Thursday, April 21, 2011

Modern Tales of Capitalism - or, A Child's Garden of Marketing

There's this skeezy and dangerously deceptive side to marketing and advertising which Americans have perfected and which we really, really do not want to think about. It's because we are accomplices to the eternal pitches and the endless fakery, we sort of love our objectified identities, we like being admired for being a trendsetter (the new term for such folks is now 'early adopter') and a trend follower, and this maze of emotionally-tied evidence is not just some example weird low self esteem, it's also an admission that we are embracing the hype despite the fact it is hype. Our attitudes towards ourselves and our world gets mixed into this murky world and things get confused.

Hollywood is a master of this deception, mingling hype and hokum and we all sort of accept it.

A 2009 movie called "The Joneses", starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore, dives deep into this brave new world and both Hollywood and audiences just were not sure what to do with the movie. it mostly tanked at the box office and critics were stymied to explain the mechanics at work here.

The story seems simple - a group of sales people are hired by a giant corporation to pretend to be a family in high-end suburbia, but they are really together for one reason: to casually influence the neighborhood to buy products the fake family shows off as the trappings of success. Shoes, jeans, TVs, cars, sunglasses, purses, golf clubs, frozen food, bottled drinks, make-up, jewelry, games, cell phones ... an endless list of things. The company which has placed them in this world requires monthly status reports charting whether the fake family is hitting the mark on sales and demands for the things they are hyping. Failure is not accepted.

The companies use the fake family to sell products, the fake family earns high incomes by pushing items as new must-haves, the neighbors eagerly seek to follow the lead of the fakers, the fakers pretend it's just a job and push the idea that happiness is found in objects, in envy, in competition.

Not a pretty, idealistic America here - it's a greedy place, though one decked out in style. First-time writer/director Derrick Borte is a former ad man and he expertly lays out all the conflicted ideas with an easy satiric flair, but he's almost too good at his work. By the time the movie hits the three-quarters mark he has fallen in love with his fake family and their fake friends and he seeks out some kind of happy ending. But it falls flat, seems as fake as everything else. And that turned off audiences and critics - the monster is too real, too familiar and it just made everyone uncomfortable.

That's one reason I liked it - it captures an ugly world so well that attempting to find a 'happy ending' for it is just more fakery. We've all been taking part in a giant game of self-delusion and it just doesn't sit well at all.

It's very uncomfortable to realize how much we all participate in being reduced to a marketing demographic, but we still eagerly participate in it just the same. And not just in America.

As proof that it happens, take a look at this very real and very global new infotainment theme park, more rightly termed "advertainment", which has been growing in many nations and is about to land for the first time in America.

It's called KidZania - a fascinating article in Slate on this new kind of adult-directed child's play is a must read:

Right now, in eight malls spread across three continents, thousands of children are dressed as pilots and flying digital planes from mock cockpits, anchoring news broadcasts in fully functional TV studios, or wearing helmets and extinguishing faux flames with real water cannons.

This is KidZania, a multinational chain of family entertainment centers, where kids try out professions that have been downsized, simplified, and made fun. At these soccer field-size franchises in malls from Tokyo to Lisbon, children play at being adults.

Children can play surgeon, detective, journalist, courier, radio host, and dozens more jobs. They can buy and sell goods at the KidZania supermarket, take KidZania currency that they earn to an operational bank staffed with adult tellers, and be security guards escorting KidZania currency around the park. They can assemble burgers and pizzas, which they can then eat, or give makeovers to other paying children. At the planned KidZania Santiago, Chile, minors will be able to play at being miners. One-size-fits-all costumes supersize the cute factor. The result of all this is mass-produced adorability.

But at the heart of the concept and the business of KidZania is corporate consumerism, re-staged for children whose parents pay for them to act the role of the mature consumer and employee. The rights to brand and help create activities at each franchise are sold off to real corporations, while KidZania’s own marketing emphasizes the arguable educational benefits of the park.


"And kids aren’t just migrant laborers in KidZania. They are KidZanians, citizens of the nation of KidZania. There is a national anthem and a red and yellow flag, the colors split by the letter K. The KidZania logo itself is that same fluttering flag. Each child receives a bank account, an ATM card, a wallet, and a check for 50 KidZos (the park’s currency). At the park’s bank, which is staffed by adult tellers, kids can withdraw or deposit money they’ve earned through completing activities—and the account remains even when they go home at the end of the day. A lot of effort goes into making the children repeat visitors of this Lilliputian city-state. Also, KidZania itself isn’t cheap. Both parents and children are required to buy tickets to enter—a family of four pays $150 to visit KidZania Tokyo during peak hours—and franchises around the world continue to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Like any good nation, KidZania has its elites, too. Each park has a congress of 14 children. Really, it’s a focus group that meets once a month. The kids talk about what they’re doing at school and, more importantly, what’s going on at KidZania. They go on trips to visit the workplaces of KidZania’s sponsors and visit other parks around the world. KidZania can then ensure that the experience is suited to children’s ever-changing needs and whims. Even the adult management uses governmental titles; the most senior manager of each franchise is referred to as the “Governor.”

In addition to using the lingo of an aspiring nation-state with its own proxy legislature, KidZania has a bill of rights. KidZania grants each child “The Right To Know, The Right To Be, The Right To Care, and The Right To Play.”

ProMexico, a Mexican government initiative to promote Mexican commerce, says in its literature that, “KidZania emulates the positive aspects of capitalism.” Linn, though, said, “I don’t see what’s positive about [KidZania]. The more kids are immersed in commercialization, prepackaged fun, the less experience they have of making their own fun, of using their own imaginations, and the more they are dependent on corporations to supply their fun for them.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stimulus Grant Gets ETSU New Film/TV Production Studio

Thanks to a $1.2 million stimulus grant, students at East Tennessee State University has a state-of-the-art facility for radio/TV/and film production. (via)

This program is one of many which grows robust educational and financial opportunities for success headed by the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission which makes Tennessee a top destination for all types of entertainment production.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tennessee Breaking Law With Lethal Injection

It comes as little surprise that our government - from the local, state and federal levels - simply make mistakes. Errors occur in matters of bookkeeping, record-keeping, finance, and even typos are in evidence in legislation which pass through the many hurdles of sub-committees and committees.

One area which needs to be as mistake-free as humanly possible is the execution of prisoners - the death penalty. Wrongful execution - the deaths of those found to be innocent - has been rigorously studied nationwide. Execution of those innocently charged is not a minor glitch. It's a real horror story.

And now Tennessee, along with many other states - are under court orders to halt lethal injections since the drugs used have been illegally obtained. The Tennessean newspaper reports these drugs have been illegally obtained via an unregulated overseas supplier:

A federal lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., accuses multiple states, Tennessee included, of possibly violating drug import laws by purchasing thiopental from a British company called Dream Pharma, run out of the back of a London driving school. Nebraska and South Dakota, obtained 500 milligrams each from an Indian company called Kayem Pharmaceutical."

Seems this state (and others) are breaking the law in their plans to execute criminals.

The medicine under review is in short supply:

[due to] a nationwide shortage of that key drug used in lethal injections has largely ground to a halt executions across the nation. Like other states, Tennessee has had to turn over its stock of sodium thiopental to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration because of allegations it may have been illegally obtained from an unregulated overseas supplier."

Another chemical, Pentobarbital, has become a recent substitute, even though the drug's Danish manufacturer, has issued to following statement regarding use of the drug for lethal injection:

"Lundbeck's position regarding the misuse of pentobarbital in execution of prisoners

Lundbeck is dedicated to saving people’s lives. Use of our products to end lives contradicts everything we’re in business to do, which is to provide therapies that improve people’s lives. Lundbeck is opposed to the use of its product for the purpose of capital punishment.

Lundbeck markets pentobarbital solely for its approved use, among other things to treat serious conditions such as a severe and life threatening emergency epilepsy that results in 42,000 deaths a year in the US if not treated effectively. It is evident that use of this product to carry out the death penalty in US prisons falls outside its intended use.

We have engaged in a constructive dialogue with human rights advocates to discuss and evaluate ideas to prevent the incorrect use of our product for lethal injections. We have carried out a thorough assessment of ways to control distribution for use in capital punishment.

Lundbeck does not control the application of pentobarbital. And based on our evaluation and the advice of external experts, we have concluded that there are no viable steps Lundbeck can take to prevent end-users from obtaining the product for unapproved use, short of withdrawing the product from the market. However, taking pentobarbital off the market would be a tragedy for the patients who benefit from legitimate uses of this important therapy.

Medical experts and human rights advocates alike agree that discontinuation of the supply of pentobarbital could have a significant negative effect on patient care.

We will continue to urge states in the US to refrain from using pentobarbital for the execution of prisoners as it contradicts everything we stand for as a company.