Essay

Overdosing on Awesome

By Eric Schiller on November 17th, 2009

Overdose of Yellow

I know what you are thinking, “those pain medications are really getting to his head.” Unfortunately I’m not talking about narcotic pain medication in the title.  I was going over some (un)conscious marketing blogs today, and I started noticing a theme in the rhetoric of the authors. Almost each and every one of them rants and raves about how everything is “awesome.” When rhetorically analyzing a text, it is important to explore what words the text uses, and how those words contribute directly to the text’s persuasiveness.  It didn’t take long for me to build an initial hypothesis about how and why such a flood of “awesome” positivity exists in this subculture: it’s all in the hype.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Positivity itself is ubiquitous in personal development culture, primarily because generally positive moods are very persuasive when impressed upon the ordinary un-critical consumer.  Impressed attitudes of positivity also have the effect of wiping out all criticism of the guru and their process.  If you’ve been around Beyond Growth for any time at all, you’ve probably realized that our blog is built on a foundation of criticism; we believe criticism to be absolutely vital when personally developing, inside and outside of its popular culture.  As a result of this positive culture, we find that it becomes quite easy for a guru to sell products and services when he makes it clear that criticism is not allowed, and only a rose-colored glasses outlook paves the path of success.

While the conscious capitalist culture’s use of positivity is much less underplayed than in pop-personal development, it is deeply ingrained and used heavily.  As far as my research goes thus far, no other word defines the (un)conscious marketer more than the word “awesome.” A few rough searches using Google site search brought this even more into perspective: Mark Silver’s blog brought up 46 mentions, Jonathan Mead’s blog has 67 results for the word, Clay Collins’ ProjectMojave.com had 93, and finally Charlie Gilkey’s blog showed 105.  While many of these posts are likely in the comments, and there could be doubles, this gives us an interesting look at the word choice of the culture.  Not unwilling to critique myself, I ran a search on Beyond Growth and found four hits, three of which were comments, and one in a post. Humorously enough, it was my critique of Mead’s “Freedom Manifesto” containing the word “awesome” and it seems I subconsciously picked up his wording and used it in my criticism.

An Overdose of Hype is More Like It

It would be easily possible for me to write an entire book on the rhetorical choices of the (un)conscious marketing movement (which I may do).  For now I just want to explore closer to the surface, to get a lay of the land of their persuasive techniques.  Then, what do these bloggers use the word “awesome” for?  They use it to describe products, people, blogs, videos, themselves, and the list goes on.  My initial hypothesis is that this boils down to hype.  Why not just present the content or people with less of a skew?  They use the word “awesome” because this culture absolutely depends upon recommendations, leveraging networking, and trading customers. Adding a positive light to these recommendations definitely increases sales across the board. So who then benefits from this deluge of “awesome?” Could it be that the (un)conscious marketers are just using the same old tricks of the cult of positivity, all the while claiming that they are “different,” “conscious,” and more “awesome?”  These marketers are just spreading the hype around … and I’m having an overdose.

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19 Responses to “Overdosing on Awesome”

  1. Thank you for this, Eric. Though your larger message about the “cult of positivity” is important, I am *really* grateful for the attack on the overuse of the word “awesome.” I was just bitching about that on another blog a few weeks ago…
    http://tinyurl.com/yh9guw3

    But in truth I’ve been griping about it for over twenty years. “Awesome” was overused even way back in 1988, and that overuse has only become worse over the years. I wonder if people will ever get the message.

    PS ~ I know this has been discussed here and on Twitter before, but “authentic” is another increasingly meaningless word that has REALLY been getting on my nerves for the past few years.

    • EricSchiller says:

      Ah, I'm glad someone else noticed this too. I began this by thinking about how their rhetoric annoys me, and the "awesome" trope is what stuck out the most.

      Authentic is a word that I have even more objections to than "awesome," simply because of the objective statement it seems to suggest. Mead is big on talking about how how to be "authentic," but his whole notion of it is contradictory because he suggests you both listen to him, and not listen to him on what authenticity actually* is.

      These words can be best described as ideographs, words that are both filled with meaning, and completely empty of it, simultaneously. Ideographs are very powerful rhetorical tools, often used to maintain power structures. Other examples are freedom, liberation, conscious, etc.

      Thanks for the comment Connie.

  2. Evan says:

    I find Mark Silver's stuff usually quite free of hype – might have been the comments. Though I don't read sales pages much (including his).

    I think awesome is probably used by younger rather than older (ie. me) people.

    I think your critique of the cult of positivity is spot on.

  3. karinhiebert says:

    This is almost as cool of a blog as SD!

    enlightening! entertaining- engaging and ~ Awesome ~

    ; P

    i LIKE IT!

  4. You know what's awesome? Being criticized without being directly referenced.

    Equally awesome is that you could've asked me directly instead of obliquely criticizing me, and then we could have had a legitimate dialog about it. But perhaps that wouldn't serve your not-even-trying-to-be-charitable "criticism" as well? Is having one-sided criticisms leveled on your platform really that different from the insularity of the cult of positivity that you criticize?

    I use awesome frequently and sometimes for the point of recommending something, leveraging my network, or trading customers with my peers. And you're absolutely right that it has a rhetorical point – adjectives like 'awesome' are used to indicate emotional qualifications or evaluations of a noun. Is rhetoric not the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing? If I say something's awesome, and my readers understand that I mean it's worth paying attention to or that I recommend it, that's effective. Awesome and remarkable more clearly indicate this with blog readers than words like good, interesting, valuable, etc.

    When I speak with academics, government officials, and military personnel, I use the word awesome differently and far less frequently – in those audiences, it's ineffective. But in those audiences, I can use other words that do the same thing.

    You bring up a very good point, though; as a word gets used too frequently and without rigidity, it becomes meaningless. So we do have to worry that 'awesome' will soon mean "Woo! YAY!" instead of extremely good or excellent.

    Why not just present the content or people with less of a skew?

    I find it interesting that you ask this question of us and not of yourself and your content.

    Instead of directly asking me – you have my email address and access to me – you level one-sided conversations while saying that you're conducting research.

    Your thoughts about marketing and capitalism make it such that anything we might do plays into your assumption that we're either misguided souls or keepers of the status quo. Skewed maybe?

    I'm here of my own accord because I pay attention to what you're saying and I'm searching for understanding. I'm not running scripts on your blog to prove my point. Which of us is making it clear that we're not open for criticism?

    Thank you for helping me evaluate how I use 'awesome'. I look forward to your book on the (un)conscious marketing movement. Lastly, awesome headline! It was an excellence use of rhetoric.

    • Hey Charlie,

      I didn't get the notion that Eric was directly criticizing you, but pointing out one feature of the in the "conscious marketing" rhetoric online, of which your writing is an example.

      It's a feature of the culture, like it or not!

    • EricSchiller says:

      Charlie,

      I do not know what you are talking about. This post was not written with you specifically in mind. While you did have the highest amount of "awesome" on your blog, I expected you to be on the lower end of things (and Mead on the high end) when I ran the searches. If I were going to call you out Charlie, I would do it directly, as I have always done with everyone else.

      While you object to my "one-sided criticisms" I think it is important to note that our blog is much more straightforward in its goals than the (un)conscious marketing culture. We don't say we are are loving a product with the side goal of gaining affiliate commissions. I think it has been clear from the get go that we are arguing for *subjectivity,* and as such we definitely have a skew on this blog and I have never claimed otherwise. My questioning of the skew in (un)conscious marketing stems from the fact that those in the culture claim to be objective, yet clearly have hidden contradictory agendas in their content and other communications. They use subjectivity as a weapon while claiming to be objective. That is dangerous.

      "Your thoughts about marketing and capitalism make it such that anything we might do plays into your assumption that we're either misguided souls or keepers of the status quo. Skewed maybe?" You got it. If you really were "conscious" I believe you would be doing radically different things. This would require you to step into a different paradigm, and I just don't see you doing that. This is similar to Jonathan Mead. He is a person seemingly obsessed with being "authentic," yet in his quest to become authentic he has built up a hype-based and fabricated identity online. By doing so he loses any authenticity he may have had. In order for Mead to ever realize "true authenticity"" he will have to shed his image. I see this paradox at work in "conscious" movements everywhere.

      I'm very open to criticism. Write me a post on your blog about your problems with my ideas. I look forward to it.

  5. Lyne says:

    Hi Eric,
    It is too bad and sad that good words get overused and abused by people, and as a result they are no longer as effective in their use! Personally, I only use or share a word such as "awesome" written in the context where it can truly be appreciated.
    Another word overused and depreciated to the point of phoney is "absolutely"

    Enjoyed the article and I am enjoying your site!!

  6. How many awesome things are enough? If 1000 awesome things won't fulfill the craving, perhaps it's an addiction:
    http://1000awesomethings.com/

  7. [...] injuring one’s inner critics. Inner critical voices seem to be obstacles to creating “awesome” things, to being authentic, or even to just being happy. What happens when we try to get rid [...]

  8. viv66 says:

    I've never liked the word awesome; it's a lazy teenage word.
    My evil ex-boss used to pepper her conversations with it.
    I rest my case.
    My recent post Guesting elsewhere today the grit at the heart of the pearl

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  10. Pips Chaos says:

    my God, i thought you were heading to chip in using numerous decisive insght at the finish there, not abandon it utilizing ‘we go away it to one to decide’.

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