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Jack Smith

Predictions are so easy to make, you can even change your mind if you have a good enough reason

June 16, 1987|Jack Smith

I have been looking about for some way of supporting myself after retirement, and I think I will become a prognosticator of trends.

There is plenty of money in it, according to a story in Newsweek about Faith Popcorn, a cheeky young New Yorker who charges corporations up to $1 million for her "packaged" predictions of consumer trends.

Let's say the men's clothing industry wants to know whether men will be buying wool plaids, gabardine or silk, so they'll know which way to go. Popcorn tells them and collects her fee.

She has been in much demand ever since she predicted that Coca-Cola's new Coke would fizzle. If only Coke had consulted her .

Popcorn is prospering even though, as Newsweek points out, "many of her prognostications seem to provide a blinding glimpse of the obvious."

For example, she has predicted an upswing in the popularity of home media rooms, salt-free products, flashy cars and older TV stars, which is hardly astonishing.

Popcorn also predicted that AIDS will become a major epidemic, motherhood will become an honored role for women, grains will be emphasized in cooking, and water will become a scarce commodity.

She gets a million dollars for that?

Popcorn also predicted that consumers will be willing to pay more for premium brands, buy more exotic products, choose products that express a personal sense of style and buy more luxurious items, all motivated by a sense of "I deserve it."

That sounds like a perfect summation of the yuppie ethos.

I don't mean to demean Popcorn. I admire her chutzpah. I especially like the story she tells about how she got her name from an Italian immigrant grandfather whose name was Corne, and who told the authorities at Ellis Island that he was "Papa Corne." Having been born Plotkin, she doesn't even pretend that the story is true.

My point is that if it's that easy to hoodwink big corporations with obvious predictions, why shouldn't I be making millions?

I don't pretend to be psychic, but neither does Popcorn. She hired a psychic but had to let her go because her predictions weren't any good. They almost never are.

As I have said before, I don't think anyone can predict the future--even the so-called "near future." And no one can for certain predict what the American people are going to go for next. For all I know, yo-yos are coming back.

Nevertheless, I think I can predict a few trends that Popcorn has either overlooked or predicted the other way on. Salt is coming back. Exercise is going out. People are getting tired of giving up their sloth and their gourmandizing just to make themselves live longer.

I predict that people are going to quit buying premium goods just to have a label on their chest or on their hip. I myself have had it with alligators and "Levi's" and those mauve and green Gucci stripes. People are going to quit paying $400 for watches when $15 watches tell time just as well and also give you the date and day of the week, serve as a stopwatch, and do arithmetic calculations. So they aren't gold.

Strangely, Popcorn predicts not only the trend toward more exotic products, but at the same time a trend toward easier meals, such as meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and a nostalgic vogue for products of former times. That trend is already here. I went to a party the other night where everybody danced the jitterbug--young and old.

Popcorn also predicts a resurgence in the popularity of hard liquor. I counterpredict. She is probably just buttering up to the Seagram people. The old days of the three-martini lunch and the extended cocktail party, with everyone getting sloshed on gin, vodka, Scotch and bourbon, are gone forever. People are into wine, beer, mineral water and sobriety.

Meanwhile, I'd like to remind my readers that my prediction of a big earthquake on July 10 still stands. You may remember that I changed the date from March 10 (and a good thing too, because March 10 passed uneventfully).

Harriet Ackert of Santa Barbara chides me for this inconstancy. "Based on your prediction that the 'big one' would come on March 10," she writes, "we left town. Being that it was my husband's 60th birthday, I had planned a big surprise bash, but an earthquake of gigantic proportions was more of a bash than I had in mind, so we went east . . . all the way to NYC.

"Now we're back and what do I find? You've held the earthquake over until July 10? Come on, Jack. New York in July is terrible. I almost prefer the earthquake."

I imagine the Ackerts are the only Angelenos who thought of moving out because of my prediction. It isn't that people don't believe me; it's just that Angelenos are so happy here that they don't care if there's a big earthquake. They believe that what will be will be. Que sera sera . Anyway, living in Los Angeles through an earthquake is better than living in New York.

I remind my readers that I changed the date from March 10 to July 10 to accommodate a nonagenarian who survived the San Francisco earthquake and said she couldn't stand being dispossessed again in cold weather. She asked if I couldn't move the date to summer.

My prediction may not turn out to be true, but it can never be said that it was not compassionate.

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