Archive for April, 2012

A darker side of the Responsibility Revolution?

… of “puffy face moments” and permission to judge

Photo: Reuters

Recently the Twitterverse lit up with judgmental questions about Ashley Judd’s “puffy” face. Was it the result of bad choices? “Work” done on her face gone awry? Too much fattening food or not enough exercise? Whatever the cause, it was clearly her fault.

Then she responded with a “get out of my face” essay that set the record straight and questioned our cultural inclination to throw stones when others somehow don’t measure up. Her reaction caught fire with women everywhere who identified with being on the receiving end of “acceptable” commentary on their appearance, discipline, and choices. As Ashley Judd put it: “My puffy face moment is someone else’s big butt moment.”

Has “permission to judge” become the evil twin of the Responsibility Revolution?

If you’re familiar with SCAN, you know that “responsible” is the number one self-descriptor across all adults. And an overwhelming majority of Americans see success in life and in matters such as health as their personal responsibility:

70% say “whatever comes my way, I’m sure I can handle it.”

66% say “my health is in my control; my behavior mainly determines how healthy I am.”

(DYG SCAN 2011)

Our recent SCANlabs with consumers around the country underscored the embrace of taking personal responsibility for outcomes in managing their finances, child-rearing, just about every aspect of life – along with more than a few judgments on those who don’t pull off the same “success”:

This is America.  There will always be haves and have-nots.  Capitalism doesn’t work unless you have that kind of a model.  People are way too entitled here and it causes people to be lazy.”


I think if you work hard at all of these things then the right thing ends up happening. I have a lot of friends who take a nap in the middle of the day.  They just don’t seem to work that hard.  Then I see their kids and their kids get to college and get a 1.2 and they drop out of school.  They saw mom and dad napping in the afternoon.”

As our society has shifted from entitlement toward self-reliance, more and more of our own individual stories and rationales are centered on taking personal responsibility. And now, the debate about the emerging subtext when it comes to others – permission to judge. Or not.

Business Implications: Regardless of the cultural pulse at any moment, status and personal definitions of success are always with us. For marketers, understanding how we see ourselves and want others to see us goes a long way toward explaining consumer rationales and choices. The personal responsibility gestalt and all it brings with it in all its forms is a key diviner of the consumer now.