Strands of Genius: The Fifth Wave, TikTok and Suburban Gothic, TV Tropes

Guest curated by Jenny Chang

This year we’re aiming to highlight 50 creative thinkers that have inspired us, by giving them the opportunity to guest curate this newsletter, Strands of Genius. Jenny is a freelance writer, strategist, and creator. We were introduced to her by Mark Pollard.



I’m Jenny, a former journalist and brand strategist and current “cultural intelligence strategist,” which is a fancy way of saying I get paid to dabble around in subcultures, venture down weird internet rabbit holes, and indulge every little bit of existential curiosity in my brain, AKA my “dream job” if I had to name it. I’d heard of Rosie and Faris, of course—they’re practically urban legends in the strategy community—and I’m a longtime reader of the newsletter, but our paths had never actually crossed. Then the lovely Mark Pollard, who had been a vocal and generous supporter of a project I released late last year, referred me as a guest curator, and here I am! When I’m not working, I like writing, exploring the city’s food scene (always accepting soup dumpling and/or fried pickle recommendations), baking, and in non-COVID times, traveling.

Editor’s Note (Team Genius Steals): As Jenny mentioned, we were introduced to her through Mark Pollard. But if we’re honest, we had already been a fan from afar, ever since stumbling on her WAP deck - a cultural analysis of sexual/power dynamics in music. It’s beautifully designed, well-written, and incredibly insightful. It’s also FUN, and you know how much we love fun :) The links below are FIRE, and we hope you enjoy them as much as we did. Thanks, Mark, for the intro, and a huge thanks to Jenny for sharing such wonderful links. Hope that we can hug it out in person one of these days!

:: THE LINKS :: 

  • This essay is an excellent and eloquent analysis of TikTok’s romanticization of the suburbs and the inherent loneliness of both things. It beautifully describes a particular brand of hometown nostalgia that I’ve always felt but was never able to articulate—the liminal spaces that we, at some point in our lives, inevitably occupy that are not quite hallmarks but hallways. I was raised in the idyllic town of San Diego, California, where all of the houses on my street were identical (mandated by the HOA), and so my childhood was imbued with the kind of Stepford-esque order that often left me and my strange adolescent brain packed full of endlessly spiraling questions feeling out of place. People often talk about escaping small towns, but I also think there’s something to escaping a kind of rigid perfection and sameness, or what Alioto refers to as a “cultural void ... a place so full of things [that felt like] nowhere.” (Dirt)


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:: Game :: Decrypto (it’s like Codenames 2.0), but I also love bar trivia and have a soft spot for Super Mario Galaxy, which, as someone who did not grow up with video games, remains the only one I’ve beaten on my own.

:: City :: New York always has my heart—but! Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Siem Reap are also cities that, in my opinion, can never be overrated.

:: Book :: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I’ve yet to find another author’s prose that haunts me the way his does.

:: Newsletter :: Apart from Genius Steals, I love Helena Fitzgerald’s Griefbacon newsletter and Haley Nahman’s Maybe Baby.

:: WAP ::

My most well-known contribution to the strategy discipline and the phrase that will probably be engraved on my tombstone. I made this deck because when Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released “WAP” last year, I was less interested in debates about civility and more interested in the relationship between sexuality and power dynamics, particularly for Black women. To me, “WAP” represented the reclamation of sexual agency and presented a fascinating alternate social hierarchy in which Black women reigned.

I’m always lurking around on the internet, but occasionally I actually publish things, like these PowerPoint essays. After I published my most recent one, my co-author, Dr. Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel, and I were invited to speak at an event called Digital Void’s “The Meme in the Moment” about memes, language, and culture—you can watch a recording of our talk here. I’m most active on Twitter, though expect more memes and cultural commentary than actual strategy-related insights.

Stay curious,

Jenny Chang

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It's called Genius Steals because we believe ideas are new combinations and that nothing can come from nothingBut copying is lazy. We believe the best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions. 

Co-Founders Faris & Rosie are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway since March 2013, working with companies all over the world. Our Director of Operations is nomadic like us, our accounting team is based out of Washington, our company is registered in Tennessee, and our collaborators are all over the world. Being nomadic allows us to go wherever clients need us to be, and to be inspired by the world in between.

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