Monthly Archives: September 2012

5 Is Better Than 4: Is Newer Always Better?

As we wait to be helped at AT&T where my wife will be exchanging her recently upgraded IPhone 4S for the new “5” (since we made it under the 30 day limit for not getting hosed), I am forced to ponder this widely held consumer culture belief that newer is better.

Is it? Really? Because I was perfectly happy with not having a cell phone at all until I finally got my first clamshell in grad school. And my life was seemingly free of tech envy and desire when I had my first mobile calling devices. I could call people from anywhere and that was all I needed.

But then…I get a job and my phone needed to be “smarter” but instead I settled for a “Personal Digital Assistant” to help me out.

Years later I was to be presented with a gift by a new employer…a “pocket PC” that doubled as a phone. My first digital leash. Somehow “new” was now starting to stress me out and tick me off.

Then it happened. The clouds parted and the sky started falling. Namely, it started raining iPhones. Touch screens an d intuition and never ending apps to keep you entertained and engaged so you never actually had to interact with an actual human or pick up a book ever again. Our world forever changed. Made “better” by new technology?

But it doesn’t stop there. Year after year In the same rollout- point-Oh fashion as software Apple introduced upgraded version after better-still version. And we have now counted from birth to 5.

But I beg the question: is it really true? Is newer necessarily better? Is 5 going to improve our lives by 1? Or is there some area of our life and happiness that we will sacrifice to convince ourselves that progress is a larger screen and cooler toys?

I think we are throwing off the balance and distracting ourselves with the myth of self improvement through technology.

Or I could just be jealous because my iPhone 5 won’t arrive for another two weeks and my wife has beaten me to the the next best shiny thing.


Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Trends | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Y’all Know What White Folks Like?

If you live in the south and are Caucasian or If you came from a rural setting or blue collar background or just hang out with a healthy amount of salt-of-the-earth peeps, then there are probably a few things that automatically get on your list of stuff you like. You can’t help it. It’s part of your Cultural DNA.

Today’s participant observation-based blog will take a look at that southern-savvy . Here are a few things that fit the cultural sphere of the proud southern tradition:

Pickup Trucks
Tennessee / Alabama and Georgia College football teams
Monster Trucks
Hunting (Deer)
“Hair” Bands (80’s “heavy metal” rock bands)
Boiled Peanuts
Sweet Tea
Chili Cook-offs…

As it so happens, it was Chili Cookoff adventure day for my wife and I. We are on our way home and it will be a long drive home but we will certainly not be short on Gas. ūüėČ

Here are some pictures from the Milller Lite Stone Mountain Chili Cook Off:








Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, Participant Observation, pop culture | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Bullies: A Dying Breed

You know, I spend a lot of time studying youth culture for the purposes of helping marketing and brand strategy.  And over the past several years I have noticed a remarkable trend in the attitudes and values of global youth in general, but American Youth in particular.

When I look at the culture of American teens today I see a really affirming shift in values that relates to how young people treat one another.¬† It used to be that the concept of “cool” was one dictated to teens by media and youthful insecurities about who they were supposed¬† to be / what it meant to fit in were addressed in the court of public humiliation.¬† Bullies and cliques and “mean girls” were a staple role in middle school and high school culture – there to beat down those that didn’t fit in.¬† And there was no recourse for this kind of behavior besides telling an adult and being publicly shunned by your peers.

But now culture is not dictated to teenagers by anyone but themselves. Teens create their own media – social media- and are interconnected in a way that allows them to have real dialogues about what’s “cool” and what’s not.¬† And the social role that is finally on the chopping block:¬† bullies!

I was touched and affirmed to hear about this story on CNN today:  of a high school sophomore who had been bullied and was nominated to her Homecoming Court as a Joke Рbut fought back with social media and will be attending homecoming tonight with her head held high and the support of not just her entire community, but of the entire country.
This story hits close to home as something very similar happened to my twin brother when we were in High School.  He was always kind of socially awkward and was an easy target for the masses of insecure teens in little pocket of suburgatory.  But there was no social media in the 90s and, although he had the support of a few good friends and decided to just suck it up and have a good time regardless of what others thought, I know it must have been hard for him.  And it was hard for me not really  knowing what to do or how to make him feel better.  I think If I had the power of the internet at my fingertips and all of the dialogue that is happening now I would have been empowered to take a stand and make a difference.

So I am sending a big high-five to Whitney Kropp and letting her know she has my vote for Homecoming queen and I hope that what she has done by putting herself out there makes a big dent in the bully population of her small town and others like it.¬† Positive change is coming and it’s because teens today know when they see something wrong and are empowered by one another to fix it.

Categories: Anthropology, conflict theory, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Experiment, Geeks, Generation Y, pop culture, Rituals, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Playing WIth Your Joystick While Drinking: An Adult-Adolescent Dream

Last night I indulged in an overgrown adolescent fantasy with my “BFF”.¬† There was no porn involved, nor did we tip cows or crash a kegger.

No, we two 35 year old women made our first stop at the food truck park where I irresponsibly scarfed down Philly cheese steak nachos  from a vendor called The Blaxican.  Then we went to a place I could only have envisioned in my dreams.

We walked into the Joystick Gamebar  where i found the walls lined with arcade games from the 80s and 90s and the bar menu featured culinary cocktails with sides of  homemade cheese poofs and pizza pop tarts.

I popped quarters into box after beautiful wooden box:¬† killing flying bugs in Galaga like my 12 year-old pro-self, getting my ego bruised in Mortal Combat and making my fingers numb pounding the bright buttons toward my ultimate demise on Neo Geo.¬† I was amongst the company of a veritable Gen X sausage fest.¬† My bestie and I were the only females in the place that didn’t work there or weren’t dragged there by their sweatpants-wearing, Dorito-eating boyfriends.¬† But was there one person in there with any shame?¬† The answer is a resounding “hell no”.

And why on earth would you find such a place in this hipster-pocket of downtown where we spent our Wednesday evening?¬† Could there possibly be enough stunted adults in one city-center to support such an enterprise of expensive cocktails and cheap thrills?¬† You betcha.¬† I live in an urban wonderland filled with advertising executives, cable TV animators, fashion-followers, BMW drivers and culinary junkies who despite “living the dream” still can’t help but crave the comfort and simplicity of their middle class suburban childhoods.

They long for a life less complicated, when Mom would insist that “the phone is not a toy” and a paper route sustained your basic needs for comic books and pegs for your bike.¬† They would never have conceived that they would grow up to find the perfect “creative” job that would keep them on a 24/7 digital leash and suck their will to live.

Thus the urban entertainment landscape is finding venue upon venue to help us beam back to our nostalgic wombs and find comfort in the spoils of our privileged childhoods that don’t remind us of our modern-day techno-overloaded stressball of¬† a day-to-day existence.¬†¬† There is profit to be had in mollifying those of us who can’t seem to figure out how we lost our way down the rabbit hole. We are a generation of highly paid adults who work like intellectual pack animals then ride our colorful bikes to the local kickball league-game, adult ice-pop stand¬† ( ) and booze-filled arcades – peddling our way headlong into midlife crisis.¬†¬† Pun intended.

Bottoms-up and “may the force be with you”.

Categories: Anthropology, cocktails, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Ethnography, Geeks, hipster culture, Marketing, middle class, Participant Observation, pop culture, sociology, Suburban Living, Trends, Uncategorized, urban culture, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sociology of Style: Are Women “Dressing For Success” Only To Encourage A Corporate Culture of Failure?

I have been spending a lot of time in the past year doing work in the apparel and retail space…studying the cultural context that influences how and why different types of consumers choose the clothing styles and brands that they use to cover themselves up everyday or to uncover their unique personal identities.

Recently I was introduced to a PhD in Sociology named Anna who focuses on the Sociology of style: how our social structures and societal facts (rather than nuanced cultural facts) influence fashion trends. And I was immediately enamoured – with her brain and her point of view.

Below is a link to one of her more recent blogs on women’s fashion and the influence of masculine clothing styles on women’s apparel trends.

It started a long email trail between myself and a few other brand strategy, sociology and anthropology geeks / professionals on the issue of women in corporate america. Interestingly, a social structure run mostly by men, albeit social science has recently proven that corporations who have women in senior roles actually perform better.

The conversation turned my thought to how corporate style for women is very – seemingly intentionally masculine: slacks and suits and shirts with collars. ANd this is especially true in senior levels of corporate organizations. At the junior levels, and especially in more innately creative companies like ad agencies, women in the lower and middle rungs get away with more street-style and feminine allure. But that is something that seems to get lost as women rise up in the ranks and essentially start dressing for the job they want by emulating the mainstream masculine fashions.

But in reality, it would seem that if women in corporate settings that were running the show made a point to embrace more empathetic and diverse fashions that pervade “street” fashion and couture trends, then perhaps the empathy, intuition and diversity of thought that women bring to the table would become more mainstream – stomping out the outdated “kill or be killed” masculine mentality that has so far sent capitalism into a downward spiral.

So I beg the question: can we learn from the sociology of style about how we turn around our economic decline by simply letting our girl-power shine through with a more feminine sense of style?

And will this mean that I will have to start wearing skirts…or can I just wear pink? ūüėČ

Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Emerging Workforce, Fashion, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Humans Are Weird


jet lag... 295365

jet lag… 295365 (Photo credit: paloetic)

Love this blog I found today on Freshly pressed. A cop-out due to jet-lag? maybe. A really interesting blog that imposes the anthropological imperative of practicing the urgent work of noticing? Absolutely.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Participant Observation, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What Do our Comforts Say About Americans As Consumer Creatures?

I have just returned from a ten dray trip to Europe, spent on vacation with my wife.¬† Certainly not my first vacation trip abroad and definitely not the first time I have traveled to other parts of the world to study consumer culture (as it’s my profession as well as my passion).

However, every time I do come home from a road trip around the world, I know the first thing I look forward to is getting home and indulging in some of my favorite creature comforts that I didn’t necessarily long for on the road but definitely reach for the moment I hit the ground.¬† Things like a cheeseburger, a Peanut butter and jelly “sammich”, popping on the TV, a long, languishing hot shower,¬† playing games on my iPhone without sucking up data roaming charges, playing with my dog, fabric softener, etc.

And as I was indulging in my microwaveable mac-n-cheese today I started wondering what all these creature comforts say about what kind of a creature I am…and how that projects to American creatures at large.¬† Because while I may crave certain comforts after a long time away from home, those are many of the same ones I appreciate being without when I am on the road…and ones by which I examine the values of other cultures.

For example:¬† in Barcelona there is not much to speak of by way of TV channels or “fast” food.¬† But people do spend a lot of time on their meals…cooking and socializing, preparing and eating fresh foods purchased at local markets.¬†¬† And instead of watching TV they work long hours…albeit not efficiently…because human interaction is the nature of work, social and leisure lifestyles.¬†¬† And you rarely see anyone that’s not a tourist sitting around engrossed in their app-filled mobile devices.¬† People don’t walk down the street tapping at touch screens or talking in to headsets.¬† They talk to each other or take in their environment.

And as I wake up in a panic hoping I am ready to dive back in to work and craving the caffeinne kick and Bejewelled blitz fix to wake and shake me back into my routine, I contemplate my fast-and-furious American lifestyle.   Am I nothing if not consuming?  How do I change my impulsive ways and cholesterol-inducing cravings? Would I survive in a slower-paced, organic, not-so-technected world?  Or is the only way this American can thrive if my food is packaged and my interaction is instantly gratifying?

I may never know without expatriation.¬† So for now, I am back to my Mac and ready to roll…

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, Participant Observation, Rituals, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Barcelona: A Culinary Wonderland

When people ask me what I will miss the most about Barcelona, I will tell them the food – don’t even need to think twice about it.

If there is one thing the Catalonians know how to do well, it’s eat. The abundance of fresh, local meats, fish, cheeses and produce renders supermarkets full of packaged goods unnecessary and well prepared food is accessible and easy / quick for anyone.

You rarely see a local eating McDonald’s or anybody the few and far between traditional fast food options . That’s because fresh sandwiches, pastries an pinxtos (small bites like mini sandwiches or topped “crostinis”) are available just about everywhere and dirt cheap. I will say, however, this is not a locale for vegetarians or vegans. They like their cows, lambs and pigs here.

My other favorite thing is how inexpensive and plentiful the wine is. In a land known for this lovely libation, wine is a standard at every meal and ridiculously affordable. Unlike in the states where a bottle of wine often costs as much as if not twice the cost of your meal, here you can purchase an excellent bottle with here the price of what a glass or two might cost at a nice restaurant.

The cured meats, cheese, pastries and Rioja are enough to make me want to move here. I can see myself settling in to evenings spent at the bodegueta eating meat and succumbing to a lifelong cholesterol medication regimen.

But alas, it is time to check in for my flight and get back to real life…nothing but salads and treadmills in my immediate future while I dream of manchego and fatty meats.

Here are some pictures from the markets and our favorite meals…
















Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, dining, Ethnography, Food | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona’s Disenfranchised Street Art

Barcelona has an interesting and unique vibe when in comes to the. Street art scene. By way if what’s out there you see way more tagging than actually artistic expression. Most surfaces are fair game, including churches and sides of buildings on main thoroughfares and the government has done a lot to crack down in street art on building facades. In particular, there are certain districts where shop owners are fined for hiring street artists to create works in their facades / doors (for when they roll down and lock up at night) rather than having taggers randomly mark their territory.

Many shop owners actually seek to encourage constructive artistic expression to support this disenfranchised scene an make the streets more aesthetic but the local governments see. I difference between tag scribble and actual art so they penalize shop owners for their patronage of the arts instead of encouraging it. There are actually websites shop owners can go to to find the artists whose style they prefer.

That being said, examples of the best and the worst are at every turn. No Banksy or Space Invaders on my watch but still some interesting expression. Here is a walk through some of what I captured in my hunt for something special.











Categories: Anthropology, Art, Art and culture, Consumer Culture, hipster culture, Participant Observation, pop culture, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Barcelona Architecture: A Gaudi History

Barcelona is a city known for being lively and full with art, music, great cuisine and perhaps most of all for its architecture.

A walk through Barcelona is like taking a stroll through a living and breathing museum filled with artworks that reflect the history of this very European Spanish city.

Perhaps the most notable of architects is Antoni Gaudi, who in his lifetime designed several of the most unforgettable buildings you will ever have the opportunity to lay eyes on.

As the leader of the Catalan modernists, he also integrated other of his talents for woodworking, stained glass, wrought iron working and ceramics into his designs and interiors.

He is responsible for the design of a couple of notable Barcelona residences (now museums) and his most famous life work (where he is now buried), The Sagrada Familia church .

Gaudi was an enthusiast of religion and inspired by nature’s most basic and intricate forms in his designs. The over-the-top showiness in his style is where we derive the term “gaudy”. But in Barcelona, Gaudy is Gaudi and it’s a part of this city’s unmistakeable character.

Here are some photos from our visit to the Sagrada Familia as well as the Casa Batllo and Casa Mila.














Categories: Anthropology, Art, Art and culture | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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