Books, the idea, cont’d: As monumental architecture

Mr. Portigal (thanks!) points out this Metafilter post that I’d missed:

In the capital of Turkmenistan stands an enormous statue of a book. Every evening at 8PM, the statue swings open and a recently deceased dictator’s magnum opus, the Ruhnama, is broadcast throughout the square while a video from within the statue shows his image.

The post links to a documentary maybe by Finnish filmmakers and available on YouTube in 10 parts. I did not watch the whole thing. In this part, however, at about the 4:35 mark, there’s some twilight / nighttime footage of the book swinging open. I know precisely zero about the rather dodgy-sounding politics here, but an immense book that swings open, onto which video images are projected, is fascinating.

Click to see YouTube video; I’ve punched up this image a little.

This post is part of a series.

“The opportunity … to change the story”

I listened with great interest to a recent episode of Speaking of Faith, devoted to changing values in the economic downturn, and titled Repossessing Virtue. Instead of drawing conclusions about how nationwide values have changed, it offered thoughts about how individual values can change. I think there’s a lot to be said for considering the cultural moment on an individual level.

There were some great passages in the show, and since there’s a transcript, I can easily pass along this bit, which I found particularly good (with a little bolded by me). It’s from Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen:

The culture tells me in order to live, I need to have 43 lipsticks and 10 face creams and no wrinkles, right? But those things cost a lot of money. And because I can’t buy them now in a knee-jerk way, I find myself recognizing that I really don’t need them. I need something else.

And I think that the economy is a pointing finger to a spiritual emptiness that has been among us for a long time and that we have an opportunity to fill it now, and that’s very, very exciting stuff. You know, in just thinking about all of this money, money itself, physical money, densest form of human energy. That’s what money is, stored energy. Now energy follows belief. The economy is based, I believe, not on scientific laws as much, but on peoples’ beliefs.

What is a good life? The answer to that drives an economy or other such questions or thoughts or beliefs. I believe that I’m alone and therefore I have to have something to be with me, to take care of me. I’m not safe. My whole life is about getting safe, so I spend money or don’t spend money based on these kinds of beliefs.

So another way of saying that is we got into this place because of the story, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, about other people, about the world, that the goal in life is comfort, which is, I think, one of the most dangerous stories in the whole world, by the way (laughter).

But the opportunity here is to change the story.

Buying In readers will no doubt see immediately why I like this so much.

AntiFriday: Your weekly compendium of backlashes, dissent & critiques

First, just for the record, I’d like to express my disappointment that not one of you took me to task for publishing last week’s AntiFriday … on Thursday.

Okay let’s get on with it.

*. Via BB, a T shirt that riffs on the PBR logo, and also riffs off the various Christian T-shirts that riff off brand logos in general. (Examples of those here on Purgatorio.) Parody of parody, I guess.

*. Sex & The City wins the Film Whore award, for most brand placements, per The Independent: “The film, which declares in the opening scenes that life is all about ‘love and labels,’ features 25 fashion designers, eight shops, seven electronics brands, seven publications, seven food and drinks brands, five cosmetics companies, three car companies, and one airline.”

*. Amusing summation of flaws in Sears gamer ad: Kid is playing “a PlayStation 3 game, with an Xbox 360 controller”

*. Speaking of Banksy, Debbie Millman shares the street artist’s thoughts regarding the ad industry, here. Once again, I note in passing that my opinion of Banksy as a supposed King of Anti-ness and Artistic Purity is colored by having been approached some years ago by his publicist.

*. Accusation: Republican ad subliminally includes the word “hang” in the  background of an Obama clip.

*. PSFK points out the Urban Prankster blog.

*. WFMU’s Beware of the Blog links to a video in which “Capitalism takes a trip on the NYC subway.” I don’t really get it as anything beyond absurdity, but, here you go:

AntiFriday Bonus: Apocalyptic political smear?

This Wall Street Journal article sums up the “controversy” over a McCain Web ad (on YouTube, here) that some say suggests Obama is not just aloof and full of himself and naive … he’s the antichrist! A highlight is expert commentary from Left Behind * co-author Tim LaHaye:

[He] said in an interview that he recognized allusions to his work in the ad but comparisons between Sen. Obama and the antichrist are incorrect.

“The antichrist isn’t going to be an American, so it can’t possibly be Obama. The Bible makes it clear he will be from an obscure place, like Romania.”

The story also notes that “suggestions that Sen. Obama is the antichrist have been circulating for months in Bible-study meetings” in some towns, and also that the ad’s imagery is suggestive in ways that will be obvious to anyone versed in what an expert calls “apocalyptic popular culture.”

I’m hoping that this draws a Paris Hilton-style response video from the actual antichrist.

UPDATE: Here is “Hello. You have stumbled upon this site by searching ‘Barack Obama Antichrist’ which was in the back of your mind, you were curious if anyone else had thought about it, so you gave it a google. Welcome. You are not alone, explore the site.” Be sure to view the poll results. [Thx to extra-special adviser E for that.]

[If you’re not a big apocalyptic pop culture follower, Left Behind was discussed in the November 13, 2005 Consumed.]

AntiFriday: Shame, privacy, trends, etc.

That’s right, it’s the latest weekly rundown of backlashes, complaints, critiques, and like that. Continues after the jump. Here goes.

1. Blackwater, ADM, Wal-Mart, and Countrywide head up the vote-getting for the Corporate Hall of Shame. (Earlier Murketing musing on the Blackwater brand here.)

2. Surely you caught the bit of Long Tail anti-ness in the HBR. WSJ columnist Lee Gomes, who has been skeptical of the theory in the past, piled on here. Tyler Cowen backlashes against the anti-ness here. These debates always seem to devolve into tedious numerical definitions — how the data gets counted and divided, etc. I’m invariably left wondering why, exactly, I’m supposed to care. But I suspect that in a broader sense it has the opposite effect: People feel they need to wade in and have a position, pro or con. Thus the anti-ness nets out to a huge plus for the Long Tail as a commodity-idea.

3. WSJ: “Phone operator CenturyTel Inc. and cable provider Charter Communications Inc. shelved plans to use ad-targeting technology from Silicon Valley start-up NebuAd due to privacy concerns raised by their customers and lawmakers.” Read more

Flickr Interlude

Church of God Pepsi, originally uploaded by RowJimmy.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

The downside of religous pols … for religion

From an interview with writer and Beliefnet founder Steven Waldman:

One of the reasons that Madison, in later years, gave for criticizing George Washington’s speeches was he said, you know, George Washington put too much religion in his speeches. And the problem with that is not that it’s going to turn people against George Washington, it’s that it’s going to turn people against religion. …

And what we are seeing now is polling data that says that one of the effects of the dominance of religious conservatives in the last 20 years is that it’s soured a generation, not on politics, it’s soured them on Christianity.

In Consumed: Jesus Christ, Superhero

One2Believe: Christian action figures hit the mainstream.

David Socha had a problem with the toy aisle: Too many dolls for girls promoted promiscuity, and too many action-figure collections for boys included villainous demon types — or “spawns of Satan,” as he puts it. “The bigger subject is that evil is glorified,” he says. “Like it’s kind of cool to break the Ten Commandments and do things that even 20 years ago people wouldn’t think about promoting — just being as violent and overt as possible.” Socha, who happens to be in the toy business himself, figured that enough parents felt this way to make up a market. And among the retailers with some faith in that notion was Wal-Mart, which this summer began selling Biblical figures made by Socha’s company in more than 400 of its stores. …

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site.

Reader demographics

The commercial success of anti-religion books has gotten a bit of attention (here’s a Freakonomics post for instance), and here is a piece in The Weekly Standard offering up its explanation. The part that made me pause is this passing comment:

We know from behavioral studies that, to the embarrassment of atheists, believers, or at least churchgoers, are better citizens–more active and law-abiding–than those who spend Sunday morning reading the New York Times.

Is reading the Sunday Times a proxy for atheism?

God and chocolate

Beliefnet today has some material about spirituality and spending. A list of seven tips includes advice on “How to perform random acts of kindness.” (“Create a Random Kindness Budget that you give a few dollars to each month,” etc.).

All pretty straightforward, except that that particular entry ends with:

Recommended: Give the gift of chocolate by L.A. Burdick.

Is that a sponsored link? Why that particular chocolate? Is it more spiritual than other lux chocolate brands?


Religion/marketing news

KFC has a fish sandwich. So what? Well, according to KFC:

The company has asked the Pope himself for his blessing, with KFC President Gregg Dedrick sending a personal letter to the Vatican.

[The fish sandwich] is ideal for American Catholics who want to observe Lenten season traditions while still leading their busy, modern lifestyles. The company has turned to Pope Benedict XVI, beseeching him to bestow his Papal blessing for this innovative new menu item. Vatican officials confirmed they received KFC’s request, and the company is hopeful to get the Pope’s blessing this Lenten season.


“Marketing and evangelism are the same thing”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on “an innovative marketing campaign by Victory World Church in Norcross[, GA].”

The billboard campaign, titled “My Story,” works like a television show cliffhanger. Every couple of weeks, the billboard reveals a new face from the silhouetted figures and alludes to their dramatic personal story. A caption directs commuters to a Victory Web site, where motorists can read their stories and even watch their videotaped testimonies.

Victory’s Web site reinforces the subtext of the billboard campaign. There’s no stained glass or organ music on the site. The faces look plucked from a J.Crew ad.

Also included: Expert commentary from a CUNY prof who has an interesting-sounding book coming out called Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age. And: Another church that’s planning a “social networking campaign inspired by Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook.”

Do you feel lucky?

The NYT science section has an interesting look at “magical thinking,” like believing in lucky numbers, or other superstitious stuff that many of us indulge in without admittting it:

[M]agical thinking underlies a vast, often unseen universe of small rituals that accompany people through every waking hour of a day.

The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior. This emerging portrait of magical thinking helps explain why people who fashion themselves skeptics cling to odd rituals that seem to make no sense, and how apparently harmless superstition may become disabling.

The brain seems to have networks that are specialized to produce an explicit, magical explanation in some circumstances, said Pascal Boyer, a professor of psychology and anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. In an e-mail message, he said such thinking was “only one domain where a relevant interpretation that connects all the dots, so to speak, is preferred to a rational one.”

Here’s the rest. The topic reminds me of one of my favorite recent books: Something For Nothing, by Jackson Lears.

One side note: This line of study seems connected, on some level, to pareidolia.

Other side note: I enjoy the general idea of carefully rational empirical study of this subject — maybe we can all come to terms with our own magical thinking if only the scientists can package it up for us with the right data and research findings. I feel luckier already.

Green Believers

Possibly worth watching tonight: Moyers On America: Is God Green? Some clips on Beliefnet.

In the time of Four Or Five Americas, the possibility of a meaningful alliance between environmentalists and religious leaders strikes me as pretty compelling, and it’s been getting steadily more attention for about a year now. Here’s an article sort of on the subject (particularly focused on Rev. Richard Cizik) from the L.A. Timess. Also related, E.O. Wilson’s recent book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.

Moyers took a more pessimistic look at the attitudes some religious thinkers toward the environment in a March 2005 New York Review essay, which is available online only to subscribers, but whose tone is hinted at by the title: “Welcome To Doomsday.”

Why do believers believe?

This is something I meant to bring up a while ago (but instead found myself dealing with hard drive failure etc.): A piece on Beliefnet by Michael Shermer on the subject of who believes in God and why. Really it’s about the “why” part, more than the who. The basic point of it is that believers tend to give one answer for why they believe, and a different kind of answer for why they figure other believers believe.

When speaking of themselves, the most popular answer believers gave was some varation on “The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe.”

When speaking of others, their top answer was something like: “Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life.”

Shermer suggests that the results are evidence of:

intellectual attribution bias, in which people consider their own beliefs as being rationally motivated, whereas they see the beliefs of others as being emotionally driven. By analogy, one’s commitment to a political belief is generally attributed to a rational decision (“I am for gun control because statistics show that crime decreases when gun ownership decreases”), whereas another person’s opinion on the same subject is attributed to need or emotional reasons (“he is for gun control because he is a bleeding-heart liberal”). This intellectual attribution bias appears to be equal opportunity on the subject of God. The apparent good design of the universe, and the perceived action of a higher intelligence in daily activities, are powerful intellectual justifications for belief. But we readily attribute other people’s belief in God to their emotional needs and how they were raised.

I guess I would have thought that — to take the gun control example — a person who holds that position not only sees his or her point of view as rational, but would see those who agree as being rational, and those who disagree as being half-cocked, emotion-driven thinkers. It seems surprising that someone who professes belief in God would be so cynical in evaluating the thought processes of others who believe the same thing.

On the other hand, this gap between how we think of our own decisions vs. how we think of other people’s is something that, obviously, I ponder all the time in writing about consumer behavior. And it’s actually not that unusual to hear people suggest that while they like the good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of [insert trendy brand/product here] — everybody else who is consuming that same thing is just following the trend or joining the herd or whatever. I suspect this is not just a matter of cynicism about other people’s decisions — although that may be part of it — but a form of self-flattery: The more everybody else’s decision process seems suspect, the more more mine seems pure and considered.

How’s that for cynical?