. . . a place where Space Doctors go to throw soft stones safely
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
McLuhan can be retrieved from the cultural dustbin as tonight sees the beginning of Channel 4’s four part ‘entertainment factual series’ Gogglebox in which ten of Britain’s ‘most opinionated’ families (two from Brighton- represent!) will review and critique this week’s most popular and controversial news stories and shows. Put simply, an hour of watching other people watching TV. Hmm.
The topic is all ablaze on the Twittersphere; the act of anticipatory derogatory commentary on Gogglebox being the harbinger of some kind of televisual vortex wherein we watch people watching TV, watching TV, watching TV, watching TV and so on, could be perceived as a meta-experiment in itself. And maybe that is exactly what it is- the ad that brought Gogglebox to my attention came on during a break in the latest episode of Black Mirror.
But what of the Dave Lamb’s and Harry Hill’s of this World? How many of us have watched a marathon of Come Dine With Me without at least once concurring and allying with the observations of its sarcastic narrator? Could Gogglebox in fact signal a shift away from TV’s contempt for the common man so typically played out in the false meritocracy of X-Factor and brain-holiday shows like TOWIE, siting itself instead as an opportunity for the entirely ordinary, funny, and insightful general public to be heard?
Newton Minow remarked that the two words best remembered from his landmark speech regarding the medium of television in 1961 are ‘vast wasteland’ whilst the two words he wishes would be remembered are ‘public interest.’ Gogglebox appears to be straddling a boundary between the two- stay tuned for our review of the review’s reviews!
FRANCOPHILIA IN ASIA
(Translation: Follow the cities to go travelling. Photo caption: Romantic Paris)
A while ago when living in Taipei, the local 7/11 convenience store I frequented started selling their latte’s in a cup adorned with some peculiar imagery. I say peculiar because it was no less than Paddington Bear next to the Eiffel Tower – the cute British childhood icon next to a romantic Parisian image. I believe the reasoning behind the campaign was in order to get customers to buy enough lattes to gain enough coupons to send off for a cuddly Paddington Bear. I think you had to collect around 10 coupons; you got one with each latte so it maybe wasn’t something you could do in a day – unless you were seriously enthusiastic!
A certain fascination with the west is ubiquitous throughout Asia. Through my own work on some recent projects, it is true that in western markets some brands communicate ideas linked with the “wild east” in order to sell. Take shampoo products, for example, that take you to wild places with sensuous eastern ingredients. In East Asia there seems to be a reversal of this discourse; it is the Western “other” that is looked upon with awe and is communicated by different products and campaigns.
Just today (February 17th) there was an article showing China’s growing taste in French wine; buying Bordeaux by the case and even buying up Vineyards in the prestigious wine-growing region. I’m sure a cursory glance at branded goods in the region would display even more examples with a fascination with the west.
(Photo: BBC news)
SATIRISING THE HERMIT KINGDOM OR KIM JONG IL MEETS SOME LIKE IT HOT.
I first became aware of Song Byeok’s work last year when the BBC news website ran a story about the fledging satirical artist. He used to be the official propaganda artist for North Korea, quite a responsible job really when you think about it. Not to mention just a little bit nerve wracking. One brush stroke too many and it’s off to the gulag.
Having lost faith in the regime in the 90’s, he made the decision to head to the South. His story is one of courage and survival, losing family when making the perilous journey across the border with China. When landing in Seoul he adapted his skills and now parodies the very regime he once promoted.
To a western audience, the existence of satirists of the North Korean regime seems a little paradoxical; on the one hand it’s only natural that the regime is open to Parody (just think of Team America’s rendition of Kim Jong Il – So ronrey – part petulant teenager, part bricolage of racist Asian stereotypes) while on the other hand a Stalinist state in the 21st century that still orchestrates militarized rallies and personality cults is de facto a parody of itself; simultaneously real yet not really believable – like the nostalgic communist museums you find in a plethora of East European capitals where a room has been made to look like a school classroom from the 60’s.
Only the nuclear tests really remind us of just how scary it is. The personal tales of life under the regime only compounds this reality. A reality that seems so distant from the surreal images of the state itself.
But I like Song Byeok’s work, if only for the fact that he continues to produce his work in defiance of the regime in Pyongyang – a personal quest to avenge the death of his countrymen with the brush rather than the bullet. It is rather amusing too.
Think of Taiwan and a number of things spring to mind – efficiency, long work hours, bizarre food and the ever appearing “Touch your heart” campaign – a hip ‘n’ trendy electro – punk girl-band with heaps of rebellious attitude probably wouldn’t be the first thing to enter your head (assuming it ever did at all). This though is exactly what Go Chic is and they have become emblems of the small yet enthusiastic underground music scene in their home city of Taipei – not to mention all the other places on the island with dingy basement bars and vibrant youth. They are currently on tour in this end of the Earth (unfortunately visa issues have hampered their efforts to stage a show in London, originally scheduled for the 17th of this month) including dates supporting established electro act GOOSE in Belgium. Definitely worth checking out!
VOX AMPS – A BRITISH ICON
After reading the most recent installment of the British Brand’s group Newsletter; I was captivated by the recent opening of Johnnie Walker House in Shanghai and the setting sail of a ship designed to promote the brand. I say captivated, rather than surprised, as –let’s face it- the prevalence and popularity of Scotch in Asia is a common fact known to both those in the branding world and not alike. Johnnie Walker, Jaguar, Burberry… The list can go on and on and we can have a nice little selection of iconic fashion, motoring and FMCG brands.
Is there more to British brands than “the usual suspects” so to speak. What have more obscure categories yielded in terms of iconic brands? In fact not only iconic but loved. Timeless in their own right like the classic Burberry mac your mum wore when you were taken to the swings on a cold Sunday in February.
Vox amplifiers are an excellent example of this. They exude the style and class associated with archetypal British brands. From a semiotic standpoint they fascinate too; denotatively they are tools, functional products used by the musician to give sound to his or her instrument. Connotatively, they exude cool Britainia and even –in a loveable way – poor reliability reminiscent of motor manufacturing in the ‘70’s. A nostalgia so ingrained in the collective consciousness of this country.
The Vox AC30 – the company’s most well known product – has a design that really has not changed in over forty years. From Hank Marvin to Keith Richards, The Edge to Brian May and beyond, all have wanted a piece of this most iconic of pies. Even now, many modern bands worldwide aspire to own a Vox AC30: slotting it into their backline arsenal. It is an icon of -arguably- our best export; our music.
If British brands want to be successful and target new markets, a question arises – what can specialized categories tell us about everyday products and how can they be put to use in informing and developing white-space opportunities for these goods?
We are looking for an energetic, creative and dynamic person to join our team within the creative department in the seaside city of Brighton. Feel free to have a browse around the website to learn a little more about we do and if you feel that you are relevant to the position click the link below to read in more detail the job description and how to apply!
Adam Buxton– comedian, writer, broadcaster, video director and ‘YouTube comment wrangler’ came to Brighton last week with a BUG special- a visual and aural spectacular celebrating the creative offerings of his friends, namely the boys of Radiohead, and their creative collaborators, including an on-stage interview with the band’s producer and ‘sixth member’, Nigel Godrich. The evening involved a selection of Radiohead’s visionary music videos played on the big screen in their entirety, accompanied by Buxton’s ‘incredible discoveries and hilarious insights into the online community’. In his mining of YouTube commentary, ‘the sheer lunatic glee of the Internet is exposed and personified. Whether it’s the barely coherent, poorly spelled ramblings of a madman, or the dismissive, withering superiority of the self-appointed intelligentsia’. As its presenter delineates, BUG ‘is like going round to a friend’s house and having them open up their laptop and show you interesting and amusing things they’ve found or made- except not as tedious as that sounds.’ All this served with a side of rare and exclusive Radiohead behind-the-scenes footage. Go and see it if you get the chance.
Japanese chain Yoshinoya is ubiquitous in the developed economies of East Asia – Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and even China all have a few in their big cities. For people who want to quickly fill their stomachs with something high in protein and carbohydrate, this is the perfect inexpensive pit stop. This store is so good it’s a wonder that there aren’t any in the west. Surely overtly fancy Asian food has been overplayed, isn’t it about time we had something a bit more wholesome, simplistic and – fundamentally – cheaper? Whoever glances at this with a desire for investment in the European food sector, you may have just found an opportunity!!
Space Doctors in Prague
At the invitation of the London in Prague initiative, Malcolm Evans visited the city of Kafka and Havel at the beginning of October 2012 to run a workshop on the commercial application of semiotics. After a practical introduction to the methodology (and a spontaneous disquisition on pets and petting which set the local blogosphere abuzz, inspired by the untimely escape of Jaroslav Cir’s English bulldog Igor), Malcolm took the delegates at The Perfect Crowd’s packed gallery venue for a symbolic walk through the codes and symbolism of Prague’s café culture – from the traditional meeting places of artists, intellectuals and lovers to today’s Starbucks and Costas.
This video comes with a huge thank you to all the participants - whose amazing talent and enthusiasm in applying a structured approach to semiotic analysis made the day.
TEDx Brighton 2012
As an avid follower of the TED phenomenon since Alain de Botton spoke about kinder, gentler forms of success in 2009, I have been known to espouse its general amazingness to one and all. The satellite model of the global conference, known as TEDx, found a home in Brighton last week and it did not disappoint.
In the same building that ABBA won the European Song Contest in 1974 (answers on a postcard..) curious brains from Brighton and beyond converged to consider issues, ideas and opportunities arising from one of the most immediate concerns facing modern society: the Generation Gap.
Speaker Benita Matofska’s resounding phrase, ‘The more you share, the more you have’ referring to her work promoting a Sharing Economy, most clearly echoed the sentiment of the day. That is, if we continue to believe and propagate the notion that there is a fundamental wall dividing older and younger generations, we all lose out. It is up to us to create bridges and do away with imaginary ones in order to effectively share our skills, possessions and experiences. Tim Drake then suggested that it is not age that defines the generation gap, but attitude. He divided young brains and old brains by those who embrace sociability and change and those who do not, following that those in the older generation with young brains must be championed. Media celebration of ‘20-somethings to watch’ is ubiquitous but where are the features on 70-somethings to watch?
Geoff Warburton’s captivating oration describing his 25-year study of Love and Loss called to mind the saying ‘get busy living or get busy dying’ and was undoubtedly the most emotive of the day. Sharing both personal and professional insights into bereavement, he presented a perspective that challenges Western thought by saying there is no ‘right’ way to grieve, advocating that grief can be ‘the ride of your life’. It was his view that it is only in confrontation of the abyss that characterizes loss that we are given the opportunity to truly understand our unbounded capacity to love. This was heavy stuff for sure, but ultimately courageous, necessary and inspiring.
Bringing the gap in a more immediate (and light-hearted!) way came courtesy of Tessa Marchington, founder of Music in Offices. There was no room for traditional British reserve as after a brief introduction to their work, the audience was left in the capable hands of choral Director James Davey, who in 10 minutes had us singing a round of the Ragtime song ‘They’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight’ complete with actions! Spirits were cheered and inhibitions expelled, and it was demonstrated that both are integral components in breaking down identity barriers. Whether between age groups, company hierarchies or even cultures, it was made clear that effective and positive communication is key, as well as enthusiasm and engagement with the unknown.
Serving to demonstrate the truly international scope of the day, the audience was privileged to hear from Maajid Nawaz, founder of Khudi, ‘a Pakistan based social movement campaigning to entrench democratic culture among the nation’s youth’. As a former self-proclaimed religious extremist and Amnesty adopted political ‘prisoner of conscience’ from Essex, his frame of reference regarding the concerns of integration, identity and human rights was at once truly insightful, remarkable and pragmatic.
However, in a 5-minute speaking spot, 14 year-old Flora Koska stole the show. She used the analogy of the game of snakes and ladders to describe how ‘grown-ups’ who have found their way to the top of the board must remember to look back to the generation below and drop ladders wherever they can. In doing this, those with the life experience can enable young people to avoid the ever-increasing number of snakes in the world today. This simple, yet progressive attitude’s effectiveness can be extended far beyond the Generation Gap, but such is the mission of TED, which after all, was designed to disseminate ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.
Obviously this is written from the perspective of not killing great product innovation, but think it is a great lesson to all in terms of focus groups limitations. They always close things down rather than opening up. Also gives some great tips on creating innovation - finding unmet needs. That can go beyond product innovation as well. Marketers get to caught up in ‘what the consumer says’ they lose a lot of opportunities. Semiotics never makes that mistake!!!!
We’ve never read anything quite like The Beginning of Infinity by quantum physicist David Deutsch. The blurb on the back, by Peter Forbes in the Independent, captures it perfectly. ‘His arguments are so clear that to read him is to experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on this planet and to understand it’. Well, some of it, anyway.
From a chapter titled ‘Artificial Creativity’:
‘Intelligence in the general-purpose sense that Turing meant is one of a constellation of attributes of the human mind that have been puzzling philosophers for millennia; others include consciousness, free will, and meaning. A typical such puzzle is that of qualia (singular quale, which rhymes with ‘baaa-lay’) - meaning the subjective aspect of sensations. So for instance the sensation of seeing the colour blue is a quale. Consider the following thought experiment. You are a biochemist with the misfortune to have been born with a genetic defect that diables the blue receptors in your retinas. Consequently you have a form of colour blindness in which you are able to see only red and green, and mixtures of the two such as yellow, but anything purely blue also looks to you like one of those mixtures. Then you discover a cure that will cause your blue receptors to start working. Before administering the cure to yourself, you can confidently make certain predictions about what will happen if it works. One of them is that, when you hold up a blue card as a test, you will see a colour that you have never seen before. You can predict that you will call it ‘blue’, because you already know what the colour of the card is called (and can already check which colour it is with a spectrophotometer). You can also predict that when you first see a clear daytime sky after being cured you will experience a similar quale to that of seeing the blue card. But there is one thing that neither you nor anyone else could predict about the outcome of this experiment, and that is: what will blue look like. Qualia are currently neither describable nor predictable - a unique property that should make them deeply problematic to anyone with a scientific world view (though, in the event, it seems to be mainly philosophers that worry about it).
I consider this exciting evidence that there is a fundamental discovery to be made which will integrate things like qualia into our other knowledge.’
Rebuild it Piece by Piece by The Johnny Parry Trio & Chamber Orchestra
‘Long before there was The Visual Miscellaneum or Data Flow, there was Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data— a seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, originally published in 1974, which codified the conventions of contemporary data visualization and information design.’