Blue is the new black. I saw that in an advertisement somewhere. I don’t remember if it was for vodka or men’s shirts. I only remember seeing that black’s position as the hippest color had been displaced by blue.
I mentioned this to a friend who works in women’s fashion.
She turned serious. “No,” she said. “Brown is the new black.”
I recalled that GQ pronounced brown the new black a few years ago. But I didn’t say anything. It was possible, after all, that GQ was wrong. It was even more likely that, given the fashion world’s notorious volatility, a power struggle among the colors had ensued and I, inattentive as I am to such matters, hadn’t noticed. Since the GQ declaration, brown may have been deposed by blue. In a palette coup discerned only by the inner circle of the fashion court, in which my friend served, perhaps brown had just recently mounted a quiet comeback, unseating blue, thus reclaiming its new-black position. Maybe my friend knew what the rest of us would find out when the dust settled a few months from now: Brown is the new black. Again.
Personally, I think black is the old black and the new black. I think black is black. It’s still black, never wasn’t black, and always will be black. But what do I know?
I didn’t even know that the White Stripes, one of the hottest rock bands in America, are the new Carpenters. That’s what it says right here on the cover of my Rolling Stone. Actually, it doesn’t exactly say it. It asks it. “The White Stripes — The New Carpenters?”
Let me answer with a question: Are they nuts?
Readers of a certain age will recall the Carpenters as either a sweet and warm brother-sister twosome or a terrible and insipid brother-sister twosome. Either way, they are nothing remotely like the White Stripes, a blues-based hard-rockin’ brother-sister duo from Detroit.
Speaking of the Motor City, if anything is the new something, Detroit is. But, I don’t know exactly what that new something is. The industrial, working-class Midwest city is suddenly the hippest city in America. With the White Stripes, Kid Rock, and Eminem, the city is the nation’s hippest music scene. Detroit: the new Seattle? Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
But these days, it seems, everything is the new something or other.
Vanity Fair called Chelsea Clinton the new JFK Jr. The online magazine Slate christened Al Gore the new Dan Quayle.
My question is, Whatever happened to next? Next is what new used to be.
Bruce Springsteen, for example, was the next Bob Dylan. Of course, for a while, everybody was the next Bob Dylan. John Prine. Patti Smith. Nick Buoniconti. Just kidding. Nick Buoniconti is a pro football Hall of Fame middle linebacker who played for the Boston Patriots and Miami Dophins. Although his career was in the ’60s and ’70s when, it so happens, Dylan was in his prime, that’s probably just a coincidence. I’m not aware of anyone christening him the next Bob Dylan. I just like his name.
You almost never hear the phrase “next big thing” anymore. That’s because next is to new what stoves are to Viking ranges. Yesterday’s hip.
My theory about what happened to next is that it was undone by the Internet and the advent of big-time marketing. (My theory about everything current, incidentally, is that it can be traced to the Internet and big-time marketing.) In the Era of Next, there was a small group of bespectacled, lonely social outcasts who lived in their own tiny world like monks. They were known as critics. Critics listened and watched and told us what in art and entertainment was good, what was bad, and what was, in the parlance of the time, the aforementioned Next Big Thing.
The difference between next and new is that next was a prediction, a bold prediction, but a prediction all the same. Predictions are inherently insecure, dependent, as they are, on coming true. New, though, doesn’t anticipate. It proclaims. Next is “might be” or even “probably.” New is “is.”
When the Internet came along, people were put in instant touch with one another. They started listening more to each other than to critics. Meanwhile, marketing had to find ways to cut through the chatter, which meant hyping things with a sense of urgency. The pairing of the two created a life that moves too fast and supercharged for calling anything “next.” By the time next is here, it’s over. Next is five minutes ago. New is now. Or put in a contemporary way, new is the new next.
Here’s what happens when you start noticing that everything is a new something else. You start turning it all into a new other thing. You just can’t stop yourself.
You make spaghetti as a side dish one evening and declare, “Pasta is the new potatoes.” You pick up a packaged lunch for your school-age kid at the grocery store and quip, “Lunchables are the new TV dinner.” On the car radio, you hear a song by a girl group and say, “Destiny’s Child is the new Supremes.”
Aerobics becomes the new calisthenics. “My child is an honor-roll student at Whocares Elementary” turns into the new “Baby on board.” Salsa? You guessed it — the new ketchup.
Adam Sandler is the new Don Knotts.
The Jerry Springer Show is the new Kids Say the Darndest Things.
Beer is the new wine. (A little previouscolumn in joke, there.)
Dumb is the new smart. My 12-year-old son suggested this, noting that some of the most successful people didn’t perform well in school. He was hoping, perhaps, that it would excuse his performance should he bring home a poor report card.
Alas, this dad isn’t the new anything. He’s what dads have always been, the old man. Even the Internet and big-time marketing can’t change that.