Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Perception of Time, Temperature and Banking Institutions

As a child I found it curious that banks always had signs with the time and temperature displayed. You still see it occasionally, usually on older banks. I often re-notice it when I spot a bank that's a classic representative of an earlier decade's architecture.

I recently re-asked myself that question: Why did banks have signage that included the time and temperature? One reason, I suspect, is that it helped position banks as local institutions and part of the community. Sharing that information acts as a public and civic service. It also transforms a bank into a point of focus within its surroundings. It gives people reason to "look to" the bank. This is where the practice becomes treacherously clever. By anchoring themselves to fixed, universal aspects of reality it presents banking institutions as part of the natural order of things. Immalleable, unquestionable, and irrefutable presences in the world.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

You will submit: Behavioral Messaging Placement in Television Programming

A recent WSJ article (What Your TV Is Telling You to Do) reveals that NBC has been deliberately inserting storylines and character actions into television programs in an effort to reinforce eco-friendly attitudes and behaviors. The shows cited include The Office, 30 Rock, Top Chef, Heros and Law & Order.

Excerpt: The tactic—General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal calls it "behavior placement"—is designed to sway viewers to adopt actions they see modeled in their favorite shows. And it helps sell ads to marketers who want to associate their brands with a feel-good, socially aware show. (end)

Although the efforts are positioned as being benevolent and supporting socially positive ends I have a couple of big issues with this. First. The entertainment industry has always rejected the idea that the content they produce — specifically content that is violent or sexual — impacts and influences individuals or society at large. Although they tie the examples in the article to specifically positive sentiments, the article and quotes from a TV executive indicate a recognition that repeated exposure and reinforcement "mainstream" the attitudes and behaviors that are portrayed. This is mind blowing. I can't believe anyone in the entertainment industry would admit to being able or capable of shaping mass behavior.

Excerpt: TV has always had the ability to get millions of people to mimic a beloved character. Ever since Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex and the City" stopped in at the Magnolia Bakery, fans of the show wait in long lines for the once-quiet shop's $2.75 cupcakes. When Jennifer Aniston as Rachel on "Friends" cut her hair, salons across the country reported requests for the shaggy, highlighted, layered look known as "the Rachel."

This is the power of persuasion that NBCU hopes to tap. "Subtle messaging woven into shows mainstreams it, and mainstreaming is an effective way to get a message across," says Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBCU Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, which oversees the effort. (end)

My second issue is that once such methodologies and processes are instituted they will expand and become more sophisticated. Recognizing that you are able to influence social behavior don't you need to formulate policy on the types of social behaviors you seek to change? This is inherently political. If these programs are tied to the types of sentiments that clients want to be associated with and the behaviors they seek to reinforce there is the potential for this to become grossly insidious and mercenary.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Ever-Exapanding Semantic Landmass Between Reality and Delusion (Where Most of Us Live).

As clever as it is, Mark Twain's blunt materialistic quote "Buy land—they're not making any more of it” fails to take into account the imaginary worlds that people are so heavily invested in. The process of culture is in many ways the construction of worlds, unreal as well as the one we think of as real. Each culture is in effect the collective, time-binded creation of it's inhabitants. Just one possible configuration out of endless possibilities.

In contemporary American culture I would argue that the unreal supercedes the real in many ways. The unreal people and places generated from celebrity culture, the entertainment industry and the arts occupy a powerful place in peoples minds, shaping the culture at large and shared, collective values. For many I suspect that the number of relationships they have with fictitious people and places far outnumber the "real" ones in their lives.

Illustrating my point, this week Forbes published the "Fictional 15", their annual ranking of the 15 richest fictional people. They apparently take this quiet seriously, evaluating carefully the factors that would determine each's wealth. "Topping the list this year is newcomer Carlisle Cullen, patriarch of the Cullen coven of vampires in the Twilight series of novels. Cullen, age 370, has accumulated a fortune of $34.1 billion--much of it from long-term investments made with the aid of his adopted daughter Alice, who picks stocks based on her ability to see into the future. "

The lists of Fictional Companies and Fictional Cities & Towns (Wikipedia) are both engrossing and fascinating to peruse, particularly the companies. The list of cities and towns fails to mention Springfield (The Simpsons) and Hazzard County. Clearly this entry needs more development.

Related Sherman Foundation Posts:

Sculpture, Imaginary Worlds and Home Exercise Equipment.

Infantilizing Reality with Imaginary Worlds.

On a tangential note, this week I can across the Munchausen Syndrome. "Munchausen syndrome is a type of factitious disorder, or mental illness, in which a person repeatedly acts as if he or she has a physical or mental disorder when, in truth, they have caused the symptoms. People with factitious disorders act this way because of an inner need to be seen as ill or injured, not to achieve a concrete benefit, such as financial gain. They are even willing to undergo painful or risky tests and operations in order to get the sympathy and special attention given to people who are truly ill. Munchausen syndrome is a mental illness associated with severe emotional difficulties."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tropes Wiki

TV Tropes is a wiki site that categorizes the common plots, narrative devices and character archetypes found in storytelling. Apparently it started out as a wiki of those things as found in TV programs put expanded to include all narrative forms. The breadth and depth of this site is phenomenal.

This site is an endlessly amusing and invaluable resource for any devotee of pop culture and storytelling. I only wish the site was more elegantly designed.

An example entry from the wiki:
Applied Phlebotinum
Phlebotinum is the magical substance that may be rubbed on almost anything to cause an effect needed by a plot. Some examples: nanotechnology, magic crystal emanations, pixie dust, a sonic screwdriver. Oh, and Green Rocks. And wishes. In essence, it is the stuff that makes the plot go. Without it, the story would grind to an abrupt halt. It's science, it's magic, it's strange things unknown to science or magic - the reader does not know how Phlebotinum would work and the creators hope he doesn't care.

CSI and its spinoffs come with phlebotinum by the liter. Their favorite kind appears to be Luminol, the substance that reveals traces of blood. Luminol is real, though it's not nearly as convenient as it is on TV.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device"
—David Langford, "A Gadget Too Far", as a corollary to Arthur C. Clarke's third law

Logorama by Marc Altshuler

Logorama from Marc Altshuler - Human Music on Vimeo.

Thanks for sharing PJ.

The Sherman Foundation. The Dangerous Ideas Reading List

22 books that changed my life. 22 Books that you and your children should never, ever read. (In no particular order.)

Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics
— Alfred Korzybski

On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism
— Jonathan Culler

Beyond Good & Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future
— Nietzsche

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
— Howard Bloom

Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon
— Ishmael Reed

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
— Julian Jaynes

Life Against Death: the Psychoanalytical Meaning of History
— Norman O. Brown

The Decay of Lying
— Oscar Wilde

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
— Al Ries & Jack Trout

Metaphors We Live By
— George Lakoff

Rules for Radicals
— Saul D. Alinsky

The Secret Life Of Salvador Dali
— Salvador Dali

Prometheus Rising
— Robert Anton Wilson

The Master and Margarita
— Mikhail Bulgakov

Magic by Misdirection
— Dariel Fitzkee

Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture
— Stuart Ewen

All Consuming Images: The Politics Of Style In Contemporary Culture
— Stuart Ewen

General Semantics Seminar 1937: Olivet College Lectures
— Alfred Korzybski

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
—Thomas Kuhn

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
— Richard Rorty

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley
— Aleister Crowley

Psychopathology of Everyday Life
— Sigmund Freud

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Future of Publishing

A good "story" cleverly told. Well done.