Posts Tagged With: Culture of the United States

What’s Fueling “The Bern?” The Secret Every Marketer Should Know

Yet another view into the world of a “professional” narcissistic anthropologist at work.  Posted this morning on the company site / linkedin.

On a side note, I was recently inspired by a new blog i found called The Anxious Anthropologist to start writing more of “the fun stuff”…so expect something new soon.

 

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As Cultural Strategists, we invest our time and attention understanding the context that drives human behavior: the macroforces, societal trends and ultimately the resulting cultural values shifts that have a tremendous impact on how we exist in the world. This context influences the choices we make: from big life decisions and lifestyle preferences to our behavior in the marketplace.

The political marketplace has increasingly become a cultural focal point and provides a great example of how emerging cultural values have fueled momentum powering a different kind of politician and the movement his brand of politics is creating: Bernie Sanders.

Whatever the outcome of the election season, one objective fact can’t be denied: an unlikely candidate who, for all intents and purposes had been essentially written off by the mainstream political community, has been gaining more ground than anyone anticipated.

But what some might not consciously realize is that “The Bern” represents a critical mass of cultural values shifts that the team at Culture has spent their careers tracking. So, it’s safe to say we saw this coming. 😉

These values shifts result from the interplay of a number of big picture phenomena and trends, such as the rise of a global economy, increasing economic polarization, natural resource depletion, rampant technological and communication advancement, and the speed, efficiency and creativity with which humans have been able to connect, learn from and identify with one another.

Looking at developed world culture – with the U.S. as a prime example – we can highlight a few specific values shifts that underpin the principles and behaviors, which have created an ideal cultural climate for a candidate like Bernie Sanders to shine:

  • From an “us versus them” mentality rooted in “othering” to fostering a global culture and finding common ground as a human civilization
  • From a “humans first” mentality to acknowledgement of the commitment to a shared ecosystem
  • From the belief that power can only be held and change can only be made possible by institutions to the belief in the power and empowerment of individuals and society

 

The Bernie Sanders brand of democratic socialism, which focuses on human rights, climate change action and other socio-political issues, hits squarely on these values. The implications have been far reaching – including forcing the ‘competition’ to begin softening its message to get in line – because this is the direction of change as dictated by the values of our culture.

Even just looking at a few items, quoted from the list of Bernie’s key platform issues, you can see the connection:

  • Income and wealth inequality
  • It’s time to make college tuition free and debt free
  • Getting big money out of politics and restoring democracy
  • Creating decent paying jobs
  • A living wage
  • Combating climate change to save the planet
  • A fair and humane immigration policy
  • Racial justice
  • Fighting for women’s rights

 

But what are the implications for business and brands?

The fact is, values are beliefs that motivate behavior in life and in the marketplace. Values guide how humans react to change and how they will ultimately react to your brand in an increasingly cluttered and noisy landscape.

Which categories are most impacted by cultural values shifts like these? What does the landscape of trends related to those categories look like in relation to these values shifts? What other shifts are affecting your customers’ behavior and what should your brand / company do about them in order to succeed in the marketplace?

These are important questions to ask, and answering them effectively will require some deep exploration of your customers’ worlds.

At Culture, we are expert consultants who have spent our careers tracking global macroforces, trends, and values, working with leading global brands to direct strategy and keeping boots on the ground studying human cultural and behavioral context. Whether you are a client-side executive who needs a high-level but actionable overview of the implications for your business, or an agency looking to supercharge your planning or stand apart in your pitch with quick-turnaround insights that go far beyond trend reports and data-driven proof points, Culture can provide that strategic intelligence by connecting your business realities to the cultural context that is shaping our world.

Are you ready to uncover the “secret” motivations that will fuel your brand’s rise to the next level?

 Let us find the superpowers hidden in your customers’ and your brand’s values that will help it burn even brighter.

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Categories: Marketing, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Creating The Culture That Will Change The World

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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

The Talking Walls of Wynwood: The New Face of Creative Miami

Imagine South Florida, in all it’s hot, sticky, sunshine-laden sunburned glory – filled with pastel colored houses and apartments to repel the UV rays, cruise ships, retirees, the oceanfront and an ever-growing melange of cultural communities.  The Latin influence is strong there – in a way that gives the city a truly ethnic vibe that makes you feel like you are on a cultural immersion vacation – which this Narcissistic Anthropologist just loves!

A friend was telling me a popular phrase there is “I love Miami because it’s so close to the United States”.  I am sure that in some way this was initially meant to be a complaint by one of the slow-to-adapt natives (of which there are few, btw…”natives”, that is), but I revel in the awesomeness of that designation.  Miami truly has become its own cultural destination – whether you are recently immigrated looking for a taste of home or a local / tourist looking for an authentic cultural experience to hang on to in this dangling peninsula of transients and bronzed south-beach “beauties”.

And if  you travel a bit away from the beach into midtown, you have the opportunity to go even further down the rabbit-hole.   As the evening shade begins to cool down the pavement, you can stroll down blocks where the walls, sidewalks, and any municipal surface (including the bike racks,  garbage cans) are covered in art and the air wafts through, lightly scented with hints of marijuana and Gucci Rush.  It’s the only part of town where you can start off enjoying Latin-inspired tapas in a restaurant where the walls are filled head-to-toe with Shepard Fairey Murals, take a short stroll  around an expansive outdoor courtyard that doubles as a painted wall gallery, purchase a book on street art sculptures, have a cocktail outdoors on the bleachers of a “takes all kinds” (including dogs) watering hole complete with a life-size Jenga set while sharing some smoke with another human who knows no strangers, go hear a live Cumbia / Electronic music performance and then end up eating grilled cheese at a food Truck with Gallagher (yes – I mean the American comedian from the 80s who wore suspenders and smashed watermelons).

Wynwood is like Brooklyn, West Hollywood and Miami made a test tube baby that consisted mostly of their “good” genes.   And I for one am a new fan.  It is a far cry from the Miami I knew as a teenager growing up in South Florida and I couldn’t be more pleased with the creative haven.  As as far as I can tell, it has become a city to at least try out for a little while for both the cultural creatives and young , aspiring  and acculturating bourgeois. I definitely encourage a visit on your way to your next cruise or after a day at the beach.

I would like to thank my friend Andy for giving me a heartfelt tour.

Here is a “photo walk” of my evening in Wynwood – starting at a nearby “quintessential” creative high-rise residence and then hitting the streets:

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http://wynwoodmiami.com/home.php

http://www.wynwood.com/

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Art, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, hipster culture, pop culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Down The Gen Y “Quarterlife Crisis”: A Generation’s Expectations in Context

This weekend I spent some time at happy hour listening to a Millennial friend of mine – who is 34 years old, talk about how she is unhappy in her current career path and experiencing a “mid-life” crisis.   After pardoning myself for the eye-rolling, we had a conversation around self-actualization, goal setting, etc.

And I was able to empathize on some level as I have done a lot of ethnographic work with Millennials:  exploring lifestyle context, dreams, fears and the general ecosystem of the modern teen to twenty-come-thirthy-somethings. I am particularly fond of the concept of the Quarterlife Crisis – whereby Millennials seems to be going through their panicky self-actualization phase just a little earlier than their boomer parents.

I have also spent a bit of time looking at the degree to which this generation can relate to / diverges from other generations at similar points in their life-cycles.   You can find a good amount on Generational Cycle’s Theory, which explores these relative contexts in great detail.

In any case, my wife found this article below on Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy which I felt was a great POV on the dilemma and that my readers would enjoy.  So – do that and gain some insight in the process.

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy

Posted: 09/15/2013 12:05 pm

Say hi to Lucy.

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Lucy is part of Generation Y, the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s. She’s also part of a yuppie culture that makes up a large portion of Gen Y.

I have a term for yuppies in the Gen Y age group — I call them Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, or GYPSYs. A GYPSY is a unique brand of yuppie, one who thinks they are the main character of a very special story.

So Lucy’s enjoying her GYPSY life, and she’s very pleased to be Lucy. Only issue is this one thing:

Lucy’s kind of unhappy.

To get to the bottom of why, we need to define what makes someone happy or unhappy in the first place. It comes down to a simple formula:

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It’s pretty straightforward — when the reality of someone’s life is better than they had expected, they’re happy. When reality turns out to be worse than the expectations, they’re unhappy.

To provide some context, let’s start by bringing Lucy’s parents into the discussion:

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Lucy’s parents were born in the ’50s — they’re Baby Boomers. They were raised by Lucy’s grandparents, members of the G.I. Generation, or “the Greatest Generation,” who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II, and were most definitely not GYPSYs.

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Lucy’s Depression Era grandparents were obsessed with economic security and raised her parents to build practical, secure careers. They wanted her parents’ careers to have greener grass than their own, and Lucy’s parents were brought up to envision a prosperous and stable career for themselves. Something like this:

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They were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting to that lush, green lawn of a career, but that they’d need to put in years of hard work to make it happen.

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After graduating from being insufferable hippies, Lucy’s parents embarked on their careers. As the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s rolled along, the world entered a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. Lucy’s parents did even better than they expected to. This left them feeling gratified and optimistic.

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With a smoother, more positive life experience than that of their own parents, Lucy’s parents raised Lucy with a sense of optimism and unbounded possibility. And they weren’t alone. Baby Boomers all around the country and world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches.

This left GYPSYs feeling tremendously hopeful about their careers, to the point where their parents’ goals of a green lawn of secure prosperity didn’t really do it for them. A GYPSY-worthy lawn has flowers.

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This leads to our first fact about GYPSYs:

GYPSYs Are Wildly Ambitious

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The GYPSY needs a lot more from a career than a nice green lawn of prosperity and security. The fact is, a green lawn isn’t quite exceptional or unique enough for a GYPSY. Where the Baby Boomers wanted to live The American Dream, GYPSYs want to live Their Own Personal Dream.

Cal Newport points out that “follow your passion” is a catchphrase that has only gotten going in the last 20 years, according to Google’s Ngram viewer, a tool that shows how prominently a given phrase appears in English print over any period of time. The same Ngram viewer shows that the phrase “a secure career” has gone out of style, just as the phrase “a fulfilling career” has gotten hot.

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To be clear, GYPSYs want economic prosperity just like their parents did — they just also want to be fulfilled by their career in a way their parents didn’t think about as much.

But something else is happening too. While the career goals of Gen Y as a whole have become much more particular and ambitious, Lucy has been given a second message throughout her childhood as well:

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This would probably be a good time to bring in our second fact about GYPSYs:

GYPSYs Are Delusional

“Sure,” Lucy has been taught, “everyone will go and get themselves some fulfilling career, but I am unusually wonderful and as such, my career and life path will stand out amongst the crowd.” So on top of the generation as a whole having the bold goal of a flowery career lawn, each individual GYPSY thinks that he or she is destined for something even better —

A shiny unicorn on top of the flowery lawn.

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So why is this delusional? Because this is what all GYPSYs think, which defies the definition of special:

spe-cial | ‘speSHel |
adjective
better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.

According to this definition, most people are not special — otherwise “special” wouldn’t mean anything.

Even right now, the GYPSYs reading this are thinking, “Good point… but I actually am one of the few special ones” — and this is the problem.

A second GYPSY delusion comes into play once the GYPSY enters the job market. While Lucy’s parents’ expectation was that many years of hard work would eventually lead to a great career, Lucy considers a great career an obvious given for someone as exceptional as she, and for her it’s just a matter of time and choosing which way to go. Her pre-workforce expectations look something like this:

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Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they’re actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build — even the ones with no flowers or unicorns on them — and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.

But GYPSYs aren’t about to just accept that.

Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor and GYPSY expert, has researched this, finding that Gen Y has “unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback,” and “an inflated view of oneself.” He says that “a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.”

For those hiring members of Gen Y, Harvey suggests asking the interview question, “Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?” He says that “if the candidate answers yes to the first part but struggles with the ‘why,’ there may be an entitlement issue. This is because entitlement perceptions are often based on an unfounded sense of superiority and deservingness. They’ve been led to believe, perhaps through overzealous self-esteem building exercises in their youth, that they are somehow special but often lack any real justification for this belief.”

And since the real world has the nerve to consider merit a factor, a few years out of college Lucy finds herself here:

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Lucy’s extreme ambition, coupled with the arrogance that comes along with being a bit deluded about one’s own self-worth, has left her with huge expectations for even the early years out of college. And her reality pales in comparison to those expectations, leaving her “reality – expectations” happy score coming out at a negative.

And it gets even worse. On top of all this, GYPSYs have an extra problem that applies to their whole generation:

GYPSYs Are Taunted

Sure, some people from Lucy’s parents’ high school or college classes ended up more successful than her parents did. And while they may have heard about some of it from time to time through the grapevine, for the most part they didn’t really know what was going on in too many other peoples’ careers.

Lucy, on the other hand, finds herself constantly taunted by a modern phenomenon: Facebook Image Crafting.

Social media creates a world for Lucy where A) what everyone else is doing is very out in the open, B) most people present an inflated version of their own existence, and C) the people who chime in the most about their careers are usually those whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while struggling people tend not to broadcast their situation. This leaves Lucy feeling, incorrectly, like everyone else is doing really well, only adding to her misery:

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So that’s why Lucy is unhappy, or at the least, feeling a bit frustrated and inadequate. In fact, she’s probably started off her career perfectly well, but to her, it feels very disappointing.

Here’s my advice for Lucy:

1) Stay wildly ambitious. The current world is bubbling with opportunity for an ambitious person to find flowery, fulfilling success. The specific direction may be unclear, but it’ll work itself out — just dive in somewhere.

2) Stop thinking that you’re special. The fact is, right now, you’re not special. You’re another completely inexperienced young person who doesn’t have all that much to offer yet. You can become special by working really hard for a long time.

3) Ignore everyone else. Other people’s grass seeming greener is no new concept, but in today’s image crafting world, other people’s grass looks like a glorious meadow. The truth is that everyone else is just as indecisive, self-doubting, and frustrated as you are, and if you just do your thing, you’ll never have any reason to envy others.

 

 

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, Generation Y, Millennials, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Lesbiman: A New Masculine Ideal?

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In the last couple of years I have spent a good amount of time studying the context  of the American Male (often in comparison with other geographies / cultures).  The concept of masculinity as a part of how men make their consumer behavior choices is pretty interesting.  I have been affirmed in some areas and proven wrong in others.  It’s actually great fun to have hypotheses be disproved by ethnographic research.  🙂

In any case, American Culture has traditionally (at least since the invention of printing presses and propaganda and marketing) a fairly simian point of view on masculinity – which likely has a lot to do with the fact that we are, indeed, a country still stuck in a posturing mindset as we deal with our growing pains.

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But global communication has allowed a lot more dialogue into our everyday and has consequently impacted what I have seen as an evolution in the American masculine ideal.  To clarify: i don’t imply a speedy evolution, but a burgeoning one all the same.

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In some cases, however, this movement has it’s cultural backlashes – like the “retrosexual” ideal you see among those males embracing the more “man of mystery”  / “madmen chic” ideal of masculine mystique that dresses up his power in a three piece suit or even the “hipster” / “anti-emo” version of the urban cave-man.

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But today’s blog  was inspired by the latest Sociology of Style  piece on Manning Up: Our Bulging Crisis in Masculinity , which points out a number of pointed cultural tensions and art / studies / editorial content / marketing examples that addresses them.   At the end of this article, readers are asked to share their idea of masculinity, for which I left the below commentary, as it occurred to me that the men I see as most reminiscent of our cultural shift happen to be the type of men I “hang” with – the Lesbimen:

“I am probably a bit biased as a fellow sociologist and anthropologist, but for me, I see masculinity as a far more balanced ideal. And maybe it is just my idea. For example, I have found that the majority of my heterosexual male friends – at least the ones who are in my “inner circle” share a common set of characteristics: They are not overtly macho, but still maintain at least some interests that are considered traditionally “masculine, such as Football, Motorcycles, “gentlemen’s clubs”, etc. However, they also tend to be more emotive in general and free to talk about their feelings. They tend  to care more about their appearance and not just in the sense that they are attractive to women but that they are pleased with their own style and upkeep. They also don’t “freak out” but rather are flattered when gay men give them complements or proposition them – regardless of their general disinterest. They have a nurturing side and at least a minor tendency toward nesting and creating an aesthetic environment in their homes. And they are generally pretty intelligent and effective people who seek to improve themselves and are willing (for the most part) to be introspective and face their demons.

I think it comes down to them having the courage to allow a more spiritual and emotional perspective into their lives – to find a balance between the surface and the “deep” – which I think has been – throughout history – a socially recognized female trait. But this goes back to the idea of “Mother Earth” / Gaia.

In any case – I call these men ‘Lesbimen’ and they are my ideal of masculinity and they types of guys who become my chosen family.”

So I find myself wondering what others are seeing in their circles and if the Lesbiman ideal holds true?  Are you man enough to share your feelings on this matter?

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Gender, Heterosexuality, hipster culture, Marketing, pop culture, Uncategorized, urban culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Joy And Mike’s Place: An Ethnographic Southern Comfort Snapshot

Yesterday I spent an afternoon with Joy and Mike and their daughter (my wife) and son and his wife.

We were having a get-together to share some Korean delicacies sent as a gift from the Son’s in-laws and to celebrate the Birthday of Joy’s mother who passed a few years ago.

My wife often fondly reminisces about her relationship to her grandmother (referred to as Mama Gran) and what a strong influence she was in how she curates her home, her penchant for entertaining and a general sense of nurturing that she has carried with her through her adult life.

This predisposition seems to also have rubbed off on her Mom (Joy) as well. There is a certain literal gentility that translates into a cultural aesthetic seen in and around the home she shares with her husband and two dogs.

Joy and Mike have been married over 44 years and have built a home together. They both come from a rural upbringing:  working class with American dreams of upward mobility.

Their home is filled with collections and mementos. In it you see the fruits of their creative pursuits, travel keepsakes and carefully curated collections of antiques that seem to pay respect to subsistence-oriented simplicity merged integrated with emerging middle class consumer culture .

The context of their rural south upbringing woven in with the mainstream middle class life they created for themselves has led to  a very homey aesthetic that always makes me feel at ease when I visit. Here are some highlights of a brief photo walk through their indoor and outdoor space to show you some of the artifacts that make a house a home, inspired by 40 some-odd years of participation In consumer culture.

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To the other Anthropologists (and particularly, the Archaeologists), I would love to hear about what else you see here – the cultural communication evoked from what you see in these images that elaborate on my analysis or even refute / enhance it.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, sociology, southern culture, Suburban Living, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Is Water

I think this is a great video / speech.  Not just because of it’s practical messages to young adults entering the American work force, but for it’s art at articulating the truth and consequences of our choices as we participate in American consumer culture as adults.  Because the truth of the matter is we all tend to get somewhat self centered as we get caught up in the day-to-day routine of our commercially-driven existence.   So, as my friend said when she posted it on facebook:  “choose to watch this video” and click on the “This is Water” link below….

This Is Water.

Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Rituals, Well-being | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Meetings About Meetings: The Culture of Getting Things Done (Or Not) Through Collaboration

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Did you know that there are over 11 Million meetings every day in the U.S. alone and that 80% of them fail to achieve their stated objectives?

Shocking? I’m going to venture a guess that nobody is floored by this statistic.

I learned this fast fact among others things about why meetings fail and what to do about it in a training session on meeting organization and facilitation skills that I, in turn, trained my team on.

I remember being out drinking last night (preparing for my big day) and trying to explain to one of my friends that I was going to spend the morning leading a meeting about meetings. I think it made her spit up her gin and tonic and nearly spun me into an existential crisis.

But after the session was over today I realized how important it really is to teach people how to properly generate ideas and how to listen….and that there is actually a “right” way to do it.

I would say there are a lot of sociological and anthropological factors in U.S. Corporate protocol that have created a routinized system of unproductive meeting culture, such as:
– hierarchy: we tend to place value on rank and the clout that comes with it in our business organizations. Rather than fostering a culture where people “down the ladder” are allowed to question, we tend to favor cultures of deferral to senior team member’s ideas. Like in military culture, there is this air of insubordination that comes with challenging the opinions and egos of those who are in a higher echelon. This is why so many companies are so slow to change – because nobody wants to stick their neck out for fear of being a troublemaker and potentially losing their influence at their organization or, worse, losing their Job.
-Limiting access to time: we stay so “busy busy” that we tend to seek to want to take as little time as possible for meetings so that we can “get actual work done”. What happens is we end up skipping the necessary steps to actually inspiring and truly considering and building on new ideas before we accept or reject them. So, we tend to make snap decisions and / or end up not landing on the right set of next steps because we are in a hurry to move on to our next meeting or task. What this does is end up necessitating yet another unproductive meeting – and the process continues in perpetuity. It also leads to the next culture killer…..

-Devaluing listening skills:  we tend to speak to be heard and only listen to the degree that we feel a topic is personally relevant to us.  We have forgotten how to not only hear, but truly understand another person’s point of view and find ways to nurture ideas by building on them.  Because of this we end up rushing to judgement on whether or not to accept or reject new ideas before really giving them proper consideration.  It tends to halt progress in it’s tracks because we don’t feel like we have “time” to hash things out constructively.  We value making decisions and being “right” (without risking too much) more than we do “seeking first to understand and then be understood”.   We have forgotten how to listen with our whole mind and heart.

-Stigmatizing “fun” in favor of formality:  we tend to feel like work should be something very serious that we don’t necessarily enjoy but get done because it has to be done.  We forgo levity for the sake of putting our nose to the grindstone and getting things done.  We have our meetings at conference room tables and limit activities to conversation rather than idea generation.   We don’t allow for stretchy thinking because we worry that too much creativity might lead us down some dangerous unknown path…or we fear that we are not capable of creativity.  But if we actually allow ourselves to incorporate a little bit of structured playfulness and imagination into our meetings, we get a chance to discover our potential again and unlock parts of our brain that we don’t use.  Remember – we develop really rapidly as children and part of that development is related to play and enjoyment.  We retain things that we enjoy the most.  Why don’t we apply that enjoyment to our work?

The style of meeting facilitation I have been teaching is all about lateral thinking, creating an open and comfortable environment, more productive listening and actually taking the time to go through a results and accountability-orientated process.  And it’s good to see  both younger and older team members getting excited about collaborating and realizing that you CAN get stuff done in meetings if you re-adjust your priorities a little.  If we suspend our cultural rules about seniority and efficiency for just a little while and embrace a nice slow-roll where we can all enjoy the ride on the same level, we may just evolve in the process.

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

21st Century Manners: Socializing Behavioral Norms for a New Generation

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Lest you think Millennials don’t value etiquette, think again.  As a matter of fact, rethink what you think entirely and realign your thought processes.

Because, if you look at the nature of Millennial motivations:  to make meaningful connections with other humans and to lead a well-rounded, successful happy life with the support of your peers – then you will understand that they are not only concerned with etiquette, but the more ambitious ones are pretty diligent about knowing “how to act” in certain situations.  Ever mindful of others’ comfort as well as their own, Millennials have taken it upon themselves to bring their unique, nuanced social context to the fore and help one another navigate the landscape – digital, virtual and “actual” – in a an ever evolving social climate.

Check out this weekend’s article in the New York Times Style Section on Millennials and activators of etiquette

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/fashion/etiquette-returns-for-the-digital-generation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Emily Posts of the Digital Age

By ALEX WILLIAMS

Are manners dead? Cellphones, Twitter and Facebook may be killing off the old civilities and good graces, but a new generation of etiquette gurus, good-manner bloggers and self-appointed YouTube arbiters is rising to make old-fashioned protocols relevant to a new generation.

Their apparent goal: to help members of Generation Y navigate thorny, tech-age minefields like Paperless Post invites, same-sex weddings and online dating — not to mention actual face-to-face contact with people they encounter in the offline world.

For instance, you may not think you need a tutorial on shaking hands when being introduced to someone for the first time, but Gloria Starr, an image consultant based in Newport Beach, Calif., begs to differ.

“When you shake hands, it’s two or three times up and down — from the elbow and not the wrist,” Ms. Starr says in one of her 437 YouTube videos, helpfully bobbing her right hand up and down in demonstration. Then “smile and introduce yourself.”

Or how about the way to conduct yourself at the gym? Videos on gym etiquette are a particularly hot Web topic of late, said Kevin Allocca, the trends manager for YouTube. One video, “Don’t Be That Guy at the Gym,” shows five men demonstrating various sweat-soaked faux pas, like the “meathead” who grunts loudly each time he performs a rep, or the self-anointed “coach” who offers unsolicited (and largely unwelcome) advice to other gym-goers. Posted last April, it has been viewed some 3 million times.

No arena of modern life, it seems, is too obscure or ridiculous for consideration. An instructional Web site called Howcast.com has a popular channel on YouTube that tackles weighty issues like how to handle flatulence in yoga class or how to behave at a nude beach. “If it would be unseemly to gape at that body part while it’s fully clothed,” the latter video instructs, “it’s downright rude to gawk at it undressed.”

On another video, one veteran of the fast-food industry proffers advice on how to act at a drive-in window (“Do not scream ‘hello’ as soon as you pull up to the speaker. Wait to be greeted”), while there are more than 500 videos on the momentous subject of how to properly set the dinner table.

But perhaps the fastest-growing area of social advice — one that has spawned not just videos but also Web sites, blogs and books — is the Internet itself, and the proper displays of what’s been termed “netiquette.” There are YouTube videos on using emoticons in business e-mails, being discreet when posting on someone’s Facebook wall, limiting baby photos on Instagram, retweeting too many Twitter messages and juggling multiple online chats.

“We’re living in an age of anxiety that’s a reflection of the near-constant change and confusion in technology and social mores,” said Steven Petrow, an author of five etiquette books including “Mind Your Digital Manners: Advice for an Age Without Rules,” to be published in 2014. (Mr. Petrow is a regular contributor to The New York Times, writing an advice column on gay-straight issues for the Booming blog.)

“Whether it’s wondering how many times it is acceptable to text a date before being seen as a stalker, or what the role of parents is at a same-sex wedding,” he said, “etiquette gurus are popping out from under tablecloths everywhere to soothe all those living in fear of newfangled faux pas.”

Such advice is dished out on Web sites run by protocol professionals like the dapper Thomas Farley, a television talk-show staple, and Elaine Swann, a San Diego County-based consultant, and in the online newsletter Dot Complicated, published by Randi Zuckerberg, the former Facebook executive.

“Many of these emerging etiquette issues are complicated because there are no clear-cut, black-and-white answers,” Ms. Zuckerberg said. A recent post on Dot Complicated dealt with how to respond to a request for money, something that Ms. Zuckerberg, C.E.O. of Zuckerberg Media, said she has had to deal with quite frequently. (Her advice: “Say no and say it quickly.”)

Young people “are getting sick of the irony, rudeness and snark that is so prevalent in their online lives,” said Jane Pratt, the editor in chief of xoJane, a women’s lifestyle site where etiquette posts are a popular feature. “The return of etiquette is in part a response to the harshness of the interactions they are having in the digital sphere.”

“Nice is very cool right now,” she added.

THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY is scurrying to catch up, with a flurry of new etiquette books. “Etiquette is a popular publishing subject right now because, yes, it’s true, good manners never go of style,” said Christine Carswell, the publisher of Chronicle Books, which will publish “The Forgetful Gentleman” by Nathan Tan in May.

Last year alone, three books that tackle such subjects were published by contributors to The Times: Henry Alford’s “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners”; Philip Galanes’s “Social Q’s: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today”; and the former “Ethicist” columnist Randy Cohen’s “Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.”

Other notable titles include “Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas,” by Rebecca Smith, a British novelist who says she is a direct descendant of the “Pride and Prejudice” author, and “What Would Michelle Do? A Modern-Day Guide to Living with Substance and Style,” by Allison Samuels, a Daily Beast senior writer, who looks to the White House for guidance.

The social quandaries seem to be endless. Are you obligated to respond to Facebook party invitations? Is it rude to listen to your iPod while car-pooling?

When Daniel Post Senning, the great-great-grandson of Emily Post, was working on the 18th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” he found it impossible to cover technology in a single chapter. Instead, he devoted an entire book to it, “Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online,” to be released as an e-book and paperback in April.

The book tackles questions like whether one should announce a serious illness on Facebook. (Yes, Mr. Post Senning said, but medical updates should be confined to close friends and family.)

Even the new gurus who position themselves as the embodiment of Old World civilities — currently fashionable, thanks to “Downton Abbey” — feel obligated to tackle 21st-century conundrums.

Charles MacPherson, who runs a school for butlers in Canada, has written his first book, “The Butler Speaks: A Guide to Proper Etiquette, Stylish Entertaining and the Art of Good Housekeeping,” to be released in April. An authority on such antediluvian rituals as spooning caviar, Mr. MacPherson nevertheless finds himself pondering whether one may keep a cellphone on the table during a dinner party, if the 4-year-old is at home sick with a baby sitter.

“It is never O.K. to leave your cellphone on the dinner table,” Mr. MacPherson said. “If you must go out and anticipate a call, first inform your hostess of the situation and keep your cellphone on vibrate and in your pocket or on your lap. In the event that it does ring, excuse yourself from the table — don’t explain why, just a simple ‘excuse me’ — and leave the dining room before taking the call.”

Meanwhile, there is a retro allure to etiquette that appeals to 20-somethings, said Pam Krauss, the publisher of Potter Style, which in September is coming out with “Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top,” by Dorothea Johnson, a longtime expert in the etiquette world, with a foreword by Liv Tyler, who is Ms. Johnson’s granddaughter. “There’s a whole generation of young people for whom etiquette, much like cooking, sewing, and other ‘home arts,’ was not passed down from their parents or grandparents the way it would have been in years past,” Ms. Krauss said.

In some circles, old-school manners, like vinyl records, single-barrel bourbon and trilby hats, are relics of the Eisenhower era ripe to be reclaimed by young urban tastemakers, said Brett McKay, a founder of a men’s lifestyle blog, the Art of Manliness. The site has popular etiquette posts drawn from the lives of George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. The latter, for example, learned he could be more persuasive in political debates when he stopped disparaging the opposition as  “oily-Gammon, churchgoing specimens” and “classical ignoramuses,” according to one post on debating politics civilly.

“There’s this idea in sociology that every generation rebels against its parents and makes friends with its grandparents’ generation,” Mr. McKay said. “You see that with Generation Y dressing like ‘Mad Men,’ and you see that with etiquette. The baby boomers were about ‘let loose, be who you are.’ The ‘greatest generation’ was more formal, and people want to embody some of those grandpa values.”

Young women in the D.I.Y. demographic have also shown a new interest in manners, said Grace Bonney, the founder of Design Sponge, a popular home décor blog with a new weekly etiquette column. Etiquette posts, on things like “social media dos and don’ts,” have attracted five times the number of comments and Facebook “likes” as many other posts, she said.

“I think people are starting to see that it can be rewarding to put time into any effort that makes people feel more welcome in your home, whether that’s a great meal, learning to arrange flowers or just general etiquette for being a good host,” she said.

It is an open question whether the renewed interest will signal an actual shift in behavior, or if, like the latest diet books, the latest crop of etiquette guides will just gather dust on shelves. Good manners take work, after all.

“We don’t struggle for good intentions,” said Mr. Tan, the “Forgetful Gentleman” author. “We struggle converting our good intentions into action.”

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, hipster culture, Millennials, pop culture, Rituals, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Creepy Consumer Culture Rituals: Pictures With Santa and The Easter Bunny

I don’t know If I share this opinion with most Anthropologists or not, but I know I share It with many of my other fellow humans. And that is, Americans do some weird sh*t for our holiday traditions – mostly because of how fervently we have integrated our religous holidays into consumer culture and vice versa.

I have nothing against religious holidays as a concept – aside from the forced gift-giving (I’m an “it’s the thought that counts” and purposeful-reciprocity kind of gal). Holidays are a time when we observe traditions rooted in our most ancient of heritages that remind us we are human. And if you are a kid, those holidays are intentionally designed for you to look forward to, with gamified rituals abound to pleasantly socialize you into the observance of said human traditions.

Much like most play, the fun things we do at holiday-time and the rituals we create to cater to children are designed to train us in our adult responsibilities. It’s why in normal life we get the new Monster High dolls and fake tools and miniature kitchen utensils as toys. These are the things that will be part of our “work” when we become adults. The same holds true for Holidays, I’m afraid. But when you are a kid, they are FUN FUN FUN! Lighting Channukah candles and getting presents and chocolate money, waiting for Santa to leave a pile of toys under the Christmas tree, hunting for Easter eggs in the back yard!

But then we turned a creepy consumer culture-driven corner somewhere in the mid-20th century and things started to get weird. More and more we associated those traditions with material acquisition and the shopping malls and department stores in America started getting aggressive to drive in the traffic.

Thus the creepy department store Santa was born: forcing children everywhere to sit in a big fat strange old man’s lap, tell him if we have been naughty or nice (when in normal life we are taught not to talk to strangers), ask him for presents (also a childhood no-no) and smile for a picture (another kid-favorite activity). It is at this point that we began to scar an entire generation for the sake of having a Christmas card photo or a picture for the mantle to remind us of our folly.

I think the following video clip from my favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story, sums it up:

Then at some point we decided that Easter was an in equally important indulgence holiday and the giant Easter Bunny was born. I am not entirely well-versed in the Easter Bunny origin story. But apparently, as is par for the course on weird pop culture, it has something to do with the Germans – at least according to Wikipedia’s Easter Bunny Entry.

So, I thought it would be appropriate to present my case about how consumer culture has made holiday’s creepy by showcasing some empirical-archeological-data-based-evidence from An astonishing collection of creepy Easter Bunny family photos submitted by many brave souls who decided to risk bringing back the pain so that they could share it with others and raise awareness of this damaging human ritual.

40 Easter Bunnies more terrifying than a crucified man coming back from the dead.

After I give them their eggs, I am taking them back to my planet with me.

As hard as shopping malls try to make “going to see the Easter Bunny” a thing, it’s never quite caught on like visiting Santa Claus. Maybe that’s because Christmas is a magical celebration of materialistic greed and gluttony while the closest thing to “fun” about Easter is showing off your new pair of church slacks — or maybe it’s because every Easter Bunny costume is a walking nightmare of soul-scarring horror. Here are some examples of why the image of a bleeding, emaciated guy on a cross rising from the grave is somehow not the most traumatizing thing about this holiday.


His eyes fell off so he had to replace them with a hand full of red jelly beans.


They look even scarier alone. What do they think about? Do they think only in screams?


Did it just die? Get the kid, he’s on a dead bunny!


It’s uncomfortable that the Easter Bunny sits like our Dad on a hot day.


The kid’s crying because that’s just a Chuck E. Cheez animatronic bass player come to life.


This bunny’s name is Hopalong Junkpouch.

Something tells me it’s not the bunny that’s chocolate-filled after this picture.

Prisoner 49581, please submit yourself to The Bunny. Prisoner 49581 to The Bunny.”

They say when you look into its eyes you can see Hell itself.

For the next page and more of this daring and disturbing set of images, click here to go to HappyPlace.com

And just remember, it should be our job to prevent children from having nightmares – not to make them come true.

This has been a public service message from The Narcissistic Anthropologist.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Holidays, Rituals, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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