The Genuine Imitation

“Marketers have convinced these kids that they need a specfic set of physical attributes, and that their own qualities must be obviated. For the large subcultures of teens who self-brand into look-alikes with tiny waistlines, bulging biceps, deracinated noses, and copious breasts, the supposed freedom of self-creation is not a freedom at all. What they have is consumer choice, no substitute for free will.” — Alissa Quart, Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers (2003)

I have been reading in the book from which the above quote is taken. Anyone who believes that branding is ineffective presumably hasn’t read Quart’s persuasive book. But I was particularly struck by this passage. Something crystallised in my mind when I read that last sentence — the meaning of the “genuine imitation” reality foisted on us by mass advertising and it’s implications in understanding “technocratic shamanism”. That’s it exactly! The ideology of “consumer choice” within the Universal Market has been substituted for the ideals of free-will and self-determination. And this market ideology intersects nicely with Fukuyama’s “end of history” proposal as well as Jensen’s “Dream Society” as “final form of human society”.

That last sentence alone, in the quote from Quart, was worth the price of the book. It also underscores Rosenstock-Huessy’s complaint against the Cartesian mind of metaphysical dualism in his essay “Farewell to Descartes” — the distortion of human nature and social reality brought about by the subject-object, Ego-It relation when applied, especially, to the life and social sciences.

At the root of “technocratic shamanism” is the assumption that average Joe and average Josephine have no free will, and having no free will are incapable of self-determination. Average Joe and average Josephine are motivated and directed in their behaviours by iron-clad, deterministic psychological or sociological laws. The task of the technocratic shaman is discover, codify, formulate and then manipulate those laws according to the code and the formulas to bring about certain outcomes — desirable behaviours in the form of “branded behaviours”. These psychological and sociological “laws” act as compulsions and determinants, and therefore can be manipulated just as readily as the laws of physics can be manipulated for the conquest of nature and the transformation of matter. By reducing human behaviour to a few formulas allegedly representing psycho-sociological laws, human nature can likewise be conquered, transformed, and molded as desired by the technocratic shaman. But in the very assumption to be in command of a specialist knowledge and a specialist technology — that of the laws of human behaviour and their manipulation — the technocratic shaman asserts that he or she is not subject to the same deterministic laws as the man-in-the-mass or the woman-in-the-mass.

That conceit is underscored by an anecdote Quart relates about a convention of brand managers she attended, in the course of researching her book, the theme of which was “selling to kids.” It’s worth quoting as illustrative of the argument,

“Kids are in the process of becoming,” said Sonya Schroeder from the stage. Schroeder is an advertising sage from The Geppetto Group, a marketing company that creates the ad campaigns for Lego, Pillsbury, and many others. It seemed to me, as I listened to Schroeder, that her company’s name, Geppetto, was one of many that took the language of youth hostage, poaching its stories and expressions of wonder. The Geppetto Group was named, of course, after the puppet carver in Pinocchio, the man who made a real boy out of a wooden puppet. Pinocchio is a morality tale about the importance of telling the truth. Is it somehow also a story that illustrates the power of advertising? Apparently so. One of Schroeder’s Geppetto colleagues wrote about the meanings of the company name in a most earnest manner: ‘Geppetto loved Pinocchio unconditionally for who he was, no matter what he did. And he really saw him and appreciated him as a real child, bringing him easily to life. We approach brands similar to the way Geppetto created Pinocchio, by understanding kids, spinning our magic, and bringing brands to life.”” (p. 48-49)

Actually, no. It’s not just about “bringing brands to life” by spinning their magic. The cynicism of the Geppetto Group “managers of meaning” is already contained in their name — and it’s a common enough presumption — that they are the puppet masters. And the puppets they are bringing to life as real boys and girls, duly conditioned to consume brand images and meanings, hopefully from cradle to grave, is already implied in the opening sentence of the quote: “Kids are in the process of becoming“. The principle involved here, of course — and it is relevant especially to “marketing 3.0” — is “get ’em while they’re young”, and you can shape and condition them for “cradle to grave” consumerism (Martin Lindstrom’s stated goal for “holistic branding” in Brand Sense).  This is, basically, the idea also behind Jensen’s The Dream Society, which, as mentioned in the last post, brings to mind Huxley’s “Brave New World” of zombie consumption.

Spinning and spell-casting are very much the same issue — which is what I’m referring to as the art of “the genuine imitation” (or “truthiness”). The spinning of free will into a matter of consumer choice is, itself, an example of technocratic shamanism as perception management. As best as I can figure out at this time, our new “managers of meaning” in Capitalism 3.0 will offer you a choice of twelve “patterns of consumption” — prepackaged “reasons for being” complete with “experiences” — from which you can “freely” choose to express your “individuality” (now called “your brand”). More than these twelve patterns is apparently unmanageable.  But also, in keeping with the “religious” and “spiritual” themes of marketing 3.0, the number twelve has especial significance — the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples, the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve winds of the Compass Rose and, of course, the dirty dozen. It also, as mentioned in an earlier post, has an uncanny resemblance to Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay on “The Twelve Tones of the Spirit” (which is Chapter VI, page 69, in the same online source as his essay “Farewell to Descartes”).

Their Wierding Ways. It’s all very uncanny.

A genuine imitation life in a genuine imitation reality. This is what is called, by our new managers of meaning, “authenticity” — a true simulation. It’s the ideal of Jensen’s “Dream Society”, which is the society of technocratic shamanism realised.

Let’s pause for a moment a reflect on that, because it brings to mind Jean Gebser’s curious tale about the meeting of Aztec sorcerers with the Spanish conquistadores, which many of you already know from Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin. The Aztec magicians and spell-casters failed to turn aside the Spanish from their intents. Gebser highlights that as a significant clash of consciousness structures — the shamanistic with the more individualised mental consciousness of the Spanish, and in those terms, a collectivised consciousness in conflict with a more individuated consciousness. (It’s curious that he didn’t highlight, for example, Caesar’s invasion of Gaul, and the clash of the more tribal and Druidic consciousness of the Celts with the more rationalistic Greco-Roman “classical” consciousness). Nonetheless, the more “individuated” consciousness of the Spanish was connected with their Christian belief in “free will”, obviously. The Aztecs (and in fact all magical and mythological cultures) have no such belief in free-will or self-determination. Human beings are the playthings of the gods or of nature spirits and powers, which reflects the rather weak, unconfident, and insecure situation of the emergent human ego-consciousness. It feels like a dry leaf blown about by powerful winds that it can’t or doesn’t control, which must be mastered by magic or placated and propitiated by sacrifice and petition.

It’s in this sense that the post-modern “loss of self” and the rise of “technocratic shamanism” as aspects of the “post-humanist” and “post-Enlightenment” seem to go together, with perhaps disturbing consequences for human psychic stability. Coincidentally, Rosenstock-Huessy also addressed that “disintegration of the ego” in his essay “Modern Man’s Disintegration and the Egyptian Ka”. The essay is also included as Chapter III, p. 35, in the same online source book as his essay “Farewell to Descartes”).

“Freedom”, “authenticity”, “love”, “friendship”, “loyalty”, “individuality” … all these value words ring hollow in the mouths of our new managers of meaning. That’s what cynicism does — it hollows out, which is why Nietzsche equated cynicism with nihilism. Pristine values become mere grist for the mill.

In fact, what is this “Dream Society” of Mr. Jensen’s but the what Marx already foresaw as the last fateful stage of capitalism, too: “All that is solid melts into air” — by which he meant, of course, our sense of values (matter has already dissolved into energy and the quantum flux). That’s quite prescient. Too bad about most of the rest of it.



One response to “The Genuine Imitation”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Forgot to mention… maybe this is for another post… is that one of the ambitions of technocratic shamanism as it applies to branding is to extend adolescence indefinitely, and so the worship of youth and youthfulness and the devaluation of critical reason (as you find in Jensen). Marcel Danesi wrote a short book about this some time ago called Forever Young and its often mentioned in terms of “infantilisation” of culture — average Joe and Josephine forever, really. They never age. They are always fourteen years old in spiritual and mental terms.

    Martin Lindstrom, for example, is rather unhappy about losing adolescent loyalty to brands that comes with aging, and he’ld like to cultivate and extend that devotion to the brand to the grave, if possible. He got millions of bucks and resources to research ways of, in effect, preventing such maturation to critical awareness. That’s another example of “technocratic shamanism” at work.

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