Over the last week, an impassioned debate has sprung up between a few Penn students and the Philadelphia culture blog, Philebrity. The words have gotten pretty heated — Philebrity accused the students of betraying Philadelphia’s “intellectual and aesthetic heritage.” And their crime? Using Snuggies as the schtick for a pub crawl.
I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the Snuggie — it’s a blanket, but with sleeves! The product is considered by many reporters to be an artifact of pop culture, their sales enhanced by ridicule of its cheesiness by talk show hosts such as Jay Leno, Jon Stewart and Matt Lauer.
And as the blanket’s notoriety has spread, groups nationwide have used it as a hook for things like pub crawls (The girls who organized the event, which takes place on Nov. 8, plan to donate the used Snuggies to a charity for the homeless, Project H.O.M.E.). The Snuggie pub crawl has taken place in over 40 cities since the garment gained mainstream cult status in late 2008.
But here in Philly, Philebrity, an often excessively-cynical blog that discusses music, culture and local events, saw the charitable aspect of the event as a thin justification to go out drinking in silly get-ups. The bloggers jumped on the girls for spreading Philadelphia cultural malaise. And, of course, a dispute between Philebrity, its readers, and the girls who organized the event ensued, and a few days later the event was publicized further—very positively—in an online article on NBC.
Putting aside the ridiculousness of such a debate, it reflects an interesting divide between a skeptical countercultural authority and trend adopters — and why sometimes, quirky trends just catch on. Scott Boilen, founder of the group that markets Snuggies, admits in the New York Times that several versions of the sleeved blanket have predated the Snuggie, and they owe the unique success of this version to a “clever commercial.”
The informercial that catapulted Snuggies to cult status features an obnoxiously voiced female narrator extolling the pitfalls of an ordinary blanket. After all, how can one possibly stay warm and pick up a phone at the same time? And it can just get so cold watching a youth sports team play in just a sleeveless blanket.
The marketing campaign was deliberately corny. As Boiler says, they “were definitely in on the joke. Do we expect a family to wear these to a football game? No.” What it did was play off our love of camp.
Camp is an aesthetic style that appreciates the irony of distaste. Camp is our love of 80’s science fiction B-movies, of the mullet and of the seemingly never-ending mustache trend.
But, like many trends, when campy things become too popular, their irony fades. It is hard for something to remain appealing on the basis of its distaste when the trend has saturated popular culture and begins to seem normal.
I doubt Philebrity is categorically opposed to camp, but rather is unconvinced that a major trend initiated by a corporation should be the new rage. Though like all things that Philebrity loves to hate (such as local non-celebrity Arthur Kade), it is likely that the controversy and news coverage that has erupted will help more than hurt the turnout.
I don’t care for the Snuggie nor the idea of a pub crawl that furthers its popularity and profit margin, but I also don’t care enough to police the integrity of organic culture, since there are far more abhorrent trends out there than a sleeved blanket. There were people walking around Center City’s Racquet Club in tuxedos without pants the other night, for the love of God.
Thankfully, the no-pants trend seemed to be a one-night thing, but there is a formula for camp to thrive — and that’s avoiding too much popularity. But if you want the notoriety for your camp, I recommend you win yourself the ire of self-appointed cultural arbiters.
Heidi Khaled is a third-year Annenberg graduate student from Huntington Beach, Calif. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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