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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Brands on the Run

Douglas Rushkoff's new documentary 'The Persuaders' aired on PBS a few weeks ago. It's available in Realplayer and Windows Media streaming video on Frontline's website and I strongly suggest that everyone watch it. I was very impressed with the broadcast, particularly since I felt that his previous Frontline documentary, The Merchants of Cool, was lackluster and cliche-ridden. The Persuaders is not "more of the same", it's much more mature, well-developed, eloquent, well-researched, innovative and non-judgemental than its predecessor. The Merchants of Cool depicted advertising strategies that were becoming more "subliminal" and invisible, infused with the environment. In The Persuaders, "ironic" advertising is no longer sufficient, marketers are penetrating the emotional membrane of the public psyche; finding the missing pieces in our lives and producing them in their brand-building exercises. That sounds horrifying at first, but what we witness is really quite remarkable and intricate. The primary focus is on individual, direct marketing. The aggregate model of "mass consumers" is becoming obsolete. Marketers want to know what each individual wants-on a deep, psychological level. This diffuses the arguments against capitalism's homogeneity and cultural imperialism: it becomes more and more aparent as we watch that it is advertisers who are being brain-washed by consumers, not vice versa.

All the interviews are useful and on point. Well known media critics like Naomi Klein and Mark Crispin Miller appear and they don't deliver fluff: their words are heavy and loaded. Crispin is typically cynical and gives gloom and doom predictions about the evolution of advertising, saying "they don't want us to find a way out. The want to become the world." Klein, author of No Logo, an account of the 90's anti-globalization movement, emphasizes that Brands are the most expensive products of the modern corporation. Material production is easy; the intellectual property of brands take time and money to produce. This is emphasized when we see how competitive brand development companies are within their own field. Television commercials are often brand enhancements for the brand development companies themselves, which is why they are often extravagant, conceptual and seem to spend little time discussing the actual product. (The brand is the product.)

The documentary also discusses the market research which both the Kerry and Bush administrations conduct during the 2004 elections. I found another dimension to the bland, meaningless omni-persona we find in public debates. Bush and Kerry both targeted their messages area by area- developing a media identity by county. By creating multiple messages and targeting voters with an appealing message, the candidates become nuanced, geographically specific brands.

Persuaders is too quick to come to a conclusion at the end- marketers are being forced to develop individually targeted advertisements that will, more and more, heft agency onto consumers. "Once the market becomes the lense through which we choose to see the world," Rushkoff says, "then there's no 'us' and 'them' anymore. We're all persuaders." The key word is 'choose', which precludes not wanting to deal with the reality through 'brand logic'. This doesn't address the facts that:

1. Brands are co-created by consumers, but brands aren't the problem. The problem is the obfuscation between brand image and product performance. Now, "branding" is hardly a technical term, it's more of a fluffy buzzword, but one in need of more nuanced critical study. Some brand building agencies believe that Brands transcend intellectual property-they are the very 'essence' of the corporation and are reflected in all aspects of the company from the bottom up. In this model, brands aren't images and narratives, but 'performances' conducted by corporations. If this is the reality, then Rushkoff's conclusion holds true sorta; corporations intensely research our emotional needs and then perform in a way that reflects that. However, this is very often not the case. The idea also only in markets in which there is extensive competition-not markets in which the means of production have been all but consolidated.

2. Brands may be "interactive narratives" but they are selective narratives. They tell us what we want to hear; not what we don't want to hear. I was reading Baffler editor Thomas Frank's excellent One Market Under God, an astute account of American capitalism in the 90's. Here, he details Nike's penetration of skater culture, which they viewed as "cynical" and "jaded". They did this by forming an ad campaign that presented various sports stars being accosted by police mid game, ending with the message "what if other athletes were treated the same way skaters were?". The ad may have trumpeted a message that the skaters wanted broadcast in the mainstream, but it ignored any mention of the original problems which had caused this cynicism to develop in the first place, ie. sweatshops, outsourcing, and civil rights abuse in third world nations. Spreading the skater's gospel is a form of "brand performance" in that endorsing a marginalized message is, in some small way, an action and not just an image. But in performing in a way that effects a particular subset, Nike simply redirected their message rather than performing in other, more humanitarian ways. Would this really change in an individualized-marketing model?

At the core of this debate is the transition of Branding from a narratological model to one more akin to ludology. Agency increases as brands develop individually-targeted research, and the interaction between brand and consumer is one of codependent play rather than top-down culture dumping. But how do corporations themselves relate to brands; are they life models or are they projections? Are they mythologies that fuel the corporation's very soul, or illusions, slights of hand, elaborate smokescreens? Crispin Miller worries that brands are becoming our very oxygen and atmosphere, but Persuaders suggests that a kind of semiotic democracy is taking place-an increase of the consumer's ability to control his or her own cultural environment. Miller misses what I believe to be the real point: it's not brands but branding, brand logic, which is pervading everything it sees. Regulating corporations is important, but we should really be studying advertising because brand logic is becoming a language through which politicians develop their messages, and which individuals and subcultures use to establish themselves and interact with one another. What happens when the market is not how we "choose" to see the world, but how we are more and more unconsciously interacting within it? RoshCorp can give you all of these answers and more, for an introductory membership fee of 19.95

RoshCorp© :Where Ideas Come Alive

Who moved my cheese?

Friday, November 12, 2004

A Tapestry

From Jason Louv:


The following is an exercise in art and the manifestation of dreams.
It is not political in nature, although it does comprise in part a
response to the events of November 3 (this email has also been sent to
the US President, wouldn't want to leave anybody out).

Please take a moment, whether now or in the coming days, to
participate in this global art project. The health of this project
also depends on the number of people you forward it to and give a
chance to participate (this is NOT a chain mail, however!) – it has
already been sent to at least four continents and the more truly
global it gets, the better.

First, take a moment a write out YOUR perfect world. What YOU believe
would be the perfect planet, not just for you but for the race as you
see it. You are not constrained to entertain the idea of "REALITY" or
"POSSIBILITY" at any point during this exercise. Nor does this have to
bear any relationship to the world as it currently stands – the ONLY
rules are that you may not use the words "I," "me," "my" or in any
other way refer to your "SELF" in this section, EXCEPT that you must
phrase each of your desired changes to this big blue orb with the
prefix "I WILL." This can be as complex as you want. For instance,
your response could be as short as:

"I WILL a perfect world in which everybody has access to food, water,
shelter, medical care and education."

or as complex as:

"I WILL a world in which each human being takes full responsibility
for their own life, dreams, thoughts and happiness; one in which
renewable energy is a reality; one in which non-militaristic and clean
space travel are a reality; one in which mass population control
through propaganda and media are no longer necessary; one in which the
potential of the human organism is no longer crippled by external
control systems but has been fully tapped and mediated by a new
'shamanic' social class; one in which the irreality and impermanence
of everything are taken for granted; one in which dogma no longer
exists; one in which murder is no longer a routine occurrence of daily
life; and one in which cars are no longer a mass mode of

Or even more so. The specifics, beyond the phrasing, are totally up to
you. These, of course, are just my answers, which I use as an example,
and I will immediately be apparent as the lefty pinko I am, but they
have NO importance whatsoever to the experiment itself, which is to
have YOU compose your own list.

As you compose your list (and make sure that you only write what you
know to be true solutions, at least from where you stand right here
and right now), really take the time to WILL these things to happen,
whatever that means to you. Will them without fear or desire, or
worrying too much about whether they could ever be real, and then
compose a second list.

This is where REALITY as you currently perceive it with your five
senses enters the picture – simply write a list of of how you, and you
alone, can begin doing something, no matter how minor, to begin making
each of your WILLED changes to your world (and be assured that they
have already begun) into a reality. How you can begin enacting this
better future in the PRESENT, in the theater of your own life. (You
can, of course, say "I" now.)

For instance, mine might read:

"I WILL take responsibility for my own dreams, thoughts and happiness;
publicize and discuss developments in renewable energy research and
non-militaristic/clean space travel through the channels I have open
to me; stop watching television; promote the truly 'shamanic' people I
know through the channels open to me; take the time from time to time
to remind myself of irreality and impermanence; stop dogmatically just
believing that 'everybody has the power to change the world' (and
instead try to test it out with this experiment); stop 'fudging' on
eating meat; and refuse to own a car."

Make sure that they are things that you can actually DO, and then over
the next coming days, weeks, months and years, DO them. Well, you
don't have to, really, but I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to
live in your perfect world – but hey, different strokes for different
folks right?

Many of you will have already asked and answered these questions for
yourselves; we congratulate you and request that you share them with
the world. For the rest, we envy you since the first crystallization
of will tends to be the most fun! It is not enough to simply think
about these things, you have to write them out and then commit to
doing them. If you've got a list that's too much to commit to, you can
always just edit it down until it's doable, even if you've only got
one thing.

After composing these two paragraphs, please send them to:

Your email will not be compiled or shared with anybody for ANY purpose

Your response will then be included on a website which combines each
and every response from all over the world into a single growing,
living tapestry of slowly reifying dream – and what's even better, we
might even begin to see how all of our perfect worlds fit together.

(I am also gratefully accepting alms from anybody who would be so kind
as to donate the space and a domain name to host this on, though it
will be done one way or the other.)

If you do not wish for your name and/or email to be included along
with your response, PLEASE SPECIFY this and I will kindly respect your
wishes. (Anybody who wishes to embellish, artistically or otherwise,
their entry, is certainly welcome to do so.)

Please forward this message to everybody that you can, regardless of
age, or political or personal opinion or orientation. The process
becomes more democratic the bigger it gets.

Jason Louv


Before you dismiss this as hippy dippy shit, 1. It will take you less than 10 minutes to try 2. What's wrong with hippy dippy shit?

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

--R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Sensitive Frequency

I've been reading William T. Vollman's 'You Bright and Risen Angels' for what seems like forever.(635 pages!) One of the characteristics of this book is its use of anthropomorphism and caricature to evoke human emotions and frustrations. A surrealist American history, it depicts a decades-long battle between insects and humans over 'electricity'; which in this parallel world is blue and globular, possessing weight and depth and style like any other material commodity. I wondered as I was reading why Vollman chose to tell his globe-spanning war epic, which is subtitled "A Cartoon", with insects as his main characters. The insects in You Bright and Risen Angels don't just possess human traits-they have traits which 'real' insects already share with humans; discipline, order, loyalty, hive mentality, and a belief in a higher, transcendant being. (What else is a Queen Bee but a surrogate mother, father, and God in one? "Both the treasure and the leader") Vollman is depicting not just war but the emotional depth of a globally mediated war, which is possesed overwhelmingly of frustration, confusion, instability and estrangement. This is why he uses insects: because the 'primal' and primordial ritual of their lives, depicted hyperrealistically, in a vivid, microscopic, toxicolored prose is the only chance he has of ever depicting an emotional landscape that is so much more complex and vicious than the literal. Reviewers compare the prose to Lovecraft or Burroughs; and the similarities are there, a certain excess, an emphasis on the grotesque unconscious world underlying everyday events. But Vollman is first and foremost a journalist; a travel writer, a war correspondent, and a 'psychonaut'; a journalist of the 'interior world'. He's lived in Afghanistan, he's survived assaults by guerilla fighters in which his friends are killed. So when he describes the insides of a caterpillar's flesh burning with poisons that dissolve it from the inside out, or the beatle that feasts into it, or the soccer mom who eats her son alive for misbehaving, it's not abstraction or weirdness, it's all very very real.

"They helped themselves to ant eggs and larvae without opposition-o caviar!- in exchange for "cleaning up" the sick and dead workers, who tasted quite good as a rule. Other staphylinids pulled parasitic mites from the bodies of ants and ate them. . They wandered through the nest eating the young. When the ants became agitated by this and gathered about them and prepared to bite these intruding giants, the beetles produced an intoxicating secretion so that the crowd crawled up on their backs and licked it from their bristles and grew dizzy and happy and for a time forgot all ant commands and ambled uselessly through the nest causing great disription. The female ant larvae often drank too much of the secretion and developed into useless spinsters instead of reproductive queens and then the beetles ate them for the good of the community."

Mapping the human psyche in Late post-industrial capitalism is difficult, in that the physical continuum in which we develop our pathologies no longer contains metaphors adequate enough to explain those pathologies. You can show every action a human makes, every dark thing he does when no one is looking, you can depict all of his unconscious thoughts. But ultimate frustration, sadism, cruelty, fear, horror and hopelessness are now emotions tied into media and capital, too dense and fractal to ever be displayed with "real life", with the 'literal'. Insects have pupae and cilia, they have an infinity of tiny hairs, each one with the sensitivity of a tongue. They have only the tiniest existential gap, killing and dying existing in seamless continuity. They will devour eachother in slow, gruesome ways just to survive. Even their sex, the most casual of sex, purely reproductive, 'Puritan' insect sex, consists of stabbing, cutting, digging, clawing, raping and scarring. Every sexual act is murder, and semen floods the tracts through the blood before it dries. The most microscopic, infinitesimal acts have the pathos of global tragedy wrapped around them. The briefest moment charged with sensations so granular and high-definition that if we install human faces onto them, they have the grandeur and tragedy of global atrocities.

Friday, November 05, 2004

How I lerned 2 luv Amerika
by roshen abraham

Everyone seems to be confused in the wake of Wednesday's events, so I thought I'd offer several different perspectives which you can pick and choose from:

The We Can Resist Perspective

Immediately after Ohio was called for Bush a disheartened friend looked up at me and said “do you believe in democracy? If Bush wins a popular vote, maybe that means he should be president.” To which I said: “I believe in democracy in the event of an informed electorate. I don’t believe this was an informed electorate; 52% of the people believe Iraq had something to do with terrorism. That’s not an informed electorate.” What if we didn’t just believe in democracy but a refined democracy? What if we believed the term was deeper than its surface implication? How can we claim to have an electorate consisting of well-developed, rational subjects when we restrict their intellectual development by cutting education funding? How can we claim to have well-defined subjects when we ghettoize their information, toy with it and limit its dispersal like capital? In the Information Democracy, everyone will be smart enough to make the stupid decisions they should be allowed to make. I refuse to restrict my definition of democracy to the intellectually starved, its like feeding your horses gruel and keeping them malnourished before they enter a race. "I am no longer a work-horse, I am a racing horse, I am your favorite horse"-Will Oldham If this is true, the next four years should be spent deregulating information, establishing more free wireless access, and funneling money into education. We will help MTV sponsor the first ever "Think Your Vote" campaign in which reasoned, well-researched arguments replace Puff Daddy and Paris Hilton in T-shirts. The real power centers aren't in the oil companies but in the F.C.C; where information is filtered and distributed down predetermined moral lines, where democratic subjects are starved and lose their electoral value.

The Integral Perspective

If we could look beyond our own egos of course we'd see the political battle in America as structures activating their roles within the Integral Spiral. Using Ken Wilber's dilineation of consciousness waves (in the cultural rift of America to be referred to as "value memes" or vmemes for short), the Bush administration is a classic blue-to-orange. (Those first tier waves briefly arebeige: instinctual; purple: magical-animistic, tribal; red: egocentric, power, feudalistic; blue: mythic-membership, conformist, fundamentalist, ethnocentric, traditional; orange: excellence, achievement, progress, modern; green: postmodern, multicultural, sensitive, pluralistic) The democrats reflect orange values while the anti-war left reflects 'green'. These are all first-tier waves and they are all flawed in that none of them allow for the total existence of one another. The green meme (academia and the left) is the most deceptive because its surface values are pluralistic but it disdains all other values. However, its existence is vital to neuter power-hungry blue, which in turn is neccessary to dissolve the much more dangerous and violent 'red' waves, embodied in many Fundamentalist terror organizations. The Blue-to-orange values of the Bush administration surge and swell in response to 'red', and the vehemence and stupidity of both are neccesary to cancel one another out, after which time the orange-to-green will get its turn to dissolve blue-to-orange values that have gotten out of control. This spiral continues slowly and awkwardly until global consciousness finally reaches second-tier, or 'yellow'values, in which all first-tier waves co-exist simultaneously, still disdaining one another but under a world-government that allows integral awareness so long as no one takes any physical action to impose its values on another.

In other words, in the long run the Bush administration is creating 'neccessary evils' to combat other 'necessary evils' that will in turn be cancelled out and replaced by another illogical yet necessary wave on the spiral, until its our turns to be the hubristic assholes. We in turn will be replaced by a culture that values all hubristic assholes equally, God Bless Pan-America.

The Artistic Perspective

What a wonderful four years this will be for hallucinogenic drugs! Be prepared to market LSD immediately; escapism is on the rise and psycho-psilocybins are the market to be in. Because W:2 will not be an apocalyptic administration, but rather a slow-paced, depressing, awkward and mentally unhinging experience due to The Empire’s inevitable march towards bankruptcy, dreamworlds, internally and externally produced will be the way to go. Roshan, aren’t you all sad and shit? Fuck no because now I’ll be housing more mushrooms than world 3-1 of Mario Brothers., I’ve even got one of those goddamn blinking stars that makes you invisible I mean invincible good fuck stop blinking what do you mean you’re not blinking oh I’m blinking hey that’s weird man!

We, as creative professionals wonder how the silence produced by our ‘resistance’ could possibly be validated. How could this have possibly happened, how could my five foot tall phallus constructed from small letter “W”’s clipped from newspapers not have swayed the vote? What about my giant ceramic chimp with the swastika painted on it, surely that had an effect on the public conscious? But it didn’t. Like all warring states under assault, the artistic community will be forced to restructre and reorganize, becoming less vocal and more subliminal, operating at the invisible bacterial level rather than as defiant, arrogant spectacle. In the next four years artistic structures, due to their context and opposition, will be forced into viral cell-formations not unlike today’s guerilla armies. Rather than house themselves in small artistic communities, the ‘world’ produced by every idiosynchratic piece of art will expand into neighboring psyches and produce bubble realities, entire universes that exist for moments and disappear into the ether. Rather than seeking to reflect upon, comment on or sway reality, art will find that its purpose is to present self-contained viable alternatives to reality. I support the resurgence of collapsible and transportable neo-modernist architecture, of mobile graffiti art, of Guerilla Brechtian theatre and high-defintion kung-fu films that materialize from thin air. The latter may be difficult but I believe that with John Woo’s assistance and holography somehow combined we can make it happen! Also, the aforementioned drugs will help.

Entertainment Perspective

As the public mind dissolves into fruity mush, social surrealism will be the category of drama and entertainment the public accepts. The right-wing and the left-wing both will embrace insane unconscious melodrama with plausible, consistent, life-affirming positions. It will be like “magical realism” only it will be simultaneously more horrifying estranged from real life and far easier to relate to. "The Passion of the Christ" is harbinger of the this trend; featuring a narrative world with the physical properties of a Warner Brothers cartoon (with Jesus in the Wile E. Coyote role) yet inexplicably hailed for its "accuracy" and realism.

The Let's Just Get Drunk and Fuck Perspective

Looking at the discrepancy in the popular vote, it appears that middle america carries far more political weight than the left. But it's not a concentration of power that trumped us in the end, it was simply a larger rural population. Urban centers tend to house smaller families because cost of living is so great. Well, maybe it's about time that changed. Instead of whining about the right, why don't you do the most natural, instinctual and fun thing to increase the members of your party: why don't you all fuck like rabbits? I know you're all worried about overpopulation and its toll on our natural resources, but as co-pilots in the U.S.S. Disaster we have a responsibility different from the rest of the world. It will make an impact several generations from now if the liberal intellegentsia populates the United States and the right, too sober and horrified to fuck as quickly, violently and loudly as we do just fails to procreate at an adequate rate. And even if that doesn't work, let's just fuck anyway because it will probably make us feel better. If we're doomed to go extinct then may we go out in a vast Dionysian meltdown, the last they see of us a wild mess of asses and arms and vaseline and plungers flailing in the air.

The Kill 'em All Perspective

If there’s anything more self-destructive and pathetic than pacifism and civil disobedience in the face of war, I’d like to know what it is. First, we need to repeal the Brady law. Then we need to get ourselves some guns and foment well-planned, armed revolt.* One of the greatest fallacies historians believe is that Ghandi somehow influenced British colonialists with non-violent resistance. In fact, the only reason the British responded the way they did is because Ghandi increased cultural consciousness, which lead to an increased nationalism and armed resistance. Had Indians not taken up arms, the British would still be there today.

Fuck that. Take to the streets. I fully support uncivil disobedience, armed resistance and systematic violence. This administration does not respond to democratic proccess, to facts or to popular opinion. 100,000 Iraqi civilians = 33 September 11ths. And if you don't fight against this, you are going to have to fight eventually-what are you going to do when a mandatory draft is initiated? Make a painting in protest? A funny animated movie circulated to your friends on the Internets? It's silly to ignore what this is all leading to, and it isn't something rational or democratic: it's something dark and violent.

* In the wake of a young lady who recently was visited by the Secret Service, I would like to emphasize that this is all done in the interest of satire and any resemblance to anyone fictional or living is purely coincidental.

The Gay Rights Perspective

HAHAHAHAHAHA! That was just a joke. You have the right to burn in Hell.

The Uber-Orwellian Perspective

My cornflakes have been RFID tagged. John Ashcraft has set up a small windtunnel that transports him into my brain, it’s just like Being John Malkovich. He can see everything I’m typing. In fact, he is typing. Now he’s stroking my crotch slowly and unbuttoning my jeans…dear god please help me.

The Let’s Leave America Perspective

Most of you have read it, but iMomus touched a nerve when he asked us to Exit This Roman Shell

The Humanist Perspective

I love you all so much. I’ve spent time with the “privileged” and the not so privileged who believed in this election more than they believed in apple pie and I’ve heard idiots rant about how only “guilty white people” are activists. I can honestly say, I have never been so proud of so many guilty white people in my life. All the bullshit above is only an awkward allusion to the very tangible everyday realities that keep us confident and mobile: our relationships with one another, where everything surreal and impossible gestates. Despite what may or may not happen the next four years, I pledge to make this world a stranger, smarter, more well-dressed world to live in, and I hope you do too.