Brands As Alien Conspiracy! Interesting Cultural Commentary, In Theaters Sept. 2012

Milking “The Dark Knight" Massacre

Joker, Harley, and Riddler
"Joker Harley Quinn, and the Riddler at Dragon Con 2011." Photo by Robert Williams via Flickr.  Photo is used to illustrate the fun of dressing up like a fictional character. Obviously no connection is implied between the motives of these individuals and that of the Aurora shooter.
“An entire dimension of human reality is therefore suppressed: the dimension which permits individuals and classes to develop a theory and technique of transcendence by which they might envisage the ‘determinate negation’ of their society.’
– Herbert Marcuse, “From Ontology to Technology: Fundamental Tendencies of Industrial Society,” in Critical Theory and Society (1989)
I feel cold, not physically cold but emotionally. It’s wrong to feel cold when 12 people are dead and 58 more are wounded for the “crime” of attending a midnight movie premiere.
I’m analyzing why I feel this way.
There’s a superficial answer – why does this tragedy get coverage, and not others equally as bad (if you can compare) or worse?

Why is the Batman movie massacre generating so many headlines? Frankly, because it’s a tragedy that people want to talk about. There’s the brand element – the popular “Batman” movie series; the fact that it involves “mainstream” (read White, middle class) victims; the fact that the alleged shooter is clearly a “bad guy” that we can all condemn who conveniently fits the “mad scientist” stereotype. Plus it’s interesting how he booby-trapped his apartment. Isn’t it?
Cold. But it’s better to be honest, though it’s horrible if true: Headlines aren’t about justice but making money. People will watch, click. Promoting and publicizing the details is about exploitation, and not the search for meaning amidst evil.
The old newspaper saying: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Somebody smells blood.
The "Batman" character of "The Joker" was clinically antisocial. His behavior showed "pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others” including harming society through illegal or deceptive behavior, aggression, impulsiveness, recklessness, irresponsibility, and worst of all lack of remorse. He was a psychopath, too – meaning he possessed “underlying traits that contribute to antisocial behavior patterns.”
The psychopath is charming; grandiose; a liar; manipulative; lacks guilt or remorse; has no empathy; needs constant stimulation; doesn’t care about social norms or behavioral self-control; and is irresponsible with “unrealistic long-term goals.”
In what way is “The Joker” different from the typical marketer, exactly? Do we not possess so many of the traits listed above?
Are not consumers in many ways similar to “The Joker?” (Headline in today’s “Wall Street Journal” – “The Customer As A God”)
What we can’t really talk about, but perhaps ought to, is the hypocrisy of our collective professions of emotional despondency over this tragedy. Because facing it might force us to change, when we sort of like things just the way they are.
Though we undoubtedly do feel pain for others’ loss, on some level we are also exploiting the loss as an opportunity to – talk about something that people find worthwhile. To sell a website or a TV station or a particular reporter or agency or whoever can get in on the action to sell their brand.
In a world where“a lot of the people thought the gunshots were a part of the movie” or “a publicity stunt” – meaning that consumers are as savvy as those who market to them, that we are not all that different from marketers ourselves, that the shooter is perhaps not as far from our own brains as we like to think – in this kind of world is it not our responsibility to discuss the possible hypocrisy of our discourse about tragedy?
Whatever we cannot talk about, we collude in perpetuating. We ought to examine the motives behind making much of this particular tragedy, and little of so many others. 

Why there is a sense of coldness even as people act like they care so very much. 
And why even those who feel the hypocrisy are not immune from using it. 

In the end there is a very fine line between recognizing a problem, and using it to generate attention for yourself. 

Nowadays that line is almost indistinguishable.

Response to - "Is it OK to dress formally in an informal environment?"

1 - If dressy casual is the norm, is it perceived as arrogant to dress more formally?


Suggest inquiring as to the reason why dressy casual is the norm - this will be an indicator of how "deviance" (formal dress) is perceived. In my organization, USAID, it is a mark of distinction to have served for many years, beginning with the Peace Corps, and so the norm is a "world traveler" kind of look. If you dress more formally you seem like you don't understand the very specific and unique world of humanitarian assistance. So it's not arrogance that would be perceived, but perhaps lack of subject matter expertise. However, dressing formally is "forgivable" if you are not there as a subject matter expert operationally, but rather an expert of another kind (communications, lawyer, IT, etc.)

2 - Is it OK to dress better than your boss?

Yes. It shows that you are engaged in the job, that you take yourself seriously, etc.

3 - An additional comment

On a branding note, it is important to be consistent about your look and for your look to mean something. My dad has a very formal Eastern European approach to dress, and if he were to change that it would seem odd.

Bottom line - be yourself!

Highlights from "Becoming Post-Brand," Presented at IABC-DC, July 17, 2012

Slides here. Some video clips here.

I'm hoping to get notes from participants, but here are some key points for now. If they send anything, I'll post a follow-up or amend this post.
  • There is a constant tension between wanting brands (which provide a fantasy of reconnection for the alienated self) and not wanting them (to return to a purer time).
  • Brands are a symptom of alienation - from G-d, community, the land, etc. They provide a temporary relief from the pain of that disconnect.
  • Brands continue to have an incredible power over every aspect of our lives. We feel surer about ourselves when a brand endorses our actions - whether it's raising children per an "expert's" advice or buying a brand of paper towels that we "know" won't disappoint the family.
  • When we talk about brands evolving this isn't to say that an old form is going away but rather that there are concurrent streams of activity. It's about choosing the right kind of branding for the right product and the right audience.
  • Brand insight is not an exercise in political correctness. If you refuse to see what's going on because it makes you uncomfortable you are losing insight and therefore money.
  • Brands take the natural and give it back to you in a form you want to pay for. In the process they make you devalue the natural.
  • Children are born unbranded and for a short time experience wholeness through the caregiver (ideally). However, they are rapidly introduced to the world of brands, which also quickly become markers of identity. 
  • The choice of brand is a very deliberate statement about who you are and is something even young people take very seriously.
  • The concept of functional value is nothing more than the fantasy of protection against a dangerous world. It is not a logical function. Marketers exploit the notion of quality to instill a feeling of insecurity, e.g. "unless you buy my product you are at risk."
  • Every type of economy is associated with a dominant brand fantasy: agrarian (fantasy of protection); industrial (escape); service (lifestyle); knowledge (superiority); collaboration (community); New Age (unity)
  • There are 5 hallmarks of the post-branded age: 1) the disruption of "normal" and the othering of the previous "mainstream" 2) empowerment 3) sarcasm 4) anti-brand activism ("antibrandivism") and 5) reflexivity.
  • Reflexivity is the most important quality - possessed by rare brand masters such as Charlie Sheen and Kris Jenner - who are able to immediately shift the brand based on anticipated reaction by the audience. 
  • The 10 principles of communication in a post-branding era: 1) balance consistency and authenticity 2) build the culture first 3) start at the top 4) everyone builds it 5) plain English 6) avoid roboticism and the "b-word" (brand) 7) distinguish marketing from information 8) reflect brand strategy in logo and name 9) encourage dissent 10) support social media. 
  • In the end, we won't need brands.

Comment on Penelope Trunk's "Marissa Mayer becomes CEO of Yahoo, and proves women cannot have it all"

Great post by Penelope Trunk here. Lots of comments. Initially I just wrote a short response:

<<Penelope,
I don’t agree with #1 because it turns women into prostitutes and men into pimps. I followed path #2. You are a brilliant writer with great insight. Our children need mom and dad more than anything. Keep going and G-d bless!
Dannielle>>

But then I thought her idea deserved a more thoughtful one. See below:

<<My late grandfather had a saying, "words that come from the heart, go to the heart" and this is one of those posts.

I had to make this difficult choice when I was pregnant with my older daughter. Go back to work and put her in daycare, or stay home. As a feminist I was scared to lose my financial clout. But in the end I couldn't do it.

I am aware that many women don't have that choice and it upsets me because kids need their mothers. They do. We do.

To be fair, the conversation should be about mothers AND FATHERS. Fathers are terribly undervalued and their presence is so important to children as well.

Also to be fair, poor women not only have to leave their own children, but often must take low-paying caregiving jobs for other people's children. And are stereotyped as uncaring, abusers, etc.

Penelope's post makes it seem that you can plan your life. I don't think that's true. It hasn't been for me. Mostly just take it a day at a time, and follow my gut about which way to go. I like to think that G-d is guiding my thinking somewhat.

It's also really, really sexist and unfortunate for a feminist to say that tired phrase, "marry rich." What a horrible message. I would never want my kids to use or be used that way.

I hope that this post opens an enduring conversation about what we as a country are doing to our children with our workaholic ethos. We need to get back to a time when work, as important as it was, was only a part of our lives. Put the family back where it belongs, in the center. Put our interests, hobbies, and passions, back as another fulfilling part.

Well-rounded people with loving relationships and a network of people they care about. A good society.

Since so many people are unemployed maybe we should start to take seriously a shift toward the part-time society - downshift the 40 hour workweek to a 20-30 hour workweek. Make structural changes that increase the quality of everyone's lives. There is a sociologist who promotes this idea, I just can't recall his name right now.>>

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