The papers discussed in our online seminars are often excellent, but this one is apocalyptic, as well as being an exercise in fine writing. Lee Drummond was once a Chicago anthropology PhD specialising in the Caribbean and later in San Diego's tourist attractions. He taught at McGill University for over a decade before retiring to the wilderness (Palm Springs!). July and August there are his winter when he withdraws into his airconditioned study to avoid the heat. The OAC is a principal beneficiary of this aestivation, as witnessed by the paper attached here. All I can say is you gotta read it, whether or not you participate in the seminar.
Lee's point of departure is Lance Armstrong's confession on the Oprah Winfrey show. The man who perhaps deserves to be known as the greatest American athlete ever admitted taking performance enhancing drugs, thereby triggering an intense public outcry. Lee deconstructs what he takes to be a key feature of the American ideology, the opposition of nature to culture, showing that biology and technology have been inextricably woven together throughout human evolution and even before. If it is impossible to identify the unequal influence of technology in sporting performance, what about other areas of cultural achievement, like literature for example? Should Hemingway's Nobel prize be taken away or Coleridge's poetry eliminated from the canon because they wrote under the influence of mind-altering substances?
Not content with this reductio ad absurdum, Lee then launches into a savage critique of American civilization and of the cultural anthropology it has spawned. Drawing on Marx's happy phrasing in the 18th Brumaire, he argues that the American tragedy (New World genocide) now reappears as farce (reality TV shows), one of which actually replayed the former in a grotesque reenactment of the competitive ideal. Anthropology tends to celebrate cultural achievement around the world, whereas in Lee's view, the current state of American society suggests that culture may be a disease killing off its carriers just as their ancestors once killed off the original inhabitants of what passes for the land of the American dream.
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You've read a lot of science fiction, now why don't you write some?
What will a world look like when mass-media-based ADVERTISING no longer "works" -- in economic, political and cultural terms -- and, in particular, what changes would this require in our understanding of human psychology?
(Suggestion: Mass-media is only a 100 years old. The psychology behind today's advertising is even newer. Imagine that it was all a "mistake" and that we "return" to something more "normal." What would that look like?)
Have you had the chance to do much work on the "unconscious"? Perhaps a new "theory of the unconscious" is where your work on "semiospace" is pointed (since linguistics clearly failed, as Chomsky told us it would) and, therefore, why John has been so interested in your work?
As you know, the modern pathway into the attempts to manipulate the humans (as, for instance, through advertising) is labelled "psychology" and, as I've suggested a few times, this was a major interest for Gregory Bateson (manipulation, that is <g>) for whom "conscious purpose" was the foe, or as he put it, life "depends on upon interlocking circuits of contingency, while consciousness must always involve man in the sort of stupidity of which evolution was guilty when she urged upon the dinosaurs the common sense values of an armaments race." (David Lipset, "Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist," p. 259, quoting Bateson's 1967 "Style, grace and information," reprinted in "Steps")
So, if you want to manipulate the humans, then you'd better get a grip on what drives those "interlocking circuits of contingency" (e.g. Bateson's version of "cybernetics" and why Wiener refused to work with him)!
I've also suggested that the "theory of the unconscious" Bateson (along with many others) seems to have adopted came (in large part) from Carl Jung. I just stumbled across this statement by Jung that might shed some light on what Bateson thought he was doing --
"The fact that an archaic God formulates and expresses the dominant of our behavior means that we ought to find a new religious attitude, a new realization of our dependence upon superior dominants. I don't know how this could be possible without a renewed self-understanding of man, which unavoidably has to begin with the individual. We have the means to compare Man with other psychical animalia and to give him a new definition. We can see him in a new setting which throws an objective light upon his existence, namely as a being operated and maneuvered by archetypal forces instead of his 'free will,' that is, his arbitrary egoism and his limited consciousness. He should learn what he is not the master in his own house and the he should carefully study the other side of his psychical world, which seems to be the true ruler of his fate." (Miquel Serrano, "C.G. Jung and Herman Hesse: A Record of Two Friendships," letter dated Sept 14, 1960, p. 104.)
How does one "rig the maze"? How do you "maneuver" the humans? Carefully study the "other side" of the psychical world . . . !!
What will a world look like when mass-media-based ADVERTISING no longer "works" -- in economic, political and cultural terms -- and, in particular, what changes would this require in our understanding of human psychology?
Mark, as you likely already surmise, we are in the process of finding out what happens when MASS MEDIA advertising no longer works; but, barring the collapse of civilisation as we know it, a return to the past is unlikely.
A central difficulty here is deciding what counts as advertising "working." Crudely we imagine that an ad works if someone buys the product; but this is far too simplistic. One of the oldest bits of advertising folklore is a remark attributed to Lord Leverhulme, the founder of Unilever: "I know that half of what I spend on advertising is wasted. What I don't know is which half." How would he know?
This puzzle is marketing 101. We imagine that sales of a product reflect what marketers call the four Ps, the Product itself, its Pricing, its Placement (a.k.a. distribution), and Promotion, of which advertising is only one component. Whether a product succeeds or (in most cases) fails, to which of these factors should we attribute the result?
Many products are simply crap. Consider, for example, Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, with whose launch in Japan I was, in a minor supporting role, involved. The back story here is that Coca-Cola had already launched Diet Coke in Japan. Since at the time it was launched, research indicated that "Diet" had no appeal in Japan, the product was renamed Coke Light (adopting a naming already established in Europe). A vast amount of money was spent on advertising and other forms of promotion. At the end of the day, however, Japanese consumers hated the taste of aspartame. The product failed. In the next act of this play, someone at Coca-Cola Japan came up with the idea of adding a bit of sugar, just twelve calories worth, to mask the flavour of aspartame. Coke Light was relaunched with this new formula and did moderately well. But the Diet Coke team in Atlanta, who were selling Diet Coke hand over fist to obese Americans, were unhappy. Caffeine-Free Diet Coke (with the "Caffeine-free" appeal added to "Diet," was a compromise. It would reintroduce "Diet Coke" in Japan without, it was hoped, cannibalising sales of Coke Light. In the meantime, thanks to the effects of American-style fast food on Japanese waistlines, "Diet" itself was gaining strength as an appeal. So the agency that I was working for came up with a launch campaign. Coca-Cola spent around two million dollars making the TV commercials and twenty million more getting them aired on Japanese TV. The result? A big shin hatsu-bai (launch) spike, which suggested that the advertising was working, immediately followed by a sales collapse. The Japanese consumer still didn't like the taste of unadulterated aspartame.
But even when products aren't crap, maybe especially so, distinguishing the effects of advertising from other components in the four Ps is a wickedly difficult problem. Everyone claims success; nobody wants to acknowledge failure. Rarely does postmortem analysis get beyond mutual finger-pointing.
Let's move on, however, to a more theoretical plane. Consider your man McCluhan. From an industry perspective, his "The Medium is the Message" captures an important truth. Yes, no question about it, the media affect how messages are communicated and received. On the other hand, that hot and cold media business? That's about as much use as humoral medicine, whose categories it closely resembles.
Now we turn to media planning 101. There are two critical elements here: (a) the target's relationship to the product being advertised and (b) the target's relationship to the ad.
Consider, for example, a classified ad, with two basic components: a headline line and explanatory text. The assumption here is that a reader is scanning a newspaper page (or nowadays a web site) looking for something in particular. The page may be structured in a way that facilitates search for a particular type of product, a used car, for example. But within the space allocated to such products, the headline must try to attract attention in competition with the headlines of similar ads. If a target reader's attention is caught, the explanatory text then has the opportunity to close the deal. Both headline and explanatory text are, however, confined to a small and precisely defined space. Somewhat larger spaces with more eye-catching format may be available for a higher price; but let's put that aside for the moment.
Consider, in contrast, the launch campaign for a new product. Is the product only a new entry in an established category; or is it an attempt to create a whole new category? Is it's appeal primarily functional (more efficient, lower cost) or emotional (soothing, relaxing, status-enhancing, that sort of thing)? To what extent is this product risky for those who buy it? Blowing a couple of coins to try out a new soft drink is no big deal. Investing in a house that you will be stuck with for much of your life, in a market where housing values fluctuate and your loan may soon be under water? That's a big deal. For the people working on the campaign, answering these sorts of questions and developing the message is job No. 1.
Meanwhile, however, the media planners are working on how to deliver it. Key words here are reach, frequency, and budget. In the case described above, Coca-Cola spent around 22 million dollars on a launch campaign that first sizzled and then fizzled. Not a lot of money actually, for a nationwide TV-centered campaign intended to reach 100 million consumers. Less than twenty cents per consumer for a product sold, at that time, for around one US dollar a can, which, given that it's basically sugar water, is cheap to manufacture. The launch spike covered the cost of the campaign. The fizzle? Too bad. Move on to something else.
That the launch spike occurred was, in part, the product of decisions about the media mix (what proportions of TV, radio, newspaper or magazine ads). The target was young adult, urban, trendy women worried about their waistlines. Which particular media would be most likely to reach them, with sufficient frequency to break through and have an impact, while staying within the budget? Lots of calculation here.
Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is the changing media space. Assumptions based on the early years of radio or TV, when everyone in the family was huddled around and mesmerised by this amazing new technology don't stand up very well when thinking about later generations of consumers for whom both are everyday, take it or leave it options, in a space that now also includes PCs, game machines, tablets, all sorts of new toys. That is why the business model of MASS MEDIA advertising is falling apart and everyone is scrambling to find the next big thing. About the only thing we can be sure of is that it won't be a return to print, handcrafted manuscripts, or bards and preachers bringing word of a big outside world that the peasants had few clues about. If everybody has a smartphone (and the saturation is already huge), that isn't going to happen.
So what comes next? I don't know. Do you?
> So what comes next? I don't know. Do you?
C'mon. Use your imagination!
Yes, since Forbes called me "The Futurist" (complete with a headshot surrounded by a halo), of course I know what is going to happen -- but that's not the topic of this conversation. <g>
> A central difficulty here is deciding what counts as advertising "working."
Easy. Since this is "science fiction," let's make something up.
What if 25% of the population *actively* fought against advertising? They would be among the most affluent and best educated. They would consider *all* advertising to be "crimes against human(mental)ity," "psychological warfare" and "brain pollution." They would boycott all businesses that used advertising. Refuse to vote for any politician who uses ads. Try to get advertising criminalized as "mental abuse" and get ad executives thrown in jail.
Imagine a well-funded and highly motivated ENVIRON-MENTAL movement devoted to cleaning up the life-threatening psychological *smog* generated by advertising!
Then there is the 50% of the population who are "skeptical" and taking "prophylactic" measures. The make William Sargent's 1957 "The Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing -- How Evangelists, Psychiatrists, Politicians and Medicine Men Can Change Your Beliefs and Behavior" and Wilson Bryan Key's 1974 "Subliminal Seduction: Are You Being Sexually Abused by This Picture?" (complete with the introduction by Marshall McLuhan) and his 1989 "The Age of Manipulation: The Con in Confidence, the Sin in Sincere" along with Vance Packard's 1957 "The Hidden Persuaders" into best sellers. Again.
The only people who still accept advertising on its own terms are called "adcons" (for "advertising conservatives"), who tend to be the oldest and poorest in the population -- the least "desirable" demographics,
What would happen -- economically, politically and culturally etc -- in such a world? And, how would this change our approach to psychology?
What if "conscious purpose" trumped the "collective unconscious"? What if Gregory Bateson and Carl Jung were put on "trial" as (psychological) "war criminals"?
Even in science fiction, assumptions have to be plausible. That the rich are suddenly going to start acting like Plato's Guardians? Likelihood is vanishingly small.
So long as the most affluent and highly educated derive their unearned rents from companies that depend on advertising to generate sales, we will be content to use smart filters in in our digital gear or pay the small surcharges required to prevent the ads reaching us. Besides, advertising, a.k.a., propaganda, will still be handy for controlling the masses.
But as long as we're speculating, what about this? Targeting algorithms based on ubiquitous behavioural tracking will get so good that we will never receive unwelcome ads—just personalised messages that intrigue and delight us and move us to spend. We won't even know it's a problem. Why would we think it is?
To continue, however, with the analysis in my next-to-last message. There I observed, re media planning, that,
There are two critical elements here: (a) the target's relationship to the product being advertised and (b) the target's relationship to the ad.
These are also, of course, considerations that advertising creatives must take into account, so allow me to elaborate a bit, first concerning the relationship of the target to the product. Here the measure is something that the industry calls a bonding scale. Details in naming and number of stages vary from one agency to another; but the basic thrust is along the following lines, from weakest to strongest bond.
The underlying theory is that as more consumers move up the scale the brand premium, the extra margin that they are willing to pay compared to other products, increases. More consumers, more strongly bonded is a universal goal.
Now let's have a look at the relationship of the target to the ad. The scheme described below is taken from a talk by Ohnuki Takuya, one of Japan's most successful art directors. Ohnuki describes five hurdles that great advertising must pass.
In thinking about what mass media advertising has done to modern consumer psychology, point 2 is particularly important. The major factor here has been the explosion of new products and information about them since the mid-20th century. Here I borrow a third scheme, first conceived as far as I know, by the researchers at the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living (HILL). Consider three possibilities.
For marketers searching for can't-live-without-it, die-hard, heavy user fans —the Holy Grail of branding— the situation described in 3 is hell. Spending enough on advertising to generate a launch spike and cover your initial expenses may still be possible. Building a foundation for what the gurus now call "lifetime brand value"? That's getting harder and harder to do.
And what are the broader cultural ramifications? See Eco, Baudrillard, Frederic Jameson, and my personal all-time favorite Zygmunt Bauman.
TARGETS (how predictable) . . . ??
Get ready for the Nuremberg (Psychological Warfare) Trials, because you are now on the *losing* side of this WAR . . . !! <g>
I must thank you for continuing to promote Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings. It is a remarkable book, and Wiener was an impressive thinker: eloquent to the point of poetic; erudite (to an extent few could equal today); insightful; possessed of a wry humor; and fearless as a critic of his society / culture. You are fortunate to have known him. Apart from its theoretical importance, the book is also a fine intellectual history of science.
Wiener and I (in my limited capacity as a non-scientist / mathematician) seem to share a fundamental view that the world / universe is what I (not he) would call a semiotic entity: In my borrowed formula, we inhabit a world of Bits rather than Its. The world, and here I think Wiener would concur, is Information. A further extremely important point of agreement is that he and I both see that vast clearing house of Information (the universe) as bound up with the probabilistic, “spooky” laws of quantum mechanics rather than Newton’s and Einstein’s vision of a fixed physical reality. Compare the following passages:
In explaining his views, Einstein makes abundant use of the observer who may be at rest or may be moving. In his theory of relativity it is impossible to introduce the observer without also introducing the idea of message, and without, in fact, returning the emphasis of physics to a quasi-Leibnitzian state, whose tendency is once again optical. Einstein's theory of relativity and Gibbs' statistical mechanics are in sharp contrast, in that Einstein, like Newton, is still talking primarily in terms of an absolutely rigid dynamics not introducing the idea of probability. Gibbs' work, on the other hand, is probabilistic from the very start, yet both directions of work [Einstein’s theory of relativity and Gibbs’ probabilistic analysis] represent a shift in the point of view of physics in which the world as it actually exists is replaced in some sense or other by the world as it happens to be observed, and the old naïve realism of physics gives way to something on which Bishop Berkeley might have smiled with pleasure.
--- Wiener The Human Use of Human Beings, page 20
and (again resorting to the tiresome expedient of quoting myself),
In the world of commonsense and normal science (that is, science practiced by scientists who remain aloof from the weirdness of quantum theory), we unquestionably get Bit from It: we observe an event in the physical world (It) and compile information (Bit) about that event. In the new “physics of information” being developed at the Santa Fe Institute, Los Alamos, and Princeton, an event in the physical world is first of all an informational process. When two electrons collide, they do not actually bang up against one another; they exchange a photon, a message, a Bit of information that conveys something about the particle interaction. When two billiard balls collide and go off in altered directions (a standard example in classical mechanics), the clear-cut event we believe we have observed is in fact a massive exchange of photons among the electron shells of atoms at the point of “impact.” The physical reality of the event is an informational process. We get It from Bit.
from “Culture, Mind, and Physical Reality. . .”
I was delighted to read his closing reference to Berkeley, whose prescient thought I defended earlier in our discussions. Even today Berkeley would not have a very appreciative audience in philosophy, and would be ignored or ridiculed in most science-as-usual.
Lately I’ve bored everybody by harping on the important distinction I see between signification and communication. Let me flag that here as a second-order feature of the universe of Information. I am perfectly willing to go along with Wiener and assert that, yes, what we are after is what he calls “a theory of messages.” Everything is a “message,” from a photon-exchange between electrons, through the chemical response of a retinal cell, the electro-chemical firing of a synapse in the brain, the posture and facial expression of a dog, a human’s hand / finger gesture, a musical passage, a painting, a human doing long division, a computer doing long division, and human speech / writing / TV. However, having more or less adopted this panoramic view of all of existence, I think it very soon becomes necessary to distinguish (1) the sorts of messages that exist; and (2) how and why the “same” specific type of message may be received and acted on in vastly different ways. I’ve covered (1) earlier in our discussions. A lioness nestled in the tall grass observing a herd of gazelles notices one with a slight limp. The gazelle does not intend to signal or communicate to the lioness that it may be a relatively easy kill (unless a gazelle can have a death wish!), but its unintentional actions have certainly signified something of importance to the lioness. Volumes have been written on the internal differentiation of “messages,” which I’ve suggested contribute to a general theory of signification. Now onto (2), which I’ve also discussed during our Forum, and which I regard as critical to social / cultural analysis: our vastly different responses to specific stimuli or “messages.” For example: I liked to play baseball as a kid; perhaps you did too. If so, we both know how to play. But if you and I visit Yankee Stadium and take our turns at the plate, against a pitcher who hurls some of the best heat in the league, our chances of getting a hit are nil. If any of the legendary home-run hitters goes up to the plate, though, they stand a far better chance. Why? The trajectory and optics of the ball on its split-second trip to the plate are the same; we all have retinas fully capable of seeing and discerning motion; the synapses in our brains and the motor nerve firings and muscle responses in our arms and hands are perfectly adequate to see us through demanding daily tasks such as driving in traffic, assembling a complex instrument, or typing away at a keyboard. How is it that people are so different? How are messages about the same phenomenon with the same task in view so wildly divergent in their results? I’ve posed the same question with regard to figures such as Bobby Fischer, Chuck Yeager, Stu Ungar, and, our favorite, Lance Armstrong. Yet no one, working within the paradigm of the normative science of anthropology, has been eager to address the problem. How does society, taken as a system of norms, embrace such diversity?
I think Wiener and I may have similar answers to that question: “Humanity” is not a fixed entity with discernible boundaries (“species,” “society,” “culture”), but a dynamic, ever-changing complex of identities that are floating ciphers, evanescent assemblages of thought and action. He put it in truly stirring poetic language:
We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.
--- Wiener, page 96
To recapitulate : the individuality of the body is that of a flame rather than that of a stone, of a form rather than of a bit of substance.
--- Wiener, page 102
Although you’ve suggested that Wiener’s theory of cybernetics incorporates a concept of “control” very different from the term’s general use, I’m not so sure. The Big Picture he paints of the universe is a vast sea of entropy, disorganized and random, which contains here and there islands of anti-entropy that sustain and increase organized arrangements of matter. Galaxies, stars, planetary ecosystems, and living organisms are such islands, and they exist in the hostile entropic sea precisely because their elements respond to one another in a directed, organized manner. They exemplify “control.”
Wiener begins his book with a discussion of “the contingent universe,” and throughout it makes the point that islands of entropy can withstand the relentless drift toward “heat death” for only a limited time. It strikes me that the vitality and originality of his thought issues from his confronting this grand dilemma, Contingency vs. Order/Control. And at the conclusion of his book he adopts what he explicitly calls a “tragic vision,” like that of the Greeks as portrayed by Aeschylus. Every effort to overcome entropy, to imitate the gods, is met ultimately with disappointment and suffering. And the grander the effort, the greater the suffering – witness Prometheus.
Continuing in this vein, he describes true science – not the “science” of government agencies and the military – as humanity’s one hope to stay one step ahead of the relentless decline into an entropic heat death. And yet, in the immediate post-wars years (which resemble the present in too many ways), he found that scientists themselves had compromised their impartial search to discover the laws of nature, had sold out to the military-government consortium’s demand to maintain secrecy rather than adhere to the open communication required for science to advance. More distressing still, Wiener observed that those tainted scientists were only complying with the demands of their society:
However, it will not do for the masses of our scientific population to blame their appointed and self-appointed betters for their futility, and for the dangers of the present day. It is the great public which is demanding the utmost of secrecy for modern science in all things which may touch its military uses. This demand for secrecy is scarcely more than the wish of a sick civilization not to learn of the progress of its own disease. So long as we can continue to pretend that all is right with the world, we plug up our ears against the sound of "Ancestral voices prophesying war."
--- Wiener, page 197
In the wake of Nietzsche’s scathing denunciation of the “morality” of the “good Germans,” and before my own tentative proposal, Wiener distinguished himself as a pathologist of his culture. The prospective Wiener biography Mark describes, detailing Wiener’s running / losing battle with the FBI, would be a valuable text in that growing literature of cultural pathology.
By our father's generation, warfare had become *psychological* and involved "targeting" populations with very different sorts of weapons. It was blandly called "strategic bombing" to disguise what was really going on.
Firebombing Dresden and Tokyo was meant to "terrorize" the entire German and Japanese populations. Nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki was intended to "force" Japan -- as a whole -- to surrender, without having to point guns at individual soldiers.
Advertising is *terrorism* with a smiley face painted on. It is the attempt to "force" a population to surrender, without firing a shot. And, like "Fat Man" and "Little Boy," it falls from the sky. This makes it is a crime against human "mentality."