Thursday, June 29, 2017

I see you infiltrating the national consciousness, Camp Hiawatha.

Every mainstream design trend or aesthetic movement has a signature motif--a little image that is printed on errythang. It's repeated so often on so many products that even with no other context, you instantly recognize it as belonging to a particular design era.

For instance, you see a disembodied hand (a white one, of course) and immediately think "Victorian."

You see a psychedelic flower in groovy colors and immediately think "1960s."

You see a camping arrow and, in the future, will immediately think "2010s."

These arrows seem to be climaxing in popularity right now. I mean I hope they are, because I don't see how they could possibly be printed on any more shit. They're coming out of the woodwork.

They appear to belong to a larger and unusually persistent aesthetic movement that includes ukulele and folk music, burlap, chalkboards, mason jars, tin pails, beards, and plaid.

This default muzak for commercials and YouTube tutorials will make you want to buy an iPhone and follow "fitspo" and "chia bowl" blogs on Tumblr.

Related to the camping arrows and ukulele music are these bright, beachy, watercolor floral prints covered with loopy Sweet Pea font (in black or gold). They may or may not include arrows.

These elements, you've likely noticed, are used to advertise food, clothing, jewelry, home decor, dishes, textiles, paper products, party and office supplies, key chains, bumper stickers, smartphones, apps, computers, tech services, and whatever else can be sold to Millennials.

I've been wondering: Why is this material culture being marketed to Americans aged 18-35? Why these particular elements, why so profuse, and why at this point in history? Where is this coming from?

Marketing teams undoubtedly spent a metric poop-ton of cash on focus groups and determined that words like fresh, rustic, organic, health-conscious, whimsical, breezy, aspirational, and achievement-oriented were the most popular ideals with this demographic. These are popular because younger Americans tend to be more suspicious of corporations, institutions, chemicals, and processed food than older generations. The young 'uns don't want the plastic furniture, vinyl clothes, and radioactive hamburgers of the 1950s, and they don't want the corporate conglomerations of the 1980s and 90s. They want independent, organic, locally-grown, fair trade, non-GMO, farm-to-table ingredients and products, to clean their homes with vinegar and baking soda, and to "do what they love" for work. Like computer programming.

Lumbersexuals, per Gear Junkie

After extracting data from the Millennial focus groups, marketers no doubt asked themselves, "What items can we sell that seem fresh, rustic, organic, health-conscious, whimsical, breezy, aspirational, and achievement-oriented? What are some microtrends in this area that we can mainstream?" And their assistants probably said, "Um, how about burlap? That looks rustic as hell."
Fresh, organic, breezy, aspirational burlap. Cousin of 40-grit sandpaper.

An intern piped in, "How about chalkboards, real or implied?"

The IT guy said, "Hey, I like camping. How about a camping theme?"

"Great idea, Bob," Janet, the VP of marketing, replied.

Farm and school supplies were repackaged for popular appeal and now fill the store shelves, blocking out other options. People keep buying it because it's available and still "on trend." Since it's "selling well," companies keep crowding more shelves and websites with it, and even more people are buying it. As usual, retailers insist they're "just giving people what they want," when really it's a symbiotic feedback loop.

And now here we are surrounded by homey, retro-themed bric-a-brac. Here we are stockpiling arrows: gold arrows, pink arrows, navy arrows, arrows on burlap, arrows on chalkboards, arrows in mason jars, arrows on HGTV, arrows at weddings, arrows on baby diapers, arrows on yoga pants, arrows on websites, arrows on calendars and linens and holiday cards and notebooks. Here we are at Camp Hiawatha.

I don't know if this overall design trend has an actual name the way that "art nouveau" and "art deco" have names, but every time I see these arrows or the retro camping motif, I think of the name "Camp Hiawatha."

BSA: Blood Sucking Arrow.

Did you know that the real person named Hiawatha was a Native American of the Onondaga tribe who helped found the Iroquois Confederacy?

In his honor, we decorate tchotchkes with arrows, feathers, and teepees to encourage ourselves to be brave in the face of...I dunno...pollution and climate change and collective guilt and the leaden weight of existential dread.

But at least we have the presence of mind to use pleasing colors like coral, mint, turquoise, and gold.
I wonder how much longer Camp Hiawatha decorations will continue to clutter the lay craft space, and what will succeed them. What will happen to all the leftovers when the new decor takes over? It's hard to imagine anything else existing. Everywhere I turn for art ideas and supplies, there's Camp Hiawatha. Pinterest, Etsy, Target, Joann's, Michael's, Office Max, everywhere. It's been around for several years now and remains strong as ever.

Hobby Lobby's got it BAD:

Camp Hiawatha, you rascal. Get back in your slot!

I see you hiding under there, Camp Hiawatha.

I see nine different products with arrows on them in this display.

I have a dream that the arrows will point me towards the exit.

God, get me out of here.

Camp Hiawatha is watching you in the bathroom.

All these arrows pointing in different directions are making me dizzy.

My thoughts exactly.

Okay, this isn't funny anymore. I don't even remember why I came to this store. For art pens or something?

And you'll turn into a pillar of salt, too.

Even Dollar Tree is in on the action:

 And Staples, too:


Walmart picked up on the "fresh" and "natural" trend some years ago and changed their logo to suggest ukulele music on a sunny afternoon.

Even my local grocery chain changed the apostrophe in their name to a leaf, so now you can fill your retro Coleman cooler with camping food before heading to Chequamegon National Forest.

I think it's safe to say that Camp Hiawatha is a full-blown decorating conspiracy, much like burnt sienna was in the 1970s and early 80s.

I survived burnt sienna and wood paneling, and I will survive the Camp Hiawatha blitz.

However, if I had to pick between scary Camp Hiawatha arrows and scary Precious Moments kitsch, I'd take the scary arrows. Thousands and thousands of scary arrows.