Ah, the Mighty NHTSA…

mousedish The mouse that doesn’t even squeak, the Orwellian sop to Naderian special pleading, the organization that dares put “highway traffic” and “safety” not just together, but together in its very name…

So, let’s say the Congress wanted to find a way to give away some free money to help further bail out car capitalists by encouraging commoners to step up their anemic, Great Depression III automotive purchasing rates.  Which governmental agency would one expect the money to be managed by?  The Commerce Department, perhaps?

In reality, can you guess where the conduit lies for the federal government’s new Car Allowance Rebate System, a.k.a. “C.A.R.S.”, a.k.a. “cash-for-guzzlers” program?

Yep:  In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration!

This fact speaks volumes in several directions, not least as proof that the NHTSA, both by design and established practice, does nothing serious to make personal mobility safer in this market-totalitarian society.  It is a cover, a shield, a deflector for our massively deadly, dangerous, and irrational cars-first arrangement.  Hence, in a nation where 35,000-55,000 people die in car crashes each and every year, the NHTSA in the year 2009 has the time and staff to administer a complex program for passing out free money for even more cars!

Footnote:  If you watch any TV, you’ll have already noticed that, in local auto dealers’ aggressive come-on advertising, “cash-for-guzzlers” is most certainly not being explained in any substantial degree.  Judging from these ads, which (at least in my “market” of Portland, Oregon) are blatantly mis-labeling the program “cash-for-clunkers,” any reasonable person would conclude there are no requirements for obtaining money other than owning a clunker.

In reality, there are narrow rules based on vehicle age and gas-mileage ratings.

Hence, the actual main effect of the “cash-for-guzzlers reimbursement system” is to serve as a publicly-sponsored marketing platform for a new round of bait-and-switch selling on the nation’s car lots.  “Now that you’re here…”

Marketing and Age Compression

compressAs anybody who spends time around kids knows, the problem of “age compression” continues to worsen in this market-totalitarian society.

Age compression is the result of incessant indoctrination toward perceptions, preferences, and self-presentations that big business marketers call “aspirational.”

Boston-based K-8 teacher Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin reports at the excellent Rethinking Schools website:

“I saw you on My Space!”

“Yesterday after school Trina and Shayla got in a catfight over Brandon!”

“My butt is hot!”

“I got his phone number!”

“She thinks she’s cuter than me.”

These comments may or may not raise an eyebrow in any middle school classroom, but the year they became a common occurrence in my kindergarten and 1st-grade classroom threw me for a loop. It was just a few years ago, and at that time I had been teaching for 18 years.

In case you wonder how well-indoctrinated we are to the demands of our bail-out-taking corporate overclass, consider the weakness of McLaughlin’s conclusion from her own experiences:

Children are complex, and pop culture and media are not the sole cause of their troubles.

OK. Cigarettes aren’t the sole cause of lung cancer, either, are they?

The facts, meanwhile, could hardly be starker. Big businesses not only commonly seek to anchor their sales efforts in aspirations, but, by good capitalist logic, they choose the least attainable aspirations as the anchor points.

As I learned in researching my book, The Consumer Trap, the marketers of Pepsi-Cola have conducted long-running marketing/anthropology research projects to discover how best to boost sales by tying their sugary product (which they know kids “shouldn’t drink”) to psycho-social fantasies. One finding from such studies was that “the twenty-three-year-old image” was the best one to shoot for.

This, of course, makes eminent sense, from the perspective of sales imperatives. Being 23 is not only a fleeting moment of maximum health and exuberance, but is also the pinnacle of the kinds of aspirational “looks” on which capitalist modeling is based. Plus, it’s old enough to drink alcohol. Who wouldn’t want to be 23, already or again?

Of course, as anybody who’s spent a moment critically observing adults also knows, corporate capitalist age compression is certainly not confined to kids. If you wonder why the society acts like a late-teen/young-adult who expects mommy and daddy to swoop by and pay off the overdue credit card, go out and take a peek at all the 50-year-olds dressed and coiffed and talking like high-schoolers.

Money is not a viable basis for human culture, after all, it would seem.

Cultural Consequences

snake

Since they lost the ability to appeal to racism, rightists have appealed to culture to explain why blatant unfairness isn’t really unfair.

Now, to be sure, the concept of culture they use is hardly different than the old racial saws: When you press a reactionary for his/her definition of “culture,” it turns out to be “the way people are,” i.e., the allegedly native, pre-social qualities of specific groups.

This, though, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cultural dimension to human affairs. People do absorb sticky habits from extended collective experiences, and those habits can and do turn around and affect what people do next.

Thursday, the Pew Charitable Trust released a study that provides a paint-peeling proof of the real power of accumulated experience. In “Findings from a National Survey & Focus Groups on Economic Mobility,” Pew reported that, despite the times, ordinary people in the United States continue to mis-frame and mis-understand their chances for “economic mobility”:

Nearly eight in ten (79 percent) believe it is still possible for people to get ahead in the current economy. This remains true even among lower-income, less-educated and unemployed Americans. Such consensus is striking given that a near-unanimous 94 percent of Americans describe the current economic condition of the country negatively.

Americans remain optimistic about the future—a 72 percent majority believes their economic circumstances will be better in the next ten years. This optimism crosses party lines and demographic groups. African Americans are the most optimistic (85 percent) compared to whites and Hispanics (71 percent and 77 percent, respectively).

Seventy-four percent of Americans believe they have at least some control over their own economic situation, while only 43 percent think that other people are in control. By a 71 to 21 percent margin, Americans believe that personal attributes, like hard work and drive, are more important to economic mobility than external conditions, like the economy and economic circumstances growing up.

Personal attributes such as poor life choices and too much debt were the top explanations given for downward mobility.

Although previous research by the Economic Mobility Project has found considerable differences in economic mobility by race and gender, respondents ascribed relatively little importance to their impact on mobility (15 percent and 16 percent, respectively). Further, the Economic Mobility Project’s research found that there is a strong relationship between parents’ income and children’s adult income. However, coming from a wealthy family was among the least important factors that respondents cited (28 percent).

By a 71 to 21 percent margin, Americans believe it is more important to give people a fair chance to succeed than it is to reduce inequality in this country. Each demographic subgroup, including those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, concurs with the majority on this issue.

It’s no surprise, of course, that this familiar ideological package still holds sway. After all, this is the core topic — the dynamics of class inside the domestic “homeland” — on which the commoners simply must remain addled, in this, the flagship nation of market totalitarianism, the most heavily indoctrinated, commercialism-and-TV-penetrated society in human history.

How many times, even in recent months, have you heard the basic facts about class?

The real sources of wealth?

The deep imperatives and limits of corporate capitalism?

Now compare those zeroes to the number of times you’ve experienced the “anything is possible in America” diversion?

It’s still no contest out there, folks…

Behind the Toilet Paper: Can You Spot the True Asshole?

In a February 25 New York Times piece titled “Mr. Whipple Left It Out: Soft Is Rough on Forests,” Leslie Kaufman reported that making toilet paper feel puffy and textured is now a major use of the Earth’s remaining old-growth forests.

Kaufman, of course, reports a corporate paper executive’s recitation of the industry’s standard public story of how and why this appalling waste happens:

Customers “demand soft and comfortable,” said James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia Pacific, the maker of Quilted Northern.

That, of course, is a howling lie.  The one and only reason for the advent of puffed-up toilet paper is the normal corporate capitalist sales imperative, not any kind of spontaneous clamoring from us ordinary ass-wipers.

Here is the real scoop, from a classic 1998 Wall Street Journal report titled “The Tricky Business of Rolling Out a New Toilet Paper,” by the excellent Tara Parker-Pope:

This [purportedly fancy toilet paper] is Kimberly-Clark’s biggest push ever in the $3.5 billion-a-year U.S. toiletpaper business, where it is a relative newcomer. Its original Kleenex toilet-tissue brand struggled after its introduction in 1990.  The company merged with Scott Paper, maker of the Scott and Cottonelle brands, in 1995 and created Kleenex Cottonelle, which helped Kimberly-Clark gain a 23% share of the market. But it trails rival Procter & Gamble’s Charmin, which has 30%. Among premium tissues, Kleenex Cottonelle still ranks a distant fourth behind Charmin, Fort James’s Northern and Georgia-Pacific’s Angel Soft.  Overall, bath-tissue sales are flat and premium brands are losing share to economy-priced tissue.

In other words, the real spur to all this environment-raping TeePee was stagnant corporate profits, not popular demand. Left to their own devices, people gravitate toward “economy-priced tissue.”

This, of course, meant that people simply could not be left to their own devices, them and nature be damned.

Pope conveyed the outlines of the usual consequent marketing procedures, which have since yielded the true course of events:

Kimberly-Clark hosted focus groups to talk to consumers about toilet paper, and asked them to compare leading brands with the new Kleenex Cottonelle textured tissue. They discovered that even though tissue advertising doesn’t talk about how well a toilet paper wipes, that is what customers are thinking about.

In the meantime, the company will launch a new, softer version of Kleenex Cottonelle in the rest of the U.S. Those more-traditional ads show a bubble drifting onto folds of toilet tissue. But the product package includes the “clean, fresh feeling” promise, in an effort to prime consumers for the eventual appearance of the textured tissue nationwide.

In similar fashion, the alleged proof of the alleged product benefit comes after, not before, claims about it are implanted into “the consumer”:

“If we have news that’s important for a consumer, then we can find a way to tastefully communicate it,” says Tom Falk, group president of Kimberly-Clark’s North American tissue, pulp and paper business.

The advertising solution is an anthropomorphic roll of toilet paper with a heavy British accent (the voice of London actress Louise Mercer from the old NBC sitcom “Dear John”). “I’m new Kleenex-Cottonelle toilet paper, and I understand you have a cleaning position available,” the tissue says. “I have a unique, rippled texture designed to leave you feeling clean and fresh. I’d love to show you what I can do.”

In another ad, the tissue brags that consumers prefer it to the leading brand. “Looks like all my bottom-line thinking is paying off,” the tissue says. For now, the ads will claim only that consumers say the new tissue leaves them feeling cleaner than other brands, but Kimberly-Clark is “working on a way to objectively measure cleaning better,” says Mr. Willetts. “There’s no method right now.”

Oh, there’s a method alright. George Orwell is spinning in his grave…

Why Capitalists Love Cars

As I argue in the book I’m writing, contrary to long-prevailing indoctrination, it is capitalists, not commoners who are hopelessly in love with automobiles.

If you click either here or on the tentacled graphic at left, you will open a pdf file that shows you the material basis for corporate capitalists’ car addiction.

What a great racket!  Two of these commodity super-heaps for each household, sitting unused 90 percent of the time, and needing replacement (what machine of such Byzantine complexity wouldn’t?) every 7-to-10 years!  Cha-ching!

This diagram also shows why it’s the height of naiveté to entertain pipe-dreams about “green cars.”  That sponsored hope is an oxymoron if ever there was one.

[Source: Graeme P. Maxton and John Wormald, Time for a Model Change: Re-engineering the Global Automotive Industry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p.138.]