Shaun White, Glee And The Rise Of The Anti-Cool

Growing up as a teen in the late '80s and early '90s was much simpler on so many levels. I never remember hearing the words economy, terrorism, war or debt. Instead, my thoughts were left to my dreams and curiosity. Since the library was not the place I aspired to be, and the Internet was far from reach, I was left to my imagination about much of what the world had to offer.

The catalyst for my dreams growing up as a teen were the icons I looked up to and aspired to be like. Long before celebrity scandals were everyday news I, like many of my peers, were left with the innocent feeling of putting my heroes on impenetrable pedestals. Bobby Brown (see: mug shot), Charles Barkley (ditto), and yes, Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210 were at the top of my list.

No matter whom I looked up to as a teen, every icon had one thing in common ... cool. They acted cool, dressed cool, talked cool and walked cool.

Fast forward to 2010, and the headlines are much different as are teens' perceptions of their icons. The Internet, camera phones, and Perez Hilton have exposed those who might otherwise be teens' everyday heroes as frauds or creeps, and there is little left to the imagination. The halo of cool has become blurred and faded with yet another flash from a TMZ photographer.



Enter the "age of anti-cool" for the modern teen. With each new celebrity wart exposed, the notion of hero and idol has virtually disappeared only to be awkwardly replaced by the likes of Michael Cera, Shaun White and Glee. Today's rising teen heroes are largely embraced because of their flaws rather than their airbrushed perfection. We are entering an age that celebrates and promotes imperfection.

Teens are infatuated with Shaun White not only because he is an American teen icon* that is a killer snowboarder but because he is in many ways as relatable as the free-spirited, pimply kid next door. Michael Cera (or Jonah Hill for that matter) is not as easy on the eyes as Jason Priestly once was, but who would you rather spend a night playing Xbox with? Glee celebrates the inner shower singer in all of us that just wants to belt out some "Journey" ... and something about that feels so right.

Social media has made the anti-cool acceptable and widespread. No longer does today's teen need to be a cheerleader or sports jock to fit in. There are meet-ups for Star Wars geeks and tweetups for Circus Freaks and everything in between. Pepsi, long seen as an arbiter of teen pop culture, no longer uses the likes of Britney, MJ, Madonna or Shaq in its ads, but instead a promise for everyday people to make a difference.

Is your brand still hiding behind the bright lights and makeup of a paid celebrity shill to tout your wares? Or are you embracing your warts while becoming more authentic and relatable? The jig is up for fooling teen consumers with a paid endorsement by their heroes. Now you must earn their trust by letting it all out and embracing the anti-cool.

*Editor's note: The word "icon" was left out of the original post.

6 comments about "Shaun White, Glee And The Rise Of The Anti-Cool".
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  1. Steven Balduino from University Directories, March 4, 2010 at 2:57 p.m.

    First of all Shaun White is 23, which hardly makes him a teen. In fact by my count he is 4 years removed from being a teenager. More importantly I am struggling to understand how an icon (multi-sport icon I might add) that's pioneering a sport is in anyway "un-cool." I think Target would also disagree with your assessment. Past does not equal the future; if Eminem was the Elvis of the 2000's then Shaun White is the Tony Hawk of the 2010's.

  2. Matt Britton from Mr. Youth LLC, March 4, 2010 at 4:28 p.m.


    it is great to see you are such a huge Shaun White Fan and also apparently an astsute mathematician.

    To clarify I never referred to Shaun White as "uncool", but instead that he defined "anticool'; a state of being that defies traiditional beliefs of whom teens look up to by being "reletable" and "free spirited". You are right the past does not define the future and I think this piece speaks exactly to your point.

    I am also a big fan of Fast Company and are glad you are a big believer in what they write. I'll have to check out the piece on Shaun White you reference.


    Matt Britton
    CEO & Founder, Mr Youth

    One Of Fast Company's Ten Most Innovative Advertising Companies In The World

    You are right he is 23 but his age is not really relevant this piece was about who teens look up to, not the age of those people. (editor: "It should read "Shaun White is an American teen icon"")

  3. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, March 4, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.

    Matt, I added the word "icon" to the post. Much clearer. Thanks.

  4. Steven Balduino from University Directories, March 4, 2010 at 6:11 p.m.

    Apologies Matt,

    In my haste and excitement I miss interpreted your explanation. I think we are on the same page and certainly appreciate your contribution. Thanks for the corrections and clarification.


  5. Bj Birtwell from The Armory Marketing Group, March 4, 2010 at 6:14 p.m.

    Shaun has defied the anti-establishment mindset of cool by not selling out his identity. Too many athletes ink a deal and immediately allow the corporations to begin shaping how the athlete is perceived in mass media...hence the creation of a traditional "sell out." Shaun has maintained control of his identity and because of this, brand partners are leveraging more than his fame. They're leveraging his authenticity. And in a day and age where nothing is left unexposed, being real earns the kind of respect that leads to adoption. The trick for Shaun now is knowing where his oversaturation point is....and I'd say it's fast approaching. Great article on anti-cool. Spot on.

    -BJ Birtwell
    The Armory Marketing Group

  6. Richard Frank from Artists for Humanity, March 4, 2010 at 9:23 p.m.

    good to see that truthful repreesentation, blemishes and all, are starting to resonate with teens.. I think as youth find images and personality more reflective of their lives throughout media, they'll do a better job of making choices based on what really serves their needs rather than what advertisers lead them to- often disingenuously. I happen to find Shaun White an electric athlete, and if I could skateboard/snowboard - some one who would drive me to his apparel aisle at Target.. Oh wait, I think that may happen anyway!!!

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