The Culture of Popularity

Yesterday, Matthew and I were up in Owl Canyon collecting a few roadside rocks to line a new garden for the kids to plant and manage. On the way back, he suggested stopping for a doughnut. It's nice to have a three-year-old to blame for these sorts of impulses. Rather than drive all the way back into town, we scooted over to Wellington to forage. Linda's Oopsie Daisy floral store and bakery looked promising. Matthew got a hot chocolate and a mini-cheesecake topped with strawberries. I got a latte and my own munchie.

We headed for the outdoor patio where I ran into someone I least expected to see in Wellington. "Pop Culcher," I said. I don't know why folks call him Pop. He's of an indeterminate age, sometimes sounds ancient and sometimes sounds very young, but he's never talked of having children and certainly doesn't seem mature enough to handle any responsibility. "What are you doing here?" We sat down at his table.

"Oh I always show up wherever people gather," he said. "Coffee shops with the true ambiance of small town America are jake, far out, awesome, happening places." He hoisted his own cup. "And I must say that a triple latte with cinnamon beats a regular cup of joe. So did you watch the final episode of Seinfeld last Thursday?"

"We watched it Saturday on the VCR," I said.

"What!" He seemed taken aback. "You didn't participate in the Friday morning water cooler talkathon about Jerry and Cosmo?"

"We don't have a water cooler," I said, "and talking about a television sitcom seems to be even more of a waste of time than reliving the Super Bowl. Besides, with the VCR, I can zip through commercials."

"What!" This time he almost fell out of his chair. "You missed the cool car ad with the -- and the -- oh man, I can't believe it. Those companies paid 4 million bucks a minute to display their wares and you ungratefully skipped through them like so much foofaraw."

"Of course," I said. "Ad agencies spend millions trying to figure out how to influence purchasing decisions. They have psychiatrists and statisticians and behavioral analysts all working to separate me from my money. Zipping through the ads helps me avoid improper urges, letting me remain master of my domain. I know the orgy of the Madison Avenue-inspired money shuffle between consumers and marketers is somewhat different from the acts Seinfeld was talking about, but it's in the same ballpark so to speak."

"You should think different. At least they're offering products instead of merely trying to get you to laugh at nothing," he said.

I shrugged. "Most of what they offer is dreams, hype, and peer pressure."

"It's called popularity. Anyway, you can't completely hide from advertising. It's on billboards, taxis, even paper napkins and running shoes. And people spew jingles and sales clichés regularly. Advertising is everywhere I want to be," said Pop Culcher.

"That's true," I agreed, "so that's just one more reason to keep from watching more commercials. Of course, I don't have to worry so much with summer coming and evening picnics and camping trips."

"So you'll avoid commercials until the new fall season," he said rising. "I suppose you deserve a break today. Well I've got to get moving, but I'll be seeing you around. Perhaps at another coffee shop or a tourist attraction or even in the campgrounds at national parks. Wherever people gather, I'll be there," said Pop Culcher as he walked off down Cleveland Avenue.