The Polarity Paradox

 In Insight

With an abundance of choice and drought in resource, fleeting extremes replace the middle ground in consumer lifestyles.

Why diet all the time when you could simply fast for two out of seven days a week? This is the principle behind the increasingly popular 5:2 diet, it’s also a great example of a new polarised consumer attitude: The Polarity Paradox, in which consumers are living, fleetingly, in the extremes rather than sticking to a middle ground.

Redemption in Notting Hill, London, is a bar with twist – there’s no alcohol and instead of crisps and pork scratchings, how about a Quinoa Maki Roll? (pictured above) This highlights an abstemious attitude toward luxury and indulgence, their strap line ‘spoil yourself without spoiling yourself’ is a great reflection of this. On the other hand and opposite side of the atlantic, Stanley’s Pharmacy, New York, has a trademarked Drink and Drugs menu with packages that help people overcome their hangovers. The Happy New Year Recovery Kit, for instance contains Detox Rx, Hangover Rx and a personalised list of Stanley’s Health Resolutions. This same paradigm is being operated, in a slightly more glutenous fashion, in London too, The Hangover Club is a pop up restaurant in Hackney Wick that carters to customers’ aching heads and delicate stomaches. These examples clearly respond to an observed binge behaviour, the quirky pharmacy and trendy restaurant are monopolising upon this to create excellent brand initiative.

“This way of living is taking hold because we feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice and sheer content that is out there”

We’re all aware that the days of waiting a whole week for the next episode of your favourite TV show are very definitely a thing of the past. However, the scale of the Netflix effect may well be larger than anticipated. 79% of people now agree that binge-watching makes shows better, 76% citing it as a ‘welcome refuge from a busy world’, while over half (61%) claim to binge-watch regularly (research conducted by Netflix). This is a huge shift considering their independent streaming service has only been on the market since 2011. The past four years have redefined the way we consume television, but more importantly they’ve shown us that facilitating our fleeting obsessions pays.

Escape is a huge part of The Polarity Paradox. Choosing a distinct and defined lifestyle appears to be a more simplistic option to one of moderation, defining oneself within the parameters of a particular way of life makes decisions easier while giving a sense of identity in a world full of personalities. Pop culture reflects this with character-driven fantasy growing in popularity. The Hunger Games, Twilight and of course Game of Thrones – the most watched HBO series ever, with the highest level of pirate downloads and a gross average of 18.4m viewers per episode, show the popularity of modern fantasy, a genre once confined to lonely teenager’s bedrooms, now an escape from reality for a maintream audience.

“This has changed the way people think about the world and opened them up to fantastical storytelling because at the moment, we cannot tell what is real and what is not.”
– Mark Chadbourn

Fantastical narratives and otherworldly escape resonate through multiple sectors and disciplines, Dolce and Gabbana express their take on the theme in their AW 14/15 campaign (pictured above). The parallels between these images and the set and costume design of Game of Thrones aren’t particularly difficult to see. The curious question is: why would we fetishise a dystopian world? LS:N call it Schadenfreude – the german word for finding pleasure in other people’s pain, this has evolved into a style that finds beauty in suffering, this is also reflected in the Japanese beauty industry. Byojaku is the name given to exactly that, approximately translating to ‘sickly face’, popularised by Ranzuki, a Japanese girl’s magazine. Byojaku is a growing trend in using red blusher under the eyes to emulate a sleepless night combined with pale skin tones and worried brows.

Hyperculture  also leaks over into the idea of escape and fantasy, as demonstrated by Lucozade’s Irish TVCs (pictured above). They elude to the magic of Lucozade’s energy by claiming it could give you the ability to play ping pong while painting a portrait of a pug, among other things.

Other brands take a more literal approach to the utilisation of fantasy’s recent popularity. Examples including Discover Ireland’s Westeros Map, Air New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings inspired safety video and most recently, Pepsi’s Game of Straws poster (pictured above).

Moment Factory utilised fantasy when they were commissioned to promote Le Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook, a park, garden and forest in Canada, creating a luminous forest which visitors could explore at night (pictured above).

Occult references create an air of mystery and history, crafting a brand story that is cloaked in the unknown, adding intrigue and a desire to be part of the cult: Hand of Glory (pictured above) is a fantasy themed pub in the London borough of Hackney which turns to Wiccan arts and other pagan folklore for inspiration in its interiors. Celestine Eleven, opened in summer 2013, is a luxury boutique where designer wares sit comfortably beside shamanistic-style jewellery, and there is an apothecary selling balms, oils, edible powders and beauty products and a skincare clinic offering a range of treatments.

The information floodgates have come bursting open, in a mad panic we’re ducking for shelter, wherever the most simple answers can be found in an ever complex theatre of choice. Sobriety and debauchery, indulgence and frugality through to Netflix binging and exercise regimes all reflect our bipolar attitude to modern life. Escapism is key in The Polarity Paradox, a principle most likely grown from the art world. Joshua Yeldham (Owl of Tranquility 3 pictured above & Sway – Mud Island in cover image) is one artist dealing in fantasy and escape. Grounded in reality, Yeldham’s images use realistic landscapes and animal portraits with overlaid geometric patterning.

The Divine, a graphic novel (pictured above) by collaborating Israeli artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka with Boaz Lavie is a story of wisdom, man and myth. Lavie describes his monsters as a ‘reflection of the myriad of fears everyone has’, exemplifying a familiar escape from reality and a strikingly similar motivation than that found by Netflix’s audience research (mentioned above).

Esao Andrews also deals in Modern Mythology (WGSN’s term) or Neo-Tolkienism (LS:N’s term), Welcome Home (pictured above) exemplifies his honed expertise in contrasting the utopian and dystopian, real and surreal. It’s familiarity and creepiness warn us of foreboding circumstance, while it’s composition and style invite us to find beauty in the treacherous mystique.

Conclusion: Be bold, be simple. Provide an escape from information heavy complexity and most importantly, embrace the extreme.

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