Jeff Trexler: May 2009 Archives
That's what I've been writing about over on JustMeans.
No Sock Monkeys, however.
Graffiti in Salt Lake City apparently tries to go for a Gnome Chomsky joke, but the artist appears to confuse intellectuals--though Chomsky's propaganda model resonates with McLuhan's media theory, "the medium is the message" is, of course, not a quote from Chomsky, but McLuhan.
I'm no doubt missing something here, so I welcome additional enlightenment!
A Duane Reade/Duane Reade Charitable Foundation promotional sign for the 2009 AIDS Walk New York embodies the commodification of the civic lifeworld.
There is no listing for the DRCF on Guidestar, nor did I find a single reference to it in the SEC filings of Duane Reade Holdings. The Foundation could be a donor-advised fund somewhere, but I suspect that it's simply a program within Duane Reade itself.
What works: the resonance of the supported charities (diabetes, AIDS) with the drug store's core identity.
Was having this as a nickname when I was in elementary school. Yay dinosaurs!
Now back to writing about social enterprise and values . . .
My Esteemed Colleague Susan Scafidi writes on Supreme Court fashion for The Huffington Post.
Via News From Me, a 1950s game show appearance by legendary comics writer Leo Dorfman features a revealing discussion about comics + society, from their popularity among soldiers in WWII to their suitability for children just a decade later.
There's been a lot of talk about socialism recently, and one of the questions I get asked on occasion is whether it has any relation to social enterprise.
Does it ever!
As I describe in Is Social Enterprise Sustainable?, the term "social enterprise" migrated to Western charity from socialist law. "Social enterprise" as a term associated with blended value did not originate from capitalism, and its identification with commercial business & venture capital actually came rather late in the game.
In socialist jurisprudence, social enterprise was a term designed to replace the capitalist notion of businesses dedicated to the pursuit of profit. The social enterprise generated revenue in excess of the costs of production, but profit-making was not the goal of socialist business--rather, its fundamental organizational purpose was to serve collective benefit. More over, in keeping with Marxist/Leninist ideology, the social enterprise was owned & controlled not by private shareholders--a hallmark of bourgeoise capitalism--but by workers themselves, from the workers immediately connected to the enterprise to society as a whole.
(Pictured above: a 1964 New York Times article notes how Poland had reclassified a tax-privileged charity with industrial production facilities as a fully taxable "social enterprise.")
In the 1960s and '70s, dissidents got the clever idea of leveraging Marxist rhetoric to subvert the centralized Leninist state. One concept the dissidents revived was "civil society"--grazhdanskoe obschestvo, equally translatable as "citizens' society"--which the dissidents were able to use to challenge the concentration of power in a government elite. Relatively moribund in Western political rhetoric for roughly a century (we had drifted to "civilization" instead), the term "civil society" soon enjoyed an international revival as a term synonymous with nongovernmental associations.
Social enterprise, in the sense of a venture with a social purpose, migrated to the West in a similar fashion. In particular, in the late 1970s, the Polish labor union "Solidarity" became the subject of international attention for its challenge to Communist Party and state control of labor unions. Having learned from emulated the previous decade's dissident appropriation of civil society, Solidarity leaders put forth a model of social enterprise that circumvented the state. Instead of being controlled by the government and Party, the social enterprise would be run by its workers for the greater social good.
Almost instantaneously the concept of "social enterprise" became a buzzword among Western advocates of an alternative to profit-centered business. Not coincidentally, it started popping up in the charitable world as well, most notably in the rhetoric of an emerging leader (and Yale-trained lawyer) named Bill Drayton.
That we have come to associate social enterprise with commercial business & venture capital is one of history's little ironies, much like how the socialist-scribed Pledge of Allegiance became a shibboleth of conservative Republicanism or the avant-garde feminist Mother's Day came to perpetuate the cult of domesticity.
What can we learn from this history? More on that soon enough. Until then, social enterprise office workers unite! We have nothing to lose but our Starbucks Cards.
Speaking of Donald Duck & cultural difference, this 1939 letter in Time Magazine describes how Disney dodged a bullet in a Donald Duck cartoon. Alas, the online version (kudos for the find, Mathew!) does not include the original sketch:
Saved from Embarrassment
You may be glad to know that a recent article in TIME proved timely indeed to the Walt Disney Studio and saved us from considerable embarrassment.
The article (TIME, Dec. 12) described a Brooklyn divorce trial where the most important testimony concerned a gesture made by raising the hands to the forehead, extending the fingers like horns, and making an ugly face.
I was horrified to learn that this gesture, called cornuto, is a well-known symbol for cuckoldry in Latin countries—horrified because I had in my ignorance and innocence used the identical gesture as a gag in a forthcoming Donald Duck picture, The Hockey Champ.
I planned a scene where Donald emerges from a snowbank with icicles sticking on his head like horns. His three little nephews mock his appearance by making the "horns" gesture at him.
This gag got by every one in the Studio, who apparently knew as little about cornuto as I did, and would have appeared in our finished picture but for your illuminating article. Needless to say, if this had happened, the film would have got loud, unwanted laughs in Mexico, South America and Italy and would have aroused the censors. We passed the information along to the Hays office, incidentally, and they were very glad to have it.
I enclose a sketch of Donald's nephews as they very nearly appeared on the screen.
HARRY REEVES Story Department Walt Disney Productions, Ltd. Hollywood, Calif.
The social enterprise community has celebrated the power of The Girl Effect, a video that uses Flash typography to make a simplistic yet appealing claim for helping girls become economically independent.
Below: a viral conservative Christian video uses a similar rhetorical technique to different ends:
Are ANIMATED BOLD ALL CAPS really an effective means of persuasion, or do they merely reinforce pre-existing values?
A proposed public service project in Thailand: invite men to remove the bra of an amply endowed woman, only to have them find that the breasts have actually been removed due to cancer.
The idea is you'll have your awareness raised so you'll want to "complete" women's lives by giving a donation for replacement artificial breasts.
Whatever the virtue of the cause itself, gimmicks like this are why you'll never hear me say I want to "raise awareness":
Over the weekend I posted my thoughts on the Wall St. Journal's lengthy article on Donald Duck in Germany. What struck me most: the stylistic contrast in relation to cultural identity:
The article ascribes the character’s popularity to the strip’s longtime translator, Erika Fuchs, an art history Ph.D. who rewrote Carl Barks’ dialogue to include references to German literature, myth and politics. . . .
Post-war Germany was in the process of restoring its identity after Nazi ideology raised serious questions as to the legitimacy of the country’s cultural heritage. A funny book provided a means for Fuchs to highlight the value of German traditions free from worrisome evocations of the Nazi’s use of German culture to establish ethnic supremacy.
Barks wrote in a radically different context. America’s literary heritage was not morally suspect; to have used Donald Duck to legitimize Melville or Dickinson would have seemed pretentious, if not bizarre. Barks’ visual and verbal rhetoric is instead far more pragmatic–Donald and his retinue are on a perpetual quest to succeed in a world full of baffling new tools and old ways.
As it happens, I'm in the middle of one of my periodic re-readings of Barks, so this stuff is fresh on my mind. Note particularly this observation
America’s literary heritage was not morally suspect; to have used Donald Duck to legitimize Melville or Dickinson would have seemed pretentious, if not bizarre. Barks’ visual and verbal rhetoric is instead far more pragmatic . . .
and compare it to the following scene from Barks' Snow Fun, a story in which Donald and his nephews raise money to buy one of the era's emblems of middle-class success, manufactured skis:
One of my pictures in the Barks post illustrates another dimension of Barks' examination of cultural identity. It's from Donald Duck and the Mummy's Ring, a brilliant (and funny) exploration of the question of whether the West should repatriate cultural objects to their country of origin. The kicker for me in the story is that it's more complex than a reductionistic tale of good natives and bad Americans--the Egyptians themselves are a blend of traditional believers and secular Westernizers, epitomized by a strategic nationalist educated at "Yarvard" in the States.
This may seem a bit goofy, but that's exactly why it works. As I concluded in my previous post,
What both the German and American versions of Barks’ work illustrate is the strategic value of junk media in remaking society. That so many people continue to view comics as little more than trash is not necessarily a bad thing–it frees the medium for creative expression outside the normative constraints of so-called high art, thereby retaining comics’ power as a cultural trojan horse.
I really want to know more about this organization, which, among other things, in the mid-1940s placed comic book ads telling the story of brands & their public benefit. Below: the story of Revere Copper, responsible for America's independence from Britain and foreign imports.
Like I said, it was the mid-40s:
A reminder of what started it all:
Just doing my part to make sure we don't take ourselves too seriously.
Though of course, I'm prepared to be reminded that <grim>sustainable animal waste disposal is no laughing matter.</grim>
The heroic myth takes on a new form. A commenter explains:
Ganesha is seen as the Remover of Obstacles, so anyone or anything that takes action to remove obstacles can be seen as exhibiting an aspect of the divine, in the form of Ganesh. The people who made this statue are saying that the heroic nature that we admire in the fictitious character of Spider-Man is an expression of the divine within us all, and should be honored. Also, it’s FUN. Bravo!
Thanks, Deborah Elizabeth Finn!
From Muppets Rawk, an art show in which designers muppetized famous album covers.
As Fleet Week rolls into town Tuesday, one Manhattan strip club will be waiting with a special drink called the Drunken Captain and, the owners say, all proceeds will go back to the troops.
HeadQuarters, located just blocks from the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on the West Side, is selling the cocktail for $16 during Fleet Week. Military personnel can buy it for $10.
"All of us here at HeadQuarters appreciate all the men and women who put themselves at risk every day to allow us to have the freedom to express ourselves," general manager Serafina Fiori said.
"We welcome them always so they can see firsthand what they're fighting for!"
The Drunken Captain is a mixture of coconut, mango and pineapple rums with a little pineapple juice and a splash of cranberry.
Fiori said proceeds from the sales of the drink will go to the Soldiers', Sailors', Marines', Airmen's & Coast Guard Club in Murray Hill. The club has been housing soldiers and veterans while they visit the Big Apple for the past 90 years.
Brand New provides this instructive look at the process of rebranding Swanswell Charitable Trust. It's exactly the sort of useful experience we tend to miss when we limit social enterprise to organizations that self-identify as social entrepreneurs.
Around three hundred years ago the Trexlers came to New York from Germany, but after getting a raw deal from the Brits we were lured to arable land in the area now known--in a vast historical injustice--as Mertztown, Pennsylvania. We immediately got to work establishing the foundational institutions of Western civilization--farms, roads, a burgeoning village and, of course, a shoe store! Check out my hometown's hottest designer label below:
Karl Lagerfeld was standing on the corner outside my apartment just a few minutes ago; no doubt he was looking to strike a deal.
Besides sponsoring one of New York's leading annual charitable fundraisers, Vogue has had a number interesting references to charity & green fashion as of late. This one in June I still haven't figured out--yes, Veruschka was famous for wearing body paint, but for charity?
Yet you can't really call someone the Baby when she [Natalia Vodianova] has been successfully busy hitting up billionaire oligarchs for sizable donations to her Naked Heart Foundation. The charity builds children's play parks in Russia (23 in nineteen cities since its inception in 2005). Yes, yes—MODEL GOES PHILANTHROPIC hasn't been news since Veruschka was covered in psychedelic body paint back in the sixties, but Vodianova is deeply passionate about the cause.
Museums have come to see fashion and pop culture as effective means for generating financial support. One upcoming case in point: the Minnesota History Center's RetroRama runway show, Fashion Comes Full Circle, featuring the work of local designers inspired by designs from the 1920s through '60s. The event also features shopping at a vintage boutique.
RetroRama, www.mnhs.org/retrorama, is an event hosted by the Minnesota Historical Society to celebrate the popular culture of the twentieth century and illustrate how the past has influenced the present. Featuring fashion, décor, music, dancing and related activities, RetroRama transports young and old back to a time when the Barbie was born and American Bandstand was all the rage. RetroRama also offers attendees the chance to experience popular games and crafts. From pop-up books to placemats, the do-it-yourself craft stations allow event-goers to take home a piece of retro style.
In the last major interview before his death, John Lennon addressed the question of why he refused to join a proposed Beatles reunion charity concert. It's a fascinating inside look at the business of benefits circa 1980:
The NY Times posts an obituary for Sid Laverents, the innovative and prolific home movie who, at the age of 92, achieved to mainstream fame with the selection of his 1970 masterpiece Multiple Sidosis to the National Film Registry. This is Youtube before Youtube, where one commenter aptly observes that Laverents's landmark film is "the Citizen Kane of home movies." From the obit:
It’s a witty performance, but what is really unusual is the imagery that accompanies the music. Using repeated exposures of the same piece of film, Mr. Laverents kept adding different shots of himself playing the different musical lines. By the end, there are 11 different Sids on the screen, including a couple wearing Mickey Mouse ears and fake whiskers.
The skill, patience and fastidiousness of the filmmaking is extraordinary. Not only did Mr. Laverents perform all the individual parts beautifully, but because he was re-exposing the same piece of film again and again to layer on the next part, if he made a mistake on the eighth run-through, say, he had to begin again. This 1970 film took him four years to finish.
“What raises his work to a higher level is the deep ingenuity he brings to the minimal tools he has,” said Ross Lipman, a film restorationist at the Film and Television Archive at the University of California, Los Angeles, which is in the process of preserving Mr. Laverents’s films, including “The Sid Saga.” “He designed and hand-built his own equipment that allowed him to synchronize the sound and the pictures while he was doing all these backwindings and rerecordings.”
As I learned while watching a baseball game yesterday, "Think Green" is the slogan--and the website--of the Waste Management corporation, "the leading provider of comprehensive waste and environmental services in North America."
An interesting resonance: in today's NY Times, a woman who was once the super in her apartment building reflects on the Roto-Rooter guy:
Occasionally, there was a bright spot amid the drudgery. One Saturday morning, while my friends were sleeping or indulging in free kayaking, I was in the basement with the Roto-Rooter guy, standing in two inches of backed-up sewage.
And here’s the thing: The Roto-Rooter guy was really great. Instead of being bitter and cranky about having to do such a noxious, malodorous job, he was telling me how fascinating it was, how much he loved what he did. He had a passion for the history and the future of waste treatment, and had read widely on the subject.
Although my expertise with sewage was limited to fixing a running toilet with a straightened paper clip, the Roto-Rooter guy had innovative ideas about overhauling the entire system of waste management worldwide.
Yes, self-professed social entrepreneurs are nice. But sometimes you can learn a lot more by paying attention to a normal person with an ordinary job.
A flowchart template exemplifies corporate information technology in 1969. Via the invaluable Information Aesthetics.
This Slate Q&A re dealing with a difficult board of directors has been making the nonprofit rounds. Personally, I think the following approach is rather efficient:
I prepared this set of social enterprise links for my SE class: http://sociallinks.pbworks.com.
So here I am, in week three of the seemingly unending bug or whatever the !*#&?! it is, where just the subway ride to the office pretty much knocks me out for the day. No matter--gotta soldier on, pip pip tally ho and all that. Perhaps I should take the advice of this 1889 British Medical Journal ad and consume some Cadbury Cocoa, noted among the era's doctors for its healthy "Flesh-forming constituents."
Well, maybe not, especially given my recent lack of exercise--but for more on Cadbury's various do-gooding past and present, check out my latest piece on JustMeans.
Also worth checking out:
- Thanks, Mitch Kapor Foundation!
- The Schulz Library
- A science museum angles for visitors with Star Trek memorabilia
- Will government-backed copies of Harlem Children's Zone retain its core practices or dilute them?
- Netflix is now streaming the documentary Helvetica, which describes the roots of the typeface in the social responsibility ethic of early modernist design. If you have a chance to see this film, do.
- A superhero-themed charity race
Throughout the ages the finger-painter, the play-do sculptor, the Lincoln-logger stood alone against the day care teacher of her time.
She did not live to earn approval stickers, she lived for herself that she might achieve things that are the glory of all humanity.
These are my terms, I do not care to play by any others. And if the court will allow me, it's nap time.
In the U.S., this past week brought the great KFC free grilled chicken coupon fiasco, as hours-long lines of people wanting a mere two pieces of free grilled chicken threatened to exhaust the company's chicken supply.
MultiCultClassics makes the connection.
Via Photoshop Disasters, the cover of annual report illustrates how inattention to salient details can diminish confidence.
Here's a taste, part of a longer assessment of recent work in developing reliable statistics, more efficient management and a shift from almsgiving to enterprise. There's a direct line from this to the rhetoric of, say, Muhammad Yunus:
Kenneth Cole's AWEARNESS blog--"raising awareness" as an extension of corporate identity marketing.
As fate would have it, I had to be out of town at the very time Amazon held its Kindle DX press conference at Pace University, where I happen to teach. Nonetheless, since such a high-profile media event took place right by my office, I figure I might as well jot down my initial thoughts here.
Of course, as per my disclaimer below, I probably should add that that any thoughts here aren't those of Pace etc. etc.--these are just the ramblings of the dork what writes this personal blog.As I noted to my social enterprise class, the arrangement that Amazon apparently has with its five universities--essentially to demo the larger Kindle as a textbook killer--reflects the symbiotic relationship between charities and commercial providers that has been the norm in recent years, particularly in such areas as higher education, health care and museums. The notion that higher education has fallen from an Edenic noncommercial purity may be an appealing myth, but from a historical standpoint it has been misleading since, oh, about the twelfth century.
From a legal perspective, arguably the most critical issue is for the universities signed on to the Kindle venture is that of retaining control over activities expressing their exempt educational purpose. Were Amazon, say, to start dictating textbook choice or the substance of the curriculum, the IRS might question whether a university is pursuing a substantial non-exempt purpose. Judging from what we've seen--and I know no more than what is available to the general public--that won't be the case, so one would expect few if any problems on the legal front.
Still, the relationship between Amazon and its partner universities is bound to raise questions, especially among academics from outside relatively more commercialized disciplines such as law and the natural sciences. Essentially what we have here are universities helping a single company to establish dominance in the market for educational texts.
There are analogues throughout the university--exclusive deals for soda machines and big box franchises running student bookstores--but this venture is more central to the academic enterprise. Given the realities of Amazon's usage policy and proprietary DRM, one could argue that the university's control over its curriculum would be illusory should the Kindle become the academic norm. It's one thing to force an academic community to choose Coke; quite another to create an environment where student must buy Kindles and professors are expected to assign books that are available in the Kindle format.
We can also expect questions as to the ethics and practicality of requiring students to buy an additional, not to mention branded, device in order to pursue their studies. Even with the academic discount that is likely to become available (extrapolating from the deals available from computer & software companies), the Kindle is in the price range of a netbook, low-end laptop, PS3 or an iPhone. As any number of other people have noted, the market is primed to be more receptive to electronic texts that can be viewed in media students already own or would like to have another reason to buy.
Finally, the Kindle venture is also interesting from the perspective of the history of the university as a medium for processing and transmitting information. It's tempting to classify those who favor the Kindle as on the cutting-edge while branding those who question it as hidebound traditionalists, but that would be a drastic oversimplification. In fact, one could argue that the Kindle itself embodies a traditional approach to electronic communications media.
As Marshall McLuhan observed, our initial impulse when dealing with a new medium is to recapitulate more familiar forms--for example, early TV transmitted stage plays and symphonies before developing rhetorical styles that expressed the television medium. At base, the Kindle does little more than replicate the textbook. Sure, the Kindle weighs less and does not cost as much as a many required texts, but that's it. The fundamental model is still one-sided and top-down: the authors write a text that students read.
That's not the environment in which today's students live and work. To be valued in the marketplace--and yes, to live a more meaningful life--students need to do more than read books. They have to become adept at finding useful information from a wide range of resources and communicating ideas in ways that are useful & engaging.
Perhaps a more cutting-edge approach than replicating the textbook would be to shift away from the model of students as information consumers. Instead, we could focus on helping students become more effective and compelling information producers. Rather than requiring students to buy a fixed text, we could focus on creating opportunities to collate resources and to write material that would in turn help future students learn.
In this environment, the professor relinquishes the industrial age mantle of hallowed authority to assist students in becoming professors themselves. By this I don't mean professors in the sense of the contemporary academic guild, but in the classical meaning of the word from which "professor" is derived--the Latin profiteor, "to speak forth." What university professors do is no longer the province of a privileged few; today everyone has the opportunity--and the responsibility--to gather, produce and transform information. The sooner we stop pretending that university professors have a monopoly on expertise, the better professors will be at fulfilling their new social role.
That said, I'm curious to see how this Amazon venture will play out. Among its other functions the university is a place for experimentation, and this is exactly the sort of thing we should try--especially if it means I get a free Kindle!
Law enforcement in Italy is cracking down on an industry reputed to be controlled by the mafia:
Turns out that La Cosa Nostra sees the eco-biz as a growth industry--tax breaks and government funding make it pretty much a sure-fire investment:
"Operation Wind" revealed Mafia promises to local officials in Mazara del Vallo of money and votes in exchange for help in approving wind farm projects.
The Mafia suspects were alleged to be linked to Matteo Messina "Diabolik" Denaro, a fugitive clan boss on ltaly's most wanted list.
Prosecutors suspect the hand of the Mafia in fixing permits and building wind farms that are then sold on to Italian and eventually foreign companies.
In an effort to assert its control over the sector, the Mafia is suspected of destroying two wind towers that were in storage in the port of Trapani after their delivery by ship from northern Europe, local officials told the FT.
"It is a refined system of connections to business and politicians. A handful of people control the wind sector. Many companies exist but it is the same people behind them," said Mr Scarpinato, whose investigations have focused on the evolution of the Mafia into a modern business organisation.
Which got me thinking. When I got into the social enterprise scene after years of bridging the worlds of nonprofit and for-profit law, my impression was that social enterprise offered a holistic vision with the potential to break down artificial walls between so-called sectors. However, in far too many ways social enterprise has become just another way for small groups of self-defined insiders to seize control of the market in virtue. This particularly hits home everytime I hear someone tell me that such-and-such group, person or area of activity is not really social entrepreneurship, as if excluding people from the movement were its real value added.
It's easy to condemn the criminal mafia, but often the more dangerous practice is what's legal.
One of the charitable thrift stores near my apartment has apparently found comic books to be a reliable source of income--they're regularly featured in the store window & prominently displayed for sale right by the front door.
Thrift Shop Horrors today highlights a different NYC thrift store that boasts of a sizable comic book & magazine section. However, the shop hasn't figured out that a comic's condition can be a selling point:
McCann Erickson Polska designed this PSA series for the Warsaw Metropolitan Police, in which thought balloons protect cartoon riders.
I like the ads, though it does seem that the designers could benefit from this new graphic technology.
NONPROFIT COMICS EXTRA:
Metabunker has details on the formation of the new Danish Comics Council, which promotes comics art & industry in Denmark.
Everything that advertises must converge at Rome's St. Regis Hotel, where the press junket for Angels & Demons meets cute with The Papal Foundation, also convened there at . . . where else? . . . Le Grand Bar!
Via Nikki Finke.
Almost everything about marketing is the opposite of the typical manager's approach to running a business. Marketing is illogical and definitely not analytical. Marketing is intuitive and holistic.
We're concerned, however, that this message is being ignored by the marketing community, who seem to be drifting from the right to the left -- from a right-brain approach to a left-brain approach. . .
Take leadership, for example.
Nothing about a brand is more valuable than its market leadership. If a brand loses its leadership, it loses its most significant advantage in the marketplace. That valuable position is worth protecting. And advertising is the best way to protect it. Nike in athletic shoes. Heinz in ketchup. Rolex in watches.
Suppose a leading brand spends $50 million a year on advertising. And suppose that brand's market share doesn't budge at all. Was that $50 million wasted? Not necessarily.
Advertising as insurance
Advertising is more like insurance than it is like an investment. What's your "return on investment" of a five-year term life insurance policy if you don't die?
But, of course, you don't buy an insurance policy to make money. You buy an insurance policy to protect your family in case you die.
The overall practice of marketing is not mathematically based, although subsets of the discipline may be: direct marketing, research, media selection.
Marketing is certainly not 70% mathematics. It's not even 1% mathematics. (As a math major in college, I don't think I've ever used integral calculus or differential equations or any other mathematical concept in our marketing practice.)
Marketing is a discipline that can only be learned by exposure to marketing case histories over an extensive period of time.
Mathematics is logical. Marketing is not. That's why marketing is so difficult to learn.
I'm just beginning to catch up from a week of being waylaid by the flu or somesuch nasty thing, so my thoughts today will be brief. Suffice it to say that I believe such stories expose as much about our perception of charity as they do concerning charitable organizations.
The following is a particularly interesting exchange from the comment thread. Note the attitude toward business activity--the underlying assumption is that charity is by nature noncommercial, such that commercial activity is equated with deception & self-enrichment:
At least that's what it seems from the headline, which, because it's CNN, must be true!