Monday, 3 March 2014

Macro level Trends – EM Economic Templates – Glocal “Auto-Replication” of the Californian Original (Part 3)

The remainder of this ongoing web-log consists of this commentary and following Part 4.

They seek to examines and conject upon how the past, present and futures of what are today world-wide entrenched American media and automotive interests, through acting symbiotically, will seek to maintain an ongoing 'Californiacation' of relevant world markets. But one which critically, whilst invariably further commercialising foreign cultures, will do so with increased sensitivity and subtlety.

California's 21st century focus upon the 'post-industrial' (as well as seemingly simultaneously America's rediscovery of 'mid-value industrial' to revitalise an internal economy), primarily relates to the immediacy and so theoretically 'high-value' commercial arenas of: 'info-comms' access, entertainment (and 'info-tainment') and personal transport.

To better appreciate what lays behind the 'Californiacation' drive for new era glocalisation this Part 3 seeks to convey its underlying (heavily post-modern) concept. Wherein the process of cultural progression and indeed new culture forming, utilising commercial entities, plays the critical role.

To do so across the global space, the learning born from the previous 60 years within the USA - and concentrated within California specifically – will be refined and effectively re-run.

Socio-Economics -

In order to maintain a powerful yet globally accepted soft-power stance, the US will continue to follow the usual historical practice seen with ancient world powers. That of adapting and subtly shifting the belief systems or perspectives which surround socially engrained traditions. So the re-shaping of cultural norms to create ever more socio-connected commercial opportunities.

One example was the now near-fabled adoption of Santa Clause's red and white, fur trimmed out-fit. Added to Christmas cards and general seasonal advertising, it was apparently introduced to befit the red and white branding of the Coca Cola Company. More recently, given the importance of multi-culturalism and need to span various religions (not just Christianity), Santa has been replaced by the brilliantly lit Coca Cola Truck, with reflective overtones of what many faiths call the “festival of the lights” (diwali etc).

To do so, as historically seen by the views of Plato, Nietzsche and more recently Jean Baudrillard, will rely upon the ideology of 'simulacrum' and its plural 'simulacra'; as pertaining to the perception of an ever more man-made, self referential, 'reality'.

'Reality' is obviously an ongoing, but ever more man-made, self-referential construct. The commentaries of Wittgenstein (on use of language), Barthes (on semiotics) and Neitzsche (on seeking truth) perhaps the most pertinent.

Future Belief vs Disbelief -

Often socially constructed, and so accepted, schisms exist between perceived reality and perceived truth. Blurred areas exist from the desire for inter-relationship harmony, or from a hierarchically derived acquiescence, whereby obvious and less obvious non-truths are absorbed. An unwillingness to accept or 'compute' such social norms (ie perceiving as purely right and wrong) is one supposed sign of certain 'learning disabilities' (ie prevalent in Downs' Syndrome ). This especially the case on on moral grounds wherein bad behaviour of another child/person or indeed the world at large is overlooked by adults: those with authority and supposedly superior morality to the child/teenager. (The 1955 James Dean film 'Rebel Without a Cause' uses this internal conflict as its unstated central plot-line).

It is plausible that in an ever more created and critically perceptionally manipulated world, that such a schism becomes greater and so more problematic; as the supposed reality of screen-based stories and images become in themselves 'unbelieved', creating an increasingly disaffected society – the very opposite of social stability.
Whilst no doubt advantageous to the medical fraternity (therapies and drugs) such social fragmentation further undermines the already depleted 'grande narratives' required to unify society and societies.

Under this possible scenario, people and consumers will seek-out those authentic, 'truth-telling' brands and companies, those with heritage and seen as socially responsible and positively proactive.
Those for whom CSR (corporate social responsibility) was a byword long before the phrase was coined.

It is believed by investment-auto-motives that such companies – exemplified by The Walt Disney Company – in decades to come will increasingly be seen as such social guardians; and though today their appears a conflict between social influence and commercial opportunism, these two apparent contradictions will be more harmoniously integrated.

To do so will require intelligent management of an increasingly globalised society's 'modern hieroglyphs', the semiotic imagery and cognitive associations that make-up social constructs, their short-hand connections and the fundamental underlying 'belief maps'.

To do such firms will inevitably continue to rely upon 'progressive copies' of said imagery, or 'simulacra', which itself will be based upon selectively used and indeed combined national. regional and glocal imagery with its inherent meanings and values.

Simulacra: a Definition -

This term has been peppered throughout this weblog given its now entrenched global culture poignancy. Any reader not aware of the term – largely used as an academic descriptor in specific circles – will have undertaken a web-dictionary search for its meaning.

But to recap, the following general definitions are given:

Derived from the Latin “simulacrum”:
“likeness or similarity”(initially as ascribed to icons of the gods)
“a representation or image of something”
“something similar; a vague, tentative or shadowy resemblance”
Came to be viewed as a copy of the original and so lacking in original substance/quality

Baudrillard argues that the copy has become so pervasive in contemporary society that the simulacrum becomes the “real thing” (to quote the Coca Cola strapline) and so the hyper-real becomes the truth.

Whereas Plato saw 2 versions of the copy (the faithful and the intentionally distorted used to 'correct' visual perspective on pillars, tall statues etc), Baudrillard sees 4 versions:

1. basic reflection of reality
2. distortion of reality (in many ways)
3. pretence of reality (where there is no actual original model, but created as loose multi-perceptual configuration)
4. simulacrum – which “bears no relation to any reality whatsoever”

The 1960s Baudrillard, like the late 19th century Neitzsche and Plato millennia earlier, sees this as a negative occurrence, and indeed a ploy, used for effectively 'manufacturing culture' and 'creating new realities', so instilling an ever bigger divide between (wo)man and the (enlightened) truth that is nature.

However, the 1960s Deleuze further describes the process of man-made repetition as actually unique given its directed progression, instead viewing nature as the systemic and generalised (the sequence of: sun/moon, day/night, seasons, etc); so QED the very process of simulacrum a valid social progression.

Whilst these viewpoints exist in the echelons of philosophy, over the last half century, the worlds of commerce and policy-formation have come to absorb the Baudrillardian description, given the meteoric level of 'Americana' culture-creation which arose from the late 1940s onward, itself duplicated across the world.

The Foundations of “The American Dream” -

The vital elements of what was once called 'global Americanism', obviously under-pinned by capitalism, stemmed from the ideology of an ever improving lifestyle; as per the 'American Dream', was eventually available to all.

Yet, as others well recognised, that betterment for American society and its individuals from 1945 onward had (ironically) been enabled by the combination of specific factors and outcomes: the Federal Reserve, the Bretton Woods Agreement and the victor's post WW2 inbound global liquidity flows.

The previous creation of a wholly autonomous Federal Reserve (as today) enabled the ability to print money at will (so able to win WW2 on both European and Pacific fronts massive production of munitions and transport). The Bretton Woods Conference of 1944 ostensibly created the IMF and World Bank and other systems so robustly conjoining international monetary transactions. Which in turn enabled the various payments from foreign governments (lend-lease repayments from allies and reparation payments made from the new installed authorities of the old 'axis powers' of Germany and Japan; this partly through immediate currency but partly by way of industrial agreements.

Thus America's win of what had ostensibly been for it a global war meant that it could capture large portions of the associated international wealth potential, turning that into wealth creation and so liquidity to trickle-down through its banking sector, through Wall St, through commerce and industry and through its society of ever increasing upward consumption.

This formula then, ie all that went before, was the basis of an envied society; a technically progressive society formed from education, comfort and joy (via entertainment). It was what allowed middle class families to buy the cheap and cheerful import of the VW Beetle for their children's college years, provided the imported iron-ore for its own steel-making, a portion of the imported oil for its plastics industries, both materials under-pinning Detroit's previously far more aspirational cars, and provided the foreign (Japan at first) sourced components which went into American branded white goods and brown goods.

The Social Construct of the 'American Dream' -

However, ironically although American consumer success had been built upon cheap inbound imports (visible and less so), American society itself became ever more distinctly insular and arguably isolated. Obviously not in a similar way to the previous cases of China or Japan, (seeking to avoid what they saw as corrupt internationalism), but obversely.

For most Americans the rest of the world was a long long way off and any desire to travel there had been 'cured' by WW2, especially for returned servicemen. The world beyond American shores was a shattered world of general deprivation. After the war only the rich, commercially-minded and culturally-aware, saw opportunities for either cheap import trade or an American 20th century replication of the European Grande Tour.

The 1950s film 'Funny Face' provides a idealised snapshot of the era.

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Martin, a New York fashion magazine discovers their 'new face' in a bookish unmaterialistic philosophy student (Hepburn). An offer to travel to Paris for a fashion photo-shoot is agreed with her primary objective of meeting a reputed philosopher. But she herself philosophically returns to 'the American way' after the European 'high-brow' exhibits himself as little more than a self-conceited, woman-chasing, “typical” man. She then enters the arms of Astaire for a presumed “happily ever after”.

Thus the intriguing world of European high-culture is depicted as sham, in favour of the materialistic stability and inferred wholesomeness of 'American Dream'

In an evolved simulacrum of typical Hollywood self-reference, the opening sequence of 'The Devil Wears Prada' is literally super-imposed over Funny Face by plot and location. A similar 'anti-fashion' character (Anne Hathaway) likewise reluctantly working for a NY fashion magazine is also transformed to the aspirational norm. The opening sequence shows her exiting a New York subway station; doing so in front of the apparent self-same book-store in which the bookish Hepburn was discovered

This the all too typical exercise of supposed directorial 'cleverness', wherein Hollywood cinematic self-reference creates further simulacrum. With any knowledgeable viewer possibly (and ridiculously) believing they too are 'in the know' and so somehow special for being so, and very likely in this camara-phone era, seeking to make art out of their own everyday life.

One sub-theme of the plot to 'American Beauty' alludes to this long before the notion of the cinematically influenced self-directed, pictorially based 'life' became merged into the norm].

On the Road -

In Part 2 investment-auto-motives demonstrated how today “the car is the star” of EM aspiration, at the top of the consumption lifestyle ladder.

This then an obvious re-run of the previous 'advanced markets' template across the USA and remainder of the triad regions.

By the time Jack Kerouac had written his now almost mythical 1951 counter-culture novel for the 'beat-nik' generation - opposing consumerism in favour of experentialism - the far more socially powerful fact is that the automobile had already become wholly engrained within the national psyche, familial psyche and individual psyche.

Ever more remote suburban 'satellite' neighbourhoods had been created by virtue of the automobile (Los Angeles the prime example) which along with extensive country-side settlements meant that the car was a very necessary personal travel tool to undertake basic everyday functions, for trips to the shopping mall or to town, and as a weekend escape mechanism or for a longer holiday. All the while an ever more prevalent symbol of achievement and notional social status.

Automobiles and Pop Culture -

As such an engrained totem, the car and truck become an ever more important staple element and instrument within cinema, TV and music from the 1930s onward. Sixty years later the prime components of dedicated and general video games such as the best known Grand Theft Auto - as personal realities become further blurred. And revived from grass roots, street level with productions like 'Fast and the Furious' (and sequels) aswell as retro-flavoured efforts like 'Gone in Sixty Seconds' and now the game inspired 'Need for Speed'. 

Yet, the true heyday for the USA was the booming post-war era, from the mid 1950s to the 'muscle-car' peak by the early 1970s, and a plethora of associated films by the mid 1970s to re-boost a then flagging US economy.

In Summary:

Music-wise, initially 'Rockabilly' bands drawing their inspiration from a broad mix of influences, including 'blue-grass', 'beat-nik' and importantly a self-created, “built not bought” 'hot-rod' culture.

Car-based films:
'Thunder Road'

Musical references to specific vehicles and hot-rod terms becoming intrinsic to (unsurprisingly) the 'Motown' musical output of Detroit. The Ford Mustang production line used in one early music video by Martha Reeves for 'Nowhere to Run'; the pony-car also referred to by Wilson Pickett in' Mustang Sally' in the same year of 1965. Conversely, the Californian lifestyle - representing youth and broad 'counter-culture' - offered by likes of The Beach Boys and their "309", Ronny and the Daytonas with a "Little GTO", and the humour of Jan and Dean's "Little Old Lady From Pasadena" in her 'hopped-up' Dodge. 

Car-based films:
'Fireball 500'
'The Great Race' (early auto era retrospective)
'Le Mans'

Musically, the obvious references to car-culture became diluted as musical influences broadened with retro, ethnic, heavy rock and classical infusions.
However, this decade saw a generated interest in coast to coast and similar long distance car sprints, often brash and illegal and so popularly celebrated as “sticking two fingers up to 'the Man'”. Such filmic story plots were matched by TV series, with ironically anti-heros playing both against and for the law; so demonstrating the way in which 'counter-culture' is absorbed into the systemic norm.

Car-based films:
'Vanishing Point'
'American Graffiti (a hyper-real 1950s simulacra retrospective)
'Two Lane Blacktop'
'Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry'
'Gone in Sixty Seconds' (re-made in 2000)
'Cannonball Run (films 1,2,3 and inspiring later events)
'Gumball Rally' (inspiring the later '3000' event)
Smokey and the Bandit (films 1,2,3)
Cannonball Run
The Driver
Starsky and Hutch
Dukes of Hazzard

Automotive 'Commodification' of Counter-Culture -

As seen previously with the predominantly southern black 'Blues' sound, the predominantly white 'Beat-nik' movement and the later muted rebellion of the white college-boy Beach Boy's sound, the embodiment of contrast (or the flip-side in record parlance) is quickly absorbed by commercialism. Whatever is seen to emerge as potentially popular becomes modified, packaged and sold.

This is seen by Starsky's role, his inferred polish immigrant background, his bright red, white-striped Ford Gran Torino (playing the role of police-car in the imagined 'Bay City' of S. California), it is typically the marginalised and often foreign elements which formulate a 'counter-culture' which itself becomes absorbed into the mainstream.

But there is no better automotive example than the plucky little 1963 VW Beetle 'Herbie'.

“Think Small” Across the Big Screen -

It seems that Herbie was the last character created by (the then) Walt Disney Productions whilst under the watchful eye of Walt Disney himself, the Beetle chosen because its innate shape and size evoked a pet-like reaction, it was the anti-thesis of the big boxy American saloons of the period, and also was itself a worldwide product, from Europe to Mexico to Brazil to S.Africa to India to Australia. It was the perfect 'global vehicle' for Disney's and America's soft-power play.

However, ironically, here was a car which in reality came into being through Hitler and the Nazis as the 'strength through joy' vehicle for the German masses. It formed the base of its small lightweight military vehicles in WW2. It was resurrected as a reliable and critically cheap mode of mass transport after the war. It was imported into the USA and perversely publicised by a Jewish advertising firm with the now famous “Think Small” tag-line. And (again ironically) within America became a badge of anti-war, eco-friendly, pro-gay left-wing 'socio-intellectualism'. As such the embodiment of a heavily west coast influenced counter-culture against the east-coast 'establishment'.

[NB For those less aware, the US political system generally consists of east coat, mid-west and southern states Republicans (various protestant churches) verses west-coast and northern Democrats (jews, catholics and the absorption of other less powerful minorities. This seeming culture-war has extended throughout the US media for decades. (However, Lewis Carol's “the Walrus and the Carpenter” is highly apt regards entwined interests)].

'Herbie' then was seen by Hollywood's 'champagne left' as the perfect vehicular foil for national and international distribution, sales and income, offering an underdog which can become embraced by large sections of the immigrant derived American public, since 'he' (in an anthropomorphic manner) represents them.

In the first 1969 film 'the Love Bug' the car is first purchased in San Francisco for the maid of a socialite; hence with immigrant overtones from the start, and is victorious against a dastardly, upper-class British race-driver. In the 1974 film 'Herbie Rides Again' Herbie is owned by an elderly lady who faces the loss of her home by an unscrupulous rich developer, wherein the car and his human and vehicular friends come to her aid. The 1977 film 'Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo' sees the race format re-appear in France, this time against a German 'baddie' and involving a diamond theft. The 1980 film 'Herbie Goes Bananas' is set in Mexico wherein the car and a young boy experience different adventures, posing as various locals from taxi-service to farmers, using bananas to avoid the escape of criminals seeking to steal an antique golden disc. A 1997 television-film was made also called 'The Love Bug'. In 2005 'Herbie Re-loaded' was distributed, this time with a female lead and using the familiar regeneration of a previously scrapped Herbie and good vs evil plot on the race-track; commercially synergising NASCAR with VW then new Beetle.

The crux of the matter here is that the counter-culture object – in this case the loveable car – becomes engrained into the norm through the layering of applied emotionality, and so influence, via the story itself.

As regards Baudrillard's posited theory of simulacrum and the hyper-real, the successive Herbie sequels (which each demonstrate various subtle sub-plots) demonstrates the seemingly similar – but actually often subtly visually changed – icon.

In doing so, The Disney Corporation, effectively created an embedded cultural short-hand (by way of that icon) in which the modest good overcomes brash evil, and critically implicitly: “all roads lead to America”.

The Dream as The Real -

Thus we can see that film – the primary vehicle of the 'American Dream' – has seeped so deeply into an American consciousness, and increasingly worldwide consciousness, through its unifying impact, that the publicly consumed 'image object' (as theoreticians might say) has become a substantial portion of a personal reality for many millions, if not some billions, of the world's 7.2 billion people.

The American Dream then, is both a distant lifestyle expectation for the global masses, and ironically simultaneously through immediate visual absorption, a created 'alternative reality which people already populate to differing degrees.

From creating immediate consumer desires amongst the masses, to the belief by supposedly intellectual others that 'one is aware' of the depth of the socio-cinematic impact, to now the smart-phone extolled as an instrument of public good via citizen reporting whilst in actuality eroding privacy.

The fact remains that today 99.9% of society is image-immersed, those images accompanied by apparent 'truths'.

Far Earlier “Merged Constructs” -
“The Wonderful World of Disney”

The merging of belief and created worlds could be said to have arrived with religion, but in the televisual sense, truly came to being with the advent of manipulated photography (eg the Victorian fairies at the bottom of the garden created through double exposure) and specifically with cinematography (ie the seemingly very threatening head-on advancing steam locomotive).

At this point by the 1880s, the power of the image upon a naïve public was irrefutable, but obviously by the 1950s image, whilst still very influential, had lost that merging of two worlds.

To once again mesh both image and real worlds, the cartoonist and film-maker Walt Disney sought to furthering the escapist fantasy aspect of amusement parks (eg Colney Island etc) in his own created image. Achieved fifty-nine years ago, when Walt Disney's cartoon creations were brought to life via the development of Disneyland, in Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, California.

During a pre-screen age the commercial imperative to connect the general public with famous yet remote figures through entertainment was arguably best established by Madam Tussauds via her waxwork museum. But as soon as the 'silver screen' arrived, a new set of intriguing characters were born. Yet whilst Tussauds would go on to replicate the human and non-human film stars of those early times through to today, it would be Walt Disney (and his brother Roy) that truly brought the screen to life.

Walt doing so literally through the now legendary group of theme-parks, originating from Disneyland in 1955.

A Snapshot of 20th Century Disney -

Given its social impact upon the world, a detailed history of Disney's activities and the emergent Disney Corporation is hardly required, but a snap-shot worthwhile. Simply because, for most of the public (American and otherwise) and the majority of the investment community, the history of the company which forms a cornerstone of popular culture remains patchy.

Animation began in the “pre-talkies” era with 'Alice's Wonderland', followed by 'Oswold the Lucky Rabbit'. From this came Mortimer Mouse (in 'Steamboat Willie' etc) which in turn gave fully formed Mickey Mouse. Soon joined by Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto etc.

The success of Mickey and 'Snow White' distributed via two powerful 'lot studios' provided expansion funds. In 1939 these monies built a new production centre in Burbank (still the HQ) for a new raft of releases, whilst in early 1940 the company undertook an IPO to re-supply production funding for new releases with infusing overtones: 'Pinocchio' (moralistic), 'Fantasia' (educational), 'Dumbo' (family) and Bambi (family).

Perhaps more importantly Disney sought to effectively create new American-made folk-tales (which could be seen as stemmed from 'old-country' European folk-tales) but 're-imprinting' the critical American identity and an early eco-consciousness, through regional stories on what was an diffuse and often uneducated public. So 'Song of the South' (a prototype mixed live-animation effort), 'So Dear to My Heart', 'Seal Island' and 'The Vanishing Prarie' were made.

[NB This also coincided with true mass motoring, inspiring people to buy cars and buy gas/petrol so as to take road trip holidays to see “the real (ie natural) America' whilst staying at motor-hotels (mo'tels) and roadside eateries, so distributing city-made money into poorer country communities. Hence the car as a vehicle for economic good].

[NB As will be seen in Part 4, the plot of the original film 'Cars' (2006) alluded to the loss of these self-induced intra-state sub-economies].

The 1950s saw a mix of animation and live-action features, taken from disparate sources reflecting literary popular culture to that point. The former being 'Cinderella', 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Peter Pan', the latter being 'Treasure Island', 'Robin Hood', 'The Sword and the |Rose', '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'.

Coca-Cola sponsored Disney's first TV show in 1950.

But it was in 1954 that a TV series name 'Disneyland' came into being run on the ABC network. Obviously pre-cursing the physical opening of the same-name theme-park in 1955 – in which ABC had an interest - deployed as an obvious televisual conveyor and entry-point.

The TV series also called “Walt Disney Presents” and “The Wonderful World of Disney” went on to be the longest running weekly broadcast TV series until 2008, when it transferred to Disney's own cable channel

Thus, Disney's output has been consistently absorbed by 3 or 4 generations of Americans.

So much so that through TV, film and theme-park that it has now come to represents a form of hyper-real (ie truly tangible) escapism from the ills of American society and thus the modern world.

The corporation's long back-catalogue means that it has virtually engrained feel-good 'social antidote' into the minds of many.

So much so, that the strength of its associated brand values – arguably reflecting those same values of America's own 'founding fathers' – has allowed it to create what may be described as an alternative, preferred reality. Not just on screen or in a theme-park, but in the wider world by way of the Florida town (near DisneyWorld) named 'Celebration'.

Thus arguably, fact has indeed come to follow fiction, in which through community based rules, Disney has indeed created the experience of an improved society.

The Cult of Walt Reborn -

Whilst the Disney brand and its hand-written script name is known by millions the world over, for many decades the connection to the originator, Walt Disney himself, had been lost. Whilst invariably the case at corporate board level (given the pitch battle for control, especially through Michael Eisner period 1984-2005), what had become apparent was that not only today's children but also their parents and previous generation knew little of Disney's origins. And that problem would only grow as Disney sought to both draw from, and sell to, foreign cultures.

That dilemma of a lost connection to 'the spiritual father' thus required mending.

Hence the production of the recent Disney film 'Saving Mr Banks'. The film's mission to demonstrate how Walt Disney (and thus America) sought to retell in yet a more popularist manner the created middle-class children's stories of yesteryear. In this instance using the renowned children's favourite 'Mary Poppins' from the 1960s; a specific 'behind the scenes' story retold given the pinnacle of Walt's influence at the time. He himself a powerful soft-power actor on the heavily American induced worldwide stage, with Mary Poppins the outcome of a notionally American-British-Australian cultural marriage.

[NB Infact another political aspect of the film presumably seeks to maintain Australia as a strong friend of America, and conduit for US soft-power influence, given Australia's own Asian geo-political sphere].

In effect the re-telling of the Walt story, from the different corporate angle, seeks to reflect today's Walt Disney Company in Walt's own perceived image: as paternal to the world's children.

Thus very interestingly, yet another phase (or over-layed 'map' to quote theorists) of self-perpetuating and subtly evolving simulacrum.

To Follow -

Part 4 will speculate from the premis thus far provided, as to how corporate America and The Walt Disney Company in particular will seeks to once again reach-out across the world.

Yet, although still by far the greatest military super-power, it also recognises that future cultural conquests throughout much of the remaining 21st century will need to be based upon truly socio-economic grounds, as opposed to those previously seen in the geo-political sphere.

This in turn requires a local cultural filtration and re-application of the learning captured over the last 60 years or so, both from the social laboratory that was post WW2 California, and from the more culturally progressive foreign commercial out-posts which have served as the early ports of call for modern American corporate minds.

As seen throughout this web-log, given the immense psychological consumer attraction and broad economic traction of the automobile, it will remain centre-stage depicted in many forms, representing many characters and undertaking many roles: helping to weave McLuhan's 'global village' together, even in this supposed age of all invasive, meta-physical, cyber-space.