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Published September 01, 2009 More Info »
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Published September 01, 2009

Brand That Ass

These days, it seems corporations are hellbent on expanding their brandwidth. Messages sprawled and spanked across buses, buildings and billboards program our notions of what's desirable and what's acceptable, and they mingle insidiously with website content in our homes. It's as though the marketing world is constantly trying to help us explore and define who we are by offering us a bevy of variations on the same basic experience.


But what lies beyond our brand-mania? What lies beneath it? Back in the day, native peoples organized themselves along clan lines. There was the fox clan, the bear clan, the rain-on-a-hot-prairie clan. Clans gave people a sense of identity that was separate from the tribal identity, yet ultimately in alignment with it. These social structures allowed for a degree of individuality within a system that was designed to foster the same core values in all of its participants. Each clan had its unique rituals, which defined it and tuned it to particular kinds of energy, which were then circulated back into the collective by chiefs, shamans and clowns.

We have those today, too. Certainly the Disney clan has its sacred site, the Vatican of brand sanctuaries. And every time you step into a Verizon retailer, a Pinkberry, a Trader Joe’s, you’re entering into a kind of kiva. There are guidelines for the ceremony you’re participating in, the only one, some say, with any meaning in our culture--buying stuff. Certainly, the Verizon clan is quite different from the T Mobile clan. One is masculine, technical, professional. The other is feminine, playful, exuberant. So the rituals that take place in these kivas, although they follow the same basic guidelines, generate different psychic effects. When you step out of a Verizon store after a transaction, you feel manned up. After a T Mobile purchase, like you just fucked Michael Douglas. Depends on what kind of ritual you want to swing. And it counts, cause every time you put that phone to your ear you're merging energies with a particular set of values.


What, then, does the future hold? Will the culture surrounding branding acquire an authentic or pseudo spiritual aspect? Will there be sacred Sobe festivals that celebrate lizard wisdom? New Balance ceremonies to help reduce our civilization's carbon footprint? Probably not. Branding is ultimately about selling stuff, and spirituality is about giving stuff away. But you can bet your bedenimed ass that if some civilization emerges out of the coming megamashup, it will have a much deeper understanding of how the urge to identify oneself with a particular set of values and attitudes can be harnessed to create an authentic human commonwealth.

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