Fire foxes, fire eagles, fire dogs: myth in a new media world

Firefox This morning I found myself thinking about Fire Eagle, the new GPS status casting site coming this fall from Yahoo.  What, I wanted to know, is a "fire eagle"?

Then I start thinking about Firefox.  I remember the first time I heard this term, I thought "what?" and then it settled without further complaint into consciousness.  "Firefox."  I had no idea what it meant.  But I got finally that it meant something, and decided finally that it meant quite well.

And then "fire dogs."  This is an in-home technology advice service offered by Circuit City.  They are trying to catch up to Best Buy, and the spectacularly successful innovation created by Robert Stephens in 1994 called Geek Squad. 

Now, "fire dogs" is I think a metaphor from the fire house.  A fire dog is the Dalmatian that rides to the aid of humans in need.  As in "Sparky the fire dog."

But Firefox?  And Fire Eagle?   These might be a a nod in the direction of Joss Whedon and his TV series, the underground hit, called Firefly (Fox 2002).  Except that fireflies actually exists, we have seen them, we know exactly what they mean.  Or this may be an American construction lost on a Canadian anthropologist.

As a naming strategy, I think I see what’s happening here.  A Firefox and a Fire Eagle are counter intuitive in exactly the right proportions.  These names resist comprehension but only just.  They are counter intuitive, but not unintelligible.  In the first moment of exposure, we don’t quite get them…and this prevents them from washing over us and out into that sea of forgettable branding and marketing.  Comprehension is held up just long enough for the new name to lock into memory.  As branding becomes more subtle, we will see more and more of this. 

Firefox and Fire Eagle sound a little like mythical creatures, the sort of thing we might hear about from the mythic worlds of North American aboriginals, classical Greece, or ancient Scandinavia.   And this works too.  Natural creatures with supernatural powers, this makes sense.  Ordinary creatures with extraordinary powers.  Mythic creatures that make periodic appearances in the human world.   

Later in the morning, I read that NBC is returning some $10 million to advertisers, because it failed to make its audience numbers. 

CBS chief research officer David Poltrack says the four major broadcast networks have seen live viewing decline 8% for households and viewers. "Viewers currently are skipping about 60% of commercials during playback…"

Viewers choosing whether to watch ads?  A way of recording whether and when they do so?  A network giving money back?  Marketing being held to account?  Lord in heaven, our world is changing.  Many of the old bets are off. 

And the Fire-prefix came rushing back for an encore in consciousness.  Our world is quietly in crisis.  We are watch old institutions like advertisers and networks forced to change the very nature of how they do business.  We watching as the new media work their way through our customs and our culture.  It’s inexorable and sometimes devastating. 

Maybe this is why a mythological naming appeals to us.  It is a little as if we have been returned to a mythical world, or a human world shot through with mythical interventions.  As our world is turned upside down by the new technologies, it does begin to feel like a place occupied by creatures capricious and unpredictable, spectacular but often unintelligible, sometimes intervening on our behalf but just as often unkind to our kind.  If we were to put a face to the digital revolution, maybe this it: hybrid creatures with fantastic powers engaging in spectacular interventions in the human world, but rarely possessed of anything more than a casual interest in human welfare.  Yes, I believe that does resemble my world.  You? 

References

Anonymous.  2007.  NBC pays out to advertisers over ratings shortfall.  WARC.  December 14, 2007.

16 thoughts on “Fire foxes, fire eagles, fire dogs: myth in a new media world”

  1. The Fire Eagle was a recurring reference in the ZeFrank video blog — a random grab-bag episode format called “Ride the Fire Eagle Danger Day”, usually featuring an animated intro sent in by a member of the ZeFrank community.

    Similarly, FireDogLake.com is one of the top Democratic political blogs. An actual “fire dog” being an emission of glowing swamp gases. 🙂

  2. I love the name and logo of Firefox. Besides…it has “stumbleupon” and Facebooks Scrabble game doesn’t play on Safari…only on Firefox. I was also going to say a firefox was a red panda too.

    I love the infinite layers of animals and spirit worlds summoned in daily life. Fun post Grant.

    cheers,
    Candy

  3. “Firefox and Fire Eagle sound a little like mythical creatures, the sort of thing we might hear about from the mythic worlds of North American aboriginals, classical Greece, or ancient Scandinavia.”

    Close. Before the name got changed to Firefox (which is a real animal by the way) it was named Firebird. If you type “about:mozilla” in the address bar you can see an old page from “The Book of Mozilla” that references birds of fire and thunder.

  4. The Firefox name actually evolved from the Mozilla team trying to avoid a series of trademark disputes with previous names for the browser.

    First it was Phoenix, which didn’t set too well with BIOS developer Phoenix Technologies. (Phoenix was a reference to the product rising from the ashes of Netscape.)

    Then it was changed to Firebird, but there was already an open-source project with that name.

    According to details at http://www.flexbeta.net/main/articles.php?action=show&showarticle=89, the Mozilla team settled on Firefox because it was similar to Firebird.

  5. Being of a certain age, I initially had to be sure to distinguish Firefox from Foxfire, those old hippie-books about living on the land. Being from the Bronx (even when you go to college in Dayton, Ohio and Pittsburgh, you’re still “from the Bronx”), I never read them, but always heard others talking about them.

  6. Fire Bird is a popular character in Russian fairy tales. The protagonist has to catch it in order to obtain celestial power. The students of folklore consider it a version of the Phoenix bird that restores itself from the ashes.

  7. Mozilla was originally an internal code-name used at Netscape, since they wanted to create a bigger, better browser than the old Mosaic web browser. -zilla comes from Godzilla. Godzilla breaths a stream of fire, thence Firebird, perchaps? Or, Firebird was going to be like the Phoenix, rising from the ashes of Netscape Navigator. But some other product was already named Firebird, so they changed it to Firefox. I have no idea where the fox came from. (There is a general bird theme among the Mozilla products — Thunderbird (mail), Sunbird (calendar)).

  8. “Firefox” is believed to be the cause of northern lights (aurea borealis) in northern-Finnish tradition.Firefox (tulikettu,tulikko in finnish) is a mythical creature that causes the northern lights (foxfires,wolffires) when its taih whips the snow while in roams the north. Firefox is believed to be the ultimate game for a hunter, for it bring fortune and happiness unimagined for the one who captures it.

  9. Natural appeals like this in people make for an effective branding strategy by businesses. Things like this should always be considered when deciding a brand name for your business. Who knows, if Firefox didn’t have such an effective brand name, maybe they wouldn’t be where they are today.

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