In The New York Times Magazine: Hummer Owners

How do the drivers of a widely loathed vehicle see themselves?

Hummer loyalists come across as a beleaguered lot. Less predictably, Luedicke and his fellow authors, Craig J. Thompson and Markus Giesler, argue that Hummer drivers position their ownership at the center of a “brand-mediated moral conflict” in which Hummer enthusiasts are not only innocent but also heroic. Conflict with vehement critics turns out to play a key role, with the Hummer owner casting himself or herself as a “moral protagonist” who must, according to this theory, “defend sacrosanct virtues and ideals from the transgressive actions of an immoral adversary.” And what sacrosanct virtues would those be? To oversimplify a bit: American exceptionalism, rugged individualism, love of the frontier, community and freedom.

Read the column in the November 1, 2009, New York Times Magazine, or here.

NOTE: I am in receipt this morning of an email alerting me to the existence of a 2006 documentary called Hummerland. According to its distributor: “In this humorous documentary, the director went looking for the appeal of this modern-day tank. She returns with a tragic-comic send-up of our consumerist society.” Sounds interesting. As you know, once I’ve written about a topic in Consumed, I am on to the next one. But if you want further thoughts on Hummerthink, this might be worth checking out.

ANOTHER NOTE: I am also in receipt of another email from someone who did Hummer-related research: “Vehicle of The Self,” Journal of Consumer Culture, 2006. Again, my interest was in the points made in the specific research that I cited, and what it implies about the disconnect between how we think of our own consumption decisions and how others “read” them, not in offering a comprehensive assessment of Hummer-ness. But if you’re interested in the latter, there’s more fodder for you.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.


Kate Bingaman-Burt Wants To Draw Your Mixtape

She explains:

I want to draw your mixtapes. I want your sad songs, you love jams, your sing at the top of your lungs car tunes, your break-up tape, your make-up tape and your BFF-4evah cassette.

I am only drawing the tape. If you want to participate, please snap a picture of the best side of your favorite tape and email it to me (see my profile) or upload it to your flickrstream and let me know.

A couple of months ago I was rooting through a box of cassettes, and thought about the old mixtapes as a potentially interesting photo project — the ones people gave me, the ones I made for myself. They’re so junky, but at the same time they have such personality. And of course each one brings back memories and so on, they’re often very attached to a time and place, and I guess even to a version of my identity/persona at the time they were made. So maybe I’ll get in on this.

Bonus links: 2006 Consumed about Kate Bingaman-Burt. PopMatters column argues “Why the nostalgia movement won’t touch the cassette.” Missing link: I found that PopMatters piece while trying to track down a Rob Horning meditation dealing in part with an a box of old cassettes, but I couldn’t find it so maybe I’m remembering wrong. I’ll update if I locate it.



  • Artists plan to encase vacant Detroit home in ice: “To draw attention to foreclosures that have battered the region.” Yeah? is there a big problem with people not knowing about foreclosures and vacant housing in Michigan? I think that info is kind of, you know, out there. Why not do this in Westchester County or somewhere that would actually be surprising. The net effect of this is just to reinforce an existing perception (ie, Detroit is a basket case!) not raise any new ideas or insights.
  • Cereal ads might be bad for your childs health: Study: “the least healthy breakfast cereals are the most frequently and aggressively marketed to children.”
  • The art of deception: When it’s fun to be fooled: Sounds like a great exhibition. It’s in Florence, though.
  • Human Avatars Are Better Salesmen: Study: “The participants perceive human-like spokes-avatars as more attractive, and players who interact with a human-like spokes-avatar perceive the iPhone advertisement as more informative than those who interact with a non-human spokes-avatar.” Now you know.
  • Counterfunctional feature of the day: “Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate is blank, i.e. no inscriptions on the keys. Nothing at all.” Um, great? (Thanks Jonah!)
  • Musicians call for release of torture soundtrack details: “Famous artists like Pearl Jam, REM, Rosanne Cash, and the Roots filed a Freedom of Information Act demanding that the US government list the names of the tunes that were used as soundtracks in interrogation situations.”
  • Valerie Hegarty: “Destruction Art.” Pretty cool. Via Coudal.
  • Ad for eyelash drug Latisse goes too far:: Consumer Reports Health Blog: “Its flashy ad campaign has caught ire from at least one other group: the Food and Drug Administration, which in September warned Allergan that promotional materials on the drugs Web site omitted or minimized certain risks.”
  • The Uniform Project: Just checked back in on this and wow, the amount raised is now more than $27,000. That’s amazing!
  • In One Man’s Garage, Pan Am Still Makes the Going Great: “Mr. Toth has built a precise replica of a first-class cabin from a Pan Am World Airways 747 in the garage of his two-bedroom condo in Redondo Beach, Calif. The setup includes almost everything fliers in the late 1970s and 1980s would have found onboard: pairs of red-and-blue reclining seats, original overhead luggage bins and a curved, red-carpeted staircase.”
  • Inside the App Economy: “At least 100,000 apps have been created. Some startups that staked their claim in the app economy have become large, lucrative businesses in just a few months. Two-year-old Zynga, which makes popular game apps, is already profitable, with more than $100 million in revenues.”
  • These links compiled via delicious, and repurposed here with plug-in Postalicious. Not enough stuff? Not the stuff you wanted? Try visiting,, and/or the Consumed Facebook page.


Flickr Interlude

Caption is: “We just got home from a 6000 mile road to Nashville, TN and back. We capped off our final night on the road at the one and only Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada.”

Suddenly I want to go to Nevada.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

In The New York Times Magazine: Redbox

For some at-home movie watchers, less is more.

Some studies show that consumers are happiest with a lot of choices. Other studies show that consumers are confounded (to the point of nonconsumption) by too many choices. So much, then, for studies. What about an actual business that allies itself closely with one or the other of these theories? For instance: DVD-rental kiosks that hold only 125 to 200 titles. That’s a pretty limited set of choices even by the standards of a Blockbuster, let alone of Netflix, which has an infinite-seeming selection. Back in 2002, Mitch Lowe asked his kids what they thought about such a scheme. They pronounced it “crazy.”

Today there are more than 18,000 redbox kiosks at drugstores, grocery stores and McDonald’s franchises all over the United States; new locations are added at a rate of about one per hour. …

Read the column in the October 25, 2009, New York Times Magazine, or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.


  • Book Review: “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”: This sounds interesting. I’m fascinated to learn (if this review is correct) that the conventional wisdom is that the digital is ephemeral. Apparently Stewart Brand said, “There is still nothing in the digital world like acid-free paper.” Really? I think the digital world is ALL acid-free paper. Digital is forever. You can wayback almost anything that’s ever happened online. The problem will be Too Much Evidence. Not too little.
  • Lunch exposure: “The publicity-loving patrons of Michael’s are getting a bonus with their $35 hamburgers. The staff is using Twitter to alert the world of who’s in the media-heavy eatery. Yesterday, as the lunch crowd arrived, ‘In the house: Howard Rubenstein and Robert Morgenthau.'” I’m assuming these people don’t actually mind. But there’s a blurring of the line here between public and private that I find creepy. Is anyone who might be recognized by an stranger at all now a de facto public figure?
  • The Cellphone Refuseniks: “Though many cellphone owners express growing displeasure about cellphones intrusions into their lives, according to Pew, a tiny and most likely shrinking number actually manage to resist them completely.”
  • These links compiled via delicious, and repurposed here with plug-in Postalicious. Not enough stuff? Not the stuff you wanted? Try visiting,, and/or the Consumed Facebook page.

The marketplace of (other people’s?) ideas

The blog of Burlesque Of North America pointed out the following a little while back. Here is a poster designed by Minneapolis artist Amy Jo (who you may recall is one of the folks I hired to create a promo poster for Buying In), back in 2005:


And here is a T-shirt from LRG, in 2009 :


I’m not in the business, of course, but it’s hard for me to believe that the designer of the latter just coincidentally came up with that psychedelic swirl/flower pattern, among other similarities. (And yes there are differences — the LRG shirt in my opinion is pretty sophomoric compared to the more-striking Amy Jo effort.) And I was actually surprised to see that one of the comments on the Burlesque of North America blog linked to this Frank 151 item alleging LRG had lifted another design, from Sailor Jerry, and claiming that “they have done this several other times.”

To be clear, I’m not making any allegations myself, as I have no idea what LRG’s side of the story might be. As you probably know, a variety of similar instances involving big companies and indie creators are explored on the site You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice. Often the posts there come from creators who feel ripped off.

A prominent theory of Web-thought is that such exposure ought to spark some kind of response and ideally resolution of the specific instances — and, you would think, a downtick in the number of such instances. And yet it seems routine. And it looks like LRG didn’t even respond to the allegations on either the Burlesque of North America blog, or on Frank151. Aren’t there swarms of social-media consultants out there claiming that companies have to seek out and address complaints and allegations — whether they come from the creator, or from a third-party observer — or suffer marketplace consequences? Is that theory true or not?

Or does a creator who feels aggrieved have to do what Jenny Hart did and file a lawsuit*? I don’t want to get sued myself, so let me just be clear, again, that I really do not know enough about copyright law to say how the various allegations noted above would fare in the legal system. And maybe there are explanations — maybe LRG, for example, has some plausible reason for the apparent similarities between their designs and Amy Jo’s, and Sailor Jerry’s. If so, you’d think that they’d want to say so in public. But maybe in real life, despite what the social-media folks say, it’s easier for them to just ignore it?

[*10/24 update: I originally wrote that Hart “sued,” but that’s technically wrong as the suit was filed, but not served. My apologies. I’ll follow up later on this to set the record straight in a clearer way.]


One thing that’s changed in the decade or so that I’ve been freelancing is the amount of time I devote to a story after it’s been published. Partly this is a matter of “doing media,” which isn’t all that new. (I have my last Pandora-related interview in about ten minutes.) But I definitely spend more aftermath time on chasing down, monitoring, obsessing about, online reactions (or even lack-of-reactions). In part this is just trying to be responsible and learn from what people have to say, etc. — just part of the process that has actually improved, in some ways, because it’s easier to encounter far-flung reactions in ways that would have been impossible in the past. (Although it can be annoying, too, but that’s just part of the game.)

Number Two

Second Place

But partly it’s about trying to figure out, for lack of a better word, the “buzz” payoff. The must absurd example is keeping a nervous eye on the Times‘s “most emailed” list. Why does this matter to me? It’s not like I get extra money if the story gets emailed (or blogged or Tweeted about) a lot. Even so, I think for better or for worse, things like “most emailed” have become a kind of proxy for value in the media business. So if my story gets emailed a lot, and that’s reflected on a list, well, that’s good for me as a writer, in a professional sense. It’s good, in other words, for My Brand. This doesn’t really matter so much to really big-name successful writers (Pulitzer winners, best-sellers, etc.), but to someone in my position, maybe it means my next story pitch gets taken more seriously, since my last piece was “buzz worthy,” at least according to the emailed ranking.

It’s not so cut-and-dried as that in real life of course. But it’s absurd to pretend these things don’t matter now in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past. It’s bothersome because the “metrics” that are available strike me as pretty crude. For all I know, the story rose the email charts because thousands of people were sending it to friends with notes like, “This sucks,” or “Can you believe someone published this?” But in the logic of buzz-measurement, really, that wouldn’t even matter. If it’s Number One, it’s Number One. And on that score haters who email a story “count” more than someone who quietly read it on the couch and enjoyed it.

All this is particularly ironic in the context of this specific article, since it was about a company trying to evaluate a cultural product (music) on intrinsic terms, in a way that marginalizes the opinion of “the crowd.” That’s the idea that I wanted to explore. And once it was published … I turned my attention to what “the crowd” thought!




In The New York Time Magazine: The Song Decoders

No Consumed this week. Instead I have a longer piece about Web radio service Pandora’s method of recommending songs and building music streams on the basis of music’s intrinsic acoustic information:

However things play out for Pandora as a business, its approach is worth understanding if you’re interested in the future of listening. It’s the “social” theories of music-liking that get most of the attention these days: systems that connect you with friends with similar tastes, or that rely on “collaborative filtering” strategies that cross-match your music-consumption habits with those of like-minded strangers. These popular approaches marginalize traditional gatekeepers; instead of trusting the talent scout, the radio programmer or the music critic, you trust your friends (actual or virtual), or maybe just “the crowd.”

Pandora’s approach more or less ignores the crowd. It is indifferent to the possibility that any given piece of music in its system might become a hit. The idea is to figure out what you like, not what a market might like. More interesting, the idea is that the taste of your cool friends, your peers, the traditional music critics, big-label talent scouts and the latest influential music blog are all equally irrelevant. That’s all cultural information, not musical information. And theoretically at least, Pandora’s approach distances music-liking from the cultural information that generally attaches to it.

Which raises interesting questions. Do you really love listening to the latest Jack White project? Do you really hate the sound of Britney Spears? Or are your music-consumption habits, in fact, not merely guided but partly shaped by the cultural information that Pandora largely screens out — like what’s considered awesome (or insufferable) by your peers, or by music tastemakers, or by anybody else? Is it really possible to separate musical taste from such social factors, online or off, and make it purely about the raw stuff of the music itself?

Read it in today’s issue of the Times Magazine, or here.