The March 10, 2008, issue of The New Yorker included a story, “Raj, Bohemian,” by Hari Kunzru, a young London novelist. The narrator of this tale is deeply angered when he discovers that nearly everybody in his hip crowd has been trying to sell him one or more commercial product as part of their paid “placements.” Fantastic? No. Rob Walker describes the flourishing growth of just such arrangements—people covertly volunteering to impress friends with the virtues of, say, a certain book or a certain pizza, sometimes for money, sometimes just for the pleasure of leading a trend. Walker, who writes the “Consumed” column for The New York Times Magazine, offers a whole array of evidence to suggest that relationships between advertisers and consumers are undergoing a profound redefinition. Even as advertising becomes more pervasive than ever, consumers are discovering new methods to outwit the advertisers, or becoming the advertisers themselves. The bewildering variety of such activity is fueled by technology and youth. Walker peers into contemporary culture and finds “a world of multiple mainstreams and countless counter-, sub-, and countersubcultures” all intent on creating self-identification through consumption. Or something like that. 

 

James Boylan is CJR’s founding editor.