Telling comparisons: a cultural analytic

Google_trends_fast_company_and_hb_2One of the secrets of understanding contemporary culture is the telling comparison.

Yesterday, it seemed to me a good way to extract the significance of Jeff Goldblum’s character on Raines was to compare him to Kieffer Sutherland’s character on 24.  This comparison is not so much telling as damning.  Sutherland looks like a robot by comparison.  (I say this with some regret because I actually like 24.)

I guess I was vaguely aware of the limitations of Kieffer Sutherland’s character, but it took a telling comparison  to make them leap into view.   Raines is a character who thinks and feels, and this helps us see Jack Bauer as wind up toy programmed only for "stoic impassivity," "heroic grimacing," and "fleeting regret."   

Telling comparisons demand the right terms for comparison.  Comparing Jack Bauer to Homer Simpson, Conan O’Brian, Les Moonves, Johnny Depp, or Jack Welch is not going to help us see him in a new light.  What we need is what Fred Egan used to call a "controlled comparison," one with enough similarities to make the contrast stand up and holler.  Raines gives us this.  No, of course, there is scientific or very precise about these comparison.  They are not, in fact, very controlled at all.  They require a good deal of editorial discretion, but in the right hands they show (or tell) us things we couldn’t/wouldn’t otherwise see.

Telling comparisons are useful, I think, because our culture has expanded so much I, for one, think of things discretely.  When I think of 24, I don’t do much comparing.  I am captive on the little universe created by the show.  In fact, I find that when I construct what I hope will be a telling comparison I get a little shock, as if I have crossed wired, as if I have conjoined things that are made to be kept separate.  The anthropology, the blogging, of contemporary culture depends on comparisons.   All of us would love to live free of the judgment that comparison brings, but sorry no can do. 

Today, I was thinking about how much interesting stuff about  marketing appears in the pages of Fast Company.  And I wondered whether Fast Company had maybe not done us the very great favor of smuggling marketing discourse back into serious treatment.   I mean this is a field that gets it from all sides.  The liberal left think it’s the work of the devil.  The intellectual world believes it an exercise is stupidity.  The b-school world regards marketing as a dark art, one that must struggle without the aid of metrics.  Fast Company has done us the very great honor of taking the field seriously, showing that it is not a moral dubious exercise engaged in manipulation, not a field of simple problems pursued by simple people, and not a dark art that makes up with guess work what it lacks in metrics.  Thank you, Fast Company.

But have I taken their measure fully?  No, what I need now is a telling comparison, and after due deliberation and running the mainframe very nearly to the point of combustion, I think we might compare Fast Company to the Harvard Business Review.  Oh, cruel comparison!  Now Fast Company begins to look positively mercurial, mobile and curious and connected to contemporary culture and commerce, and poor HBR looks tired and a little clueless, as if everything it cares to comment on in the world of marketing and culture is whatever it can see from the window of it’s men’s club in Boston.  That Google Trends map above shows HBR on high but losing altitude. 

Alright!  Enough on telling comparison.  I have 4 minutes in which to work if I want to post this on Friday, April 20th, and I do.   (Next week I will be in Mexico where I hope to do my best Jan Chipchase imitation.  Stay tuned.)

 

References

For more on Fred Eggan, see his Wikipedia entry here.

One thought on “Telling comparisons: a cultural analytic”

  1. “Today, I was thinking about how much interesting stuff about marketing appears in the pages of Fast Company. And I wondered whether Fast Company had maybe not done us the very great favor of smuggling marketing discourse back into serious treatment. I mean this is a field that gets it from all sides. The liberal left think it’s the work of the devil. The intellectual world believes it an exercise is stupidity. The b-school world regards marketing as a dark art, one that must struggle without the aid of metrics. Fast Company has done us the very great honor of taking the field seriously, showing that it is not a moral dubious exercise engaged in manipulation, not a field of simple problems pursued by simple people, and not a dark art that makes up with guess work what it lacks in metrics. Thank you, Fast Company.”
    —-
    While I don’t read Fast Company (nor HBR, save on occasion), I’m reminded of Peter F. Drucker’s dictum “The job of business is to *create* a market.” (Emphasis mine)

    Marketing isn’t about selling people stuff they don’t need, though too many enterprises substitute that for the real thing. Marketing is is about figuring out what people *do* need, and providing it. In the best cases, what is provided will be something people never realized they needed until it was there and they wondered how they got on without it.

    As such, marketing is the primary responsibility of the CEO and senior management, not just a “Marketing Department”. It’s part of an evolving gestalt of what the company is, what it offers, who the customers are, and what they need. As Drucker also pointed out, revenue comes from *outside* of the enterprise. You survive and prosper by providing goods and services the customer needs, at a price the customer is willing to pay.

    Too many companies make maximizing profit the goal. This puts the cart firmly before the horse. The goal is to survive — to be able to open your doors and do more business with your customers tomorrow. To do so, you must be profitable, but profit is a means to that end, and not the end itself. Forget that, and you join the corpses of countless enterprises that put short term gain first, at the expense of long term survival.

Comments are closed.