A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Market, Brand, and Sacrament

"Attitude branding" and "brand energy" are two terms used in marketing that focus on promoting a product or service by selling a meaningful life and meaningful life experiences.

Abercrombie ads typically focus on sexy social connections tapping into the good vibes we get from hanging out with good friends. Abercrombie, of course, always has a strong sex appeal, so those good-time friends are also smokin' hot and there is always plenty of sexual playfulness. In this sense, they create something of a fantasy world. After all, most of us are average people with average-looking friends. But A&F is marketing a meaningful life; a life of happy, sensual relationships.



Another example. Nike+ commercial. This is rare, but here we explicitly hear the phrase, "Plugging in to a higher purpose." Running takes on spiritual connotations. Nike is marketing a meaningful life-style.



This counter-cultural movie clip from Fight Club illustrates the rebellion against a system of marketing and advertising where meaning and purpose is determined by the products we consume and the brands we invest in.



Tyler states the following:
advertising has us chasing cars and clothes
working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need
we're the middle children of history
no purpose or place
we have no great war no great depression
our great war is a spiritual war
our great depression is our lives


My point in this post is to note how we determine meaning in our society.

As Tyler says, our culture's (and I am thinking primarily U.S./American) great war is a spiritual war, and the primary battlefield is one for meaning, purpose and happiness. But we no longer look to philosophy, religion, learning, G/god, or other traditional sources. Our meaning is determined by the marketplace. We now need Corporate brand marketing to invest our lives with significance and meaning. The shorts I buy from Abercrombie are part of a meaningful lifestyle of connectedness and sensuality. My running shoes and accessories connect me with a higher calling. The meaning of these products is detached from functionality. The product must no longer function, but it must be associated with a greater network of meaning that is predetermined by the images and music and multi-media that I receive via brand marketing. In this sense, the priesthood is now in the hands of the marketing departments of Corporate America, which, not coincidentally, have billions and billions of dollars set aside for the express purpose of creating media that provides us with meaningful lives. The product, of course, is our sacrament.

27 comments:

Melody said...

Marketing hater =p

Seriously though, people have been trying to find their meaning in stuff for quite a long time, long before marketing came to be an essential part of doing business (well, beyond the practice of everyone standing real close together and seeing who could scream the loudest and therefore attract the most customers).

My mildly digressive point is, can you really blame marketing or branding for this attitude?

It might be a bi-product of the attitude, but I don't think you could blame it for the attitude's existance.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I agree with you.

As I see it the shift is not that people are finding meaning in stuff. The shift is that we are now finding meaning, not simply in stuff, but in the engergy/hype/image that surrounds the stuff. The stuff is only secondary.

Advertising generates buzz and the multi-media blitz that we encounter every day creates a network of meaning (a synergy, if you will) that is greater than the stuff itself. That's what Tyler from Fight Club was preaching against: We now have to buy stuff in order to find meaning within the consumeristic/market-driven meaning matrix. Hence, he speaks of "shit we don't need." We need it to be a part of the greater matrix of meaning that comes to us through image and sound everyday.

I'm saying that advertising is now what determines what experiences are meaningful, and the products/stuff are only secondary. We need the stuff to be a part of the greater meaning matrix. In this sense the stuff has become a sacrament.

There are certainly counter-cultural movements (Fight Club, some very old-school conservative Christian groups, some emerging church groups, etc.), but even these counter-cultural movements participate in media in some way and use that media to convey its countra-media message. Eg. Fight Club uses the media of film, and emerging church groups use the internet.

Jason Hesiak said...

This post is so right on I don't have anything to add to it.

And the following in the main thing I meant when I said in your previous post on the marketing topic...that marketers have an unjust amount of power and play an unjust role in society...

"the priesthood is now in the hands of the marketing departments of Corporate America, which, not coincidentally, have billions and billions of dollars set aside for the express purpose of creating media that provides us with meaningful lives."

Previously I referred to the "philosopher king." Here, though, you refer to the "priesthood." I actually think "priesthood" is better for illustrating my point.

Jason

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason says...
...that marketers have an unjust amount of power and play an unjust role in society...

My post was commenting on the situation. In this sense it was purely descriptive: What is our current situation in our culture.

Now you have made it something of a moral issue. Is the fact that the media controls the meaning matrix an issue of "justice"? The power of meaning is no longer in the hands of the clergy. Given the abuse of this power by churches in the past is the shift of power really such a bad thing? After all, if you disagree with today's Corporate promoters/advertisers you can dissent and not purchase the product. However, in the past if you disagreed with your local clergy, who may have been abusing his power, then you were in rebellion against god.

Every age has a matrix of meaning. Ours is unique in that it is now in the hands of the multimedia, advertising artists and those who determine product branding. Is this immoral?

Jason Hesiak said...

"However, in the past if you disagreed with your local clergy, who may have been abusing his power, then you were in rebellion against god."

Hey...you were the one talking about sacrament! What gives? We're still rebelling against (a) god if we TRY to rebel against the coorporate imaging of our identity.

I don't know if our current situation is really any better or worse than the older times to which you referred. My inclination is to say that, at least then it was MEANT to be Christian. But who knows. I don't.

I don't, however, think that you can remove morality from the question.

Jason

Jason Hesiak said...

"Hey...you were the one talking about sacrament! What gives? We're still rebelling against (a) god if we TRY to rebel against the coorporate imaging of our identity."

You haven't responded...so I'm afraid you feel like I was attacking you. I want to be clear that I was not. I was just trying to understand, then, what you mean by "sacrament." I'm assuming the meaning of your post/comments to be consistent...with something...with what? That's what I meant by "what gives?"

Blessings,

Jason

Jonathan Erdman said...

I think that maybe I'm missing you, Jason!

Jason Hesiak said...

Well...seriously...I'm thinking it must be my communication rather than your understanding. Which part are you missing? Is it the relation between the intellectual and moral aspects of the question? Do you feel explicitly as if it is NOT a moral question? Or do you feel as if its more open ended than how I'm presenting it, maybe?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Just kidding on that last comment!

Every culture has a matrix of meaning - a collection of forces that determine what kinds of things are meaningful. For example, who told us that having super low body fat helps one have a meaningful life? In other historical cultures a fat man with a fat wife meant they had plenty of money and could eat all that they wanted - it was a sign of respect and honor.

Who told us that being tanned looks good? We all rush off to the tanning booths to get the nice, golden glow, but in English high societies of the past a Lady looked best if she were completely pale. Nasty looking, if you ask me, but that's my perspective.

These are superficial examples, of course, but we can think of others. In the 1950's a meaningful life for a woman was being hitched to a successful man. The woman had a meaningful life if she made good meals, got pregnent and brought up good kids, cleaned the home, played cards once a week, stayed faithful, and supported her man in whatever. That was meaningful, and the 1950's American culture had a meaning-matrix composed of many different forces to determine what was meaningful.

My question: Is there anything inherently immoral about our day and age where the meaning matrix is almost entirely multi-media (Internet, Sitcom Television, Theater/Movies, Radio, News TV, MTV, Music Industry, and even through in print media, not to mention the Advertising/Marketing Industry, which is the topic of discussion.) We define meaning based almost exclusively on Corporate America and its various media outlets. Is this wrong?

Jonathan Erdman said...

In regards to answering my own question....It seems to me that the issue of manipulation is important here. Multimedia affects us on a very deep level: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, morally, etc. That's why so many folks got so offended and angry some years back when they thought that the music industry was back-masking evil messages and that the movie industry was using subliminal messages to sell Cokes and popcorn.

There seems something immoral about this kind of primordial manipulation.

Has there ever been a period in history where we have been manipulated at such a base and primal level???

Jason Hesiak said...

For one thing...not what we've been talking about...but ancient cultures had a GROUND of meaning...rather than a matrix. This was partially because the horizon of meaning was local. That's kind of your whole point, though. So anyway...

"My question: Is there anything inherently immoral about our day and age where the meaning matrix is almost entirely multi-media...We define meaning based almost exclusively on Corporate America and its various media outlets. Is this wrong?"

I'd say...no...not necessarily. Having a meaning matrix defined by Corporate America is not morally wrong, per se. Which would mean that free market corporate america is not morally wrong, per se. However, the point I've been making in this thread is a bit different, and two-fold.

1. The priests of our day are the marketers. Clearly, the OT Prophets would not have been happy about that. That, in itself is a moral issue. But its also an issue of interpretation of the events of our day through the Bible's particular Ground of meaning. That Ground being God; and going deeper than the foundation of the world.

2. Just because the priests of our day are the marketers, however, does not mean that marketing and/or Corporate America is morally wrong, per se. The marketers are the priests precisely because of what I am describing as the unjust AMOUNT of power that they have...RELATIVE to other forces of the world, which they DWARF and make irrelevant and insignificant. This is what Plato, in his Republic-like language would have termed, "disharmony." What I think of as something like "iniquity." Maybe "inequality," although I myself don't have a whole heck of a lot of concern for that modern hoo-rah on equality. So this fold of my point could be framed in terms of "harmony," of each thing playing its proper role and having its proper place. Marketing and Corporate branding is OUT OF PLACE...throwing everything into DISHARMONY.

Clear(er)?

So far as the manipulation thing goes...I think that some of that "subliminal message" stuff is conspiracy seeking paranoia. I don't think you have to go so far into some funny hidden message to find that folks are TRYING to manipulate our minds and our being.

So..."Has there ever been a period in history where we have been manipulated at such a base and primal level???"...here McLuhan would point to the TOTALIZING aspect or quality of electric media. It, and through it, YOU and ME, is or are everywhere at once.

Such everywhereness, in itself, is to me also a violation of the natural harmony of what it "means" to be human. Humans are limited and local. Both physically and epistemologically. It is an essential aspect of what distinguishes humans from angels and from God. As McLuhan says, elecric media "angelizes" man. Which is, in the language that I'm using in this here comment, "disharmonious." Not in itself a moral issue, really.

But such "angelization" could also be said have ARISEN out of a human LUST for angelization, for a pushing of the envelope of his identity, his personhood, his limits and his being. "You will be like a god," said the deciever. It can be both a moral and/or an intellectual issue.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Humans are limited and local. Both physically and epistemologically. It is an essential aspect of what distinguishes humans from angels and from God. As McLuhan says, elecric media "angelizes" man.

After all of these years have we found, through media, a new and superior Tower of Babel? What would it take for God to "confuse the languages" as he did in the Babel narrative? A massive internet crash? A world-wide virus?

I'm buying a very large external harddrive. Right now.

Jason Hesiak said...

This just got REAL fun.

"After all of these years have we found, through media, a new and superior Tower of Babel? What would it take for God to 'confuse the languages' as he did in the Babel narrative?"

He alreayd has. What else is deconstruction asserting and/or describing?

"A massive internet crash? A world-wide virus?"

Unnecessary. Anyway, that would be destruction rather than "deconstruction." The Tower was simply left unfinished. It was not destroyed.

Jason Hesiak said...

BTW..."what it took", I think...was Sputnik, pretty much. Many of the illusory security and universalizing inducing strategies implemented around that time were pretty much just a continuing of the modern rebellion against what God is doing (confusing the languages). After Sputnik, however, is when the confusion of languages so clearly appears on the scene. Now, then, our rebellion is obvious. Whereas previously it was not. Eventually the machine really will stop working, probably. And probably due to the violence arising from the linguistic misunderstandings and/or micommunications between the different "worlds" around the globe.

Jason Hesiak said...

Hey Erdmanian,
Your silence is deafening. I'm really curious...where you at with what I said? Especially that God has ALREADY confused the languages...
??
Jason

Jonathan Erdman said...

I was sort-of hoping "our friend" would weigh-in at some point...But he might be flying over the ocean right now....

Interesting to note is that the main goal in Fight Club is to just completely demolish and destroy the system. Hence, they all undertake Project Mayhem, and the result is the destruction of Modern society. Tyler talks about his vision for a more organic society: A man climbs up a skyscraper and looks down to see rows of corn growing where streets and highways once bustled with traffic.

A similar theme is found in the movie, The Matrix. The goal is to destroy the matrix that holds humanity captive.

I'm not quite sure how I think Deconstruction fits in with all that, but it is a good comparison. Deconstruction deals a great deal with the "frustrations" of language. At the tower God "confuses" or "frustrates" the languages so that no one can communicate and hence the unity needed to finish the Tower is lacking.

With multi-media we are not just dealing with language, but with image. Interestingly, I have never heard of any kind of deconstructing of the image. Deconstruction deals with written and/or spoken language. Can the matrix of the media overcome deconstruction and the misunderstandings of language by using images and sounds???

Derrida wrote on Babel in "Des Tours de Babel" (The Towers of Babel)". Here is a summary from The Virtual Babel Encyclopedia:

Derrida asks why does God punish the people? Is it because they wanted to build to the heavens or for wanting to accede to the highest and make a name for themselves? He suggests that God punishes them for wanting to assure a unique and universal genealogy by themselves. God causes deconstruction of the tower and scatters the genealogical filiation. This creates the need for language to be translated and simultaneously makes it impossible to be translated. [from TVBE]

Jason Hesiak said...

I'll weigh in more on The Matrix, Fight Club and Derrida...

But I missed the meaning of: "I'm buying a very large external harddrive. Right now." Either you were just giving me the information...thanks :) ....or...I have a feeling that this statement was supposed to relate to our conversation somehow. I'm afraid I don't know well enough WHAT a "very large external hard drive" even IS! You mean, like a "server"?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Well, I mentioned buying an external harddrive after we started talking about the internet crashing, i.e. I might want to back up my data to an external source other than online.

Jason Hesiak said...

Oh, lol.

Anyway...

The Matrix...is gnostic. The Doyle and I have talked about that. Speaking of him, think his flight was yesterday; but who knows when he'll have internet again. So yeah...The Matrix...I'm not a fan, really. I don't think God works like that.

Fight Club...I used to really like that movie. I'm kind of over it now. I like the corn field vision, but I'm not attached to it as I once was...even then half-heartedly. I was/am a part of an organization called New Earth. Interestingly, I just hung out with some of those folks Wed. night. I haven't hung out with the leader of the pack in forever, though. Its kind of tense, actually, because they sense that I've let go of their vision:

http://www.newearthlife.org/
For a little treat, click on "Ecovillage," in the column on the left.

Derrida...is an interesting character. Funny...he contrasts making a name and a geneology for ourselves. What's the difference!? Lol. Anyway, that certainly sounds like an interesting book.

And speaking of sounds and images...hence my interest in ourGod's "natural" image...and architecture. Although I do see a connection between Cubism and Derrida, I don't think you can deconstruct images, really.

Further, I think that words point to images. "Speaking is like pointing a finger to the moon." The difficulty is catching fleeting glimpses of the moon. Le Corbusier would sometimes say that a building is "open to the four horizons," but no one re-members what a "horizon" even IS.

samlcarr said...

Jason and Jon, sorry for chiming in so late. My catching up is taking some time especially as the discussions have generated a flurry of interesting comments!

Is the media itself an enemy, or is it just a handy tool that one can use both for construction as well as deconstruction? The internet in particular is much more home to the honest seeker than it is a servant of the organisations. Other media are much less neutral simply because thay have been based on advertising as their all-in-all. This was perhaps least true of newspapers with subscriptions but the papers thmselves ruined their freedom by taking ads for xtra green.

Is it bad? weeell i dunno. i think it calls for folks to be very conscious of their real needs and their ways of deciding their real needs, that is if the question of authenticity is to enter in at any stage.

The idea that by destroying the system, things will reboot correctly is really dumb - the one thing we will not be able to leave behind is our own sweet selves>

Jason Hesiak said...

I was thinking about this notion of the deconstruction of the image...

I realized that when I said that images are not deconstructable, I think I was talking about deeply and/our foundationally grounded images in particular. Man's "image" in which he is made.

But I used the example of the "horizon." The whole reason people's LANGUAGE doesn't POINT TO the image of the horizon...is because their language instead points to the "frontier."

I'm not sure if that amounts to deconstruction of the image or of language, though. Its interesting to me, but I don't fully understand it.

Even more interesting...both images - of the horizon and the frontier - owe something to man's original "image" in which he was made, actually.

Additionally, you could maybe say that the frontier is a trace of the horizon. I mean, the world that a language creates and/or speaks could itself be said to be an image. If two languages are not translatable, its because they are pointing to two different images or worlds. The horizon and the frontier are good examples, I think.

And yet, again, both images owe something to what it means to be human, fundamentally and foundationally.

Jason Hesiak said...

Oh, and I agree about Sam's critique of Fight Club.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam: The internet in particular is much more home to the honest seeker than it is a servant of the organisations.

This is true. However, it raises an interesting point.

Most people still flock to websites that are backed by Corporations. This is even true in the blogosphere, which is supposedly the place where the "honest seeker" is in his most honest environment. Yet even here websites maintained by big-name authors get thousands of hits per day, and this regardless of the quality of the content. A publisher like Baker puts out a site on the church and postmodernity and people frequent the site despite some very bad posting and even worse commenting.

All this is not to express angst, rather the point is this: Are we so infatuated with celebrity, Corporate marketing, and Advertising hype that we care far less about content than about popularity and buzz? That is kind of the whole point of my post: That we determine meaning based upon celebrity/hype/buzz, rather than on meaningful content.

In the American Idol culture we no longer want to be meaningful musicians we simply want to be a star. We want hype.

Meaningful things no longer determine the market, rather, the market determines meaningful things.

Jason Hesiak said...

May I play the village idiot for a moment, please? Lol...

I didn't even know that "Baker Academic" had celebrity status. I sort of knew that about James KA Smith, but I didn't know that that site was hype-generated. Not that I necessarily disagree...as I said...I'm playing village idiot here for a moment. As far as the BAD COMMENTING there GOES...have I BEEN playing vilalge idiot, and didn't know it? Lol.

And I very much agree about American Idol. Melody and I were having a conversation about that at her blog. It never really finished...In some sense, I think this oe and the one at "Corporate Glory" are sort of extensions of that conversation that her and I were having.

samlcarr said...

I think that part of the angst is that so many Christians fail to think below the surface level and to ask the hard questions.

We hope that even when we are a bit blind and dumb, our leaders, preachers etc. will help to do this for us or at least nudge us to get into it a bit, but no, that rarely happens and a part of that has to be that church is just one more institution, just like all the rest, fighting for market space in a dog eat dog world of mass com.

Jonathan Erdman said...

"In the world but not of the world" is a tough sell.