Friday, February 27, 2009

Infantilizing Reality with Imaginary Worlds

The ability to invent imaginary worlds and to play pretend are uniquely human abilities.

From a very early age children pretend to be things other than themselves: superheroes, little mermaids, power rangers. They also engage in forms of group play and seem to intuitively understand roles and rules. No one was ever taught how to play house or cops and robbers but all children seem to understand which game you shoot people in and which game you don’t.

Much of what we call culture is the creation of imaginary worlds. Aside from the “high culture” of the arts, the material culture of everyday life, what we call the “real world” is a collective invention and assemblage of objects, customs and beliefs. Each culture is a unique, invented world that reinvents itself across generations and over time.

More explicitly, storytelling and narrative art forms create imaginary worlds and metaphoric experiences. Motion pictures are the most obvious example. They allow us to insert ourselves into other worlds so that we may have those experiences without any actual risk or consequence.

Lately I've noticed the frequent use of “other worlds” being used by products and brands in television spots and on websites, often by brands that have a perception problem or whose products have actual negative impact on the real world. In these re-articulated worlds their brands are presented as the opposite of what they may actually be. In these theatricized versions of reality they are creators of idyllic utopias, sources of goodness and visions of life beyond consequence or complication. The difficult, day-to-day challenges of reality are replaced by illustrative, childs-toy representations that often include some sort of interactive game.



All State your Playground





On Toyota's Mind






Mobil's "Real" Energy World






Chevron's Energyville





Lipton Clear Green (utopian/dystopian screenshots)







Toyota Why Not





Coca Cola Tastes of the World




7 comments:

Bob Ichter said...

I'm going to try to "other world rebranding" in my dating life.
I'll convince my dates I'm and Alan Alda type metrosexual,teetotaling best friend, who would never think about having sex with my date....at least until the tequila kicks in.

Thomas Sherman said...

Bob, I'm pretty sure that's called date-rape or maybe agressivly accelerated courtship

Nixta said...

Surely it's a bit more more bait-and-switch. You can do that in the alternate world of cheap NYC electronics store dating.

Christopher Fahey said...

The ability to invent imaginary worlds and to play pretend are uniquely human abilities.

Ever see a cat play with a string that's obviously, even to a dumb brute of a cat, being manipulated by a person? IMHO, that's pretending.

Either that, or what we call pretending is really just some kind of irrational instinct we lapse into.

Either way, it's hard to believe that it's uniquely human.

Thomas Sherman said...

Yes. All mammals engage in basic play behavior. Many animals are able to construct mental models of the external world (this wasn't widely accepted until relatively recently. What I am describing is the ability to construct imaginary mental models and insert ones self into it. Cat's play with string but cats do not use household objects at hats and sit before the newspaper as if they can read and play dad. If you're cat can do that please send me a picture, I would really dig that.

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Anonymous said...

Awesome, apply this to socialist rethoric of "another world is possible" and you see the same game plan for corporations and lefty ngo's alike. greetings from Bolivia.