A 60’s Psychedelic Tale of Youth Conquering All (the Revolutionaries Are Puppets)
By STEVEN HENRY MADOFF
I��n a small theater on the grounds of the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, across the street from the hundreds of art dealers offering works this week at Art Basel Miami Beach’s international fair, a very different kind of art event is selling out. For seven performances starting today, packed audiences will watch 10 marionettes strut, scheme and rock out to the music of Sonic Youth, among others, as they send viewers back to the 1960’s in a bitingly funny and psychedelic piece of puppet theater, “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty.”
When the veteran conceptual artist Dan Graham first thought of creating the piece, he had no idea that marionettes would have stolen their way back into pop consciousness.
The makers of “South Park” hadn’t launched their apocalyptic movie satire “Team America: World Police,” now in theaters, with its marionette supercops conquering a toy-size Kim Jong Il. Even Spike Jonze’s screw-loose hit film from 1999, “Being John Malkovich,” with John Cusack as an existential puppeteer who mysteriously enters Mr. Malkovich’s brain, was still to come.
“Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty” is a funky, funny adaptation of Barry Shear’s 1968 movie “Wild in the Streets,” an astonishingly cheesy slice of paranoia in which Max Frost, a 24-year-old rock star turned politician with a simpering look halfway between a Beach Boy and a Rolling Stone, takes over America. Rallying the youth to shut down the country while his band of merry pranksters drugs Congress with LSD, he manages to get the voting age changed to 14 and has himself elected president. Then he does what any normal 20-something president would do. He locks everyone over 30 in internment camps, keeping them perpetually stoned.
“I’ve had this piece on my mind for more than 15 years,” said Mr. Graham, 62, rumpled and amused, during a recent rehearsal in New York, “but the timing certainly seemed right to do it now.”
Two years ago, Sandra Antelo-Suarez, the director of the New York-based arts organization Trans, having heard the idea to restage the movie years before from Mr. Graham, convinced him that with the presidential elections on the horizon this would be a perfect moment to realize the project.
Bringing together a dazzling gang of Mr. Graham’s friends - including the video artist Tony Oursler; the artist and musician Rodney Graham; the rock groups Sonic Youth and Japanther; and the master puppeteer Phillip Huber, whose marionettes were featured in “Being John Malkovich” - Ms. Antelo-Suarez and Mr. Graham envisioned a layered, multimedia reinvention of puppet theater and, for that matter, of rock opera. Punch and Judy meets the Who.
In true seat-of-the pants, nonprofit fashion, they pressed the team into intense, almost nonstop labor as the months crept up to the premiere’s deadline, and Ms. Antelo-Suarez scrambled to find backers for what rapidly became a $300,000 project, with stops over the next two years in Miami, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and art festivals in Dijon, France, and Vienna.
Each of the 10 marionettes took Mr. Huber more than 100 hours to make. Their period-perfect looks match their hippie stoner swagger - with the single exception of the president’s dog, appropriately named Eisenhower, who stretches, wags his tail and curls up with idyllic canine ease.
Mr. Oursler worked closely with the puppet master to create the short bursts of video that loop like druggy dreams through the live marionette scenes. Neon-green and pink backgrounds, backdrops of “Leave It to Beaver” suburban settings and Kennedyesque television speeches flow into real-life film clips from the Kent State demonstration and woozy images of puppets floating on acid trips through the Senate chamber.
Meanwhile, Japanther’s and Sonic Youth’s pounding music and the more hummable, Neil Young-style title anthem by Rodney Graham (no relation to Dan) punctuate the action, which compresses the story of “Wild in the Streets” into an hour’s time.
The results are what Mr. Ousler describes as “a small spectacle that’s both cinematic and theatrical, the videos zooming in and out on a screen above, while these amazingly cool-looking 24-inch puppets with strings are on this little stage below.”
Mr. Ousler continues: “It was really kind of stunning to be sitting there, editing these scenes about a spooky presidential election when the real election was going on. And I’m watching these little wooden stick figures on my monitor become politicians with agendas as they move in this slightly surreal, artificial way and, well, you know it’s obvious what I’m thinking.”
To which Ms. Antelo-Suarez added, “We wanted the characters to be funny and nostalgic, but with the bittersweet tension of reflecting the present, because everything that 1968 stood for, fighting the old ways, fighting the conservative right, has been crushed now. So in a way the piece is saying, “If you think these puppets are freaked out, what about us?’ ”
That sense of dual reality is typical of Mr. Graham’s other artworks, which often employ two-way mirrors to make people standing in front of them feel as if they’re there and not there, looking at themselves and through themselves into the landscape or at people on the other side of the glass. His marionettes serve a similar purpose. Their cool, New Age whimsy, twisted into the exaggerations of “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty,” is a funhouse mirror “of our totally youth obsessed culture,” Mr. Graham said.
The artist shoots his dart straight at the heart of Peter Pan-ism, of what he calls “our culture’s crazy wish to never grow old; that age, like films, can be fixed with special effects.” So it comes as no surprise that his puppet president makes an easy career transition from the image-driven spectacle of rock to the spectacle of politics and that he announces: “Man, you don’t want to even live to be 30. Thirty’s death, baby. Pure death.”
When Mr. Graham first thought of retelling “Wild in the Streets” or even when Ms. Antelo-Suarez approached him about reviving the idea, none of the events that mark the current political landscape had unfolded.
Asked about the timing now, and particularly about the ending of his hypnotic, weird and eminently contemporary theater experiment, he repeated that it couldn’t have worked out better. In the final scene, as music blares, the hippie president and his old regime are pushed aside. A band of stick-wielding, power-mad 10-year-olds takes over.
Kevin died on Thursday morning, 2nd December 2004.
The divine service - last party - takes place on Monday, 13th December 2004, at 12.30 h
Friedenskirche, Am Palmplatz, N?�rnberg, Germany
The funeral takes place on Monday, 13th December 2004, at 14.00 h,
St. Johannis Friedhof, N?�rnberg, Germany
Kevin is a multi-talent: musician, writer, artist. His uncompromising�� attitude towards showbiz fame and fortune has inevitably left him in a position of “outsider”. It’s a position Coyne relishes. It makes life more pleasurable. The freedom to express himself without the chains of commercial considerations (although he wouldn’t be adverse to a Number One album) helps keep his creativity alive.
Kevin Coyne was born in Derby, January 1944 and was educated at Joseph Wright School of Art (1957-1961) then Derby College of Art (1961-1965) where he studied graphics and painting, obtaining the N.D.D. in 1965. Early musical influences were Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and later (at art school), Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed.
Coyne’s first job was a social therapist at Whittingham Hospital, Lancashire (1965-1968). In late 1968 he moved to London, starting work for the Soho project as a counsellor for drug addicts in 1969. This work was a source for many of his early songs and remains a major influence today.
In 1973 a youthful and idealistic Coyne signed as a solo artist for Virgin (after a five album spell with Siren on Dandelion Records) proceeding to make eleven L. P. ’s over the next eight years. During this period he recorded with the likes of Andy Summers, Zoot Money, Carla Bley (for her album “Silence”) and Dagmar Krause. It was a productive time in his career, with tours of Australia, Europe, Canada, the U.S.A. and work in the theatre (the self-composed musicals “Babble” and “England, England”). Life was hectic. Something had to give.
A complete nervous breakdown came in 1981, the main causes being alcoholism and overwork. Virgin records departed to be replaced by Cherry Red, and succession of dark, brooding albums.
1985 was a big year of change. Coyne left London and resettled in Nuremberg, Germany. The move was a good one, resulting in formation of a German group (The Paradise Band), a fresh recording career and a drastic change in life-style. He quit drinking for good in 1987. Ten albums have been recorded in Germany. The musical future continues to look bright and positive.
Kevin Coyne’s writing, painting career has truly blossomed in Germany. Four books have been published and one in the print. ( Two, “Showbussiness” and “Party Dress”, by Serpent’s Tail in London) and numerous exhibition of his visual work have been mounted throughout Europe. The response has been reassuringly strong. Exhibitions in Berlin, Amsterdam, Zurich be particularly well reviewed and attended.
Since the mid eigthies the irrepressible Coyne has instigated and been involved in numerous special projects. “Burning Head” (1992) for instance, is a limited edition of one thousand C.D’s, sold with an exclusive Coyne original picture for each record. “The Adventures of Crazy Frank” (1995) which evolved from a record into an improvised stage musical about the life of English comic Frank Randle featuring Coyne as Randle and Nuremberg dancer, singer Julia Kempken as his wife�� was performed in Germany and Austria.
“Tough and Sweet” (1993) is a free wheeling collection of over twenty rock and blues influenced songs that just happens to be the first ever Coyne album to use the talents of his musical sons, Robert and Eugene, and so it goes on….
“Knocking on your brain”�� is a double album, recorded in Duisburg late 1996 and utilising the writing and musical talents of top German musicians Ali Neander (Rodgau Montones, Xavier Naidoo…), Tom Liwa (Flowerpornos), Ralf Gustke (Gianna Nannini) and Willy Wagner (ex Rio Reiser). Special guest on the C.D. is Gary Lucas, former Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley, Joan Osborne (he was nominated for a grammy for his writing on her record), Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Leonard Bernstein collaborator, guitarist and sideman. His slide playing and writing on the opening track “Wonderland” is adelight, as is Kevin’s vocalising, lyric writing and general improvising (twenty songs recorded in three days !) throughout.
1998 and 99 have seen Coyne recording and touring constantly. The most recent C.D. (Sugar Candy Taxi) includes the playing and songwriting talents of his sons Robert and Eugene. There is now a new touring group (no longer called the Paradise Band) featuring Robert Coyne on guitar and Keyboards and Steve Smith on drums. The 1999 touring schedule included the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Holland etc. Reception was excellent throughout. The change of record label in 1999 from Rockport to Ruf Records was a very positive move. With Sugar Candy Taxi (his first release for Ruf) Coyne immediately reached a larger international audience.
A new C.D. is planned for April/May 2000 release. Exhibitions continue to keep the artist active (Mannheim, Amsterdam etc in 1999). More are planned for 2000. A new book in German (Elvis, ich und die anderen) comes out February 2000. The publisher is Ars Vivendi from Cadolzburg, Germany.
The last two years have seen the continuation of a busy artistic musical schedule. Three albums, one of them yet to be released have surfaced The first, “Room full of fools”, featured once again the writing and instrumental talents of Robert Coyne plus the fiercly committed drumming of the late and talented Steve Smith. Much of the record was made in New Jersey, USA and received enthusiastic reviews whereever it saw the light of day.
Another record “Life is almost wonderful”, a duo project with songwriter, guitarist Brendan Croker, emerged as a limited edition in 2002. Once again, reaction was positive and excellent reviews in the English Independent newspaper and Record collector magazine lifted the spirits. Coyne’s latest CD, now probably called “Rolling and Tumbling”, is due for release in October 2002 on Ruf Records. It’s his third record for this company and was recorded in London and N?�rnberg.
Numerous exhibitions have taken place in Germany in recent years, the most successful being in Bremen and Erlangen. The artist’s enthusiasm for writing and picture making hasn’t diminished, a new book of lyrics and drawings is planned for the near future. The last two years have seen Coyne contributing regular review drawings to the “S?�ddeutsche Zeitung”, a novel idea that has caught the public attention. Where else are records reviewed visually? It’s a small triumph. The story has no end as yet. Kevin Coyne is a sort of guy who’ll only stop when he drops, expect to see or hear from him in your area soon.
CD: Live rough and more
THIS LIVE ALBUM RECORDED IN BREMEN, GERMANY IN 1985 FEATURES ONE OF KEVIN COYNE’S BEST EVER BANDS IN SCINTILLATING FORM. THE SPIRIT AND POWER COMES FROM INTENSIVE TOURING ROUND EUROPE, FROM A GROUP USED TO IMPROVISING TOGETHER. LISTEN TO STEVE LAMB’S JAZZY FRETLESS BASS AND PETER KIRTLEY’S BLUESY, ROCK INFUSED GUITAR PLAYING. FOR THE ARTIST IT MIRRORS ALMOST PERFECTLY THE ANGST AND HUMOUR CONTAINED IN THE LYRICS. CLASSIC COYNE EFFORTS LIKE “HOUSE ON THE HILL” AND “SAVIOUR” NEVER SOUNDED BETTER.
THE ADDITION OF THE SINGLE “HAPPY HOLIDAY” IS A GENUIN BONUS TOO, FEATURING COYNE IN A HEARTFELT COMMERCIAL MOOD. “LIVE ROUGH AND MORE” IS A STANDOUT PIECE OF ROCK HISTORY.
WE HOPE YOU ENJOY IT.
CD: Donut City
Donut City is an album full of musical surprises, a mixture of melody, blues realism and rich humour with a fair sprinkling of love ballads. The album features mainly Coyne songs with the additional writing skills of his son Robert and West Virginian guitarist Michael Lipton. It was made over a period of twelve month and reflects the ups and downs of a difficult year. Kevin was diagnosed with lung fibrosis ( an illness that creates severe breathing difficulties) over a year ago, a situation that made the artist even more determined to express himself freely.
Turpentine records is to be the vehicle for Coyne’s musical ideas. Donut City has all the qualities that made albums like “Millionaires and Teddy Bears” and “Marjorie Razorblade” such classics. The CD was produced in the Musication Studios, Nuremberg, Germany and includes some fine instrumental work from Werner Steinhauser, drums, Andreas Bl?�ml, guitar and Harry Hirschmann, bass (his touring band).
Donut City is dedicated to the individualist in all of us, to those that have grown tired of mass produced meaningless emotion. Stand out tracks are “Locked out”, which features some stirring Kevin Coyne piano, and the humorous slice of social comment “Donut City”. There are seventeen tracks on the album.We hope you enjoy it.
And finally: Was Kevin Coyne really offered the Jim Morrison job in the Doors?
The answer is a very firm “yes”. And why , you might ask, did he turn it down?
Well, the rumour is that he didn’t�� fancy wearing the leather trousers.
All very simple really…
Although Chilean-born director Alejandro Jodorowsky is best known for his psychedelic, violent movies (El Topo, The Holy Mountain), he has also been, at one time or another during his 75 years on Earth, the mime prot?�g?� of Marcel Marceau, a surrealist performance artist, an esoteric comic-book author, and a tarot card reader. In life, as well as film, Jodorowsky is avant-garde. In a 1979 interview with Penthouse, the filmmaker spoke openly of demonstrating sexual positions with his wife for his curious, 7-year-old son, Axel. In his arguably most accessible movie, Santa Sangre, a circus family falls apart after a boy sees his mother’s arms sliced off by his knife-thrower father and loses his mind. As an adult (played by then-20-year-old Axel Jodorowsky), the character is forced into a semi-incestuous relationship with his mother in which he acts as her “arms.”
Jodorowsky appeared late last month at the California Institute for Integral Studies, but, somehow unsurprisingly, his lecture had absolutely nothing to do with film. Instead, it focused on “Psychomagic,” described in the institute’s literature as a healing practice developed by Jodorowsky that “uses the language of the subconscious to undo our deepest knots, phobias, fixations, and obsessions.”
Inside the institute’s Namaste Hall, chairs had been cleared away to fit a sellout crowd; Jodorowsky fans eagerly huddled together on the carpet. The Parisian-based filmmaker was jaunty and distinguished in a navy blue suit, no tie, and shocking white hair and beard. He cracked jokes and smiled warmly, belying his reputation as a reclusive eccentric. His eyes, accentuated by sweeping, Mephistophelean eyebrows, seemed to suggest derangement.
In front of a backdrop of Spanish tarot cards that he later used to give readings for audience members, Jodorowsky launched into a sparkling diatribe against Christianity and Buddhism. Both religions, he opined, are sadly lacking in joie de vivre.
“I am not guilty to be born,” he declared. “I love to be born!”
Without much more of a preamble, he took questions to demonstrate the practice of psychomagic.
“I have a sister who died recently in El Salvador,” said a young man in the audience. “She was the favorite of my father.”
“Was your mother absent?” Jodorowsky asked. She was, the young man admitted. After more questioning, Jodorowsky determined that the young man was suffering from a lack of love from his family, and that to feel love, he must become his sister.
“You need to dress up as your sister — as a woman,” and then find a little boy who would serve as a psychological stand-in for himself as a child, Jodorowsky said. “Then you must take the little boy to Disneyland!”
There was much appreciative laughter.
Another young man raised his hand and said he had “250 dreams” that he felt compelled to “turn into reality,” but he didn’t know how. When pressed by Jodorowsky, the man described a typical dream, in which he found himself spinning in space, with stars all around him.
“You are an adult, but these are a child’s dreams,” Jodorowsky chided. The psychomagical cure for the dream conundrum, Jodorowsky said, also involved going to Disneyland. But the man must dress as a child and wear a Shirley Temple wig. “And your nose — painted red!” he added as an afterthought.
Another man told Jodorowsky that his sister had a “strange illness” that caused her to fall asleep on her feet three days before her period began.
“Your sister cannot realize herself as a woman,” Jodorowsky theorized.
“That’s actually true,” the man said. “She felt that our parents didn’t love her.”
“She should make a self-portrait in her menstrual blood,” said Jodorowsky.
A female audience member said she was tormented by the seemingly paradoxical desires of making art and making money.
“Money is male. Money is phallic,” said Jodorowsky. “You need to discover your kind of money. The good kind of money. … The good money is creativity!”
The filmmaker recommended that the woman insert “seven pieces of gold” into her vagina while painting.
These psychomagical rituals, Jodorowsky told the delighted audience, came to him spontaneously. He believes practices like these can free people from their hang-ups. Some problems, however, require more workaday remedies.
“What should I do about my hemorrhoids?” asked an older woman from the back of the room.
“You must use green clay powder!” Jodorowsky announced. “That’s what I use.” He leaned forward to better hear something being shouted at him from the front row, then added helpfully, “You can get it at Rainbow [Grocery].” (Lessley Anderson)
Israel shocked by image of soldiers forcing violinist to play at roadblock
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Of all the revelations that have rocked the Israeli army over the past week, perhaps none disturbed the public so much as the video footage of soldiers forcing a Palestinian man to play his violin.
The incident was not as shocking as the recording of an Israeli officer pumping the body of a 13-year-old girl full of bullets and then saying he would have shot her even if she had been three years old.
Nor was it as nauseating as the pictures in an Israeli newspaper of ultra-orthodox soldiers mocking Palestinian corpses by impaling a man’s head on a pole and sticking a cigarette in his mouth.
But the matter of the violin touched on something deeper about the way Israelis see themselves, and their conflict with the Palestinians.
The violinist, Wissam Tayem, was on his way to a music lesson near Nablus when he said an Israeli officer ordered him to “play something sad” while soldiers made fun of him. After several minutes, he was told he could pass.
It may be that the soldiers wanted Mr Tayem to prove he was indeed a musician walking to a lesson because, as a man under 30, he would not normally have been permitted through the checkpoint.
But after the incident was videotaped by Jewish women peace activists, it prompted revulsion among Israelis not normally perturbed about the treatment of Arabs.
The rightwing Army Radio commentator Uri Orbach found the incident disturbingly reminiscent of Jewish musicians forced to provide background music to mass murder. “What about Majdanek?” he asked, referring to the Nazi extermination camp.
The critics were not drawing a parallel between an Israeli roadblock and a Nazi camp. Their concern was that Jewish suffering had been diminished by the humiliation of Mr Tayem.
Yoram Kaniuk, author of a book about a Jewish violinist forced to play for a concentration camp commander, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the soldiers responsible should be put on trial “not for abusing Arabs but for disgracing the Holocaust”.
“Of all the terrible things done at the roadblocks, this story is one which negates the very possibility of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. If [the military] does not put these soldiers on trial we will have no moral right to speak of ourselves as a state that rose from the Holocaust,” he wrote.
“If we allow Jewish soldiers to put an Arab violinist at a roadblock and laugh at him, we have succeeded in arriving at the lowest moral point possible. Our entire existence in this Arab region was justified, and is still justified, by our suffering; by Jewish violinists in the camps.”
Others took a broader view by drawing a link between the routine dehumanising treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, the desecration of dead bodies and what looks very much like the murder of a terrified 13-year-old Palestinian girl by an army officer in Gaza.
Israelis put great store in a belief that their army is “the most moral in the world” because it says it adheres to a code of “the purity of arms”. There is rarely much public questioning of the army’s routine explanation that Palestinian civilians who have been killed had been “caught in crossfire”, or that children are shot because they are used as cover by fighters.
But the public’s confidence has been shaken by the revelations of the past week. The audio recording of the shooting of the 13-year-old, Iman al-Hams, prompted much soul searching, although the revulsion appears to be as much at the Israeli officer firing a stream of bullets into her lifeless body as the killing itself. Some soldiers told Israeli papers that their mothers had sought assurances that they did not do that kind of thing.
One Israeli peace group, the Arik Institute, took out large newspaper adverts to plead for “Jewish patriots” to “open your eyes and look around” at the suffering of Palestinians.
The incidents prompted the army to call in all commanders from the rank of lieutenant-colonel to emphasise the importance of maintaining the “purity of arms” code.
The army’s critics say the real problem is not the behaviour of soldiers on the ground but the climate of impunity that emanates from the top.
While the officer responsible for killing Iman al-Hams has been charged with relatively minor offences, and the soldiers who forced the violinist to play were ticked off for being “insensitive”, the only troops who were swiftly punished for violating regulations last week were some who posed naked in the snow for a photograph. They were dismissed from their unit.
Last week the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem criticised what it described as a “culture of impunity” within the army. The group says at least 1,656 Palestinian non-combatants have been killed during the intifada, including 529 children.
“To date, one soldier has been convicted of causing the death of a Palestinian,” it said.
“The combination of rules of engagement that encourage a trigger-happy attitude among soldiers together with the climate of impunity results in a clear and very troubling message about the value the Israeli military places on Palestinian life.”
��For an ad campaign that started a revolution in marketing, the Pepsi Challenge TV spots of the 1970s and ’80s were almost absurdly simple. Little more than a series of blind taste tests, these ads showed people being asked to choose between Pepsi and Coke without knowing which one they were consuming. Not surprisingly, given the sponsor, Pepsi was usually the winner.
But 30 years after the commercials debuted, neuroscientist Read Montague was still thinking about them. Something didn’t make sense. If people preferred the taste of Pepsi, the drink should have dominated the market. It didn’t. So in the summer of 2003, Montague gave himself a ‘Pepsi Challenge’ of a different sort: to figure out why people would buy a product they didn’t particularly like.
What he found was the first data from an entirely new field: neuromarketing, the study of the brain’s responses to ads, brands, and the rest of the messages littering the cultural landscape. Montague had his subjects take the Pepsi Challenge while he watched their neural activity with a functional MRI machine, which tracks blood flow to different regions of the brain. Without knowing what they were drinking, about half of them said they preferred Pepsi. But once Montague told them which samples were Coke, three-fourths said that drink tasted better, and their brain activity changed too. Coke “lit up” the medial prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain that controls higher thinking. Montague’s hunch was that the brain was recalling images and ideas from commercials, and the brand was overriding the actual quality of the product. For years, in the face of failed brands and laughably bad ad campaigns, marketers had argued that they could influence consumers’ choices. Now, there appeared to be solid neurological proof. Montague published his findings in the October 2004 issue of Neuron, and a cottage industry was born.
Neuromarketing, in one form or another, is now one of the hottest new tools of its trade. At the most basic levels, companies are starting to sift through the piles of psychological literature that have been steadily growing since the 1990s’ boom in brain-imaging technology. Surprisingly few businesses have kept tabs on the studies - until now. “Most marketers don’t take a single class in psychology. A lot of the current communications projects we see are based on research from the ’70s,” says Justine Meaux, a scientist at Atlanta’s BrightHouse Neurostrategies Group, one of the first and largest neurosciences consulting firms. “Especially in these early years, it’s about teaching people the basics. What we end up doing is educating people about some false assumptions about how the brain works.”
Getting an update on research is one thing; for decades, marketers have relied on behavioral studies for guidance. But some companies are taking the practice several steps further, commissioning their own fMRI studies ?� la Montague’s test. In a study of men’s reactions to cars, Daimler-Chrysler has found that sportier models activate the brain’s reward centers — the same areas that light up in response to alcohol and drugs — as well as activating the area in the brain that recognizes faces, which may explain people’s tendency to anthropomorphize their cars. Steven Quartz, a scientist at Stanford University, is currently conducting similar research on movie trailers. And in the age of poll-taking and smear campaigns, political advertising is also getting in on the game. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have found that Republicans and Democrats react differently to campaign ads showing images of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Those ads cause the part of the brain associated with fear to light up more vividly in Democrats than in Republicans.
That last piece of research is particularly worrisome to anti-marketing activists, some of whom are already mobilizing against the nascent field of neuromarketing. Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a non-profit that argues for strict regulations on advertising, says that “a year ago almost nobody had heard of neuromarketing except for Forbes readers.” Now, he says, it’s everywhere, and over the past year he has waged a campaign against the practice, lobbying Congress and the American Psychological Association (APA) and threatening lawsuits against BrightHouse and other practitioners. Even though he admits the research is still “in the very preliminary stages,” he says it could eventually lead to complete corporate manipulation of consumers — or citizens, with governments using brain scans to create more effective propaganda.
Ruskin might be consoled by the fact that many neuromarketers still don’t know how to apply their findings. Increased activity in the brain doesn’t necessarily mean increased preference for a product. And, says Meaux, no amount of neuromarketing research can transform otherwise rational people into consumption-driven zombies. “Of course we’re all influenced by the messages around us,” she says. “That doesn’t take away free choice.” As for Ruskin, she says tersely, “there is no grounds for what he is accusing.” So far, the regulatory boards agree with her: the government has decided not to investigate BrightHouse and the APA’s most recent ethics statement said nothing about neuromarketing. Says Ruskin: “It was a total defeat for us.”
With Commercial Alert’s campaign thwarted for now, BrightHouse is moving forward. In January, the company plans to start publishing a neuroscience newsletter aimed at businesses. And although it “doesn’t conduct fMRI studies except in the rarest of cases,” it is getting ready to publish the results of a particularly tantalizing set of tests. While neuroscientist Montague’s ‘Pepsi Challenge’ suggests that branding appears to make a difference in consumer preference, BrightHouse’s research promises to show exactly how much emotional impact that branding can have. Marketers have long known that some brands have a seemingly magic appeal; they can elicit strong devotion, with buyers saying they identify with the brand as an extension of their personalities. The BrightHouse research is expected to show exactly which products those are. “This is really just the first step,” says Meaux, who points out that no one has discovered a “buy button” in the brain. But with more and more companies peering into the minds of their consumers, could that be far off?
From Publishers Weekly
An astronomer with a Jungian streak, Krupp (Echoes of the Ancient Sky), the director of the Griffith Observatory in L.A., synthesizes the study of the heavens with archeology in an intriguing attempt to understand the cultural power of shamans and kings in ancient civilizations. In the tradition of Frazer, Eliade and Campbell, the author seeks commonality in the use of sky myths by shamans from cultures as diverse as the Mayan, Egyptian, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Turkic, African and Inuit, as well as those of the indigenous peoples of the American plains, Northwest and Southwest. Carefully analyzing sacred petroglyphs, pictographs and statuary, he traces the evolution of culture from hunting bands to the establishment of complex civilizations. The journey includes study of the natural high places of the earth, which direct human awe heavenward toward the sky gods. Alternately, the chthonic depths of caves and grottoes are examined for insight into the traditions of nurturing mother goddesses and fertility cults. Throughout, reference to ancient awareness of the movement of the planets and constellations, especially in regard to the solstices and equinoxes, is highlighted. With an anecdotal style and with reference to myriad illustrations, Krupp enngagingly explores the historic derivation of political control descending from the skies, to rulers. The harmonics of order implicit in the structure of the cosmos, he forcefully contends, are endangered by contemporary reactionary, earthbound cultures, engendering conflicts that are expressed in rising social intolerance and religious fundamentalism.