Sunday, 16 February 2014

Macro level Trends – EM Economic Templates – Glocal “Auto-Replication” of the Californian Original (Part 2)

Previously in Part 1 this investment-auto-motives web-log highlighted the major socio-political global trends which have emerged over the last 15 tears or so. These being:

'Shifting Middle:
The 'Shifting Middle' regards the reality of an upward life-enhancing trajectory for a new middle-class across EM regions (viewed as earning between $10-100 per day), versus at best a stagnancy and often decline of lifestyles of the established middle-class in the Triad regions as earnings are capped by necessary company budgeting during what is still a fragile western economic period. Whilst a wide demographic have felt the subsequent affects of constrained finances (leading to family problems, separation, divorce etc), perhaps the greatest impact on life outlook is felt by a disaffected youth; themselves caught between the unrealistically high 'bling' lifestyles within much of youth media and created aspiration verses the apparent bleak reality that actually ahead.

New Economic Order:
Whereby the top 30 rising EM countries account for 40% of global GDP, and wherein the lessons learned over the latter half of the 20th century are been increasingly implemented. Specifically to rectify the 'boom and bust' phases of the 1997/8 Asian Tiger Crash, a rationalisation of Latin America's regional fragmentation across left vs right policy-thinking (with even Argentina now pro-reform), Africa's new desire for greater continental economic unity and likewise across the CIS region.

Internationalist Angst:
The perception that whilst standards of living are indeed being improved for many across EM regions, that the spread of global capitalism also brings with it the local decentralisation and reduction of power and influence, this increasingly handed to multi-national corporations, who are themselves seen as promiscuous; quickly able to “lift and shift” operations elsewhere, so undermining growth. Or indeed cautious of altering economic course when involved with big businesses, as seen in coffee-bean farming and production through the aligned 'agenda-pushing' between mid and high grade beans for different corporate buyers serving different consumer markets.

Beyond this Angst:
The desire to create commercial and economic platforms which allow for the “rising of all boats” and not at the “expense of some”, ie a win-win global approach and not the winner-loser, 'zero-sum' experiences of global capitalism of some to date. Given the innate nature of capitalism thus far based upon the premis of comparative advantage, new opportunities for productivity improvement so attracting capital flows, what has historically been essentially a competitively based “zero sum game” system will require far greater 'joined-up' global thinking'.

Hence the need for a true appreciation for that all too post-modern term 'glocalisation'.

A New Era of 'Glocalisation' -

This is a recognition that broad spread of western influence must inevitably adopt ever increasing cultural sensitivity to the local conditions of any singular country or region. Not to do so effectively forfeits entry through an ever widening door into ever more networked global trade.

Put simply, a case of respecting and extending the old adage “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”

Perhaps the only exception that proves the rule is that European 'high culture' has been and will continue to be adopted virtually unchanged within EM countries. Doing so across the various realms of haute couture fashion, wine, opera, equestrianism etc; so fulfilling the new participants' desire for high brow 'culture-dipping' and to demonstrate to others their own appreciation of 'taste'.

In direct contrast, the massively broad spread of American influenced mass consumption culture, itself very closely correlated to what has largely been a California-centric media-culture, must likewise continue to evolve.

This looks set to alter its own course and modus operandi, so as to suit the distinct wishes of an ever more culturally diverse emergent consumer base; one which whilst keen to seek the once powerful 'American dream' also wants it essentially translated so as to match its own growing national and regional confidence.

Critically given the typically different social structures of EM regions, which have historically seen a massive negative wealth divide between the small sliver of rich and the rest of the mass populace, such countries will demand their own 'new dreams'.

Whereas the 'American dream” was effectively originated from a WASP (white anglo-saxon patriachial) base – which was seen to systemically fail its immigrant non-whites (blacks, latinos and asians) – though the first fruits of economic growth typically goes to the incumbent powers, the 'EM dream' in many of those countries will need to be better directed to spread the wealth across their own immigrant populations; and seen to do so to compel intra-EM trade.

The Cultural Tensions of Globalisation -

Before trying to guestimate the future, based upon past and current circumstances, it is worth absorbing a snap-shot of the past, through the with the obvious influence of

Western culture across drinks, foods, music, cinema and cars, was initially digested by what were once second-world and third-world countries in what could be described in a (quite literally) wholesale manner during globalisation's early phases.

At first distributed unchanged to a usually eager and enthusiastic young audience keen to experience 'better' things. Later items – typically commodity goods - were simplistically altered to suit mass-absorption via advertising, packaging and distribution channels. Once again the highly influential and largely Californian based film industry utilising sub-titles and voice dubbing as soon as was practicable.

But, even the most rudimentary and basic production techniques and tools were soon acquired locally – typically with government backing recognising cultural erosion – to create a localised counter-trend to outside influence. So helping to create an internalised, circular, new sub-economy, so as to redress the homeland vs foreign cultural balance, and importantly maintain cultural control.

As Seen Through the Lens -

Cinematography was actually born in Europe, but typically exploited by wealthy Jewish emigrés at the turn of the 20th century across the world. Most notably through the industrial productivity wealth created in the US, with the masses serviced by new metropolitan cinemas themselves fed by the value-stream inter-connectedness of Hollywood. That model replicated elsewhere through FDI, local funds and a mix of both, with varying degrees of success.

Cultural control has of course been the prime issue for India since 1947 Independence, China since the 1966 Cultural Revolution (even through its decline), Brazil's modernisation period of the 1960s and Russia's rise and contraction since the 1920s and since 1989, the latter arguably creating yet greater 'cultural containment'.

India is of course the prime example. As its own populations migrated to 'the west' so indigenous cinema spread, just as did favoured foodstuffs and tele-communications services; to provid that all important ancestral connection which underpins self and group identity. Hence today, much the result of India's historical disporas, and the ever higher degrees of cross-cultural coverage reaching what are termed 'mosaic' audiences, Mumbai's 'Bollywood' is nearly as well recognised worldwide as its 'Hollywood' derivation, yet historically produces far more output, approximating 2000 films per year.

China, in contrast to India's gradual cinematic global exposure over decades, has not been well exposed globally, because of obvious political circumstances. Yet that has altered over the last 5 years, with a basic understanding of the Chinese cinematic sphere communicated outwards, as part of its own cultural exportation. Previously largely unseen in western mass culture and kept within ex-pat communities, thus far only seen through mid-brow events and media such as the 2013 London Chinese Film festival and insights into its inner workings through pertinent articles from The Economist and similar. However, the odd television showing of films such as 'Ip Man' (informing of its martial arts history), that Chinese culture – even if somewhat presently stereotypical - is being dispersed.

Brazilian cinema started in 1898 during a period when S.America was arguably at its most economically powerful (to be soon eclipsed by N.America). Though there was a flourishing national film sector up to the mid 1920s, but the USA's economic dominance saw Latin cinema effectively used as PR tool to enhance US-Latin political and trade relations through the first half of the 20th century. As a more separatist region post WW2 up until the 1990s, its cinema was initially a private sector concern with US and Italian influences and true economic clout in the 1940s and 50s, but as the general economy contracted and socialism gained popularity so it became a largely government funded concern, ironically including risqué films of the 1970s to serve both domestic and overseas Italian audiences, so as to strengthen Brazilian-Italian trade ties (eg the establishing of FIAT Brazil).

Russian cinema, likewise started in the late 1890s, started with the crowning of Nicholas II. Thereafter, during what became tumultuous times indiginous film-making took on an anti-German propogandist aire during WW1, and much held in the hands of Bolshevics became increasingly anti-royalist. After the Revolution cinema maintained a propogandit slant, though localised to suit the very different ethnic regions held within the USSR. After WW2 homeland productions became more experimental, innovating in some techniques, though still heavily censored. That censorship declined as time passed, encompassing greater creativity and imagination, so much so that various icon films heavily influenced the works of western film directors. Of specific note were the cultural efforts to more closely tie distant Havana to Moscow.

Thus for many decades regards cinematic endeavours, there has been a “glocal replication” of what may be described as the Californian 'original'.

One which has manufactured perceptional 'realities'; as part of both the original 'American dream', aswell as 'Indian (fantasy) Escapism', 'Chinese (Moaist-Confuscianist) Unity', 'Brazilian (self-asserting) Celebration' and 'Russian (inter-territory) Collaberation'.

From Culture Toward Cultural Goods -

The televisual then has been used for approximately a century as an endemic cultural tool, and one which beyond the notions of maintaining national identity, has been deployed as the promoter of consumption.

And since industrial economies inevitably grow in a phased manner of industrial complexity, from FMCG in drinks, foodstuffs and personal goods, to clothing fashions, to household 'white and brown' (kitchen and leisure) goods, to now personal computer goods, and eventually reaching the pinnacle of durable goods: the vehicle, so the televisual has itself played the lead role upon the stage of economic development.

Though of course reliant upon buying-in foreign industrial know, typically from previously competing US vs USSR world powers, so as to obtain either: cost advantage, suitably aligned processes or advanced processes.

Manufactured Realities -

Here, investment-auto-motives uses the term 'manufactured realities' because over the course of the 20th century the masses have been invariably influenced by the visual stories told which have befitted respective locales and respective zeitgeist.

So much so that such televisual stories have shaped what has become effectively merged realities for billions of people, with seemingly graspable dreams achieved via materialistic consumption; a process by which people even sub-consciously actually compare and indeed steer their lives.

Once again the brilliantly adroit, poignant and now decade old TV commercial for the Peugeot 206 is highlighted. Set in India, but broadcast to western markets, the hero transforms a yesteryear Hindustan Ambassador into the simulacra (ie near copy) of a modern 206.

Yet, because of the innate 'neural power' the televisual its influence by way of combined imagery and script seeps deep into the mass consciousness, often and intendedly sub-consciously.

As such the term 'manufactured reality' has long been in use amongst culture pundits.

[NB Such powerful influences can and is be used as manipulation devices by not just propogandist governments, but by those within social groups who seek to intrinsically control the lives of others. Of those who are less aware, usually the naturally trustworthy and naïve, done so by identifying their fears and desires. Disingenuous individuals, who appear to be multiplying in this age of increased 'awareness' and selfishness, view such people “gullible or stupid”, and view them as akin to the unaware mouse, its head in the teapot, at the the tea party in 'Alice in Wonderland')].

B2B and B2C 'Point and Counter-Point' -
A similar story of trends toward globalisation and counter-point localisation has been seen across the replicable industrial and consumer goods.

Although initially reliant upon buying-in of foreign industrial know - typically from previously competing USA vs CCCP world powers, so as to obtain either: cost advantage, suitable 'bolt-on' processes or indeed leapfrog advanced processes – the very nature of now well enmeshed international and inter-regional trade means that the days of industrialisation and consumerism being heavily politicised and either American or Russian led largely have gone. Though they continue to lead in specific fields, other nations have come to the fore relative to their own economic template agendas, such as Japan now in propulsion methods, medical research, bio-mechanics and robotics, and S.Korea in aspects of personal computing.

But, undeniably whilst the battle for industrial independence and 'democracy' has been increasingly won by EM nations, able to themselves gain from the export of everything from base commodities to mid-tech capital equipment and ever more sophisticated durable goods, they recognise the need to influence portions of global culture itself, if they are to continue to economically expand, and not become caught in the endemic “trapped culture” model which saw Japan unable to extend beyond its industrial pinnacle in the early 1990s and so causation to dramatically stagnate.
So, whilst small incursions into global popular culture are made by other nations, often using the immediacy of the web – such as S.Korean pop singer Psy with “Gangnam Style” and “Gentleman” hits, simultaneously adopting and undermining high culture motifs in the formulaic pop manner – the fact is that whilst other nations are able to now export their own literal pop cultures (though not seemingly their high-cultures), they must do so through what is a heavily American monitored, policed and controlled global communication web.

And as seen with the US vs G20 leaders telephone hacking scandel, for all the diplomatic apologies made, that Big Bother like control looks unlikely to diminish in the near or mid terms.

As shown in the last web-log post, since the early days of Hollywood and to date, whilst California is known for its tourism, fruit-growing, oil and defence sectors, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the state has for many decades moulded itself as the focal-point of cultural creation (global cultural creation), this grasp strengthened with the ever advancing and ever incursive computer age. (Just as New York's Wall Street has been and is the focal-point of financial creation).

Together these two influential centres, along with US military capabilities, effectively controlled much of the world over the last century.

And whilst there is much discussion about a necessary loosening of tight foreign affairs policies, so reducing military costs so as to help pay-down US national debt levels, the fact is that California through the combination of historical precedence and proactive soft-power planning remains the technological hub at the centre of international “cultural processing”.

“Californiacation” Revisited -

The web-log at the end of 2013 applied the term 'Californiacation' to describe the manner in which automotive high-culture represented by 1920s and 1930s masterpiece cars was itself being imported from elsewhere in the US, from Europe and Japan.

'Californiacation' itself as a word was created as a parody label created by counter-culture commentators to describe the LA-centric ultra-liberalism that reached heady heights by the late 1990s, specifically amongst the media-based 'in-crowd'.

The term first came to broader appreciation when used as the title for an album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1999, then used as a self-referential TV series title in 2007. Loosely, Californiacation is wherein the cult of the 'LA media personality' rules, and in doing so becomes a social norm. Behaviour patterns of such people, typically removed from conventional life and living within their own bubble become, conveying extreme narcissism entwined with fashion obsession and social trend setting. In a navel-gazing way, such personality types became in the focus and content of new threads for TV entertainment under the banner of 'Reality TV'.

This LA effect reverberated and was intentionally replicated elsewhere across the USA and overseas to the UK etc. To such an extend that today each region (typically a correlated to specific TV region or social strata) has its own simulacrum of the LA original; whether it be the 'Houswives of Orange County' (mimicing the close by LA set) expanded to the 'Housewives of Atlanta', or in Britain, 'The Only Way is Essex' leading to 'Geordie Shore' and even (very sadly) 'Made in Chelsea', (an overtly previliged 'cast' of people who really ought to know better.)

Hence, from the social perspective 'Californiacation' is already endemic within a merged modern culture wherein the physically real is blended almost imperceptively with the image portrayed on screen. Something set to continue as the screens of personal devices become the lifestyle 'brokers and prompters' of those willing to unquestioningly accept such IT intrusion.

[NB the new film 'Her' alludes to this as a lonely man becomes infatuated with his human-like electronic personal assistant. A BBC Newsnight interview with the film's director negated the assumption that the plot set out to pose a question for humanity, and instead sought to present the plot as an expected future outcome, a socially networked, social engineering fait accompli].

'Californiacation's' Modus Operandi -

As seen, American cultural hegemony through the 20th century has led to what may be described as a contemporary global mass culture.

As also seen, Hollywood itself has been replicated to varying national degrees of success across the world. Bollywood (and similar regional others), Hong Kong, and now 'Chinawood' (the Hengdian World Studio) the most high profile and prolific, to reach respective EM audiences and beyond.

Yet as the rest of the world seeks to catch-up, California is set to continue its global cultural domination. But doing so recognising the vital importance of 'glocalisation'.

Doing so in three ways:

A. “Centrifugal Initiatives”
B. “Centripetal Initiatives”
C. “Copy Plus Cloning Initiatives”

Centrifugal efforts whereby it continues to export its televisual wares, whether: music videos, films, video-games or literally 'spun-off' franchising agreements with foreign production companies.

Centripetal efforts whereby the Californian epicentre remains ostensibly in control, the creative 'gravity', exemplified by US produced films such 'Bride and Prejudice' (set in Los Angeles, London and Goa), and 'The Mistress of the Spices' (set in San Francisco).

Copy plus cloning is (a poorly phrased but apt) term to describe the production companies of California (and all US) setting up local joint venture production houses with prime foreign markets. The presumed ideal to where possible to recreate the once all powerful 'Hollywood Studio System' (which ran between 1927-48) provided nigh on full control to the oligopoly of film studios. Though of course such an ideal problematic since it is unlikely that foreign film and television operators and regulators would allow a 50-50 split of the full value chain between itself and the USA.

The Car is the (EM) Star -

As is well recognised today, a major contribution to the success of national and regional economic templates through the 20th century was the concomitant dual processes of increased televisual immersion 'into' the created reality of cinema/television prompting an increase in lifestyle aspiration and so consumer spending, from the affordability of FMCG items and upwards as improved personal and household circumstances (typically earning through learning) allow.

Also as seen, besides the aspiration of home ownership, at the very top of the consumption ladder is purchase of an automobile. The vehicle - whether small car, light van or pick-up truck - has since its invention been revered by the masses. For many reasons. Though primarily as a provider of autonomous freedom for driver and passengers, and as a vitally culturally important symbol of social achievement. The latter based upon the ladder-climbing process of successive purchases of: used car, affordable new car, better model or brand, ongoing replacement improvements.

This aspirational reality well understood by Alfred P Sloane, the modern father of General Motor' after being established by Durant. He recognised in the 1920s that the American masses would seek (though not necessarily require) something more than the functional but stark Model T Ford; thus creating the amalgamated group brand ladder from Chevrolet to Cadillac, ironically poaching Harley Earl as lead designer who had honed his theatrical styling skills in Hollywood

The next 45 years saw Detroit prosper, as the capitalist economic model combined with televisual driven consumerism created a near virtuous circle of wealth creation. That period contracted in the 1970s, so allowing the previous trickle of Japanese import brands morph into FDI trans-plant players, whilst by the mid 1980s the USA had become revitalised with by the 1990s domestic large cars and truck derived SUVs the reflective symbols of economic confidence.

[NB a similar story but based upon very different product types played-out in Europe over the same
70 year period]

But ever since the erosion of the Cultural Revolution in China and the fall of the Berlin Wall so conjoining West and East Europe, the winds of global change re-set the mid and far global economic horizon. And with it auto companies across the world have shifted gear accordingly.

Let us not forget that it was the Trabant and its encapsulation of an old, now defunct political order which captured the mood of the times,. Ex-GDR citizens looking to 'time-travel' into the future with desire for modern, svelte and comfortable VWs, and hopefully eventually BMW's and Mercedes'.

From the western viewpoint toward Eastern Europe, the BRIC countries and beyond, it was recognised that affordable automotive 'time-travel' was a prime requirement, wherein private consumers, new start-up enterprise and indeed privatised old state businesses could demonstrate their new standing through symbols of modernity.

To this end, since 1999 Renault used the name 'Symbol' for its small sedan; reflecting the intention of global manufacturers to replay the consumption model of the western 20th century for 21st century EM regions.
To this end, aspirational vehicles remains an increasingly important economic topic. Consequentially, “the car is the (EM) star”.

Rapid Economic Advancement -

Although slowed from previous rapid growth rates, the outer districts of the BRICs and those of the CIVETS nations, continue to transform from what what has been ostensibly a '2nd class' consumption culture (in B2B and B2C spheres) over the last half century. This derived from locally re-branded yesteryear generation western goods (eg India's and Turkey's truck sectors).

Now toward a '1st class' consumption basis, enabled from broader and deeper wealth trickle-down through education, many seeking western levels of quality from local and regional producers, from drinks to clothes to cars.

So setting the scene for a new stage in the continued era of 'glocalisation', one spanning more intelligently formulated, hybridised identities and functions, achieved through ever more integrated EM-Triad corporate joint ventures and local producers accessing more capital from local and global sources to improve quality and broaden goods and services reach, domestically and regionally.

Each offering deployed localised business models aligned to local B2B and B2C demands, and reliant upon the economies of scale manufacturing for products and scale distribution for film.

Items which shifted from the initial appeal of foreign exotica to eventually for many millions the very staples of their everyday lifestyle. But expanded by the Apple Inc, a brand which for many Generation Y-ers reflects their inclusion within a cutting-edge, notionally socio-tech advanced global tribe.

Creating Cross-Cultural Connections -

The emergence of new economic order countries obviously required that the Euro-American economic template, which had largely proven itself over the preceding hundred years, be fundamentally reconsidered per the apparent opportunities that lay ahead elsewhere across the world.

Whilst the formula for doing so was relatively simple for automotive companies – such as Renault re-utilising a previous generation – critically capex-absorbed – platform, the approach required by the formulators of (to date western) mass-culture had to be arguably more holistically considered.

The highly successful 2008 film 'Slumdog Millionaire' the prime example as both a reflection of the zeitgeist and simulacrum product of these times. Produced by a company which had already developed the original format of TV's 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' (and franchising its simulacrum / replication across the globe), it sought to created its own staircase of continued EM success by using that general knowledge quiz as a focal-point to connect with old and new audiences.

The by now very well known Indian plot centres around the 'Millionaire' gameshow, a 'glocalised' product itself; though often wrongly perceived as derived from Hollywood.

'Slumdog Millionaire' accords to the rather conventional but compelling Indian plot of the underdog overcoming poverty, social adversity, friendship betrayal and conspiratorial accord between the elite and local police; wherein lost love is recaptured just as the hero's life is massively altered thanks to his ability to learn and recall.
Interestingly, given the context of new EM target audiences, as sub-themes there are subtle allusions to: the corruptive vs positive social power of the US dollar as the global currency (via “Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill”), the spread of American might (via the Colt 45 handgun), and globalisation itself, via the backdrop of the “off-shored” Indian call-centre, This constructed as an Anglo-Indian cultural matrix itself, with the in-joke of cultural faux pas (via a rabidly Scottish customer) so highlighting the cross-cultural problems of globalisation.

To Follow -

The original remit of this second part of the web-log was to subtly segue into the manner in which the California-centric culture industry had well recognised the need for cross-cultural sensitivity and affiliation. This as a required action so as to simultaneously maintain its soft-power momentum and so continued global leadership across a yet wider multi-cultural global canvas.

Doing so by deploying its biggest soft-power players, such as Disney-Pixar, which has been centre-stage in creating televisual and experiential feasts, aimed at youngsters across both Triad and EM nations. And vitally through which the presently powerful US media companies can ride a future wave of increasingly EM sourced growth.

However, before moving to such an thesis, it was necessary that the historical context to that broad global canvas to date be given; this providing the natural bridge.

Hence, instead a Part 3 will now offer a very basic examination of how the corporate futures of the US media sector and US auto sector, have been advantageously intersected, and so set to reap from the expanding the global stage.

Done so through the entertaining but yet potent case study of Disney-Pixar's film-animation releases of 'Cars' and 'Cars 2'. And by which a mode of ever expanding 'auto-replication' of the original Californian cultural template, will be sought - deploying the ideology of culture-specific simulacrum.