Human Engineering: From Archetype to Average

Let me introduce you to “Joe and Josephine”. It’s probably important to get to know Joe and Josephine because they are the Adam and Eve of the contemporary commercial universe of cultural engineering. And comparing this new “Adam and Eve” or the “average Joe” and the “average Josephine” with earlier representations of Adam and Eve will give you a pretty good idea of what Gebser means by the “deficient mode” of the mental-rational consciousness structure.

So, here’s Joe and Josephine… the new “human brand”

Joe and JosephineThe new “primordial parents” are no longer archetypes but averages. They float in a sea of numbers and ratios, all rather meaningless except for the purpose of what is called “consumer engineering” or “human engineering”. To see what has happened to the human form, compare Joe and Josephine with the representation of Adam and Eve from the Renaissance (Carnach)

Cranach Adam and Eve

Here, the primordial parents are human archetypes, rather than human averages, and rather than being surrounded by measures and ratios, they are surrounded by symbols and symbolic forms. Between what we might call the “effective” phase of the perspectival consciousness and the “deficient” phase of the perspectival consciousness, something has happend to the human form. It has been reduced to measure and mass and average. In fact, Joe and Josephine are said to have the “IQ” of a thirteen year old child (which is why all those ads seem so immature and insulting to some). Joe and Josephine are the result of polling, interviewing, questionnaires, tallying, monitoring, surveilling, audience measurements, focus group testing, standardisation, and so on — the completely “rationalised” human form. Joe and Josephine are purely technical beings.

The primordial parents, mythically speaking, are the symbolic forms of what Jung calls “the animus” and “the anima” principles, and also have their symbolic representation in the Hermetic Philosophy (Alchemy),

Hieros Gamos IV

I will have more to say about Joe and Josephine in future posts. I just wanted to introduce them to you here as exemplary of the kinds of problems that the “deficient mode” of the mental-rational consciousness generates. And especially in terms of this reduction of the archetypal human to the abstract human “average” or “mean”. It seems almost invariably the case that when our “cultural engineers” and brandmeisters speak of how advertising is “democratic”, they mean by this the growing resemblance of everyone to Joe and Josephine — rationalised beings conceived in terms of mass and measure, and well-adapted to its purely rationalised and technical social environment.  Joe and Josephine are the Adam and Eve of this strange, contemporary universe. But they are also caricatures of the human.

What’s happened to the word “democratic” is very akin and parallel to what has happened to the word “economic”. Does anyone remember when “economical” meant “frugal” or “avoiding waste”? Hardly what comes to mind these days when “economy” is spoken of, and which has become synonymous with consumption, the disposable, and the wasteful.



6 responses to “Human Engineering: From Archetype to Average”

  1. #8 says :

    something i was working on lately… just couldn’t figure out what to do with them

  2. abdulmonem says :

    The only difference sadly to say they are without leaves.

  3. Dwig says :

    I’m reminded of a cartoon in which a cosmetologist says to a customer, “You’re one of the lucky few who have average skin.” Turns out there’s more to it. An article I read a while back described how the consequences of “designing to the average” were dire.

    A new generation of aircraft were causing serious flight problems, including fatal crashes. After considerable research, the problem turned out to be that the cockpits were designed for “the average pilot” — that is, many measurements were made of the pilot population, and averages taken. But most pilots differed significantly from the average in various important ways, so had difficulties with visibility, seating, and the controls. After the cockpits were re-engineered to make them adjustable, the problems diminished,

    This makes me wonder what the consequences might be of advertising’s focus on Joe and Josephine.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “Joe and Josephine” are the Adam of Eve of what I’m beginning to think of as “The Adverse” — no longer the Universe. And I mean that only slightly tongue in cheek, because “holistic branding” is the theme of the Adverse. I’ll have more to say about Joe and Josephine in the Adverse later — a complete bubble, and perhaps the very meaning of The Anthropocene as Adverse.

      Maybe we should even speak of the university not so much as the “multiversity” as the Adversity? Or the Aversity?

      It has to do with the idea of a “turning”, of course. Adversity meaning “turning against” — fits with the notion of reversal of fortune or ironic reversal and all that is implied by that in terms of perverse outcome, unintended consequence, revenge effect, blowback ,etc.

      But the more I think about “The Adverse” and the meaning of Joe and Josephine, the more it makes sense — the system of brand images as a total surrogate cosmos.

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