About 15 years ago, Grant McCracken went to a shopping mall to interview teenagers about their identities. He found that the old rigid categories of “preppie,” “jock,” and “nerd,” had given way to a much longer list: There were surfer/skater guys, b-girls, goths, punks, heavy-metal rockers, and many other types of kids wandering around.
In books such as Plenitude, McCracken catalogued the explosion of new lifestyles and identities in North America and the developed world more generally. In his most recent volume, last year’s Chief Culture Office, McCracken argues that an understanding of how consumers play with their identities is key to making products that people want. His next book, Culturematic, will be published next year and examines how people create self-replicating cultural experiments that producers and audiences either dig or reject. One example: MTV’s invention of reality television in 1992, just as the station’s old programming model was beginning to flag. Out of a moment of desperation grew today’s dominant form of serial TV.
Trained in anthropology, the Canadian-born McCracken is a research affiliate at Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT and a brand consultant; his blog covers everything from arcane academic research to Gossip Girl plot threads.
Reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie sat down with McCracken to talk about the throughline that exists in all of his work.
Edited by Jim Epstein; camera by Epstein and Anthony Fisher.
Approximately 8 minutes.