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From an article in


From an article in the present New Yorker:

[M]ore often those [young Muslim] girls [living in France] were under orders [to wear the veil] from their fathers and uncles and brothers and even their male classmates. For the boys, transforming a bluejeaned teen-age sister into a docile and observant “Muslim” virgin was a rite de passage into authority, the fast track to becoming a man and, more important, a Muslim man. For the girls themselves, it was the beginning of a series of small exemptions from Frenchness—no sports, no biology, no Voltaire—that in the end had nothing to do with diversity and everything to do with isolation. It was also a license for violence. Girls who did not conform were excoriated, or chased, or beaten by fanatical young men meting out “Islamic justice.” Sometimes, the girls where gang-raped. In 2002, an unveiled Muslim girl in the cite of Vitry-sur-Seine was burned alive by a boy she had turned down.

Manifestly, this treatment of women is an attempt to achieve power and assert control by a group that feels itself dispossessed of power and denied control. I don’t know the historical and cultural details that help explain why young Muslim women proved the victims in this case. It is usually a more “other” other: African Americans for red necks in the American south, Francophones for Anglo Canadians, the Irish for the English, teens by adults, immigrants by the native son. Usually, the other is an outsider. It is not usually your sister.

But we can say two things from an anthropological point of view.

First, this is a fateful enterprise that never works. Control of this kind never stills the anxiety that feeds it. As Eldridge Cleaver pointed out in Soul On Ice, this anxiety renews itself. The more you seek to control the other, the more power you give them. And the more you must seek to control them.

Second, any attempt to control the other puts you hopelessly at odds with the Western experiment in openness. This experiment depends upon a willingness to endow everyone with the same opportunities for experiment, with equal access, in the French case, to sports, biology and Voltaire. The moment you insist one group may not have this access, you turn away from your own opportunity for openness. Effectively, you deny yourself the very thing you seek to deny others.

It’s as if openness has to happen entirely, if it is happen at all. This is why it never works to say, we are economically open, but not culturally so (as a certain part of the Right is inclined to do) or the converse (as a certain part of the Left is inclined to do). It is difficult to do by halves. (Though I believe that in the early days of experiment, this is precisely what happens. It was, I think, only the gentleman who was allowed to take part in the beginnings of England’s scientific revolution.)

It’s ironic that this experiment in closedness is taking place in France, a country and culture that did so much to fund the Western feeling for openness, but that is not now a place a place of exceptional economic or cultural ferment. It may be that there is a cascade at work here: that Muslim boys are doing to Muslim girls what French racists did to them. And this would make the attempt to refuse the veil in public schools a kind of full circle and potentially a renewal of the cascade. France may choose. And they are not choosing only for themselves.


Cleaver, Eldridge. Soul on Ice.

Kramer, Jane. 2004. Taking the Veil: How France’s public schools became the battleground in a culture war. The New Yorker. November 22, 2004.

Word wrestling! tonite’s card: Wolfe vs. Brooks


Tom Wolfe is America’s best unlicensed anthropologist. He has studied us for 45 years. He has actually shaped us as a culture.

He helped start the counter culture with Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (1968) and end it with the “Me Decade” essay in 1976. He helped start the preppie revolution with The Right Stuff in 1979 and end it with The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1989.

While “real” anthropologists slept happily in the light house of the academic world, Wolfe actually found his way to the flying bridge, eagerly shouting “how bout this?” one moment, followed by a patrician ‘that will do” a decade later. Wolfe made journalism and fiction do what treaties and theses could not: capture, shape, work and rework a culture.

If Wolfe has an heir apparent, it’s David Brooks, the author of the exemplary Bobos in Paradise. And the similarities between them are marked. They share good academic training (Yale and University of Chicago, respectively), a native curiosity, an impatience with cant, a keen eye for the telling detail and, most of all, the willingness to go where all these virtues take them (with no detours through the light house).

So it’s a matter of some interest when Brooks reviews Wolfe, as he did today in the pages of the New York Times. It’s not clear to me that Brooks fully “gets” what Wolfe is up to in I am Charlotte Simmons. He dutifully records Wolfe’s attempt to document a world in which “all the rules of life [are] dissolved,” where ‘the morality that used to undergird [these rules] dissolved long ago, and where everyone, not just Charlotte, is “left swirling about in a chaotic rush of desire and action, without a coherent code to make sense of it all.”

Brooks apparently believes there is a cultural fix available to us. He hints that universities might supply “character building” and “courage” to our many Charlottes that their lives might take on new moral crispness.

But Wolfe understands that these two educational “deliverables” are now necessarily problematical. A Man in Full, Wolfe’s last novel, examined the real diversity of the city of Atlanta, almost as if he had taken up a dare. Could any one man plausibly represent these very different lives? By and large, Wolfe won the dare, and in the process he demonstrates that the new diversity puts paid to the “moral code” Brooks would have us reconstruct.

If A Man in Full documented the ethnographic diversity of one American city, I am Charlotte Simmons documents the moral diversity of one American campus. Let us take one crude measure of this diversity. Every Charlotte must define her sexual relationships. There are many options to choose from: “I will not have sex before marriage, I will have sex before marriage but only with a ‘boyfriend,’ I will have sex only with someone I have dated at least x times, I will have sex with anyone who will buy me dinner.” Of course, Charlotte must then decide what kind of person she is looking for, what kind of person she will be in the relationship, what kind of sex she is looking for, and what she wants for dinner.

Models of moral conduct are various in American culture and they will remain so. This has always been one of the things we spend our time at college doing. Making choices, trying them on, and deciding which of them “fit,” observing how each choice shapes the self, and choosing finally which of them might serve us as we leave college and finally and irretrievably enter adulthood. (I remind the reader of that famous 90s designation “LUG,” [lesbian until graduation], that marked one of the postures with which some students experimented.) The contemporary culture merely has a wider range of options, and this is surely and precisely what we would expect of the most experimental place of an experimental culture. (Perhaps this is one so many undergraduates take refuge in the post modernist’s delirium.)

College might not be the best place to get an education, but it is a pretty good place to scrutinize and experiment with what its like to live in a morally various world where characters are not so much built as formed through a process of trial and error. Wolfe’s illuminates what it is to live in a world of plentitude. To hanker after codes and courage is to miss a good deal of what it has to teach us here.


Brooks, David. 2000. Bobos in paradise: The new upper class and how they got there. New York: Simon & Schuster.

_______. 2004. ‘Moral Suicide,’ à la Wolfe. New York Times. Subscription required here.

McCracken, Grant. A Star is Born. here

Wolfe, Tom. 1987. The bonfire of the vanities. New York: Farrar, Straus.

———. 1968. The electric kool-aid acid test. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

———. 1998. A man in full. 1st trade ed ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

———. 1976. The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening. New York. August 23, 1976: 26-40.

———. 1979. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

______. 2004. I am Charlotte Simmons. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The new consumer, first, king, now hacker?


Paul S. Ottelini, a rising star at Intel is now being identified as the person most likely to be made the new CEO there.

In 1992, he was appointed a chief of sales and marketing, an appointment he protested. But it was his new position that helped him rise. His revelation:

“The history of the industry was the better-mousetrap syndrome: You build a faster thing and the world will beat a path to your doorstep. But as the industry matured, that no longer become the best way to look at the problem.”

Ottelini wanted to talk to the consumer, not just the engineers. This consumer-centric point of view prompted Ottelini to create the “right hand turn” that began to transform Intel from 2001 onwards. Co-workers say Otellini helped “push an entire company from where it [was] most comfortable.” The consumer was now “king” at Intel. Naturally, we’re pleased to see that this fundamental notion of the marketing literature (usually attributed to Theodore Levitt’s influence in the 1960s) has now come to rest at Intel.

Intel’s change of heart comes perhaps not a moment to soon. For there is evidence that the consumer is shifting from king to hacker. The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a “growing breed” of hardware hackers who “rip apart gear to change both form and function.” No sooner have videogames, cell phones and other gadgets hit the shelf that useful “hacks” appear on line.

Joseph Torrone has just published a book called “Hardware Hacking: Have Fun While Voiding Your Warranty.” There was a time when software hackers got all the attention, but Mr. Torrone recently gave a talk at Las Vegas tech conference to a crowd that was standing room only. Recently, the MIT-trained engineer, Andrew “Bunnie” Huang figured out how to hack the Xbox motherboard. Microsoft responded but their supplier Nvidia was left with a surfeit of old chips and took a $21 million dollar write-down which they blamed on the “MIT hacker.”

It is unlikely the ordinary consumers will ever demand this degree of control over the technology but it seems to me we are looking at a familiar lifecycle here. In the early days of technology, the engineers know best. No one consults the consumers. Competition enters the scene and now it’s necessary to supply what the consumer actually wants. Eventually, even this is not enough. The consumer, acting not as kings, but hackers, being to rebuild according to their own specifications. The final moment of responsiveness comes from the consumers themselves.

We have seen this sort of thing happen in the realm of consumer products. Susan Fournier of the Tuck School at Dartmouth observed the consumer effectively reinventing product meanings for their own purposes, happily indifferent to what the corporations had in mind. (We may see these consumers as descendants of the Fluxus art movement, the way Greil Marcus sees punks as descendants of the Situationist International.) It is now widely supposed in certain marketing circles that consumers routinely “hack” the meanings of a brand and reengineer them as they wish.

I can hear the engineers (tech and brand) rubbing their hands with delight. Fine, let’s go back to giving them what we want. They are just going to hack them anyhow. But, no, the tech and the brand have to be within shouting distance of the consumer to have any hope of finding a consumer prepared to hack them. The corporation still has to do its homework. It has to consult the consumer carefully and often.

But there is a larger challenge on the horizon. Andrew Zolli gave a presentation to the Global Business Network recently in which he noted the Andre the Giant phenomenon, the practice of stenciling an image of a former wrestler on billboards. This was an effective hijacking of commercial messaging for non commercial purposes. He also noted the “all your base are belong to us” phenomenon where kids demonstrate a new ability to handle the messaging technologies. We may add to this, Burning Man, the art/tech festival that is described as an “annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression” and held each year at Black Rock, Nevada. We may add to this the torrent of zines that appear each year, and the reinvention of pop culture that takes place continually, best described by Henry Jenkins of MIT. This represents a hacking of the very technologies of communication.

Where culture leads, commerce must follow. This is what makes it more responsive to innovation than social arrangements that privilege elites and other “smart pants” who believe, like engineers, that the world should come to, or at least conform to, “us.” But now that the consumer acts less like a king and more like an anarchist, commerce really has its work cut out for it. Keeping up with the “consumer hacker” will pose a new challenge, encourage a new ferocity of interaction, and create a new dynamism.


Duncombe, Stephen. 1997. Notes from Underground: Zines and the politics of alternative culture. New York: Verso.

Forelle, Charles. 2004. So Your Roomba Vaccums…Does It Also Take Pictures? Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2004.

Fournier, Susan. 1998. The Consumer and the Brand: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research. Journal of Consumer Research 24, no. March: 343-73.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual poachers: Television fans & participatory culture. Studies in Culture and Communication. New York: Routledge.

Marcus, Greil. 1989. Lipstick Traces. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Rivlin, Gary and John Markoff. 2004. Can Mr. Chips Transform Intel? New York Times, September 12, 2004.

Andre the giant “obey” website: here

“All your base are belong to us” video here

Burning man website here

Why Bush will stay 11 points up

The problems of the Democratic party are often self inflicted: too many cooks in the kitchen, strategy blurred by competing agenda, a fractiousness that will not go away.

This campaign was going to be different. Bush-hatred had mobilized the faithful. The party had a heaven-sent opportunity for clarity and coherence. And it appeared to be working. Everyone at the Boston convention actually sang from the same page. Finally, an election in which the Democrats could actually act like Republicans! More exactly: an election in which the Democrats could act like a party!

Enter Stanley Greenberg, a new hire for the Kerry camp. Greenberg has been working for an independent Democratic group running attack ads. His hiring may mean that Kerry is now preparing to bring these ads in house, and to break from the “non-antagonistic” policy of his Chicago convention.

Campaigns come to this. Attack ads bring the parties toe to toe in a slug fest. The result is inevitable. Both end up looking pugnacious, mean spirited and a little unprincipled. It’s “smash mouth” politics.

This puts the Democrats in a jam. They like to see themselves, for social purposes, as the party of higher principle and the nobler view. Virtue is their self proclaimed difference. “We stand for something. We care about things.” If and when they engage in smash mouth politics, they cut themselves away from the foundation of their position. Worse than that, they threaten their new found unity.

An attack campaign will make for lots of “noise” in the party. There is, first of all, the contradiction between their “higher calling” and new policy. Then there is the rhetorical to-ing and fro-ing with which they will try to finesse the contradiction. Then there is the breaking of ranks as some party members object that their party is now indistinguishable from the enemy. Then there is the issue hopping with which the party will try to find the attack formula that is most effective but least offensive.

Smash mouth politics will do more harm inside the party than outside. It will puncture the Democrats’ unity. They will return to form, and we will be treated to the usual display of internal dissension and contretemps.

Bring da noise. Bring da funk.


Nagourney, Adam and David M. Halbfinger. 2004. Kerry Enlisting Clinton Aides in Effort to Refocus Campaign. New York Times. September 6, 2004.

Forecasting change


I am going to NYC today to present the the capital markets data collected in Boston, Seattle and Kansas City (see posts above). But a couple of things before I go.

I am setting up a forecasting model for popular culture for a large client, and I want to recruit people who are well informed about one or more aspects of same. I am looking for people who really know their music, film, magazines, zines, sports, design, retailing, food, architecture, cars, capital markets, marketing, radio or television. The idea is to establish “listening posts” throughout contemporary culture in order to identify and track innovations. This is not a full time but a consulting assignment. The expert would be consulted on a monthly basis, supplying perhaps a day a month. (Details of the project are still being worked out.)

The “listener” will be a rare bird. Some of the people who are well informed about an aspect of contemporary culture are, in a sense, too well informed. They cannot see for forest for the trees. My client is looking for someone with tremendously good powers of pattern recognition and a feeling for the bigger picture.

The other key qualifier is that the listener exercise a curiosity that is dispassionate. There are lots of people who know popular culture down to the ground but they use this knowledge to demonstrate how exquisitely hip they are. In a phrase, they are “too cool for school.” No avant-garde-ists need apply.

Could I ask “this blog sits at” readers for names of people they think might qualify. I will post more details in subsequent entries (and forgive me if I slow acknowledging your suggestions…I will be on the road for the next few days.)

Your help would be very much appreciated.

The Political Science of Father’s Day

Alison Thomas, a sociologist, recently looked at Father’s Day cards. She didn’t like what she saw.

It’s terribly superficial. If this was your only way to access images of fathers, it would be couch potatoes whose interests are angling, golfing, fixing things – oh, and farting … It’s a terribly unflattering portrayal of fatherhood, but it clearly says a lot about our ideas of what it means to be a dad.”

Only about 5% of the cards represent an image of a “modern, nurturing dad.”

I don’t want to be a spoil sport. Sociologists believe it’s their job to tell us that our society is going to hell in a hand basket. But I can’t help feeling that this study would have been more revealing if undertaken by a political scientist rather than a sociologist.

There is a model of consent that says that subordinates have the right and the liberty of making fun of their superordinates. It is their way of reminding the monarch that some part of his/or authority comes from the people. If the modern family is a “little commonwealth,” we might expect there to be ritual moments in which fathers are gently mocked. In its way, this ritual is an acknowledgment of Dad’s authority and he is most wise to engage in it.

In the immortal words of Sir Thomas Elyot, “O what domage ensued to princes and their realmes where liberte of speche hath ben restrayned?”

These cards could be a mark of the modern family. Or, we might suppose that, in this case, the people at Hallmark Cards know more about the family than your typical sociologist.


Elyot, Sir Thomas. 1531. The Boke named the Governour. (Part V, Book 2). London: J.M. Dent.

Owns, Anne Marie. 2004. Dads are always good for a laugh. National Post. June 19, 2004., p. 1.

Adorable or what? Not


Adorable or what?

Not at all. You are looking at a major investment opportunity. Today’s blog is not warm and fuzzy. It’s hard headed and money seeking. It’s about where to put your money in the stock market.

Here’s the anthropological take on pets.

There is a growing group of unmarried or divorced people. We know that, in 2002, the married population stood at 59%. This number is falling, down from 62% in 1990 and 72% in 1970. So unmarrieds stand at 41% and their numbers are growing.

Will this group live alone? No, chances are they will go out and buy Gizmo there on the left.

This tells us the pet population will increase. How else will those who want to get married find a mate, if not by taking Gizmo to the park for a walk? How else will those who want to stay single survive life alone. They will need a companion, and, yes, it will be Lulu, sitting there next to Gizmo.

So that’s it? Of course not. Those who are married are going to want pets, too. Especially if they are childless. After all, they need a child surrogate. You know who you are. You are the people we hear at the supermarket having intricate conversations about whether Danny (second from right) would like IAMs or something a little meatier. (“Yes, but what about his cholesterol?”)

So that’s it? Of course not. Those who are married with children are going to want pets, too. They are struggling to give their children the perfect childhood. They cannot be done without “Pattikins” (far right) or “Buddy” (middle).

This is what they call “coverage.” Everyone needs pets. We need them when we live alone. We need them when we’re married. We need them when we’ve got kids. Street kids need them as spare change magnets. Firemen needs them to fight fires. Presidents need them as photo ops. Hospitals use them as care-givers. College football teams need them as mascots. Bookstores use them as paper weights.

We are, as a culture, becoming increasingly pet-centric. I recently staying in a grand hotel that lets you bring your pet. This used to be the privilege of film stars and the very wealthy. Airlines will now let us travel with them.

And when it comes to pets, we cease to be rational, penny pinching consumers. Buddy needs a new collar, a new parka, a new hip. “Here, just take my credit card. No, that’s ok, just keep it.”

The real question here is where to make this opportunity to work for you, and, of course, Buddy. I have made one investment which is doing very nicely, thank you, up $2.00 a share. Their ticker symbol is WOOF. (Though, come to think of it, if you are now preparing to take stock advice from an anthropologist, you need to have a serious talk with Buddy.) I have a call in to my favorite analyst, a brilliant young man (and Harvard Business School grad) at UBS. I will let you know what he thinks the best picks are.


Marriage statistics from: