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Posts Tagged ‘America’

Perils of Purchase

May 22, 2014 Leave a comment

A magical thing happens when we own something. Having made the purchase using our own money we’ve personalized the experience. This is why the computer from the employer is “junk” and why the dinner from a different cook just doesn’t taste the same. When we do it ourselves we place our skin in the game: we personalize the experience or item by connecting to who we are. Our purchases are extensions of who we are: they demonstrate a decision we have made or a preference that reflects who we are. Marketers know we do this and utilize brands as extensions of personality. Are you a Pepsi or a Coke person? Is it Apple or PC, Android or iOS?

Falling victim to the game of branding creates a paradox of experience. Though trying to express our individuality in our purchases we end up subscribing to massively popular brands. We work to select the item that best reflects our personality or that most closely matches our perspectives on life. A certain type of character is connected to brands. Technology companies are particularly skilled at creating cultural connections for its users. Are you an “Apple person”, the ad might seem to suggest. Ultimately our attempts to be unique leave us blandly like the rest. The only way to truly be unique is to build it all ourselves. Program your own operating system and manufacture the hardware in the basement. Work to escape the brands and perhaps you can be unique. Of course this is impossible. Brands are popular because they’re easy to engage with and embrace.

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Of “Nostalgic Spasms”

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In Taming Lust, a brief study of the prosecution of bestiality in early America, Doron S. Ben-Atar uses the phrase “nostalgic spasm” to refer to a sudden shift in social norms that looks back in light of changes. Such “spasms” come in times of social change, he suggests, and demonstrates with his book how in moments of social change an older generation can grasp its power in a last-ditch attempt to stop oncoming change. It is a process we see repeated throughout history: moments of social shift occurring but only after actions of incredible bigotry and cruelty. With each change in social perspective an old view is tossed away.

Critical to these shifts are the individuals involved in making new ideas reality. Too often we look only at the actors involved with the winning side. History is, they say, written by the victors and such limited consideration is evidence of its truth. Who creates the change? Both the actors whose new ideas become enacted and the losers whose old, out-dated ideas are discarded.

In changing our social norms we look away from old ideas. In transitioning to new ideas we discard old views and shift power from those who held these views to those with new ideas. Abstraction may lead us to only view these changes from the perspective of the idea: the women’s right to vote became enacted or civil rights were extended to African-Americans. Changes, yes, but abstract ideas that only become reality when people work (and often die) to make them reality. Human beings move ideas from abstract ideas to actual policy.

Often people claim an “evolution” of thought with new ideas. The right for same-sex couples to marry is a contemporary issue where people often cite an “evolution of perspective” in explaining their delay in drawing conclusions. President Obama is one individual who has cited such evolutions. Herein is the older generation gradually coming to terms with new ideas. For some this evolution is difficult, but for others its simply too much. For those whose perspectives cannot accommodate a change in norms the “nostalgic spasm” might seem critical. Rapid action to block a social change often occur in areas where values are deeply embedded in the community. Severe punishments for crimes typically treated less severely or the creation of new, more strict rules and punishments reveal the spasm in action. Moral panic might explain their actions, but in their works we see both reaction and change. Though their fight to keep things the same hurts many, time cannot control the change. Unfortunately our greatest social changes come with painful baggage. Before we have great change we have the panic of the powerful whose last grasp for power provides them with the ability to instill a brief, painful period of suffering. Such actions are dual symbols: the older power fading and the dawning of the new ideas to come.

 

 

Narrative Nets

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given unknown circumstances there is often a need to create details. Observe an individual standing by the side of the road with a sign requesting help. What are the details of this person’s story? Why are we not in this sad position, asking the anonymous public for assistance. One might wonder why its this person and not himself in this position? What actions or factors of my existence have delivered me to a place where such humiliations are avoidable?

To fill in missing details strings both from curiosity and panic. Charged with the countless questions born from these observations, one must wonder both why it exists and what protects himself from this existence. We are fearful of such calamities and seek out reasons to justify our sense of security. How close are we to such a life? Are we so secure that begging for money by the side of the road is above us? Who am I to feel its tragic? Could I handle such a deed if my children were in need?

One calming source of answers is delusion. Create the details for the person: make a back story and justify the differences. Did the person commit a crime? Is it a scam that they are playing? Creating these lies is less about the individual observed and more about us as the observer. A certain sense of safety comes from thinking their plight comes from action. If they’ve done something wrong we can feel that by acting correctly and protecting ourselves we’ll never live their life. Of course these are just lies and we cannot know what protects us from the tragedy. From what source do our privileges stem? Mere resources that can disappear by whims. Nothing is for certain and the resources from which we build a life are profoundly vulnerable. Are we merely our paycheck? Does our life come less from who we are and more from what our income does allow? Are our dreams framed in income brackets? For many the difference between luxury and destitution are but weeks without a paycheck.

Crust Cuts

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In contemporary media, it is possible for a same-day hired employee to commit acts of such depravity that decades of reputation can be lost. Video of an employee urinating in a sink at a West Virgina Pizza Hut recently emerged. Once broadcast on local media the story “had legs” and made its way to popular “click-bait” sites where rapidly it spread. More viral than the bacteria splashed inside the sink, the story became less about the employee or his actions and more about the brand and the response from those in charge. From Twitter came their comments of “disappointment” and “regret”.

Is a corporation responsible for the actions of every employee? Surely a company as large as Pizza Hut can’t be held accountable for the habits of the few? One lesson that can be learned from this story is the peril of expansion. With greater size comes cost. As the network expands the distances between the components becomes greater. Corporate Pizza Hut (based in Plano, Texas; owned by Pepsi and Yum! brands) must respond for each of its 160, 000+ employees.

With immensity comes more hazard. What is lost as one expands? Communication and awareness. I highly doubt the employee caught on camera concerned himself with the reputation of Pizza Hut. One wonders just how close he was to his own supervisor. Certainly a pizza shop where that type or behavior occurs is one lacking in supervision.

Unfortunately the costs of this expansion become massive in contemporary society. One rogue employee’s act becomes a global reflection on the brand. The internet is a highway of sharing and its streets are filled by cobblestones of rumor. Do we benefit from such revelations? Are these bad actors at the sinks now open to… exposure? Is there really no such thing as “bad press”? One wonders just how busy that Pizza Hut remains tonight? Are employees busy slicing pizzas or bored in their bewilderment. One wonders if they’ve gathered round that sink to ask themselves just why he did it and how quickly things can change.

Learning Leaders Learning

November 25, 2013 Leave a comment

At its very least, effective leadership is a clarity of communication. Great leaders simply express their ideas clearly. It’s a matter of presenting distinct possibilities when they exist. Rare are the situations that possess such distinct choices; though, and it is also the role of the leader to both perceive and take advantage of them. Take, for example, the statement often linked to Benjamin Franklin: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Whether he actually said this or was capable of such poor use of grammatical parallelism is debatable, but my issue here is this application of distinct choice. Though the situation was complicated, Franklin curated the moment to possess these two choices. “It’s either privacy or security, people. So which one do you want?”

One such moment now arrives in contemporary society. Recent revelations of privacy violations by government agencies has led many to question whether “too much” spying is taking place. What was once thought (and claimed) as an action focused on terrorists and criminals has now been revealed to include trusted allies, celebrities and even the Pope. John Q. Public’s records have also been revealed as material worth saving, but with this collection further excuses regarding the anonymity of supposed metadata work to quash some concerns.

Would you rather trade your personal security for your right to privacy? Are you more comfortable facing the possibility of a terrorist attack than having the data of your private life collected and saved? Ultimately this is the question of our time. As shocking as it may seem, some people would rather have their data kept private and take the risk of being killed in a terrorist attack. We’ve reached this point in a post 9/11 world where our initial actions were inspired in part by our emotional reaction to the attacks. We’re older now, more removed from the initial shock, and capable of re-assessing just how much protection we want.

A great leader will recognize this critical question and pose it to the public. Though posed, we’ll also need extensive time to consider a response. Great leadership plays a role here as well: facilitating communication and creating a community of thinkers will be essential in reaching a response. Perhaps our sense of “great leadership” has changed in our contemporary society. Has technology altered what we need from leaders? Tech has certainly changed our day-to-day existence so why might its effects also extend to those we choose to lead? Perhaps our future is one where our leadership is less a figurehead and more a conduit of thinking. Maybe leadership is less the “out in front” and more the “learning side by side”.

Incorporated Grief

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Though John F. Kennedy’s biological life ended when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a cadre of alternative existences lives on. Kennedy the father, our president, the family man and soldier being just three alternative and complimentary existences at play. Kennedy is among a small cast of characters whose death provides a birth: figures who in leaving become enlivened by symbolic status. History is rich with great figures whose greatness went unrecognized when they were alive. Kennedy, like these figures, is an individual “cut down early” or geniuses living “beyond their time.”

Though few knew John F. Kennedy personally, millions feel a sense of sadness when considering his death. Often frames of commonality are applied to garner senses of melancholy. Not just a man but “President” “father”, “Catholic” or “solider” these labels become points of identification and relation. We more easily mourn the loss of someone we relate to or in whom we’ve placed significant importance. Is the death of a President more tragic than another? Of the millions who died on November 22, 1963 why is it John F. Kennedy that continues to capture public attention each November 22?

One wonders how the use of terms is utilized to manipulate responses. Are we mourning Kennedy or ” a president” Do his roles as “father” or “husband” make us more upset than an alternative JFK whose lack of children and wife negate these labels? What of his label as “Catholic”? One wonders whether the constant application of these terms functions more as a distortion. When a priest mentions Kennedy as Catholic does the moment of silence become something more? How is this religious figure utilizing JFK’s faith to cull reaction? What does it matter what Kennedy believed?

In memorializing the life of someone we warp that person’s existence. We layer on symbolic frosting and create some new identity whose c0nnection to its biological root is foreign. Are Presidents laying a wreath on Kennedy’s grave remembering or mourning their own death?Are we crying more for symbols or for something other- something beyond our experience and knowledge?

Staling Aura

November 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Let me play a recording from 1961. Will you know its not from 1991? Assume you do not see me drop the vinyl on the record player or thrust the VHS into the VCR- would you know the era of the work of art? Certain arts are dated by the medium of production. A recording from the 1960s sounds like its from the 1960s. You can see the age of movies in their very nature. Though the story line is common, the date of a production informs our reading of a text, film, or song.

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” considers our relation to art when it can be copied. If the gift shop sells a post card of The Mona Lisa, can we just skip the original and hit the cafe? Benjamin thinks not- he asserts an “aura” surrounds the original. An initial creation exists as something more than just an object. A painting is more than just some paint on canvas or the ideas suggested in the medium’s arrangement. The work is many things: a document of artistic creation? A historical document or record? This list is truly endless: art can be anything and everything.

Despite this ambiguous existence the work of art itself suffers from its means of creation. Media decays and technology evolves to place a work of art in history. As the work ages we gain a sense of how old it is. When the painting falls to shreds does Benjamin’s suggested “aura” become depleted? The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC displays the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star Spangled Banner. The flag is highly tattered from its age and experience but is its aura affected? In the end it is the viewer that invests this flag with meaning. Might our flag, draped carefully from the garage inspire similar feelings from Key? Is it rather the battle or the moment that inspired Key?

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