Tag Archives: Ana Domb

How to save luxury brands (and American capitalism)

screen-shot-2016-09-15-11-10-57-amElizabeth Segran has a nice essay in Fast Company: The Decline Of Premium American Fashion Brands. What Happened, Ralph And Tommy?

As a teen, Segran admired ads by Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. That’s over.

Today, at 33, none of these brands interest me. They conjure up images of outlet malls.

The problem is widespread

I’m not the only one who feels that these iconic American brands have lost their luster. Many are on a downward spiral, hit by sluggish sales. Ralph Lauren is facing plunging profits resulting in the shuttering of retail stores. Coach is in a similar boat, having lost significant market share. Michael Kors recently devised a strategy of cutting back on discounts, since markdowns appear to have killed the company’s cachet. Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, which are owned by the same parent company, have seen decreasing sales in the U.S. market.

Luxury brands are, in short, a mess.

Segran consults several experts and they roll out the probable causes:

Luxury brands:

■ were pushed by Wall Street to grow
■ growth forced offshore manufacture and this created diminished quality
■ searching for larger markets lead to production overruns
■ overruns forced brands into the bargain and outlet channels.
■ finding Ralph Lauren in a discount bin at T.J. Maxx made it seem a little less luxurious

Other factors

■ new brands rose with a new, more social, sensibility, Everlane or Warby Parker

But something is missing here from this account. We are looking at a fundamental change in sensibility.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-11-10-57-amConsider the Ralph Lauren ad that Fast Company used to illustrate this essay.

Almost everything is now wrong with this image. But not one of these errors in the image is remarked upon.

Errors in the image: 

That this picture has a center to it.
(Younger consumers are social animals. They are networked creatures. They are distributed souls. Practically, for content creators, that means dump the “focus” and go for “foci.” See recent work by Fitbit and Android for the social “foci” view, and my thoughts here.)

That the center of the picture is a white male, apparently WASP and privileged.
(Do I really need to explain the rise of diversity and what it means to the models we want to see in our ads?)

That the male in question has a woman wrapped around his arm.
(This too should be unnecessary, but everyone is now a feminist. And this posture is absurdly subordinate and subordinating.)

That this woman has the strangest look on her face.
(It’s an expressive that appears to say, “This is all I want from life, to be by my man.” I mean, really.)

That there is a steely eyed friend.
(what is this guy dressed for? A trip to his place in the country, the ancestral home, all brick, beam and ‘old money made material’?)

That the surrounding group glows with youth, ethnic specificity, and privilege
(the first motive for luxury consumption used to be upward aspiration. A consumer culture fanned the hope that we too could rise in the world, into exalted social realms, away from the ordinary, “common,” “coarse,” “little” people. But this idea is now openly ridiculed.)

Attention, sellers! The single most important idea driving your market place is dying. This idea of status is dying. It is now a recipe for ridicule.

So let’s be clear. Yes, there are plenty of “internal” reasons why luxury brands are struggling. And thank you, Elizabeth, for discovering them. But there are external, cultural ones, as well.

These cultural changes are not recent. These have been in the works for several decades. And it is a perfect storm as we rethink our ideas of privilege, status admiration, upward aspiration, sexism, and the adoration of the wealth and privilege.

imagesWhat to do? How could luxury brands have prepared themselves for this cultural disruption? At the risk of repeating myself, the single simplest strategy is to hire a Chief Culture Officer. For instructions, read this book ➼.

There’s a ton of talent out there. A few names come to mind. Tom LaForge, Barbara Lippert, Steffon Davis, Ana Domb, Philip McKenzie, Sam Ford, Joyce King Thomas, Michael Brooks, Jamie Gordon, Monica Ruffo, Rochelle Grayson, Kate Hammer, Drew Smith, Rob Fields, Parmesh Shashani, Shara Karasic, Ujwal Arkalgud, Tracey Follows, Eric Nehrlich, Bud Caddell, Barb Stark, Mark Boles, Mark Miller, Helen Walters.

(For a longer list, see this Pinterest page filled with candidates.}

If only Ralph Lauren had had anyone noted above as their Chief Culture Officer. How much share holder value would have been protected? How many careers saved? How much more fun would it have been to work at Ralph Lauren?

American capitalism has become a bit of a punching bag. There are so many cultural disruptions in play. A crisis now haunts CPG and Hollywood. So that’s three of the great workhorses of the American economy. And it’s at this point when we can see a crisis running right through our economy, touching things as diverse as luxury brands, CPG brands and Hollywood pictures, that’s it is time to rethink what we’re doing.

Take a smart person with good credentials, give them resources and give them power. It’s time to make our marketing, design thinking, branding, and innovation intelligence responsive to the simple truth that’s visible to most cultural creatives and virtually every Millennial. It’s time to make the organization as responsive to culture as it is to everything else in the near environment. All other options are stupid and embarrassing.

 

Square Inch Anthropology

I just had lunch with a young professional called Gloria who wanted to talk about what might be involved if she were to prepare herself for a career as a Chief Culture Officer.

We had a good conversation and at some point in the proceedings, I found myself encouraging her to work on her "square inch anthropology."

I had never actually heard of square inch anthropology before.  It just sort of thing you find yourself saying.  

Here’s what I think I meant.  To do the study of contemporary American culture, we are obliged to break it down into square inches.

A case in point.  I was telling the young professional about a project Mark Earls, Andrew Barnett, Ana Domb, and I did last year when we were commissioned to study "cocktail culture" in the Northeast.  "Cocktail culture" makes up one square inch of my map of American culture.

We interviewed hundreds of people by the end of the Cocktail Culture project, and Gloria and I ended up talking, for some reason, about two of them, a couple of women in a bar in Brooklyn who were "dolled up" and entirely glamorous in a not too assuming way.  Gloria has some interesting thoughts on these women and we christened their style "Betty Page."  This is a square inch too.

Square inch anthropology says, in effect, "look, we don’t claim to know everything about this culture, but we do have relative confidence in one or two things within it.  In this case: Cocktail culture and the Betty Page style."  We may now make claims to knowledge without pretending any overarching knowledge or competence.

Why proceed by square inches?  Here are 5 reasons.

1) American culture is vast, endlessly various and changing all the time.  We can’t know it top to bottom.  We can’t map it end to end.  The best we can hope for is to establish small pieces or pockets of clarity.

2) We can’t be entirely certain we have something.  We are always on the look out for more data and we are perfectly happy to discover that "cocktail culture" or "Betty Page" femaleness actually isn’t anything after all, or that it isn’t the something we thought it was. Our square inches are posted as possibilities.

3) As we begin to accumulate square inches we are in a position to begin to assemble them into patterns.  If the squares are provisional, so are the patterns.  We are constantly reassembling, looking for a better configuration.  And the good thing about the squares is that they prove to be ever so slightly magnetized, which means that they will often "suggest" connections, and when we made them proximate they will come together with that wonderful magnety "snap."  

4) Square are an excellent way of getting starting, of baby-stepping your way to an understanding of American culture.  We are not claiming to know everything about this culture.  We are merely claiming to know, if a tentative, provisional way, about this square inch.

5) Square inches are an excellent medium of exchange.  As it turned out, I had a clue about cocktail culture.  Gloria in turn had some useful things to say about the Betty Page thing. Swapping square inches in this way is really fun.  And it’s generative, very gift economy. Gifting Gloria with my square inch did not diminish it.  Taking possession of her Betty Page square inch left her none the poorer.

In a perfect world, we would turn www.squareinchanthropology.com into a place to post things we think we know about American culture.  (Perhaps not surprising it’s available. I checked.)  Please will someone give this a go!

Acknowledgments (and thanks)

To James Michael Starr, the artist responsible for the image used in this blog.  John Wong created the image.  For more details, click here.

Minerva winners

We have two winners for the latest Minerva essay contest.

Lauren La Cascia and Diandra Mintz.

Hearty congratulations to them both.  Here’s the question Lauren and Diandra took on.

The Essay question:

The Preamble:

The Big C, the new show starring the deeply talented Laura Linney gives us a glimpse of what is now possible on cable. It resembles a second show on Showtime, Weeds.

Together these shows give us a glimpse into the Showtime thinktank. (One of the principles, apparently: let’s see what happens to suburban living when we mix things up.)

There is a another experiment at work at USA Networks, from which a string of hits has recently issued (Burn Notice, Psych, Royal Pains, White Collar). (One of the principles, apparently, stay as far away from the suburbs as possible.)

The question:

1. Compare and contrast Showtime and USA Networks. Identify the grammar or algorithm that produces the shows in question. (Consider my "suburb" reference a hint, but merely one very rough indicator of the possibilities. Please do feel free to contradict me.)

2. What larger cultural significance do you attach to the fact that these two approaches to making TV now exist? Did they exist in the 20th century. Why do they exist now?

Conditions:

Fewer than 1000 words.

point form preferred.

points for being crisp and clear.

Contest winners

Contest winners will receive a Minerva (as pictured) and a place on the winner’s list. 

Contest judges

Rick Boyko, Director and Professor, VCU Brandcenter
(Mr. Boyko recused himself because on of the essay contestants is a VCU student)
Schuyler Brown, Skylab
Bryan Castaneda
Ana Domb
Mark Earls, author, Herd
Brad Grossman, Grossman and Partners
Grant McCracken
Christine W. Huang, PSFK, Huffington Post and Global Hue
Steve Postrel

 

Previous Winners

Juri Saar (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Reiko Waisglass (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Brent Shelkey (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Daniel Saunders (for the "JJ Abrams vs. Joss Whedon" contest)

Tim Sullivan (for the "Karen Black vs. Betty White" contest?)

Essay answer by Lauren La Cascia:

“You’re my livestock,” he slurs menacingly as the camera shows the victim’s silent screaming behind the cell glass.

In this first episode of Oz in 1997, a homophobic white supremacist repeatedly rapes and uses a Bic pen to brand a swastika on his cellmate’s buttocks after lights out.  With the scene, HBO introduced its version of “original programming” to audiences—in both the unique and primary sense—forever changing television.  It debuted the omniscient narrator, point of view camerawork, violence, hard language, male frontal nudity, drug use, homosexuality, mature content and veritè grittiness—all tropes usually reserved for cinema.  Sex and the City and The Sopranos followed quickly, making clear HBO’s version of television meant new and different.  And successful:  once HBO proved risk-taking led to commercial and critical reward, Showtime followed their lead, first rebranding with the “No Limits” tagline in 1997, then launching the groundbreaking Queer as Folk in 2000.

Showtime is still applying cable’s “Is it new and different?” litmus test to great effect.  Examining their current line-up, one can verify the shows have no obvious forerunners; imagined (Dexter), implausible (Weeds) and genre-blending (The Big C), the network has no trouble devising kooky premises and giving characters a long leash.  This license allows shows to create themselves organically, to build long arcs while still delivering each week, to shock by exploring paths broadcast never could.  On another level, Showtime’s thesis reveals a connection to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio:  to shred any idealized depiction of small-town American life left and expose the alienation, standardization and soullessness pervading actual existence.  It finds the bizarre and alien—a drug-dealing mom, a serial killer who kills serial killers—contending always that uncanny inner lives belie generic exteriors.

If Showtime is about invention, USA Networks is about reinvention—of the police procedural, the medical drama, the spy thriller.  Its programming has definite roots:  Psych is made possible by Sherlock Holmes and the kitschiness of Columbo, while Royal Pains seems ripped from the headlines with the death of Michael Jackson highlighting concierge medicine; if Burn Notice is a hybrid of MacGyver and the Bourne franchise, then White Collar’s premise is a straight rip of Catch Me If You Can.  By piggybacking off a lineage, USA wisely increases appeal.  By executing their versions so well, they maintain broad acceptance and court more discerning segments. The retail industry coined the term “masstige” to illustrate this sweet spot between mass and prestige; USA is the Target of basic cable.

All the mainstream-cool shows in USA’s line-up offer a fresh take on classic escapism.  Like much of the screen storytelling from the last century, concepts are built around idiosyncratic personalities barreling through implausible scenarios. The shows read as fiction, acted by “real characters,” and, in fact, two of their keystone programs—Burn Notice and Psych—have led to spin-off novel series, so easy is the leap from viewer to reader.  Taking a cue from riskier programs pioneered by non-ad-supported channels like HBO and Showtime, USA’s update comes in execution:  the in situ production design’s look and feel, better camerawork, well-researched stunts that border on just possible, witty quips we’d never be able to think of in the moment.  The marinated slices of Miami or the Hamptons impart reality even to locals, and it’s this legitimacy that keeps the shows believable even if they aren’t probable.  If Showtime is new and different, then USA is familiar but different.

The sturdiest common ground Showtime and USA share is in their mutual fascination with new beginnings:  a cancer diagnosis is dropped on Laura Linney, Mary-Louise Parker’s husband dies, newly ex-spy, Jeffrey Donovan, must adapt to his burning, a confidence man is reborn on the straight and narrow.  This need/desire of protagonists to reinvent themselves seems especially modern.  Recent events, though, have necessitated adaptation at speeds and to degrees historically reserved by Industrial Revolutions and Iron Ages.  Our concept of entertainment, too, likes characters to adjust as we have—to quickly-eclipsed digital advances, to terrorism, to economic slides, to mega natural disasters.  The stories reflect our dynamism and explore what it means to survive financially, physically, professionally and emotionally in these times.  We love seeing the steps and missteps taken to acclimate, the humor people can find in it all, the heartbreaking undercurrents as they beat back gloom.  They thrive like phoenixes, whether criminal (Dexter, Weeds, Royal Pains, White Collar), cancer patient (The Big C) or hedonist (Californication).

In contrast, the latter 20th Century was static:  the markets only went up, there was no lengthy war, kids were bored and television followed a formula.  Sitcoms from the 1980s, in particular, dropped us into this familiar territory in medias mes.  Full of stereotypes, programs didn’t require set-up or denouement because the concept stayed largely the same throughout: the Facts of Life girls never leave Eastland in Peekskill; the cast of Friends never changes apartments.  Most of these beloved characters would fail in the wild like creatures bred in captivity.  So inflexible were these sitcoms that sometimes entire shows had to be spun off to accommodate developments, like The Cosby Show’s begetting of A Different World as Denise heads to college; others died entirely trying to explore new directions, like The Brady Bunch, which couldn’t even accommodate the addition of another character, cousin Oliver.  Of course execution matters, but it’s difficult to imagine a successful show today unable to handle such minor tweaks.

Perhaps we, dear viewers, have sophisticated or writers have exhausted all the iconic sitcom premises, but the old constructs seem unforgivably juvenile now.  As viewers, we’re like middle-aged men who’ve finally started dating our age.  And what a golden age it is.  The modern situational comedy/dramedy has been redefined to include more complex, sticky and unpredictable situations.  Unafraid of actual character development, writers reject the use of two-dimensional archetypes and trust viewers will join them in exploring the unchartered.  Unfailingly, this new covenant between writer and viewer has brokered great television.  Perhaps we all were branded in that opening episode of Oz, held in TV’s thrall since.

Essay answer by Diandra Mintz

The male and female fantasies of breaking traditional mores and what it means to be extraordinary.

Algorithm

Woman + composed suburban lifestyle + unexpected tragedy out of her control + newfound self-sufficiency + unorthodox redemption = Weeds, The Big C (Showtime)

Man + remarkable talent + fall from grace + sidekick who tempers and fuels man’s efforts + unorthodox redemption = Burn Notice, Psych, Royal Pains, White Collar (USA)

Ordinary vs. Extraordinary

Showtime gives us ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances. Nancy and Cathy are going about their lives when they suffer sudden and unexpected setbacks. They seem in no way equipped to deal with tragedy and yet their underlying resilience shines through. Conversely, USA portrays extraordinary people living in ordinary circumstances. Each protagonist possesses an innate talent honed over time through discipline and practice. Standouts in their fields, the men are resourceful and cunning when necessary to come out on top — with their wit and charm in tact.

Gender

There is a marked difference in the protagonists’ gender on each network that is echoed by the gender of the shows’ creators. Showtime’s programs are led by women both on and off-screen, while USA’s programs star men and were created by men. Furthermore, the role of gender is complicated on both networks as each protoganist’s progression is threatened and frustrated by the presence of the opposite sex.

On Showtime, the women have been in some way failed by the men in their lives and seek to take matters into their own hands. The women must overcome the shortcomings of the men who continue to surround them.

Self-Sufficiency

At the end of the first episode of The Big C, Laura Linney’s character pours her heart out to an unseen companion: “I’m warning you that this laughter might turn into a sob in a second.” With a wider shot, the companion is revealed to be her dog. Even if they want a shoulder to cry on, the women make do on their own, demonstrating self-sufficiency.

USA’s protagonists are cushioned by the presence of sidekicks. The sidekick serves a variety of purposes in each program, but across the board the most important task is keeping the main character grounded. At moments when the leading male may seem too quirky or start to veer off plan, the sidekick is there to reel him in and reinforce an objective.

Aspiration and Identification

Not just any actors, Linney and Mary Louise Parker are accomplished actors in their own rights. They made names for themselves long before Showtime came calling. Both actors have the clout to carry a show and the ability to engage an audience on the small screen over the course of an entire series.

In a different vein, relatively unknown actors portray the protagonists on USA series. The actors are good looking enough to be realistically desired by the opposite sex, but not too good looking as to alienate the same sex from identifying with them. In this regard, the shows take a step back from focusing too tightly on the main character and open up to the ensemble cast.

Echoes of the 90s

The programming on Showtime is an extension of an approach seen on the small screen in the form of Twin Peaks (1990-91) later in the decade on the silver screen in American Beauty (1999). David Lynch’s television series asked viewers to take a closer look at suburban life. Below the guise of a smooth veneer, character flaws bubble to the surface. The difference now, in 2010, is that we are painfully aware that things are not what they seem. Bubbles have burst and dips are doubling and we are ready to examine the traditions and ideals that have become cumbersome. While Parker and Linney’s faces are familiar, just as familiar are the darker underbellies exposed in the storylines. As a culture we are re-educating ourselves on what it means to be satisfied.

USA’s programs echo another sentiment of the early 90s represented in the television series MacGyver (1985-92). MacGyver followed ever-resourceful secret agent Angus MacGyver as he solved problems with nothing more than his scientific know-how and ability to improvise with everyday common items. When put to the test, the protagonist comes through no matter what it takes — a mantra especially relevant today when we are recalibrating our lifestyles and learning how to do more with less.

Earned Success and Everyday Heroism

In an era moving past reality television when just about anyone could get their fifteen minutes by being in the right place at right time, the programming on USA and Showtime reflect the common desire to see earned success. As a culture we have moved beyond ascribed fame and fortune and instead hold earned heroism in higher regard. We leap to hear the stories of everyday heroes like Chesley Sullenberger and Jaycee Dugard, who have each signed movie and book deals respectively. We understand that success won’t be handed to us, and there is an inherent value in what is rightfully earned.

USA and Showtime have defined algorithms that resonate with an audience that values the talented and irrepressible spirit. When the chips are down and our flaws are showing, there is the hope of an underlying resilience that will come through in the end. Just test us.

 

Congratulations to Lauren and Diandra.

Culture Contest: Showtime vs. USA Networks

Preamble

The Big C, the new show starring the deeply talented Laura Linney gives us a glimpse of what is now possible on cable. It resembles a second show on Showtime, Weeds.

Together these shows give us a glimpse into the Showtime thinktank.  (One of the principles, apparently: let’s see what happens to suburban living when we mix things up.)

There is a another experiment at work at USA Networks, from which a string of hits has recently issued (Burn Notice, Psych, Royal Pains, White Collar).  (One of the principles, apparently, stay as far away from the suburbs as possible.)

Your essay question:

1. Compare and contrast Showtime and USA Networks.  Identify the grammar or algorithm that produces the shows in question.  (Consider my "suburb" reference a hint, but merely one very rough indicator of the possibilities.  Please do feel free to contradict me.)

2. What larger cultural significance do you attach to the fact that these two approaches to making TV now exist?  Did they exist in the 20th century.  Why do they exist now?

Conditions:

Fewer than 1000 words.

point form preferred.

points for being crisp and clear.

Contest winners

Contest winners will receive a Minerva (as pictured) and a place on the winner’s list.  (And immortality as a contest winner, of course. See the list of previous winners, by clicking here.) (Note: the Minerva used to be called the "VOWEL.")

Contest judges

Normally I do the judging for Minervas.  But this is a recipe for provincialism.  So I am invited several people to act as judges.  They are:

Rick Boyko, Director and Professor, VCU Brandcenter

Schuyler Brown, Skylab

Bryan Castañeda

Ana Domb

Mark Earls, author, Herd

Brad Grossman, Grossman and Partners

Christine W. Huang, PSFK, Huffington Post and Global Hue

Steve Postrel

Chief Culture Officer

This is precisely the kind of question I would expect a CCO to hit out of the park.  If you are having trouble with this question and fancy yourself CCO material, you are not watching enough TV.  (When spouses or colleagues complain, look them straight in the eye and say: "It’s doctor’s orders."  (Trust me, I’m an anthropologist.)

Previous Winners

Juri Saar (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Reiko Waisglass (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Brent Shelkey (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Daniel Saunders (for the "JJ Abrams vs. Joss Whedon" contest)

Tim Sullivan (for the "Karen Black vs. Betty White" contest?)

JJ Abrams versus Joss Whedon, your CCO assignment

Here’s your assignment.

JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon, compare and contrast.

One way to study our culture is to compare the roughly comparable.  Nothing comes of the wildly different.  It’s all contrast, no shades of grey.  

No, what we want is a common ground from which Instructive contrasts can then emerge.  

JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon are roughly comparable. Both were born in the middle 60s.  And in the world of popular culture, both were well born.  Abrams’ mother and father were TV producers. Whedon is a third generation TV writer.  Both have changed the face of television, Abrams with… well, now I’m doing your work for you.

What I want is a brief essay, no more than 1000 words.  Let’s stick to their TV work.  Point out the similarities between these two fellas, and then their differences.  Show what they mean to popular culture.  Compare Felicity and Buffy.  Or Lost and Dollhouse.  It’s up to you.  Tell us how their TV has changed our culture.

Keep it short, crisp, intelligent and illuminating.  The winner will receive the winged bird you see above.  I like to think of her as the Owl of Minerva from Greek mythology.  We have been searching for the right statuette for years now.  Ana Domb found this one in a museum catalog. (Thank you, Ana.) Officially, this is the Chief Culture Officer Award.  Unofficially, we will call her the Minerva. 

The Minerva is really heavy.  (I have held an Oscar and I’d say they are about the same weight. It was Julie Christie’s Oscar if you must know.)  It will look good on your desk or bookcase.  When friends and strangers say, "what’s that?"  You can say, ever so distractedly, "Oh, that’s my Minerva.  I won it for something I wrote."  There will be a small pause as your friend recalculates your standing in the world and considers now whether reverence should perhaps replace the impatience with which they now generally regard you. 

Our last contest, Betty White versus Karen Black, has a winner.  It’s Tim Sullivan.  See his excellent answer below.  Congratulations, Tim.

References

McCracken, Grant.  2010.  Betty White versus Karen Black, your CCO assignment.  This Blog.  May 11.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2009.  Chief Culture Officer.  New York: Basic Books.  Available on Amazon here.  (Citing this book in your essay will curry no favor with the judges.  But really, if you haven’t bought a copy, please do so now.)

Previous Minerva winners (now immortal)

Juri Saar

Brent Shelkey

Tim Sullivan

Reiko Waisglass

Tim Sullivan’s answer to the Betty While versus Karen Black assignment

Betty White v. Karen Black

This is a story of generations and media and sex, and the nostalgic value we place on them.

White: born 1922, lived through the Depression—actually arrived in California because of it, and started her career in radio in 1939, followed by TV in the 40s.
Black: born 1939, on the verge of being a Boomer. Trained in theater in college, moved to off-Broadway productions, and then to movies.

White: Since the ‘50s—with her show Life with Elizabeth—she’s had a devilish glint in her eye. She’s played against type: the pretty, sweet, slightly befuddled “girl” who secretly knew exactly what’s going on.
Black: Her first big hit is Easy Rider, 1969, a generational touchstone, cementing her place as a Boomer touchstone. In Five Easy Pieces, she’s plays the easy-to-dupe and pregnant girlfriend—no glint in her eye there. Myrtle Wilson, a variation on a theme, follows in The Great Gatsby.

White: Her medium is TV, in our living rooms every day, especially since her hit shows went into syndication. Some of us ate snacks with her after school or after work. Comforting, familiar.
Black: Lives on the Silver Screen. We visit her once in a while, and we usually don’t much like her—even when she’s determined and focused. By the late 70s and beyond, she had moved on to schlocky sci-fi and horror combined with art house pics.

White: Comedy (i.e., hard work) made to look easy. Sweet, smart, and sexy in our living rooms every day.
Black: Drama that feels hard, a little overwrought, spilling over into a genre that gets no respect.

White: She persists, she’s controlled her own destiny. In fact, with Life with Elizabeth, she was the first woman to have complete creative control over her own show,
Black: The characters she’s best known for were not people we would want to spend time with. Her affect is forced and demanding.

White: Another blow to Christopher Hitchens, who told us, infamously, in the pages of Vanity Fair “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” The reaction to that article, and the respect that female comedians have garnered before and since, culminate in the current celebration of Betty as a model for the current crop of successful women.
Black: Celebrated by the fanboy horror community, but b-grade horror flicks have little chance of breaking out into the mainstream. She’s painted herself into a corner. We can’t be nostalgic for her because her early career represents something about relationships between the sexes that we now eschew: the testosterone driven man chewing the scenery while Black’s character tries to create space for herself. She’s pre-Title IX.

Looking forward: A continued move away from and against the Boomers, as we as a society look for icons who create a foundation for Boomers, X, and Y alike through shared media.

Oh, thank goodness

Faithful readers will have noticed that This Blog has been down for a full month.

We were hit by the malware attach that caused Google and Firefox to warn away visitors.  

I have to say Network Solutions has been spectacularly unhelpful.

Use "Network solutions" and "malware" as your search terms in Twitter, and you will see that this attack is "epidemical" as they used to say in the 18th century.  The nightmare continues for many.  Network Solutions as acted with the cavalier disregard of the public utility it once was.  Bad brand, bad!

We have abandoned it and good riddance.

But we didn’t get off scotfree.  We lost all the blog posts since December 18th, 2009.  This too is thanks to Network Solutions which managed to delete the entire database.  Yes, that’s 1.5 million words, and many years of work, made to disappear in a puff of digital smoke. Bad brand, very bad brand.

Were it not for a backup at Foliovision, I would have lost the whole thing.  Good brand! Excellent brand.  (No, but really.  Foliovision has earned my undying gratitude.  Highly recommended for anyone thinking of making the transition from TypePad to WordPress.)  

It looks as if we were going to lose the list of Very Good Blogs, but, happily ,David Armano referenced it a couple of months ago, and this gave us a back up.  Thank you, David. 

So we are back in action.  Thanks for your patience.  And thanks to people who wrote in to give me the head’s up on the malware attack.  

Special thanks to Ana Domb for helping me get This Blog back in place.

Social Media: once wild, now tame

Bud Caddell asks “Are we seeing a permanent stagnation for social media?”  He uses Google Insights to show that several terms are now beginning to plateau.  Nice spot.

And this may be.  Perhaps stagnation is upon us.

I tell you what I was thinking at the Futures of Entertainment at MIT this year.  “This has gone from a wild problem to a domesticated problem.”  By which I believe I meant that social media used to be extremely hard to think.  What it was, how it work, what difference it would make to communication, sociality, and culture?  Who knew?

Wild problems are problems that we “can’t quite get a handle on.”  What’s the vocabulary?  What are the terms?  Does anyone agree on the meanings of the terms.  We spend a lot of time saying things like “tell me that last part again.”  We spend a lot of time using Google to search for intelligent thoughts and comments.

But eventually this is terra cognito.  We get it in large and in small.  This is not to say that we don’t have lots of developments to look forward to.  But the basic shape of the phenomenon is clear.  And this means we start to slow in our Google search activity.  It also means that MIT discussion is vastly more productive, but it is a little less “all over the place.”

Bud’s right.  This is a kind of stagnation.  But I would prefer to think of it as domestication.  We have made this topic more fit for human habitation.  But of course it will go feral from time to time.  And we will have to look to the likes of Bud and other courageous players to make it sensible again.  But this idea has come out of the cold.

References

Caddell, Bud.  2009.  Behold the plateau of social media.  What Consumes Me. Dec. 22.  here.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Bud for the image (now lost, see note below).

Thanks to Ana Domb for helping me design and execute the website, now in something like it’s final form.  This also marks my liberation from TypePad, my move to WordPress.  What a pleasure it is to live in a more sensible, reliable world.

Note: this post was lost about a year ago thanks to the unashamed incompetence of Network Solutions.  It was retrieved from the web yesterday and I am reposting it today December 24, 2010.