The Flight to $28,300,000 Chairs

So how is our overclass faring in this Third Depression? Per today’s New York Times:

“There’s still plenty of money,” said John Keith Russell, a dealer in Westchester County, N.Y., who specializes in Shaker goods and is president of the 100-member, invitation-only Antique Dealers’ Association of America. “We obviously have seen a slowing in the market, but we have not noticed any weakness in the highest end of the market. The commitment by collectors is still as aggressive as it was two years ago.”

Wealthy buyers are still attending prestigious events like the Winter Antiques Show in Manhattan and making major purchases, said Mr. Russell. He cited a recent buyer from Philadelphia who said she had felt uneasy about investing in real estate or stocks but purchased two significant pieces of furniture. High-end antiques, dealers like to assert, tend to hold their value and can sometimes appreciate enormously over time.

28mchairThis ugly-ass armchair here is apparently one example of the entrepreneurial stratum’s current sense of where the world’s still-abundant economic surplus might be best utilized at this late date in history. It just sold to an anonymous buyer for $28.3 million.

Louis XVI would have heartily approved. Now, all we need is a few sans-culottes….

All Creep, All the Time

duckcreepBack in the hoary yesteryear of 2007, there was a minor brouhaha over the State Farm Insurance Company’s placement of its logo on the cross-bars of basketball stanchions during NCAA games.  At the time, The New York Times‘ fine advertising columnist, Stuart Elliott, reported on the marketing advance, naming it as a good example of ad creep.

Elliott contacted State Farm marketers, who disclosed their motives:

“Consumers consume media differently from three years ago,” said Mark Gibson, assistant vice president for advertising at State Farm in Bloomington, Ill. “It’s not enough to just run a 30-second commercial in a program.”

This admission of existing marketing-stimuli being “not enough” was, of course, followed by de rigueur professions of the corporation’s tender concerns for “consumers”:

In seeking alternatives to traditional ads, State Farm’s goal is “naturally, seamlessly integrating
the brand into a venue in a way that doesn’t take away from the event,” Mr. Gibson said.

If it causes disruption or becomes something people don’t like, it’s an issue,” he added, “and
consumers will let you know in their own way.”

So far, Mr. Gibson said, there have been no complaints about the signs. They are appearing at
universities that include Arizona State, Auburn, Baylor, Brigham Young, Florida State, Iowa State, Marshall, Miami, North Carolina State, Purdue, Texas A&M, the University of Colorado, Vanderbilt and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“State Farm was very sensitive about the schools doing this and didn’t push if a school felt it
was not right,” said Greg Brown, president at the Learfield Sports division of Learfield Communications in Plano, Tex., which represents 32 universities in their dealings with corporate marketers.

“The college landscape is a much more reserved landscape than Nascar or a variety of other
sports enterprises,” Mr. Brown said. “There’s headroom in what we do, by comparison, but we
don’t do something the schools won’t agree with.”

Mr. Brown says he believes “we’ve struck a nice balance” with the State Farm signs, because
they are visible to fans at the games as well as viewers on TV but are “not in your face.”

Time travel with me now to the year 2009, won’t you.  What do we find here?

Voila:

hoopcreep

and…

ball-ad-5

and…

ball-ad-3

A Cousinly Reminder

Big business marketing, as I explain in The Consumer Trap book, is neither more nor less than the adaption of the classic methods of class-struggle-from-above to the purpose of manipulating the off-the-job experiences and behaviors of so-called “consumers.”

As such, the main tactics are threats, false promises, mindfucks (information shifts), and lies/propaganda.

This explains why so many of the world’s most important political shibboleths are essentially aggressive marketing campaigns.

One particularly momentous example is debunked in this new work by historian Shlomo Sand. Check it out.

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…