining she had been forced into spinning her days away on her husband’s behalf like some kind of millennial Rumpelstiltskin story. Cosmopolitan magazine piled on with 17 Things To Give Your Husband When He Buys You An Unsolicited Exercise Bike, which include boxers too small, a toupee, a gym membership, a one way ticket to Hawaii for one, two concert tickets for an artist you like but he hates, sex toys, a book called How To Be An A-hole Husband and Lose Your Wife, spanx for men and deodorant! The unsubtle subtext is, “how dare you imply that I would enjoy a very expensive, trendy exercise bike (you miserable troglodyte).” If “Grace in Boston” (Ruiz, let’s not forget) was so unhappy, why did she immediately whip out her cellphone to take exercise selfies? I assume that Cosmo knows it’s readers, and that they would much rather have a list of snarky, husband-shaming doodads than any hint of appreciation for him, that stinking misogynist!
CBS News is reporting that the ad has cost the company and its shareholders $1.6 billion, but that contention is just part of the sensationalist reporting. The stock hit a high of $36.84/share on December 2 and on December 5, was $31.31/share, $1.6 billion less in market cap. Since the company’s IPO at $22.40/share just happened at the end of September, and the stock “lockup period” (during which insiders cannot sell IPO shares) expires February 24, 2020, and significant fluctuations of any stock soon after an IPO are normal, it is silly to ascribe drops or gains to an ad. Critics are saying that the ad was sexist, “classist” and promoted unhealthy body image. As for the “$1.6 billion loss”, at the end of the day, Peloton is a gym membership pretending to be a tech company. Peloton faces the same problem that keeps every gym owner up at night. People just don’t stick to a workout schedule. Peloton is built on a business model that breaks even on the bikes with the hopes that big money is made on recurring monthly fees for digitally distributed classes. However, with the average gym losing 50% of members within the first year, even the best technology hasn’t proven it can keep people engaged long term. Peloton’s IPO was a smashing success, but at an IPO valuation of $10 billion, the company will have to literally take over the market for investors to avoid a loss. To justify a valuation of $10 billion, 40% of U.S. households with a gym membership would have to own a Peloton, up from 3% today. Is it any wonder that the ad makes a big deal of “Grace” vloggingher workouts? That’s what they hope customers will do!
Let me disabuse some notions that make folks stupid: 1. Your thoughts about what someone’s facial expression means, your impressions of their motives, and the story you make up about their lives might all be bunk, and unless you establish a dialogue with them, you will never know. Whatever you invent says way more about your life than theirs. 2. If it’s on TV, especially if it’s a commercial, it isn’t really happening, even if it seems to bear a resemblance to real life events.3. If you find yourself getting upset over your fantasy of someone’s motivations or the story you’ve told yourself about their lives, you need to take a serious look at your life. 4. Hold yourself to higher standards in everything than you expect of others, or prepare to be very disappointed.
Your first reaction to my headline was….what? Sensationalist? Exaggeration? Clickbait (sorry, nothing to click on here)? Read on and decide the implications for yourself. In my post yesterday, Creeping Conformity, Batman! I mentioned TikTok among the new social media lexicon. I have gathered information on the TikTok-type phenomenon, from the American Enterprise Institute, LawfareBlog.com and the Washington Post. Did you, like me, simply assume that these new “smartphone” apps were mostly U.S. created, and rather innocuous, even though a silly waste of time? Silly, yes, innocuous, maybe not!
TikTok is a subsidiary of a Chinese parent company ByteDance. How is it that an app for sharing comedic (sometimes juvenile) videos, skits, and (bad) karaoke has attracted the attention of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the guardian of national security regarding acquisitions of US companies? TikTok, which was launched in 2017, is wildly popular with teenagers around the world as a zany escape — it has been downloaded 1.5 billion times globally and 122 million times in the US. The app is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, founded in 2012. In 2018 CFIUS vetoed the bid of China’s Ant Financial to acquire MoneyGram out of fear that the Chinese government would gain access to US citizens’ financial records. Similarly, CFIUS forced Beijing Kunlun Tech to sell Grindr out of fear that data from the gay dating app could be used to blackmail or extort information from US citizens and government officials.
TikTok, which is assembling a high-powered lobbying team in Washington, strongly denies that its “moderation” policy ferrets out negative contributions concerning China. BUT…..China is building massive databases of Americans’ personal information by hacking government agencies and U.S. health-care companies, using a high-tech tactic to achieve an age-old goal of espionage: recruiting spies or gaining more information on an adversary, U.S. officials and analysts say. Groups of hackers working for the Chinese government have compromised the networks of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which holds data on millions of current and former federal employees, as well as the health insurance giant Anthem, among other targets, the officials and researchers said. “They’re definitely going after quite a bit of personnel information,” said Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer of ThreatConnect, a Northern Virginia cybersecurity firm. “We suspect they’re using it to understand more about who to target [for espionage], whether electronically or via human recruitment.”
China on Friday dismissed the allegation of hacking as “irresponsible and unscientific.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing wanted to cooperate with other nations to build a peaceful and secure cyberspace. “We wish the United States would not be full of suspicions, catching wind and shadows, but rather have a larger measure of trust and cooperation,” he told a regular news briefing. Notice, they didn’t deny hacking, rather played on our innate sense of fairness to play the victim of our suspicions. Hey, it works for our politicians, why not for a (possibly) hostile foreign power? OPM disclosed that the latest hack of one of its systems exposed personal data of up to 4 million current and former employees — the largest hack of federal employee data in recent years.
Robert Williams of Yale Law School, who has written extensively on these matters, has best summed up the CFIUS TikTok challenge: “As the CFIUS inquiry into TikTok illustrates, US officials are confronting their own distinct set of tensions between economic openness and data control. In navigating this terrain, CFIUS should be one element of a broader strategy that seeks to ensure national security considerations relating to data protection are as targeted and narrowly construed as possible.” “Targeted and narrowly construed” is indeed the right goal for CFIUS in the TikTok investigation, though it is not clear that US regulators will thread the needle with regard to the competing imperatives of data privacy, data location, and national security.
Globally, ByteDance and TikTok are targeting their growth in East and South Asia, particularly large countries such as India and Indonesia. India is a rapidly developing success story, as TikTok downloads over the past two years have exceeded 400 million users in the country (four times as many as in the US). Unemployed teenagers form a major cohort of users, as they have few outlets for entertainment and tend to avoid English language outlets such as Facebook and Instagram.Since they enjoy little privacy in their lives, they do not worry about security. Read that sentence again. What are the implications for us? ByteDance has pledged to invest $1 billion in India over the next few years “through expansion and the construction of a data center.” As a number of outside observers have recently noted, TikTok’s success in emerging markets such as India and Indonesia will determine its future even if it encounters major obstacles in the US. Of even greater potential competitive significance in the future, ByteDance, in alliance with TikTok, is about to launch a music streaming app, going head-to-head with services like Spotify and Apple Music.
It is getting more difficult to trace the origins of all these apps. Who would have guessed that TikTok, Grindr and who knows how many others are born of foreign ambitions? Since I’m not a stockholder of any social media companies, I don’t have a personal stake in the commercial applications. What worries me is, what kinds of personal information on our kids are foreign governments collecting through their app sign up processes? Is social media conformity really innocuous?
This might be the most memorable quote I’ve seen all year, or longer. Kevin Williamson, in National Review: “There is no marriage as stable and enduring as that of ignorance and certitude.“
He cited a case in point of this woman, living in the prototype WASP enclave of the Main Line (near Philadelphia) who “sniffed that she could hardly endure trips to visit her husband’s family in the South because she was physically nauseated just by being present in a place that had once seen slavery. She said this with practically orgasmic moral self-satisfaction while standing on what had been the grounds of Richard Harrison’s tobacco plantation, the largest slave operation of its kind in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania. She had a keen sense of morality but a somewhat less keen sense of history.” Perfect! Pride, oozing out of her pores; self righteousness is the glue binds ignorance and certitude.
Arguably, the most common pronouncement of certitude that betrays ignorance of history is the endlessly repeated lament, “kids today are worse than ever”. What inevitably follows is a list of examples of our progeny’s lack of respect, gratitude, appreciation fortraditions, blessings, virtues. Such is cited as evidence that society is falling apart. Nope, it’s just the mantra of the short-sighted, leavened with parental disappointment, that forgets how they were as kids. Every generation rebels against the values–or is it the hypocrisy of not upholding the values they preach–of the previous generation. Why? CONFORMITY! Yes, I wrote “rebels” in the previous sentence, but rebellion against parental or elders’ values is itself conformity. Just yesterday, I watched the movie, School of Rock (circa 2003), again. Jack Black plays the “rebellious” ne’er do well, who tries to convince prep school kids that rock and roll is the best way to “stick it to the Man.” These kids, from wealthy families, don’t understand who “the Man” is (too bad for them that “toxic masculinity” hadn’t caught on yet), but they dutifully follow anyway. Conformity masquerading as “personal style” or “power” is beautifully captured by two very “mainstream” media organs (the boldprint comments below are mine).
From the Washington Post: It was the morning of the first day of senior year, and Sky Bloomer had her back-to-school outfit ready to go: red-and-black Air Jordan Retro sneakers, black leggings and a tight, spaghetti-strap crop top with a koi fish print from Urban Outfitters. The tall teenager with long brown hair walked out of her bedroom and swung on her backpack, feeling “powerful,” she recalled. Then, her parents saw her.
We can imagine what came next, can’t we? “I’m not letting you leave the house looking like that,” said her mother, Tara Bloomer, telling her daughter that she looked like an “easy girl” or “prostitute.” Minutes after she left for school in a friend’s car, Sky’s father called her cellphone, telling her, “truly powerful and intelligent women don’t have to show off everything they have.” “Okay, misogynist,” she replied. The pressure of conformity inclines teenagers to look a certain way on Instagram and other social media platforms, subtly equating validation with “likes” and comments. Sky Bloomer says her outfits are about expression, not the likes she gets from her peers, the friends who post flame emojis and comments like “queen” and “so prettyy.”
The WaPo article continues: Sydney Acuff, a 17-year-old senior at Blair High School, started wearing more revealing clothes last school year after a breakup with a boyfriend who was “very controlling and very manipulative,” she said. “I wanted to rebel against him. That was one way I did it.” She stopped wearing bras and started wearing “a lot of semi-see-through tops, a lot of camisoles,” Sydney said. “My midriff is almost always showing to some extent.” When she was coping with the breakup, she noticed that she was posting more selfies on social media. “Am I doing this because I want to, or am I doing this because I know these people are going to make me feel good for a certain amount of time and then I’ll go back to feeling sad?” she reflected. “That’s something I have to be careful with and have to be mindful of.” But as the teenager has grown more confident in her body, her clothes have been a way for her to experiment, to be creative, she said.
As the father of three daughters, I am grateful that they grew out of the teenage years before the new lexicon of conformity included Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, VSCO and even more obscure applications.
From NBCNews.com: Anne Milou has always had an affinity for oversized T-shirts, scrunchies and Puka shell necklaces. But recently Milou, who lives in the Netherlands, learned there’s a name for the beachy, laid-back way she and scores of other teenage girls dress. “I’ve never really labeled myself as a ‘VSCO girl’ until it really became a trend, and I thought, ‘Oh, I guess I’m a ‘VSCO girl’ now!'” Milou, 16, told NBC News via Instagram messenger. “VSCO girls,” named for the aesthetic derived from the photo editing app VSCO — formerly known as VSCO Cam — which lets users share photos and make preset filters to help keep their images looking uniform, is the latest teen iteration of “preppy” style with a casual beach-inspired flair. It’s an aesthetic that has taken over Gen Z-dominated corners of the internet such as short-form video app TikTok and photo-sharing app Instagram.
“It’s probably the most popular trend I’ve seen come off the internet. I see it constantly,” said Caprese Wippich, 18, of California, who calls herself a “retired ‘VSCO girl'” and makes TikTok videos about the aesthetic. Hailee Dent, 16, of Oklahoma, who said she noticed the “VSCO girl” trend pop up about three months ago, added that she doesn’t consider herself to be a “VSCO girl,” but said her personal interests align with parts of the trend. There are several specific hallmarks of a “VSCO girl,” which includes scrunchies, oversized T-shirts, clothing from the store Brandy Melville, Vans, Pura Vida bracelets, Fjällräven Kånken backpacks and Puka shell necklaces. Another integral part of the “VSCO girl” lifestyle is being environmentally conscious, as a key component to the style is the use of products such as metal straws and Hydro Flasks to “save the turtles.” “That’s a really interesting aspect of the ‘VSCO girl’ aesthetic. Here’s this little environmental part and that’s fun. The girls who weren’t interested in protecting the environment before are now all upset about it because it’s part of their aesthetic now,” Wippich said.
“VSCO girls” tend to be middle and high school age and the trend starts to peter out among college age students and older, according to Wippich. This aligns with the VSCO app’s overall user base, 75 percent of which are under age 25, according to Julie Inouye, VSCO’s vice president of communications. “We love seeing teens come together to express who they are and how they see the world” (Does anyone notice how the “come together” and “express who they are” phrases are incompatible? It’s like saying “conformity leads to individuality.”). “Whether you own a scrunchie or not, all are welcome to VSCO and we will continue to provide a safe space where you can share your diverse experiences and points of view,” Inouye said in a statement emailed to NBC News.
Wippich, who works at Brandy Melville, said that she believes part of why the trend is so popular among high school-age girls is because of its accessibility and because there are very few financial and social constraints to the look. “The e-boy and e-girl style is not as implementable because no one wants to walk around like an e-girl and e-boy. It’s fun to do on internet, but I don’t think that’s how people want to go out,” Wippich said. “This is an easy way to have an aesthetic in your life.” The dressed-down, causal aesthetic was popularized, in part, by internet personalities like YouTube star Emma Chamberlain, whose low-effort style helped her rocket to 8 million YouTube subscribers and 7.7 million Instagram followers in less than two years, according to The Atlantic. Followers=conformity.
“My whole Instagram and Twitter (and TikTok) timelines are covered in ‘VSCO girls,'” Milou said. Wippich and Milou have both used TikTok to share their “VSCO girl” style and trendy tips. Milou even posted her own “‘VSCO girl’ check” on TikTok, a trend in which the user shows off all the things that make them a “VSCO girl.” In her video, Milou included all the classic indicators of a “VSCO girl,” such as a mountain of colorful scrunchies, tubes of Burt’s Bees lip balm and a carefully curated, color-coded rack of shirts in black, white, yellow, red and blue.
Wippich said she notices “VSCO girls” being teased heavily on TikTok, which she said she finds upsetting, adding that most videos she sees don’t accurately portray the trend. “Why mock someone for something they’re doing that doesn’t hurt you?” Wippich said. “Most people do it because they want followers and clout.” Followers=conformity=clout? Although she considers herself a former “VSCO girl,” Wippich said she still has a lot of appreciation for the trend and the girls she meets who subscribe to it, who have helped her grow her TikTok account. When she’s at work, she said she’s sometimes recognized by the 15 to 20 “VSCO girls” who visit her store every day and have seen her VSCO-tagged TikTok videos. “Brandy Melville is bigger brand for ‘VSCO girls,’ and I go to the store and I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s a ‘VSCO girl!”” she said. “I don’t think there’s any other aesthetic that’s that identifiable.”
All things considered, apart from the internal stress generated by the pressure to conform to rapidly changing trends, most of the conformity described above is relatively benign. It’s better than “brownshirts”, “goose-stepping” and “Seig Heil.”