Monthly Archives: February 2013

American Deep Culture Spelled Out: “DIE”


One of my favorite new subscriptions is to Yes Magazine .  It’s a good add to the roster of food, fashion, news, social science and wellness magazines we have steadily flowing into our mailbox – posing “Powerful Ideas and Practical Actions” in line with our changing social ethos and helping humans to find better ways to sustain our existence.

In this month’s issue I was taken by the article below: a commentary from a cultural perspective on the deep culture in the U.S. that is inspiring our approach to solving the problem of gun violence.

In my work I actually use a deep culture / surface culture framework when approaching some client projects so I thought this was an interesting way to tackle this particular issue.

Enjoy the article below or click Here to see this and more from (or subscribe to) Yes Magazine!

From the Culture of Aloha, a Path Out of Gun Violence

by Poka Laenui
Beneath mainstream culture runs a current of domination, individualism, and exclusion that is harming our children. We assume this is normal—but is it really?

U.S. society tends to deal with violence by treating it as an individual occurrence—focusing on the “perpetrator” and how he is different from us. The more people killed or maimed, the more horrendous the event, the more we separate the actor and event from ourselves—the good people—and individualize responsibility to the “gun-toter.” All that matters is believing that we’re different—whether because of race, religion, political beliefs, economic status, mental illness, or some other characteristic. It’s the stigmatizing game.

We exclude the “other” from ourselves, rather than admitting to common characteristics. Added to this deep attitude of exclusion is a deep acceptance of violence as a means to domination, to superiority, to being the winner. So deep and pervasive are these attitudes of domination and exclusion in our culture that we don’t even see them until they are called to our attention. These attitudes are two of three that form the basis of the primary U.S. deep culture—one that goes below our ethnicity, or even religion, and forms our fundamental approach to relations with one another, with the economy, with the environment, with education, and with god(s) and religion. The third leg of this deep culture is individualism. It is a domination, individualism, and exclusion—or DIE—deep culture that is the essence of modern U.S. society. DIE pervades our leisure, work, politics, families—it affects virtually everything we do. We assume our deep culture is normal and defend it as natural for a society.

There is no better mental health treatment for a child than the loving embrace of the child’s community.

But not so. In Hawai‘i, we express the values of ‘Olu‘olu (compatible, non-conflictive, mellow, comfortable, non-dominating), Lokahi (elevating the importance of family, groups, seeing things with holistic eyes) and Aloha (caring, sharing, inclusiveness, and love). This OLA culture (in Hawaiian, “ola” means life and health) exists not only in Hawai‘i or among Hawaiians. Around the world, there are pockets of OLA. Many families practice it, as do some churches, schools, and social groups. Unfortunately, it stops too often at the borders of those small groups.

In response to tragic events like the shootings at Sandy Hook, we need to be far more broadly focused than on treatment for autism or more treatment for mental illness. We need to see beyond the remedy of weapons control in a civil society.

If we understand the broader framework before us, we can have a better common appreciation of the depth of change to be made.

The very deep culture of DIE itself must be replaced with OLA (however one chooses to express it). In a culture of inclusion, loving, caring and sharing, every child is treasured, honored, and accepted. There is no better mental health treatment for a child than the loving embrace of the child’s community. From that starting environment, the child’s challenges as well as gifts are addressed.

In an OLA school environment, we would find group and individual achievements and excellence praised, rather than superiority or domination. Tests would be taken by groups helping one another get to the correct answers, rather than separating children and ranking one higher or smarter than the other after the tests.

These fundamental values, practiced from early childhood, should spread far beyond the school ground, working their way into the core of all our relations with one another, with our treatment and respect for our environment, with our curiosities and acceptance of different religions, languages, and customs, with nations and cultures different from our own.

None of us can change the deep culture alone. But if we understand the broader framework before us, we can have a better common appreciation of the depth of change to be made.

Knowing that others are already practicing a culture of life and health, we need not feel so isolated in our work. That knowledge is the foundation of long and deep change in our society.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Gun Control, sociology, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Narcissistic Podcast: On Culture and the Business of Brand Strategy


Want to hear how social science translates into the business of marketing and brand strategy?  Check out this interview and podcast (link at the bottom) on C Suite 2.0:

Culture Trumps Strategy

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Culture, Marketing, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

One Millennial speaks about her “civic generation”. Will it be feast or folly? Answer yet unknown but as the folks at the Lottery say, “you can’t win if you don’t play”. At minimum this generation is “game on”….

So-Called Millennial


Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.

–John Adams
I thought I would expand on why I adhere to some of the attributes of Howe & Strauss generational cycle theory.  In short, it’s because of the nature of democracy. Democracy deals with the age old chicken-or-the-egg scenario of the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few. Are you part of the many or part of the few? In a democracy the idea is to achieve unity in the midst of the needs of the many and the needs of the few. On top of that, if all men are created equal, there is always an ongoing conversation of…

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Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology, Culture, Generation Y, Millennials, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

amen. Having dreamed of living in New York and experience the reality of it in the early 2000s I am inclined to agree….

Plumbing For The Pipe Dream

Growing up in New York, Manhattan has always held an ineffable mystique to me; propped up by the bourgeois societals, limitless culture and a Hollywood love affair.  Coming into the “city” I would wax poetically about the grandiose air of the people and the pretense of their demeanor. Back then, when the economy was bristling with endless wealth, we romanticized the affluent in hopes that we will someday enjoy the fruits of our own labors.  We chased the reservation of the most highly touted restaurants and accepted the fate of an over judgmental waiter as he scoffed at our attire.  It was all part of the experience; a submission to abuse that made us feel ever more alive.

Times have certainly changed.  The endless luster of the Manhattanite has become pocked and pallid under a reeling economy.  The youth have seceded from the shores of the island for more practical…

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is The Food Industry in America Ready To Start Paying Its Karmic Debt?

image courtesy of The New York Times

Image by Grant Cornett,  courtesy of The New York Times (Featured in The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, published February 24th, 2013)

It’s no secret that in the food industry, whether you are selling fruit or fried snacks, “the selling of food matters as much as the food itself. A little bit of marketing strategy goes a long way (something I would know a few things about) and the companies who make the stuff you buy spend a lot of money trying to figure you (yes, you) out the best they can so they can make sure you want their product enough to go out and buy it and tell your friends! That’s all well and good, right? Everything is about branding these days and there’s so much competition that it’s important to make your product stand out. With food, though, it gets a little sketchy because we know we have an obesity and diabetes problem in this country that just keeps growing and we are trying to unlearn the bad habits and re-learn some good ones.
What you may not know, however, is that, according to a serious whistle-blower article in today’s New York Time’s Magazine  The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by Michael Moss, that the food companies (think Frito Lay, General Mills, etc.) have been using hardcore food science to find out how best to get you addicted to their food so you buy / eat up as much as possible to keep them in business…and that the ingredients that make that happen are pretty much all the worst things for us that continue to make us sick: fat, salt and sugar.
So, on the one hand we can say : “well, we created this culture of unhealthy consumption by buying this stuff – sacrificing our health so we could have more time to do other things like work and watch TV”. But on the other hand, the light on the scientific side of the tunnel says that maybe it isn’t entirely our fault – that we’ve basically been sold legal crack by a system of companies who, by the way, DID know better but continued to do it anyway.
This goes back to the dilemma I find myself and a lot of my peers in this industry grappling with: who is responsible for improving the state of our human existence? The dialog of late has stated that it’s up to civil society as much as governments and corporations. But the more and more I think about it – and the more I read and learn about this business I thought I knew all too well – the more affirmed I become in my belief that these same offending corporations need to be the ones leading the charge toward a healthy human population and they need to do it now.
One former Coke exec is doing just that – as detailed in the aforementioned article here: The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food , by using the marketing tricks he learned to sell carrots instead of “crap”.

I recommend giving this one a read.  It’s important that we know what’s out there so we can make informed decisions. The fate of our culture is in our own hands and a little bit of knowledge, like a little bit of marketing, goes a long way in creating momentum for change.


Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology, Corporate Culture, Culture, Food, Marketing, Science, sociology, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A touching portrait of the Philppines from a “child’s” eyes


Back by popular demand (yes I have one fan)!

At the beginning of a new year, it seems appropriate to focus on the world’s children.  One image of the Philippines that will stay with me forever is the many lovely children that one meets while traveling in different parts of this beautiful country.  As I traveled, I had a chance to interact with children in a number of settings such as a school in Bohol, a grandparents’ house in Vigan, and urban neighborhoods in Manila.  Filipinos have strong family values and most of the children I met were part of a caring family.  Sadly in Manila, I also met with kids living on the streets, still beautiful children but with lots of challenges to overcome.  As in many overcrowded urban environments all over the world, some kids are left to fend for themselves and often end up dealing with drugs…

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This blog captures my generational identity crisis perfectly and I think most of my friends will agree!

So-Called Millennial

I was chatting with a friend the other day who just had a baby girl that she named Felicity. I love the name and asked my friend if it was a family name. She said no, she’s just always liked it, and added that she has always loved the show Felicity that was on WB back in the day. I used to watch that as well, and we reminisced over the Ben/Felicity/Noel love triangle, and admitted we both always wanted Felicity to end up with Ben. A few days after this conversation I was inspired to to binge-watch Felicity on Netflix. Watching this show I realized that I didn’t have an awkward sense of style in my early high school years, and that it was the fault of late-90s style that drove me to wear huge wool sweaters, and baggy pants.

My friend, six years older than me, is generally…

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Generation Y, Millennials, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Calling All Millennials: Do I Have You Pegged?


I frequently get called on to talk to clients and help them understand this “elusive” generation of teens and young adults we call “Millennials” or “Gen Y”.

This generation is in an interesting stage of evolution: some are in still in high school while the oldest are approaching their mid thirties and general this group of “young folks” spans several life stages.

In some recent work I have done some “distilling” of high level insights about Millennials based on years of observation, structured study and general empirical data collection.   What I want to know from the “so-called Millennials” (totally stolen from one of my new favorite blogs) is how well these insights really capture your reality?

While I understand that every individual has different circumstances and not everyone can relate, I would love to get some thoughts from “actual” Millennials (even though I am not too far removed age-wise) on how they are being represented in the social science / marketing space.

So here are some snippets from some recent work.  Definitely let me know what you think. I am receptive to all constructive criticism and builds but please do not throw rotten fruit:

Millennials have come of age in a world in flux (terrorism, war, collapse of financial institutions, etc), which has affected both their economic outlook as well as lifestyle priorities.  They are carreer focused but mindful of the need to be self-sufficient and entrepreneurial. They want to live a balanced life whereby their career feeds passions and matches their ideals in addition to providing income.

Millennials attitudes and values have evolved with the times(in comparison to the youth of “yesterday”) to be focused on managing a balance between individual success and forwarding the cause of the collective

  • Fairness and happiness of others is a top of mind concern
  • They are aware of and self conscious about economic polarization
  • Diversity is a “non issue” in that it is a part of their world and expected
  • Females are advancing their education and employment prospects even faster than males (higher rates of college graduation among female Millennials)

Millennials are committed to staying connected to others and   to the world around them

•Technology and social media are central to their lifestyle and connecting to others
•Travel is  a core lifestyle priority that will enable them to see and experience both their world (domestically) and the world at large

Millennials don’t see themselves as dramatically different or opposed to the ideas  of previous generations – but rather take heed of wisdom and lessons learned and seek to be different by behaving “better”

•Have close relationships with their parents
•They share a lot of values with older generations
This is just a “taste” of some of the high level ideas and ideals I talk about with clients and other folks in the industry I work in.  It is absolutely not all encompassing but I hope the point of view is at least somewhat on point.
So, hit me with your best shot, Millennials!
Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Generation Y, Marketing, Millennials, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Calling All Teams: Sociology Of Style on Sports Tribalism and Dressing The Part

Anthropologists are suckers for anything with the word “tribe” in it.  I am no exception.  Here’s a really interesting piece from sociology of style on the role of the uniform in sports.

A Tribe Called Us

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

                                                  —- Jane Howard, Families

Sports: love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a huge part of our culture.  But what you may not also realize is they are part of what makes us human.

In The Social Conquest of Earth, Edward O. Wilson argues that tribalism (and competition) is fundamental to humanity, and he describes sports teams as our modern day tribes: “People must have a tribe.  It gives them a name in addition to their own and social meaning in a chaotic world.”  Though we largely don’t engage in tribal warfare on a daily basis as we once did, we satiate this need on the athletic battlefield — an area that still allows us to demonstrate the superiority of our tribe over another. We feel this surge not only when we’re immediately part of the action, but also when our team rises to victory.

So how do we visually mark our tribal sports affiliations?

In 1849, the Knickerbocker Baseball club (the first baseball club) created baseball uniforms, and donned straw hats, blue pantaloons, and white flannel shirts (pictured above). One year later, the sewing machine was patented, which allowed the baseball “jersey” to become widespread. Other teams followed suit, creating color schemes and pantaloons of their own.

Clearly, the uniform has greatly evolved beyond pantaloons and straw hats. Today, all sports jerseys are uniform (pun intended). Each team wears identical garb, differentiated only by their name and number.  In addition to the practical reasoning for athletic uniforms (easily identifying your team members), these uniforms foster a group mentality, which helps them to function as a unit — an essential quality of any victorious tribe. Click here to view custom high school football uniforms that have recently been created.

But athletes still express individuality while on the court or field, within the confines of team conformity. In basketball, players can choose flashy shoes and decide whether or not to wear a headband and an arm or leg band, (as seen by Carmelo Anthony). And, of course, tattoos and long hair are personal differentiators across many sports.  At the same time, some of the best teams have shown solidarity by embracing team conformity — take the Boston Red Sox, who (somewhat controversially) all shaved their heads in 2003.

Want some tips on how to use your style to be part of the team (whether sports related or not)?  Click below for that and more from Sociology of Style:

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Fashion, sociology, Sports, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Been doing some research per a new client who is looking to understand (among other things) Millennial parents and how their lifestyles affect thier consumer behavior in a “specific category”.

Conclusion from this piece of data: See, folks: Millennials aren’t so different than anybody else. This perspective from a “so-called Millennial” Mom proves it.

So-Called Millennial

I can’t believe my son’s birthday is right around the corner. He’s a joy, a challenge, and the silliest little man I know.

I think Millennial moms are an interesting breed, and I really enjoy women my age who are moms. According to WIC Moms, Millennials make up of 76% of births nowadays, so I know you’re out there Millennial moms. I think there are a lot of myths out there about what it means to be a parent, so here is my perspective as a Millennial.

1. It really is different when you have your own.

I didn’t have excessive maternal instincts growing up. When I babysat growing up (those 2 times…) I made my sister change the diapers of the kids. I didn’t play with baby dolls. I didn’t want to be The Mom when I “played house” growing up (I wanted to be the rebellious runaway…

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Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, Generation Y, Millennials, parents, Participant Observation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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