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sociology

We’re Not Mourning The 80’s. We’re Returning To Them.

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I know what everyone has been thinking as we look gleefully forward to the end of 2016, with a desire to put the social and political turmoil behind us as well as say “good riddance” to the year that took several beloved artists from us.

We are thinking, “How did we lose so many of our treasured pop culture icons from the 80’s? Why them?”  “Why now?” From Bowie to Prince to George Michael and Carrie Fisher and even (yes) the guy who played ALF!

Those of us whose lives have been touched by these so-much-more-human-than-human artists  and the characters that were so near and dear to our hearts feel this deep sense of loss. However, at the same time as we have had to say goodbye to these incredible beacons of hope from the recent past, we have seen a resurgence of many other things from that same decade.

For example:
In pop culture: Zombies! (The 80’s did, after all, bring us a nearly un-countable number of  zombie movies as paid homage to in the video hit Thriller) and Vinyl (because records are a “thing” again).

In fashion: Mom Jeans and thick eyebrows (Brooke Shields?  Anyone?)

I know you’re thinking that I’m getting a little too trend-centric and pop-culture fluffy with it, but hang in there.  I have a point, I promise….

In politics:  Celebrity Presidents (in the 80’s, we had former actor Ronald Reagan.  Now we have Reality TV star and bombastic businessman, Donald Trump) , what will soon be the resurgence of a new kind of Trickle-down-economics (which is the Economic Policy closest in to what Trump’s platform is based on) and Russia! (in the 80’s we loved to hate  Mikhail Gorbachev and now we have Vladimir Putin to make fun of on our sketch comedy shows.

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Culturally speaking, the 80s were a time of emerging conspicuous consumption and status-based classism – lots of nouveau riche boughie types flocking to the cities and the single life…wearing fur coats, driving porsches and ferraris and splashing around in the idea of a glamorous  “Greed is Good” mentality toward American economic and cosmopolitain “progress.”

At the same time, Willy Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first concert that would turn in to a now 30 year-strong organization called Farm Aid to combat the suffering that middle America farm communities were going through due to rampant closing of family farms as corporations started taking over.

We saw a country ripped apart by fear caused by the AIDS epidemic – which initially targeted the Gay community, who was still living at the fringes and considered a somewhat alienated “unknown”.   It took the story of Ryan White – a young boy who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion – to humanize the epidemic and begin vital conversations in our country about sexual orientation and fear and inclusion. Not to mention the idea of coming together to begin finding searching for treatments and cures for a disease that nobody deserves to die from.

The 80’s also brought us Cable television – revolutionizing pop culture as we know it  – making it possible for us to see more and more of the America we thought we knew and beginning an era of overstimulation that would have us retreating back in to our shells of familiarity more than finding common ground because content was being pushed at us, but we didn’t have an internet to allow us to publicly react to what we are seeing.

These days we have replaced cable television with social media to maintain our echo-chambers.  But fortunately we also have ways to have conversations – should we choose to – with people who don’t look like us or live like us or even live near us.

The point I’m actually trying to make here is that, in losing the 80’s pop stars that have so obviously and publicly fallen this year, we are actually reminding ourselves of the good things that came out of a time and a mentality we seem to be regressing back in to for a moment.

You see, I spend a good amount of time studying culture and sociology and reading up on topics like  Spiral Dynamics and social science that focuses on Worldviews as well as topics like Generational Cycles Theory.   In my work, I apply my understanding of the world and it’s nuances and patterns of change to helping my clients understand how to evolve their business and the ways they communicate with the humans that buy their products.  And because I study this stuff and apply it to a consumer space all the time, I am also thinking about it constantly and looking at cues from pop culture to seek to understand our world.

This year – particularly toward the end – has had me wracking my brain trying to explain why all of this seemingly bizarre stuff is happening in our sociopolitical landscape;  the populist ideals, the xenophobia and the generalized seemingly backwards progress  (as many liberal, intellectual types like me and my peers might see it).   In the end, I am able to say, “well sure I saw this coming” – for a number of reasons stemming from the ways in which we have chosen to engage with one another in our mainstreaming digital world to other factors related to cultural, environmental and  economic factors.

But I end up left falling back on  platitudes like “it’s always darkest before the dawn” or “it’s gonna get harder before it gets easier” – yet still full of hope that we will get to the “easy” part soon.

That being said, the scientific disciplines mentioned above that focus on social change all tell us (as does history) that wen tend to evolve in a spiral-type way.

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But the thing about spirals is that you always have to go back a little bit in the direction you came from before you can move forward.

My point and hypothesis  is that THIS time is the time for our slight backwards movement and I believe we have chosen the 80’s as our touch-point for this devolution of sorts.  But ALSO per the loss of our 80’s icons like Prince and Bowie and Carrie Fisher, the actress behind the Iconic beacon-of-hope character Princess Leia)  I think we are being given sacrificial lambs as reminders of the wonderful progress that was made during these times.  In the article just linked to about Princess Leia, for example – the author reminds us that the real reason we love that character so much is because

 It’s about creative thinking, keeping it together when it counts, and outclassing every pretentious pencil pusher the Empire can throw her way.

 

Artists like Bowie and Prince  taught us to embrace our weird, to love ourselves for everything that we are and to let our true colors shine .  George Michael, through his music and very public human journey also taught us (in particular, the Gay community)  many life lessons about accepting who we are and not letting the world get us down.

Even ALF – who I reference as a HUGE fan, btw – taught us a good amount about how we see the world.  This affably bizarre alien reminded us that we are not alone in seeing how ridiculous everyday life can be and that it’s okay to laugh it off sometimes.

Truth be told, I still have an ALF doll in my office.  Whenever I feel like an Alien from another planet come to study humans and their ways, “he”  reminds me about the humor in all of it and that I chose to keep my eyes open because I love my fellow humans and I believe we are on a very profound, fast-tracked evolutionary path.

So as many of you mourn what you see as a loss and start throwing Molotov Cocktails at 2016 so as to obliterate the memory of it as we move in to a new year, take a moment to honor the memories of those beacons of hope who have been brought back in to our public consciousness once more to let us know that even though it seems like we are fighting an uphill battle sometimes,  we have the power of our light (and most likely The Force  as well) to guide us forward.

Rest in Peace, 1980’s AND 2016.  We will remember to learn our lessons from the past and keep them with us, along with the beauty and the joys that have propelled us forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: American Culture, american History, Art and culture, Culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Perils of Adulthood Part 1: Making New Friends

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The other day I was in my car listening to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts , This American Life.  The theme was related to the concept of human intimacy and all of the anxiety it causes. The second story was the one that really got to me. It was about how hard it is as an adult to make new friends; and not necessarily just the type you casually hang out with but close friends that you can have a bond with.

It’s a situation that has become fairly acute for me recently. I’ll be 40 in just over a year. My wife (although she appears as youthful as the summer days are long) is also in that “grown folks” age range. Life and time has us in a place now where we are being mindful about the energy we keep around us. We are scrutinizing old friendships, appreciating strong friendships and starting to “date” new friends we’ve met as a couple (as opposed to the ones we individually brought “with” us) . I’m preparing to say goodbye to my longtime “best” friend whom life is taking on a new adventures away from the city we call home and clear across the country. And it’s freaking me out a bit.

Yes I know there are all kinds of technology as well as things like airplanes that can help keep people connected and even be party to the development of long-term relationships. I’m all too well aware. My best friend is moving for a woman she is in love with, who she has been internationally dating for nearly two years and whom she met on Tumblr (that’s a whole other blog).   But the fact is, it’s not “the same”.

We crave intimate connections with other humans that come in many forms: paternal/maternal, fraternal, romantic, and platonic and any other nuance you can think of. It’s our basic social instinct. We are social creatures. And most of us like to have other creatures we relate to in close proximity to use. We want to feel like we belong. And we want to literally feel love.

These are basic hierarchy of needs foundations. It’s why the two previously mentioned long-distance lovers are both ripping themselves away from the comforts of home to be together instead of sustaining a Skype-based romance. And it’s why sustaining and making new friendships as an adult is so important to our productive human functioning.

But making friends as an adult is so much harder then when we were younger. As a matter of fact, making friends gets progressively more difficult as we age. This is both a sociological as well as psychological fact. See this helpful visual aid on Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development from a creative Glogster Educational Blog poster.

erikson-s-eight-stages-of-psychosocial-development-source

 

When we’re in our youngest years, we are selfish little “watery moles” it’s all about us and getting what we need to survive and knowing where our bread is buttered. Then we start figuring out that behavior has consequences and we have choices and we start seeking approval for our choices, including gaining a sense of self worth by starting to collect people who approve of us: friends.

But then we start becoming adolescents and young adults and as we learn more about who we are as individuals we start to get picky….until suddenly we aren’t in a daily pool of human’s representative of the relevant general population to choose from (e.g. school) and if our job is not an extension of our passions and personal identity (which I realize is a very common reality albeit very different from my own) then the people we see at work every day are not necessarily eligible for the type of intimate, growth-inspiring relationship we need as adult humans.

When middle age sets in and we are driven to re-assess our meaning and the meaning of the people in our lives and realize the pool of potentials has now become woefully thin. Of course, as you get much older you begin to once again get less picky and find social groups that will help you remain feeling human and productive despite the realities of your degenerating physical self. My parents are in that stage right now – just having moved from a very isolated environment to a thriving community of humans in a mature life-stage, where they are thriving as they make new friends every day and stay socially and physically active.

I suppose the dilemma I am speaking of comes from my very acute sense of entering middle adulthood and wondering how I am going to find the time and energy to forge new intimate friendships while working so hard to leave my mark on the world.   There isn’t really an online “friendly, casual dating” site to turn to. You have to make a point to get out in the world and start new conversations.

I think that’s why places like upscale, intimate music venues, brewpubs, whiskey and wine bars and “casual” fine dining concepts with eat-at-the-bar and communal tables have become so popular. They are places where people who have an interest outside of finding a “hookup” for the night can stumble upon people with similar interests and strike up a non-committal exploratory conversation.   They are places where gender and mating aren’t the top priority, in favor of connecting via an appreciation of an aesthetic.

But those kinds of places are only great friend-finding solutions in places where there are lots of people with disposable income like urban and suburban areas. What about folks who live in spread out rural areas or small towns or in places that lack the economic infrastructure to create economic mobility, urban development and general means to escape to a greener pasture?   How do you figure out how to find meaningful relationships with a limited pool of prospects to choose from?

As I write this I am reminded of the thing I tell myself and whomever will listen to me on a regular basis: It’s all about giving yourself permission to belong to everyone and have everyone belong to you.  It’s about the love.  I need to remember to follow my own advice sometimes.

Maybe the lesson we forget as we age is that we are all in this thing called life and the human experience together. We are of one unbroken mind and spirit. If we make a point to open ourselves up and be vulnerable to our fellow humans we have an opportunity to see inside to our deepest selves and realize that we are all the exact same thing.

We are all love. We all have that in common – we just tell ourselves that this thing we call our “self” has all kinds of rules about what we can be an who we can let in.   And the older we get the more rules we accumulate until our wall of rules is stacked to the sky and utterly impenetrable.   But I think many of the brave ones among us learn that we find friends from unlikely places when we let them through that wall.

I suppose what I am saying about this first peril of adulthood – making new friends – is that it’s about more than finding people in a similar life stage and / or with similar interests who have a schedule that matches yours so you can find the time to hang out and do constructive things together. Perhaps it’s also about making a choice to open yourself up and practice random acts of connection.

What if we decided to start selection with the basics (Are they kind? Are they fun?) as opposed to the limiting specifics (Do run marathons like I do? Are they vegan?). Sure – the love everyone method isn’t fool proof. You will likely get disappointed sometimes. But maybe in those situations where you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you also give yourself the opportunity to be uncomfortable and grow as a result and have the same effect on someone else.

For example, start up a conversation with a random stranger that maybe doesn’t look like you or come from your “world”.   Not only might you enhance your human experience by stepping outside your comfort zone a bit an expanding both the degree you are willing to accept the influence of others and have an influence on others based on your differences, but you will most likely find the most basic of commonalities which, if you choose to be a little fearless every now and then, can be the foundation for creation of a truly intimate human bond.

Just imagine how much better adulthood would be if we all, rather than choosing to narrow our circle of friends, choose to widen it. What if we gave more people the opportunity to “play” as opposed to setting such rigid criteria for even getting on the team? As in anything in life, practice makes perfect. So lets not get so rigid in our middle age that we feel like we don’t need to practice making friends and getting along anymore like we did when we were kids.

After all, you weren’t so picky as a child, bonding with whomever was thrust upon you by virtue of proximity at home or school.   It’s the basis of family bonding, really – you love whom you are born in to.   And I bet there are lots of you out there who still have a lifetime friend from when you were young or remain incredibly close with your siblings…despite growing in different directions.

It’s because you made a conscious decision to maintain your connection to your family (given or chosen) because you know it is the right thing to do as a human

So let’s remember we were all born in to this world together and practice making even bigger families as we mature. Let’s combat the perils of Adulthood by remaining ever vigilant that we make ourselves stronger when we give ourselves permission to make it easier to make friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Anthropology, sociology, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Lessons From Corporate America on Humanizing Poverty

I originally wrote the post below for my company (Culture) blog and also set it here on linkedin

Hope you enjoy the inspiration.

Last year we completed what ended up being an intensely inspiring project…

Our client identified a customer group that they realized they hadn’t been serving to their fullest potential because it is a “target” that they knew very little about. Not only were they profoundly aware of this knowledge gap, but also that their ethnocentric point of view as a corporate culture was definitely going to be a road block on the innovation journey.

This set of humans our client sought so deeply to understand are American families and older adults living at or near the poverty line.

These are people who struggle to provide for themselves and their families and rely on “the system” to help them subsist. These are their customers and potential customers who spend their money from the bottom rungs of the hierarchy of needs and who typically get screened out of market research studies because their income falls below “acceptable” levels.

They are still on their journey and developing empathy every day that is fueling a rampant momentum in the socially forward activation of a newly invigorated corporate mission. And one big lesson they learned about this customer group is that money is not at the root of a person’s inability to break free from the grips of poverty, but it’s the degree to which our cultural views of poverty and social services systems are preventing meaningful relationship-building and provision of resources to allow people to do the work of living to their potential.

The reason they began to understand this (how most people begin to understand one another) is because they made a point to be present in the worlds of these customers, asking questions that go beyond the transactional nature typically used in market research to unearth the principles and behaviors that bring the highest common denominator values that these humans share to light. They unearthed a number of insights from this work which inspired a broad swath of innovation opportunities that, as it turns out, are acutely aligned with their corporate purpose.

This approach of developing empathy through values alignment is what has fueled Culture’s success in giving our corporate clients permission to grow their businesses by being more human.

While this may be an unusual target for consumer brands company to focus on, it is an approach to understanding that many big (and small) businesses are beginning to prioritize; aligning company and ultimately brand values with customer values to create “love connections” that inspire and motivate meaningful actions.

 But this approach is not one often seen applied (beyond the academic space) in the social services realm.

Why? This kind of work is not necessarily feasible for a public sector agency – for a number of systemic reasons that go beyond money. But perhaps the most obvious of which is that recipients of social services are not seen as “customers” but as burdens to the system and therefore not entitled to being understood on a human level in order to design more efficient and effective social services systems.

And delivering any kind of relevant product or service comes from making meaningful human connections. But that’s an easy thing to say. In order to innovate what is widely agreed-upon as a broken system, we must seek first to understand the human needs, rooted in the deepest-held values that unify this distinct cultural group within our American culture. We do this by understanding the context of the lives of the customers we serve.

It is important in Cultural Strategy work like this to address the anthropological challenge of cultural relativism (as we do here at Culture).

This theoretical guideline allows the story of that culture’s context and values system to be told from the perspective of the humans being served – in this case, customers of social services like SNAP (food stamps). Because nobody living outside their context can tell them anything about who they are, what they need and what their “problem” is unless they have lived on their block, in their lives, with their paycheck.

It is one thing to exist on the policy-side and use data to guide decisions. It is yet another to be on customer-service-facing end of social services and only see the tired, frustrated, impatient, sometimes unorganized and often seemingly “unmotivated” people rushing to get their benefits and get out the door. But if we take a moment to step in to the shoes of this set of struggling Americans, like teachers, bakers or nurses, that’s why we recommend nursing shoes at ShoeFinale.
From them we learn a few things about why empowerment to lift one’s self out of poverty is lacking.

For example: when you spend all your time and energy working long hours for little pay (often in service oriented professions that most middle and upper class Americans couldn’t do without), managing tedious transactions with government agencies and also dong your best to care and provide for a family – there is little time to connect with yourself and your highest order needs, let alone make meaningful connections with others that inspire and motivate progress.

So how do we get “the system” to start realizing what at least our clients and many other businesses out there are already embracing – that people should be the bottom line and that meaningful progress comes from building relationships? What are the ways we can learn from the lives of people living in poverty – the values that motivate their behavior and ultimately what their unmet human needs are above and beyond physiological ones?

What if the system were easier to navigate? What if customers could spend less time filling out / following up on piles of paperwork and more time focusing on work and family? What if – once they got a better job and made just a little bit more money they were allowed to keep their benefits for a while to build a savings instead of having their benefits cut and ultimately falling behind (newsflash –a $5/hour salary increase doesn’t make up for having $700 a month in family food benefits cut). What if the experience of going to a social services office to apply for benefits was simply a more loving and less demoralizing experience?

It’s a hierarchy of needs issue. Subsistence is a basic human need. But when we don’t have what we need to survive and feel like the system doesn’t care, we don’t feel the sense of love and belonging that ultimately allows us to develop self-esteem and empower our move upward.

Perhaps government agencies can take some time to examine the value Cultural Strategy can bring to innovate social services.

If social science can be applied to innovate consumer products for the middle class, certainly it can be used to lift people out of poverty – helping our economy and our society to grow and thrive by creating a culture of belonging.

 

Image credit: http://connessioniprecarie.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Democrazia-in-movimento.jpg

 

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

Is Customer Social Responsibility The New “CSR”?

rocky

Sometimes work and life go together.  For Narcissistic Anthropologists like me, this phenomenon happens more often than not.

For the last several months I have been building momentum as a partner at Culture Agency in Atlanta, GA.  In the new year we made an official commitment to, at all costs, only work with clients and on projects that we feel will move human culture forward.

I sit here today, typing out my point of view,  in awe and gratitude for the response we have gotten from our community of clients and fellow strategy practitioners.  It has been amazing to the see the shift in momentum in corporate and “consumer” culture and couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of it.

I wrote the blog below for our company page- but life and art are one so I felt compelled to share here.

Empowering a New Era of CSR: Customer Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility has been a mainstreaming trend in business for the past decade or more. The intentionality of corporations to make it a point to use their resources as a source of social good is a direct reflection of evolving cultural values. To quote Ryan Honeyman from the B Corp Handbook,

“Business is, for better or worse, one of the most powerful forces on the planet. At its best, business encourages collaboration, innovation and mutual well-being and helps people to live more vibrant and fulfilling lives. At its worst, business and the tendency to focus on maximizing short-term profits – can lead to significant social and environmental damage, such as the BP Deepwater horizon Oil spill or the loss of more than $1 trillion in global wealth in the 2008 financial crisis.”

In reaction to a string of global phenomenon of the aforementioned “for worse” part and thanks to the powder keg of awareness and transparency that has been sparked by connectivity, we have seen the responsibility for creating positive social change become distributed with a new balance of power that is fueling significantly stronger momentum. Where the world once relied on the power of governments and their peacekeeping forces to reactively defend (or keep at bay – depending on the government) human rights and try, in the midst of the constant struggle, to carve out room for progress, we now see corporations and civil society realizing both their influence and their obligation.

Three sociological spheres that used to orbit one another, accessing the light of truth separately and unequally depending on their position, are now traveling on a shared path. Civil society has asserted its power to drive social change. The growth and impact of NGOs like the Human Rights Campaign and 350.org have made great strides in areas like marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples and battling Climate Change. Crowd-sourced movements like Occupy raise voices and awareness around income inequality.

When it comes to directing change in the corporate sphere, people are exercising their influence by exercising their wallets – being choiceful about purchases based on their values. People who are passionate about reclaiming the food supply and eating with sustainable health in mind might seek out only those food brands and products that are certified organic or certified non-GMO. Some who care about solving problems related to income inequality might choose one brand over another because they know a portion of the profits (or products) from that company are given to humans in need.

If one trend is clear, it is that more and more “customers” are putting on their “human” hat when they choose how to spend their money. Transparency and corporate social responsibility play an increasing role in our evolving social contract. But as corporations and civil society are finding synergies, new innovations in brand-to-human engagement are arising.

In particular, civil society is realizing that money is not the only powerful force driving social change. Sure, it helps and is a great start and an energetic catalyst. But momentum isn’t driven by bank accounts. It’s driven by action. Change can’t happen unless human hands take those resources and do something with them.

Many businesses leaders in industries across the board have been seeing this light as well. Here’s a little secret about how that’s coming to bear…. lean in closely…

…business leaders are also “customers” and “humans!”

I know. I just blew your mind (insert wink here).

But the other plain fact is that business leaders are the ones who have the power to change the world for the better. Not only do they know it, but they are feeling more and more empowered to embody it the more civil society raises its voice.

According to the co-founders of B Lab, quoted from the same book mentioned above:

“Business leaders are the rock stars of our time. But the rock stars of the next generation will be different from the rock stars of today. These rock stars will build companies that are both high growth and high impact. These rock stars will make money and make a difference – at the same time.”

I tend to think that the trend in better business is heading to a new era of CSR – evolving from Corporate Social Responsibility to a shared ownership rooted in Customer Social Responsibility.

I’ve mentioned a couple of examples of this sort of kindness-in-action before, with Airbnb’s One Less Stranger campaign and Unilever’s Project Sunlight.

I bring them up here again as an example of corporations truly engaging their customers to do something above and beyond using their wallets to affect change. Rather, these two programs encourage customers to get out there and DO something that makes the world better, whether it be a small action like sharing some hot chocolate and a conversation with a “stranger” or downloading a toolkit to help provide guidance on how to start or participate in food sharing programs for the hungry.

This is good news for both businesses and their customers – because it means that we have an opportunity to make life better by reminding us of our power to make this world the caring place we all want it to be by not just putting our money where our mouth is, but also our energy and our time.

Here at Culture, we are proud to work with a number of such business leader “rock stars” who inspire us every day by their willingness to find ways to engage both their organizations and their customers to connect with our shared core human values and make the world a more “human” place for everyone. After all, the first step toward “Customer Social Responsibility” as a part of any business is understanding what drives those customers at their very core and choosing to connect with the highest order values and beliefs that give us permission to share the love.

To see this content in its original form or to read more “Culture” perspectives, click the following link: http://www.culture-agency.com/blog/

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, CSR, sociology | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Creating The Culture That Will Change The World

Superhero kid

 

I’ve had a bit of an absence from the blogosphere lately.  Not for lack of inspiration and desire to pontificate on the quirks of consumer culture – but because I have been busy trying to figure out a way to save the world.  Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit Narcissistic to think that a humble cultural strategist can save the world.  Then again, I resemble that remark.  But here’s the thing – so do the swelling ranks of consultants, brand strategists and corporate leaders who have been awakening to realize the power of business and brands to create positive social change in the world.

I have spent the bulk of the past year whilst in a bit of career transition trying to figure out how to more overtly begin applying my skills as a brand strategy consultant and cultural researcher more directly to the practice of helping my clients make the world better through the power of their brands.   I’ve always had a secret superhero identity under my blazer, t-shirt, jeans and Converse.  It’s the wonder girl who sneaks the “better for you” customer values vitamins into the “how do we sell more soda” strategies for my clients.  But it’s time to bust through the costume and wave my true colors.  I’m officially coming out as a  do-gooder!

But I’m not the only one.

 

Anyone who doesn’t live underground in a bubble devoid of communication with the outside world has seen the turning tide in global brands and purchase behavior.  We have seen the rise of small players like Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes whose purpose from inception as ideals based brands was to help provide resources to those in need.Web-based entities like Etsy and Kickstarter provide platforms for individuals to live their dreams and establish their own small businesses instead of succumbing to life in a cubicle cage.

Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan, formerly co-founders of the And1 basketball lifestyle brand, in a quest to find a way to serve the world through creating a better way to do business, established B-Lab and  the The B Corporation Certification of which there are thousands of global companies (among them brands like the aforementioned as well as  Patagonia ,  Ben and Jerry’s and Green Mountain Energy ) that have been proven via rigorous metrics that they are contributing to a better for the world.

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Even global corporations have begun to see the light of the “Triple Bottom Line” and  retool their business and brand strategies to keep up with the growing imperative placed on big corporations by their customers to use their powers for good.  A great example is Project Sunlight, an initiative spearheaded by  global packaged goods giant,  Unilever, to empower youth to help youth activate their power to solve some of the worlds biggest problems – like eradicating hunger.

So what’s an anthropologist got to do with it?  Well – I’ve teamed up with another superhero cultural strategist and we have relaunched our cultural strategy agency with a very distinct purpose in mind.  We will use our powers for good – and help our growing roster of global clients do the same.  Because as it turns out (and it’s about time to let the secret out of the bag), doing business that makes the world better is actually better for business.

Companies who are run based on ideals and who employ sustainable and socially forward business practices actually grow faster and are more profitable.  Don’t believe me?  Read the studies.  Books like Grow by former Procter and Gamble General Manager, Jim Stengel show proof based on rigorous research that ideals-based brands who apply rigorous socially forward standards are those who reap the fastest rewards.

In an excerpt from B Corp Handbook, the authors play hardball, citing the following for those who are more motivated Wall Street:

        “For example, Goldman Sachs reported that ‘more capital is now focused on sustainable business models, and the market is rewarding leaders and new entrants in a way that could scarcely have been predicted even fifteen years ago.’ Goldman Sachs found that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of investors seeking to incorporate sustainability and environmental, social and governance factors into their portfolio construction.

In a report that echoes this sentiment, the International Finance Corporation found that the Dow Jones Sustainability Index performed an average of 36.1 percent better than the traditional Dow Jones Index offer a period of Five years.”

Therefore, pardon the recent conspicuous absence while my partner and I have been in “Pinky and The Brain” mode. But rest assured I have been on a worthy mission in my mouse-house.

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Look forward to more blogs that focus on those elements of enlightened consumer culture.  The ultimate form of Narcissism is, after all, enlightened self interest.  So lets all get interested in how we as individuals can use our power to make the world a better place.

If you would like to know more about what I’ve got going on when I’m busy not writing blogs, you can find me here.

 “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” – Albert Einstein

 

 

 

Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, pop culture, sociology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Experiencing “Old School”: The Middle-Aged Mosh Pit

So, I was enjoying an extended happy hour at my favorite local pub – out on the patio watching folks walk by, when a punk rock couple – complete with mohawk and combat boots – ambled on by.

Here I was thinking “nice to see the neighborhood getting more bohemian and diverse” when I was informed that there was indeed a concert happening around the corner at one of Atlanta’s iconic concert venues – Masquerade.

The show: Bad Religion, Offspring and Pennywise.

I was instantly transported back to high school and remember going to see these bands’ shows. I think one was my senior year….twenty years ago!!!

My friend and I were immediately compelled to go re-live our youth. We walked to the venue down the street, got our tickets, our “you’re over 21 and can drink” bracelets (which – when we were in high school going to all ages shows were typically the “you’re under 21 so don’t let me see you drinking” bracelets)  and headed to the bar, excited to get our drinks and join all the “kids” outside at the big show.

And when I say “kids”, this is not what I was expecting:

Punk Rock Kid

Yes…that would be a child on his dad’s shoulders.

I don’t know why I thought that a concert for a band I saw 20 years ago would have an audience full of 20 year olds. Perhaps I was a little delusional.
The reality was the entire venue was filled with people around my age: late 30’s and early 40’s.

Then I decided that this was actually a really cool thing! My generation still knows how to party. We’re all at a “punk” show -doing shots and bouncing in the rain to super-loud guitars!! It was AWESOME! I decided it was time for the mosh pit and mustered up all my frenetic energy to go throw some elbows….

For future reference I have learned that a mosh pit full of 30-and-40-something’s might as well be a “does my insurance cover that” pit.

And if I hadn’t realized yet that I was at a concert for old people trying to be young people it became an acute reality when Offspring finished their set – and 75% of the sweaty, mildly intoxicated concert-goers (who decided not to stick around for the last band because It was “getting too late”) filed out with me to the street.

It was 9:45.

I patted myself on the back for knowing I would be in bed before midnight and perfectly lucid for my morning conference call.

I may have accepted my lot in life as a full-fledged grown up and that my moshing days may be behind me but I will remain grateful that at least my generation had music that rocks!! And that we are “hardcore” enough to bring our toddlers to punk shows.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Participant Observation, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Millennials in Love: Why They’re Not So Different From Their Parents After All

So excited to have gotten the call to participate in the dialogue in this article….

Ideas

There’s nothing quite like a new generation setting out to breed. It’s an exercise in feverishness and fretfulness, in urgency and appetite, a sweet and simpleminded leave-taking of the senses in the pursuit of, well, a lot. Sex, certainly—plenty of that. Then there’s companionship, and security and the esteem of your friends—to say nothing of yourself—and the basic thrill of thinking that maybe, just maybe, you’re in love. Only a handful of years earlier, the same demographic was nothing but a swarm of pre-sexual children. Then the mating software booted up, but it was constrained by bodies and minds way too young to do much about it. And to the extent that anyone tried, there were parents, teachers and society as a whole policing their behavior.

Then all at once the limits are gone—the young breeders jump the traces and are set free to have at it. Soon enough, their…

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Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Millennials, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Why Coke’s “America The Beautiful” Superbowl Ad Brought Out America’s Ugly

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Let me start by saying that I may be a few day’s late to this party having been engaged in other life event activities over Superbowl Sunday and not having turned on a television until last night.  Why?

soundof music football

That being said, I am aware that I apparently missed a doozy of a backlash against one Superbowl ad in particular: Coke’s “America The Beautiful” spot:

And before I had even had a chance to view it (I will admit it was this morning), I had already consumed an onslaught of media about the outrage this “highly controversial” ad had sparked.  First, I read This article from rawstory.com  showcasing the trending Twitter dialogue of outrage featuring hashtags like #SpeakAmerican and #Boycott Coke – with sociopolitical commentary from both conservative “White America” and immigrants.  They talk about everything from accusations of Coke’s Amnesty and Gay agendas to the idea that any ad talking about America in any way ought to speak in English.

I found the aforementioned blog in a discussion started in the Multicultural Trends group on LinkedIn  by my friend Tom LaForge  ,who is Global Director of Human and Cultural Insights at Coca-Cola.   Even in this business-oriented context we are redirected to This blog making a case for the vitriolic reaction  in a pretty articulate and really enlightening manner.   Pointing to the idea of the founding fathers coming from England and, essentially, the American dream and our concept of America being firmly rooted in English.

What I see in the ad is Coca-Cola defining the America they believe in: the melting pot of multiculturalism and refuge that connects Americans based on this value of diversity, rather than the value of a common language, in the literal sense.  Essentially, I read it as the common “language” being about America representing freedom to pursue  your happiness – regardless of your native tongue.  I thought the response below from news anchor Brenda Wood illustrates this counterbalanced point of view well:

But the fact is, people don’t like to have their frames shifted – and are comfortable in the points of view that allow them to define an “us” versus “other”, and in this case the “us” being those seeking the American dream of accumulating wealth and power and the “them” being the immigrants, underprivileged and otherwise unworthy “huddled masses”.    This is classic Conflict Theory – a sociological macro theory about the nature of social order that basically says the only way societies stay intact is when you have oppressors and those being oppressed – with the wealthy and powerful being the oppressors.  It essentially states that this conflict and power struggle are what maintain social order – and that even attempts by those in power to create social change with charitable works is still in the best interest of the powerful.

What this means to me from an anthropological, cultural perspective is that many Americas who share values with “the powerful”, whether that be religious or economic, take the idea of the American brand / dream / ideal being about ultimate equality and sharing of multicultural values as an attack against the status quo and the deeply held values that drive their existence.  And this is as true for right-wing conservative operating from within the privilege of power to the newly arrived immigrant who strives to integrate into American society and follow a path for himself or his family to financial success and power.

“Wow”, you might say.  “That’s a lot of reading into a commercial for soda pop”.   But it’s not necessarily the anthropologists and sociologists inflating the conversation.  You can see it in the articles I have referenced in sentiments referring to the idea presented in this ad as “communists destroying our way of life” or promoting the destruction of the American family (there is a split second in the ad, if you watch very carefully, where you see a gay male couple roller skating).

I asked Tom Laforge (mentioned earlier – the Human and Cultural Insights guy from Coca-Cola) what he thought was happening and he had perspective that I think sums up the situation. He says, “concepts like America are continually evolving.  All culturally defined artifacts are. Errors: assuming the definition you like does not evolve or is shared”.   So I suppose the idea a company like Coca Cola could be powerful enough to change a definition as enormous as America hits a pretty deep cultural chord.

Even more to the point, Tom says, “change can be scary, especially to something that is part of your identity.  Change has always been scary”.

But perhaps if Coca-Cola believes it can “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and this is a core belief that does and continues to drive the message of their brand, that it is an appropriately bold step for them to take in sparking a passionate conversation about change in America.

Naturally, I am very eager to hear what the rest of the blogosphere thinks…

Categories: American Culture, american History, Anthropology, conflict theory, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Marketing, Politics, pop culture, Racism, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Nostalgic America and The South Florida Elderly Consumer

This morning I am heading home from a visit with my parents at the Colony Point retirement community in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

It is the second largest (next to Century Village) in the area – located in South Florida, which is home to a disproportionate amount of the East Coast’s elderly population. Why? I have pondered this before from a Sienfeldian perspective – being part of the “tribe” of young Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y Jews who’s Northeastern born-and-raised parents migrate to South Florida for retirement. I think it’s actually mandated in the Torah.

But most likely it’s the warm weather, low cost of living and non-existent state income tax that make living one’s golden years off of a fixed retirement and social security income more manageable. Not to mention the promise of lots of people “like you” being there to share the experience and create a sense of community.

In any case, we had a fairly typical visit: time spent going out to eat, watching television, eating, watching more television, more eating, and so on.

Because I had an earlier (ish) flight my father agreed to take me to the airport and we stopped at his daily breakfast spot: Bogart’s Bagels. He comes here every morning – sometimes with my mother but mostly by himself. He calls his two favorite waitresses “Laverne and Shirley” (which might be their actual names) and they call him “Mel”. His name is Sandy but they are playing the “name that 70’s sitcom” game.

The walls in this place have posters and paintings and pictures of Rat Pack era pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe and (you guessed it) Humphrey Bogart. The floors, walls, tables and ceilings are all well overdue for a coat of shellac but the prices are low and the room full of new parents and their toddlers, elderly Jews and on duty police officers seem perfectly content with their home-away-from home routine.

As my dad was paying the $7 check for both of our breakfasts my anthropological eye spotted a cultural artifact I couldn’t pass up: a free copy of Nostalgic America Magazine: Broward and North Miami edition.

On the cover: a bright-eyed, in-her-prime glam shot of Lucille Ball – legendary star of the I Love Lucy show from the dawn of the American TV Renaissance.

As I flipped through the pages on our way to the airport I was fascinated to find that he content of this periodical roughly resembled a teen-oriented magazine – only obviously meant to inspire find memories of a youth and consumer-oriented adulthood lived in the mid to late 20th century. So, instead of mini/posters of Biebers there are full page promo shots of TV characters and cast photos from popular shows like Dennis the Menace, The little Rascals, Lassie and The Brady Bunch. There are also images of iconic athletes like Joe Namath and featured editorial images from National Geographic Magazine “back in the day”.

And the advertisements that make up the other half of the content are not for zit cream and bubble gum and movies but for Elder care facilities, an array of medical services and elder-friendly electronics.

It’s a publication entirely devoted to mitigating the uncomfortable physical reality of old age with blasts from the past that remind their consumer of “the good times” – which essentially come down to memorable consumer media.

Oh and I forgot to mention – it’s definitely content targeted only to white people.

From an anthropological perspective – this tells me that the presumption about this consumer target is that they have already lived their lives and it’s basically crisis management and distraction from here. It’s a reflection of the value we culturally place on the elderly as a populace to be babysat and managed. It makes me think about the many conversations i have had with my non-white friends and other cultural observation and analysis I have done. For some reason, we white folks tend to send our elderly away to live on their own in heir old age rather than caring for them and valuing their wisdom and having the be a daily part of our children’s lives. I joke that you never see Latino’s or Asians in old folks homes.

But I suppose that’s a conversation for another time and perhaps my analysis is a bit one sided. I’ll leave that to the rest of the bloggers to comment on. 🙂

But by way of sharing my observations, here is a sample of ten cultural content in this media artifact called Nostalgic America Magazine:
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20131228-095355.jpg20131228-095500.jpg20131228-095516.jpg20131228-095540.jpg20131228-095558.jpg20131228-095721.jpg20131228-095742.jpg20131228-095839.jpg20131228-095809.jpg20131228-095906.jpg20131228-095959.jpg20131228-100022.jpg20131228-095933.jpg20131228-100048.jpg20131228-100125.jpg20131228-100207.jpg20131228-100226.jpg

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, Jewish Culture, Participant Observation, sociology, Television and Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

First World Problems in a Third World Context

I have posted a few tongue-in-cheek blogs about my / “our” respective “first world problems”: those consumer culture driven annoyances that tend to stop us in our tracks and allow us to whine before we really think about it.

For example, to quote my favorite new Facebook page discovery, :

“Everyone is looking forward to the weekend but I have to work all weekend” or “I can’t update my Facebook status on my iPhone with my golf gloves on”

You get the picture. And it’s ridiculous.Well, if you would like an even more incisive dose of contextual perspective – here is a video my wife forwarded me: of Third-worlders (mostly children) reading first world problems.

Pass it along and take a moment to think about it, while I get over the first world problem I am having right now, which is getting this video to post without the ads plastered on top of it. :/

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

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