Retrofitting the past


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Listen to the millennials. What’s their vibe? Name that tune. It’s a scene-less scene. There has been nothing like it in generations. Hipsters at best, style-less at most. Putting down nothing exciting or original to remember back to as time marches on, and not much to look forward to as the future unfolds.

For the movers and shakers among them, the distant past holds more promise than today and tomorrow.

Look at their unemployment rates. They’re at record levels worldwide — 20, 30, 40, 50 percent! What are their job prospects? Governments call it a recession. For millennials, it’s a depression. A two-car garage, two children and dreams of McMansions are goals of times gone by.

These won’t be the good old days for college grads burdened with record levels of debt (average balance, $29,400) and still living at home because they can’t afford to make it on their own. The “Hope and Change You Can Believe In” that presidential candidate Obama sold them (and the Western World bought) proved to be empty words from an empty shell.

Unlike the way it was for boomers and yuppie generations before them — born into eras of economic growth, national prosperity, New Age karma and reach-for-the-sky potential — for millennials, “The War on Terror Generation,” the American dream has become a living nightmare of 24/7 fear.

Once upon a time, marketers believed that, in the US, trends were born on the West Coast and traveled east. And back in the day, when US pop culture dominated, what Americans did and had … much of the world copied and wanted.

Yet it’s now clear that America’s cultural trends sprout up all across the nation’s landscape. From New Orleans to Kansas City, from Nashville to Seattle, from East Coast to West — sounds, styles, foods, flavors and behaviors blossom wherever the free mind is fertile. And now, with the business of America being “war” and not business, the free-enterprise spirit that once established itself as the envy of the world no longer dominates the trendsetting stage.

Dark times lead us searching

As detailed in “A future of looking back” (page 26), with little to look forward to and no strong cultural identification to define them, millennials are drifting back only a short distance to the recent past to find more joy in the present. But this is the mainstream version of Retrograde that the entertainment industry is selling, the media are promoting and marketers are parroting.

As with each generation, and across all cultures, it is only the members of the leading edge that break boundaries and operate outside a timeline. For millennial movers and shakers, the last 70 years are yesterday’s news. Already embracing a whole food, back-to-the-land, voluntary simplicity, buy local, farm-to-table community-centric culture, their future lies in the distant past.  

“Old School is Cool.” In fashion, food, design and entertainment, in virtually every sector and in all walks of life, trendsetting millennials are yearning for old-world quality … and learning how to get the best of what the past had to offer.

Looking back to find their future

Today, there is nothing in pop culture or modern art that has the world abuzz with excitement and enthusiasm. We’re finding in our research that young people are tuning into sounds and styles that go as far back as the 1920s and ’30s. From The Dustbowl Revival band in the states, to SuperDuper Hats in Italy, tried and true from the past, and going much further back than the boomers ever ventured in their youth, millennials are on a march to fill a socio-cultural void.

Qualitatively and quantitatively, old-school values of integrity, retrofitted for the future — not attitude and hype ­— provide boundless opportunities to replace the bottom-line-focused marketplace and lowest-common-denominator media mindset that now prevail.

While those “days gone by” cannot return, they can be retrofitted for Retrograde 2.0.

A rebirth — a conscious movement based on the recognition that much of what worked in the past, in principle, could be effectively and profitably applied to the 21st century — awaits. This movement would not be motivated by sentimentality or nostalgia, but rather by a return to values that defines the highest cultural, human and spiritual values of each nation, tribe and community. It’s a practical evaluation of what worked then and a rethinking, reevaluation and replacement of the destructive habits, masquerading as “progress,” that are not working now.”Do it better, rather than ‘make it cheaper’,” is the on-trend millennial mantra.

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