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Monday, May 12, 2008

I can only hope that the author of this recipe blog continues posting. Without it, I would have never learned that “brownies are one of the truest manifestations of metal in the scope of baking. Nestled inside their dark, viscous hearts lies a sickening world of decadence.” Or that “boiled down to its very essence, metal is nothing more than a mixture of molasses and alienation.” And there is so much more to learn about the dark confections. (via boing boing)


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Monday, May 12, 2008

The NY Times had an interesting article recently about Gramophone magazine (a venerable classical publication) adding links to record labels along side reviews and opportunities to download the music too.  For many pop and rock publications, this is old news already. It’s considered being consumer friendly- making it easier to access the music being discussed.  But in the magazine/publication world, there is an important line drawn between editorial (or reviews) and advertising that many editors are still cautious about, and rightly so.  I understand why some classical fans are squeamish about this but as long as the editorial integrity can be maintained (i.e. even bad reviews have links), then I don’t see a reason to cry foul.  If it gets to the point where a mag is actively blurring that line (the way Rolling Stone and Amplifier did last year), then you have problems.


Speaking of classical scribing, a sad goodbye to Melinda Bargeen of the Seattle Times who penned a very thoughtful and insightful farewell article about her profession.  ST has a lot of other staff leaving too unfortunately.


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Monday, May 12, 2008

In his upcoming book, Buying In (which I plan to review more thoroughly in a few weeks), Rob Walker, who writes the Consumed column for the New York Times Magazine, discusses protest brands: brands consumers latch on to to try to flaunt to the world that they are indifferent to brands or too knowing to subscribe to them. His main example is Pabst Blue Ribbon, the lousy beer that has become a staple for a certain breed of hipsters. It’s likely that the beer’s popularity has a lot to do with its being the cheapest option in bars too cool to stock Miller or Bud, which is precisely Walker’s point—PBR seems like an alternative to the majors not because it is a substantially different product but simply because the makers don’t advertise. PBR has a vaguely authentic-seeming legacy, so its name resonates and allows consumers to attach their own sets of meanings to it while still tapping into the reach that national brands seem to have. According to this view, co-opting a brand is sort of like seizing control of a radio station or something; but really it’s a matter of consumers doing the marketing for a company that can’t afford to—this way they can broadcast their belonging to a “creative” niche. Walker argues that brand owners are doing this deliberately, masking their overt marketing efforts and instead doing “murketing” that recruits consumers in doing the meaning making for them. Since there was a void where the national message for PBR might have been, consumers were able to fill it by making the beer signify a rejection of the brands that advertise heavily. It’s one way of rejecting the fog of hype we live in (as this n+1 essay details) without simultaneously foreclosing the chance to participate in our culture—which is made up primarily of brands and whatnot. Of course, the protest brands are parasitic and derive their resonance from the mainstream brands; thus, protest brands are a kind of extension of the mainstream brands and don’t really do much to undermine their strength.


Having once experimented with smoking moribund brands of cigarette (Tareytons, L&Ms, Larks), I could relate to this, though eventually I became a Marlboro smoker (in the soft pack only; still needed some distinction) before I quit. And when I read this BusinessWeek article about Li Ning, a fledging Chinese athletic-shoe brand, I had a twinge of the same feeling that had me smoking Tareytons. Athletic shoes are much like beer and cigarettes in that for all the supposed qualities that separate the various makes, they are, for most ordinary consumers, indistinguishable beyond the branding. So they are a fertile field for a nascent protest brand, as no one will get confused and think you chose the protest brand because its goods are of superior quality.


The important thing for a would-be protest brand is to be a brand with some scope—it needs to be recognizable on a broad scale in order to bear the message. That’s why identity-conscious anti-brand folk seem to find it insufficient to protest brands by simply using nonbranded goods. There needs to be an idea, a focal point—a name, a logo—around which a community can coalesce, something others can copy (or maybe just something we could imagine others registering and possibly copying if they thought we were cool) when they understand and appreciate the message a person has used a brand to communicate and want to send the same message about themselves. The unavoidable presence of advertising and brands in the public sphere make us feel deeply that brands are part of an internationally recognized language of self-fashioning that we need to be speaking. Otherwise our identity-making gestures will likely go unheard, and alternatives for garnering public recognition—for publicly communicating a sense of ourselves—are not so obvious as brands.


So consider Li Ning’s logo:


Looks pretty familiar, doesn’t it. This blunt, clumsy appropriation for me signals that the company is not trying too hard to be original, that it knows it will be seen as a copy-cat and basically doesn’t care. It hasn’t made a fetish of its own fictitious independence from the brands that already exist.

Li Ning makes no bones about admiring its bigger rivals. Its gleaming corporate campus near Beijing, complete with indoor swimming pool, basketball courts, and a climbing wall, seems like a page out of Nike’s play book. Ads feature the slogan “Anything is Possible” (which the company launched before Adidas came out with “Impossible is Nothing,” but long after Nike’s “Just Do It”). And its logo is strikingly similar to the Nike Swoosh. “They just dusted off a Nike marketing plan, took bits and pieces, and said, “Voilà!’” says Terry Rhoads, a former Nike China executive who runs Shanghai sports consultancy Zou Marketing.


The article calls Li Ning a paper-tiger brand, because it is trying to use the Olympics and non-Chinese endorsees to foster the illusion that the brand has greater international reach than it actually does to appeal its national market. It wants the same credibility Nike has in the eyes of its domestic market.


But these same moves may give it a reverse appeal internationally. The aura of not caring about aping established brands seems a good one for a protest brand, which after all is supposed to allow its consumers to demonstrate a knowing superiority (that verges on irony) to the desperate cool seeking of straightforward brands. Openly proclaiming “We’re a lame knockoff” somehow mitigates the fact of being a lame knockoff. Wearing the lame knockoff brand proudly has a similar effect with regard to the identity one is trying to display: “I don’t care what people think of me. I am going to wear these shoes that say just how little I care.” Or “I don’t need to try that hard to distinguish myself with brands. I’m going to take this lame brand and invest it with my credibility.” And wearing Li Ning serves the fundamental purpose of saying, “I resist and reject all the marketing of the big athletic-apparel companies. I don’t need their cachet to feel good about my sneakers.”


At the same time, Li Ning is obscure and novel enough to make its wearers seem exotic. At this point the brand’s consumers can feel like innovators, discoverers rather than followers. You can’t wear Nike without feeling somewhat like a follower, unless you are doing some counterintuitive rationalizing. In order to wear Nike in a hip anti sort of way, you must make the case to yourself that its ubiquity has made it invisible. You can signal an indifference to brands by selecting the überbrands, trying to suggest a laziness that led you to pick the most widely available option.


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Monday, May 12, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-05-12...
This is Pop.  You pop bubbles.  I guarantee it's more fun than it sounds.

This is Pop.  You pop bubbles.  I guarantee
it’s more fun than it sounds.


Oh, I know, WiiWare is out this week, but I already posted about that at length.  Given the list of WiiWare releases, LostWinds certainly looks like the one to get (though Pop is a nice surprise for WiiWare release day)...I certainly know what I’m doing when I get home from the day job today.


So…is there anything that’s not WiiWare worth picking up today?  Well…you fans of Narnia-related stuff are in for a treat, as you get a game to go along with your movie this week.  Released for pretty much every major system (except the PSP, oddly), Prince Caspian looks just about the same as any other movie-related game this week.  Hudson’s releasing Deca Sports, which actually seems kind of fun, not to mention that it’s the first Wii curling experience available, which may make it a must-buy.  Come on!  Curling!  Who doesn’t like curling? 


Atlus's Drone Tactics.

Atlus’s Drone Tactics.


Still, the DS looks like the software platform of choice if you’re not into downloadables this week.  For one, Myst is finally making its way off the PC.  I mean, it only took 13 years.  Still, I have to give this week’s cookie to Atlus, who is abnormally active for this time of year.  Do you like bugs?  Do you like robots?  Do you like tactical warfare?  If you answered yes to the previous three questions, there is no way that you will not like Drone Tactics.  Honestly, it looks like a can’t miss formula on paper, as you get to customize your little bug things to your hearts content and sic ‘em on (presumably) evil robot bug things.  Okay, I honestly have no idea if the thing will be any good, but Atlus + Robot Bugs + Turn-Based Strategy should = AWESOME.  I hope that equation holds.


The full list of releases and a Drone Tactics trailer are hidden after the jump.  CLICK IT:


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Sunday, May 11, 2008
David Lynch is very much like God. I watch his movies the way I look at the creation of the world: most of the time I can’t claim to discern what’s going on, but someone seems to have gone to a great deal of trouble.

There are some movies that require a certain commitment of time to figure out what is going on. David Lynch’s movies, I’ve become convinced, are about trying to figure out what’s going on. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. In its art-for-art’s sake, uber-pretentious, anti-commercial, anti-audience sensibility, Lynch hoists a freak flag that is, upon closer inspection, a fuck you flag. The question, as it is with all challenging art, ultimately must be: is it worth it? His films are odd and unsettling, and they are often unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And yet: is that enough?


Well…take any of his films, then take away the attractive female characters, their inexorable (contractual?) nudity, and the handful of very brief—but very brilliant—scenes, and Lynch’s work seems to be a series of somethings that seek to defy being identified for what they look and smell like. You are left with an oeuvre that seems to separate viewers into three camps: the good (those who claim to “get it”), the bad (those who don’t, or can’t), and the ugly (or, the angry; those who tried to get it, failed, and then, upon repeat viewings, determine that they are unworthy and, most importantly, uninterested).


Consider me ugly. Not angry, but certainly perplexed at the consistent, and reflexive, critical accolades. And let’s acknowledge the fact that Lynch does not merely have fans, he has advocates. Defenders of the faith. Crusaders. As a proponent of acquired taste anomalies running the gamut of high and low culture and all points in between (especially the points in between), I appreciate the allure, and I don’t begrudge it. What I am curious about is, who are these people, and what is it they actually see in these films?


Tagged as: david lynch
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