The collision of global markets and social mood

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Socionomic Implications Of September Vogue 2013

Fire, lightning, hunger games, the color red . . . it was very tempting to stop at the cover of this year's September Vogue. With its blood-red logo and foreboding cover lines -- even the word unguarded seemed ominous -- the shift in tone was immediate. It felt somber and subdued. After all, there was only one exclamation point, and a small one at that.

But as always it's the complete analysis that tells the tale socionomics-wise, and the rabbit hole kept going.

Cover star Jennifer Lawrence was a beautiful twist of fate. Her newest film, due in November, is called The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Throughout the financial press, talk of the Hunger Games economy is catching fire.

All that discussion of bifurcation and mixed social mood from last year's post is fine, but the Hunger Games economy is way better: it's high concept, visceral . . . and terribly descriptive.

Anna Wintour and crew have done it again. With all due respect, Marissa Meyer is not the lightning rod. The lightning rod, once more, is September Vogue itself.

Introducing the Hunger Games Economy and the Black and White Issue 

As if life imitates art, a real-life Hunger Games economy -- a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots -- has polarized social mood to such an extent that it has manifested predominantly as black and white throughout September Vogue 2013.

Talk of the Hunger Games economy seems to have started with Jeff Faux who wrote The Servant Economy. Then Slate jumped on it. Then the Independent (UK). Then USA TODAY, Forbes, Jared Bernstein, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, and currency maven Boris Schlossberg each had a crack at it.

Schlossberg recently told CNBC Asia's Squawk Box, "We really have a 'Hunger Games' economy in the U.S., where the low end is doing very, very poorly, while the top 20 percent is doing very well."

USA TODAY said, "D.C. has power and wealth while the rest of the country suffers." Another news site stated, 'Hunger Games' Is So Influential It Has an Economic Term Named After It.

Actually, it's a socionomic term, and it's called polarization.

Polarization is the result of groups hardening into opposing positions: bulls and bears, democrats and republicans, the rich and the poor, us and them.

As the December 2009 issue of The Socionomist reported, "increasingly negative social mood will deepen polarization along political, ideological, religious, geographic, racial and economic lines."

But why is negative mood and polarization happening as the markets have hit record highs?

That is what this analysis seeks to uncover.

As far back as 1895, French sociologist Gustave Le Bon proposed a “law of the mental unity of crowds,” whereby individuals cease to think independently and instead participate unconsciously in “a sort of collective mind.”

Inside this year's September Vogue, the growing intensity of social mood polarization demonstrates this collective mind by showcasing "herding" throughout the majority of ad pages and, as you'll soon see, the majority of editorial as well.

Think of herding as unconscious collective behavior designed to ensure survival. It emanates from the primitive portions of the brain known as the basal ganglia and the limbic system. During times of stress or uncertainty, mimicking others produces feelings of safety. The adage to "use your head" or to "keep a cool head" is a reminder to operate from reason rather than autopilot. Autopilot, or unconscious, pre-rational behavior, is what gets people into trouble more often than not, especially in financial markets.

Robert Prechter, who pioneered socionomics, which is the science and study of social mood, wrote: "Human beings generally do not consciously plan to herd, however they tend to become unknowing participants in the herd."

Are the editors aware of it? Probably not. Are the designers and creative directors and brand strategists aware of it? Not likely. But taken as a whole, 902 pages of predominantly black and white fashion makes it clear that social mood polarization has matured to such an extent that it's indicating the mental unity of the crowd.

Mood is mode. Mood (which is cause) has been bifurcating for years, often producing equal parts euphoria and gloom as the markets have hit record highs. Now mode (effect) is starting to kick in, producing polarization.

Before we go further, however, let's see if it's affecting the numbers. First order of business: ad count.

Vogue once again took the top spot for September ad pages, which according to Adweek, is widely seen as a yardstick for the health of the industry.

There were a total of 110 front-of-book ad pages up to the first TOC (table of contents) page, which is way up from 67 in 2011 and 78 in 2012. This means 41% more advertisers paid up for front-of-book placement vs. 2012, and 64% more than 2011. Then the fade set in.

September Vogue 2012 closed 658 ad pages. This year added just 1 percentage point for a total of 665 total ad pages.

While Condé Nast (which owns Vogue) reported its strongest September in five years and many of its titles posted double-digit ad page increases, it is interesting to note that its flagship men's title, GQ, also saw only a 1% increase in ad pages.

Perhaps the magazine industry is subtly shifting toward smaller niche titles, but there could be a parallel here to the real estate market. When real estate begins to slow, often the upper end softens first while prices at the lower end continue to expand. When flagship magazines slow, it's akin to the strongest stocks slowing down in a rising market.

Or perhaps the ad page rate-of-change is slowing because historically the advertising business is the first to get cut as the economy slows. So if there is an undercurrent of somberness in the issue, it could be a reaction to the first whiff of contraction.

Either way, September Vogue (and fashion in general) has once again side-stepped an industry-wide decline in ad sales. But a slowdown seems to be lurking below the surface. In the first half of the year, according to Publishers Information Bureau, total advertising pages declined 4.9 percent. So for the time being, fashion seems to be the last bastion of fancy for advertisers and consumers. Maybe because, as editor-in-chief Anna Wintour says, "We want the September Issue to be a place where our readers can dream and escape."

But dream and escape for how long?

The art world shows similar warning signs. While Christie's recently had the biggest auction result in history, smashing records for Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jackson Pollock, and Roy Lichtenstein, the latest performance report from the Mei Moses Family Of Art Indexes was quite sobering:



(Notice how clued-in the art world is to stock prices.)

Last year's socionomic imperative was to LOOK BOTH WAYS . . . up and down. The S&P fell 6% into November 2012, then rallied 26% until August.

September Vogue 2011 flagged the word CONCEAL. Now stealth wear is coming to a store near you.

What is this year's socionomic imperative, and what does herding, polarization, and black and white suggest? Let's find out.


Lawrence is draped in a black and white Calvin Klein glen-plaid wool top. Leopard makes its appearance for the third year in a row, this time moving from the ads and editorial to the cover.

But leopard doesn't seem to be making the same "animal spirits" statement as in past years. It's not worn; it's just along for the ride, part of the set for J.Law's cover shoot, seemingly in the right place, covering the right chair, at the right time. Elsewhere it is seen infrequently, and most often in black and white with the notable exception of Versace, barely covering a nude Kate Moss (who is still hot as ever).

Also for the third year running, Ralph Lauren Romance takes the inside cover gatefold totaling four pages, so perhaps the black and white trend started here.

Interesting also that September Vogue 2011 declared, "Out with tedious black. We're clamoring for scarlet, shamrock, and tangerine." Now it's guest-starring in its own issue.

Black has long been Anna Wintour's color of scorn. It is rumored that, at times, she has even forbidden her staff to wear it. Has Wintour had a change of heart?

According to Prechter, "Trends in such activities such as investing or fashion …are steered not by the rational decisions of individual minds but by the peculiar collective sensibilities of the herd."

After endless shows and sittings throughout New York, London, Paris, and Milan, and seeing nothing but a black and white world, Wintour has either aligned with the collective sensibilities of the herd, or more likely, as a world-class editrix, is smart enough not to turn her back on the current zeitgeist.

Ralph Lauren Collection feels like "boarding the Titanic" for some reason.

Black and white shoes for Fendi.



Saint Laurent's new creative director Hedi Slimane's first collections "have thrilled and scandalized in equal measure," yet the advertising repeats the black and white theme along with everyone else.

Michael Kors, a current darling of the stock market.

David Yurman.

Alexander McQueen. As if ready for a street fight, the model clenches brass knuckles. J.Law may be unguarded, but not this one.

Chanel fragrance. "Through black . . . light revealed."


Hugo Boss.

Calvin Klein juxtaposing one of the many Vogue promos throughout the issue (which also features black and white).


Not one, but three owls in this ad for Mulberry. In the Native American spirit tradition, "Owl comes to us when we need to open our eyes, and study the situation at hand." A fitting metaphor for the entire issue as well as socionomics.

Escada alongside Longchamp.

Nine West.

Valentino opposing a promo for Vogue archives and one of the most iconic black and white photographs ever, by George Hoyningen-Huene.

True Religion.

H&M. Selfies to show they're part of the crowd.

Who killed Bambi? This Givenchy floral ensemble is probably brightly colored, but is shown in black and white. Model on the left page wears a "fractured" cartoon Bambi print with a bungee cord belt.


Rag & Bone.

Salvatore Ferragamo.

7 For All Mankind.

Ann Taylor.


Porsche Design.

Levi's channeling Lebanon Levi from the Amish Mafia reality TV series. "The future is leaving. Go forth." Is the future slipping?

White House Black Market.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice wearing black and white opposite Swarovski.

More editorial featuring black and white opposite Giuseppe Zanotti.

Giuseppe Zanotti opposite promo ad for GQ . . . featuring more black and white.

Nic + Zoe.


Not punk, but punk de luxe, as in rock-chick style, as in yet more black and white.

A splash of red, but look closely: the sand in the hourglasses is black and white. This juxtaposition of the superfast, seven minute workout craze against the Chill Out story on page 676 -- "Instead of promising energy - or wings - the latest It drinks celebrate life in the slow lane" -- again demonstrates opposing forces of mixed social mood: a desire for ever expanding speed indicative of positive mood vs. the slowdown and conservation of negative mood trends. Watch Starbucks' stock price to see where it leads. Feels like Peak Buzz is starting.

Moroccan Oil.


Steven Klein returns to photograph yet another futuristic vision . . .

. . . just like last year's.

Black and white here too (along with ambitious PR placement for Google Glass).

Katniss (Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence) looking a bit world-weary, draped in black and white.

Regarding this spread of Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, CNBC's Simon Hobbs remarked, "I don't think I've ever seen a CEO upside down before in a magazine."

The Sky's The Limit -- in China -- just pages after another feature article entitled, "Perfect Storm." Skyscraper architect Ole Scheeren in black and white.

Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in what may be the first ever black and white Romeo and Juliet.

The Anxiety Of Influence. Chef and restaurateur David Chang. "I'm always criticizing and only see mistakes . . . I constantly think I'm a fraud, that this success is not warranted or justified."

Fashion editorial . . .

. . . in black and white.

Lily Collins in black and white.

Another prancing horse . . .

. . . same as last year.

More editorial alongside advertising featuring black and white products.

And yet another Vogue promo, showing black and white as far back as 2005. So maybe this trend has been building for a while.

There is far more black and white throughout the issue, but for ease of display only spreads are shown. To be fair, there is color too. But the "collective mind" is clearly elsewhere.

Beyond the visual theme, the issue's content and backstory was also notable. It felt like a Hunger Games issue even from the standpoint of who was chosen to be featured.

Philanthropic powerhouse Emma Bloomberg is multi-billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg's daughter.

Jet-setting socialite Elizabeth von Thurn und Taxis is the daughter of one of the most notorious high-society couples in Europe, Johannes and Gloria von Thurn und Taxis. Her mother Gloria was so wild they called her Gloria TNT. Her father died of heart trouble and was $500 million in debt, yet the family is still worth billions.

Ruzwana Bashir's "sleek new travel web site showcases her passion for globe-trotting" courtesy of her prior career at the Blackstone Group and Goldman Sachs, and her billionaire investors Eric Schmidt (Google), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), and David Bonderman (TPG).

Writer Thomas Beller is the son of documentary filmmaker Hava Kohav Beller.

The wedding of the year goes to Caroline Sieber, now Baroness Sieber, who is a FoA (friend of Anna).

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch (Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch) is the son of actor Timothy Carlton and actress Wanda Ventham. His grandfather was a prominent figure of London high society, and his great-grandfather was the Consul General of Queen Victoria in Turkey.

Actress Lily Collins is Phil Collins' daughter.

These all sound like marvelous people, and there are a certain amount of them in every magazine (partly so readers, as Wintour said, can "dream and escape"). But all of them together in a single issue feels like a thinly-veiled statement. One that only adds to the Hunger Games dichotomy.

Aren't there regular civilians who have talent and who have done things on their own that we can aspire to? Or is this yet another dystopian hint, another indication of a burgeoning real-life Panem? Is there a new club, a new elite that's just for the rich, the famous, and their progeny? Will this encourage young people to work hard and believe they can achieve anything, or will it encourage them to just give up?

Now we are left to figure out what this all says . . . what are the socionomic implications of 902 pages of Hunger Games, herding, polarization, and black and white?

HUNGER GAMES on the cover, represented by Jennifer Lawrence, could be a Paul Montgomery-style Magazine Cover Indicator that suggests the division between the haves and have-nots has reached its zenith and could begin to narrow. Montgomery, as far back as the early 1980s, noted that trends tend to make the covers of leading news magazines just as the trends are peaking.

GIRL ON FIRE could therefore suggest a need for cooling off. Even the director of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire noted that Lawrence may be working too hard. "Just for her sanity, I personally wish she would slow down a bit," he said. The markets have also been on fire this year. Maybe they should slow down a bit, too.

UNGUARDED could therefore suggest to be on guard for the unexpected.

LIGHTNING ROD could hint that a storm is coming. Ironically "Perfect Storm" was the title of page 818.

SEVEN MINUTES TO A BETTER BODY is indicative of the "need for speed" during good times. There are no shortcuts to taking care of oneself, especially during periods of societal stress. Look out for a literal slowdown.

VOGUE LOGO (BLOOD-RED) could signal ... Attention ... Danger ahead ... Stop ... Warning ... "In the red."

HERDING could be the result of stress or uncertainty brought on by 13 years of falling real incomes.

POLARIZATION could thus be the result of a rising trend in negative mood brought about by a bear market, not on Wall Street, but on Main Street. According to Prechter, "The main social influence of a bear market is to cause society to polarize in countless ways."

BACK AND WHITE could therefore be the visual manifestation of social mood polarization, demonstrating a positive example of the "collective sensibilities of the herd." In this case, people may be unconsciously attempting to achieve BALANCE.

What if black and white is merely a means of striving for exactly that? An equilibrium?

Charles Mackay wrote Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds in 1841. If there is indeed a madness of crowds, could there also be a wisdom of crowds as well? A yin to the yang perhaps?

Even the ubiquitous, non-committal "...yeah no..." in popular conversation seems to be a form of linguistic balance.

Perhaps black and white is thus a form of fashionable nostalgia for a simpler, less stressful, less uncertain, time. An unconscious longing for harmony. After all, there is something simple and classic about wearing black and white.

In Japanese candlestick charting, a market in balance (or indecision) creates a doji.

It too represents, for a brief time, a relative harmony -- if only between the opposing forces of bulls and bears. Sometimes it signals a halfway point in a trend, other times a point where the trend may be starting to slow.

Therefore, with regard to the markets, specifically the S&P which is the subject of this blog from day to day, price has higher targets and lower targets, each with nearly equal conviction, almost as if it too is in balance for the time being.

But balance could mean something entirely less benign. Perhaps the market feels in balance because it's only gone up 13.98% in 13 years, or just 1.075% per year.

This chart of the S&P priced using the Producer Price Index of All Commodities shows an economy that is able to afford less and less. It is flashing the same warning now as in 2007, and is another example of a bear market on Main Street . . . a real-life Hunger Games economy.

While the previous charts showed prices are indeed above the peaks of 2007 and 2000, reaching all-time highs while being juiced on stimulus, the above SP500/PPI chart explains why negative social mood seems to be on the rise. As the markets zoom higher, people are falling further behind.

Today, companies borrow money at record low interest rates to buy back stock at record highs. The result is higher earnings per share because it reduces the number of shares outstanding. Is this productive? . . . or merely creative.

Ordinarily, rising negative mood, polarization, herding, a widening division between socio-economic groups . . . all of it would be bullish from a contrarian perspective. But not necessarily so with the market at record highs coincident with record levels of margin debt.

This analysis suggests that the current attempt to achieve balance may therefore be temporary.

Slow down, cool off, be on guard for the unexpected.

These are the socionomic implications of September Vogue 2013.
Special thanks to Robert Prechter for the pioneering science of socionomics and for the inspiration. Without his work, very little of this would be possible; to the Socionomics Institute for holding the torch high; to Benson Hall of the Socionomics Institute for his kind assistance; to @CrowdBehaviour for Prechter's quote from Conquer The Crash; to Edward Rooster for proofing; and to Paul Montgomery of Universal Economics for the inspiration of the Magazine Cover Indicator.

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