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New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Thursday, April 16

liar liar 3: the myth of myth

Although I'm starting this one with Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future, my aim here is not (overtly) political. To paraphrase Elvis Costello, my aim is truth. But nota bene: I do not mean any sort of philosophical or metaphysical capital-T Truth, but rather the plain vanilla garden variety opposite of myth.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, and their now innumerable wannabe emulators, the general half-educated public tends to have quite an inflated view of capital-M Myth these days. However, it is worth recalling that the word can also refer to something that just flat-out ain't so.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary includes these bits in its definition of myth:

  • an unfounded or false notion
  • a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, includes these alternative semantics:

  • a fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology
  • a fictitious story, person, or thing
Author Will Bunch shows how the "Reagan Myth" -- created posthumously by GOP spin doctors -- fits these negative senses of the word. But long before he went all POTUS on us, Ronnie was already a built-from-a-kit product of "modern" -- really, then only barely nascent -- public relations and advertising. Clearly, such myth makers have a long and hoary (so to speak) history in both political and commercial arenas.

When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be.

~ Erving Goffman, p. 17
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Goffman published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life in 1959. Fifty years later, this brilliant piece of sociological R&D has it's own Wikipedia entry. But no one really reads it. Too old fashioned.

No worries, though: there's a brand new book on self presentation, published just last year. In this updated case, the presentations are in PowerPoint. And of course, the whole discussion has been "spiritualized." For instance, on page 145 of Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, we are told that...

It also doesn't hurt to have the Helvetica Neue UltraLight font in your bag of tricks. Plus a copy of the DSM-IV-TR, which includes this diagnostic criterion for Narcissistic Personality Disorder...

As only hinted in Liar Liar 2, we are back in the world of self as brand manipulation, of identity as infinitely moveable advertising feast. That is to say, back in the special, high-status, high-quality, sophisticated, important and above all spiritual realm of capital-M Myth. And we should therefore not be in the least surprised at this juncture to re-encounter kindly old Father Jung, replete with his archetypes and the collective unconscious, ready to assist with contemporary branding initiatives.

For exhibit A in this regard, try The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson. The latter also wrote The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By and Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World.

But let's break out of our branding focus for a moment and go back to the Ur-Spring of all these notions. The following is from Abstract #000226 of Jung's paper on "Archetypes of the collective unconscious." The paper itself appears in The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious - Collected Works of C.G. Jung Volume 9, Part 1 (p. 3-41). The abstract begins...

The concept of archetypes as the mode of expression of the collective unconscious is discussed. In addition to the purely personal unconscious hypothesized by Freud, a deeper unconscious level is felt to exist. This deeper level manifests itself in universal archaic images expressed in dreams, religious beliefs, myths, and fairytales. The archetypes, as unfiltered psychic experience, appear sometimes in their most primitive and naive forms (in dreams), sometimes in a considerably more complex form due to the operation of conscious elaboration (in myths).
Note a couple of things here. First, "hypothesized by Freud." Hold that thought. Second, re Jung, "a deeper unconscious level is felt to exist." Note the passive voice. Note especially that this is felt as a feeling, an inkling, perhaps a belief -- or a hunch, a conjecture, a shot in the dark. Perhaps Jung simply took a wild ass guess. Finally, note well, highlight, underline, and set off in neon spots the bit about...

conscious elaboration (in myths)

Up until around the time of Jung's death in 1961, Freud had won the depth psychology sweeps hands-down. Psychoanalysis had beat out Analytical Psychology by any and every measure that could be applied to determine things like cultural popularity, number of clients and gross take.

However, with the advent of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s -- thanks largely to their importation and wide distribution by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (but that's another story) -- the inherent spookiness of Jung's crypto-occultism was a better fit with the return of a hallucinatory Zeitgeist. That the '60s were in fact a return to the cultural milieu of fin-de-siecle northern Europe is a major premise of this blog (soon to be a Major Motion Picture) -- and thus a return to Jung's roots, as partially unpacked in Spiritualism and the Foundations of C.G. Jung's Psychology (Amazon). Later, the women's movement (with substantial help from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson) debunked Freud's "seduction theory," thus tilting the scales still further, if by default, in favor the Jungian persuasion.

We're getting a bit far afield with this detour, but it's worth noting that in the often dramatic cultural competition between Freud and Jung, the latter -- amazingly, hare-and-tortoise-wise -- won! While neither man's theory of the mind has ever been scientifically proven, Jung's ideas are certainly more "far out," trending toward the arcane, the inexplicably mysterious, even the occult.

It is one of the supreme ironies of the century just past -- which kicked off in 1900 with the publication of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams -- that psychoanalysis is today almost universally considered passe, while nearly anything invoking Jung is taken by many as absolute gospel. Try telling a woman she is suffering from penis envy, and she'll slap your face and walk away. Rightly so. But mention archetypes, alchemy, Gnosticism, or "synchronicity," and chances are good she'll hang on your every word for the entire evening. What's wrong with this picture?

That's the question Mystic Bourgeoisie returns to again and again. In the present case, what's wrong is what's right. For many, the powerful attraction of Jung is that his numinous musings enable a mythic reconfiguration of the Self -- the favorite subject, bar none, of the Mystically Beatified. This is what Jung called "individuation." The Wikipedia discussion of this topic points to a hopelessly confused ("Individuation is the process of integrating the conscious with the unconscious, for the purpose of self-actualization." BZZZZT! WRONG!), but entirely typical source on a site called

Individuation is a philosophical, spiritual and mystical experience (Jung, 1989b, p. 294). It is the goal of our psychological development and in metaphysical terms amounts to God's incarnation (Jung, p. 157). Individuation is the central concept and purpose of Jung’s Analytical Psychology (Jung, 1989a, p. 209)...

  • Jung, C. G. (1962). Symbols of Transformation: An analysis of the prelude to a case of schizophrenia (Vol. 2, R.F.C. Hull, Trans.). New York: Harper & Brothers.
  • Jung, C. G. (1989a). Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Rev. ed., C. Winston & R. Winston, Trans.) (A. Jaffe, Ed.). New York: Random House, Inc.
  • Jung, C. G. (1989b). Psychology and Religion: West and East (2nd ed., R.F.C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
I have no serious doubts as to whether Jung said those things, in a general sort of way, or even verbatim -- though it's impossible to know from the clip and the references. For instance, Google finds "Individuation is a philosophical, spiritual and mystical experience" only on that site. And what "(Jung, p. 157)" might conceivably refer to is left as an exercise for the reader. But this sort of thing gets uncritically passed around the net, and does reflect the popular grasp of all things Jungian, i.e., "our psychological development" = "God's incarnation." w00t!

I shall restrain myself from even mentioning Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut, an excursus into deeply ignorant ideas about "healthy narcissism," of which we know there is no such fucking thing. When I hear the names Jung and Kohut together, I reach for both my revolvers.

At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When his audience is also convinced in this way about the show he puts on -- and this seems to be the typical case -- then for the moment at least, only the sociologist or the socially disgruntled will have any doubts about the 'realness' of what is presented.

~ Erving Goffman, p. 17
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Emphasis mine, of course, as I count myself firmly ensconced among "the socially disgruntled," and with -- as I keep trying to demonstrate here -- damn good reason!

With that in mind, let's turn back to brands. Specifically, to brands and archetypes. More specifically still to Building Brands and Believers: How to Connect with Consumers Using Archetypes (Wiley, 2003), the cover of which is graced with the Signs of the Zodiac -- which I suppose are being offered as brand serving suggestions. Rather than rant at you further at this point, let's just look at a bit of the Table of Contents, shall we?

SECTION II  The Mythic Connection
Chapter  5. Archetypes: The Source Code
Chapter  6. Making Modern Mythology

SECTION III Mythic Profiles
Chapter  7. Mythic Profile: The Ultimate Strength
Chapter  8. Mythic Profile: The Siren
Chapter  9. Mythic Profile: The Hero
Chapter 10. Mythic Profile: The Anti-Hero
Chapter 11. Mythic Profile: The Creator
Chapter 12. Mythic Profile: The Change Master
Chapter 13. Mythic Profile: The Powerbroker
Chapter 14. Mythic Profile: The Wise Old Man
Chapter 15. Mythic Profile: The Loyalist
Chapter 16. Mythic Profile: The Mother of Goodness
Chapter 17. Mythic Profile: The Little Trickster
Chapter 18. Mythic Profile: The Enigma
Chapter 19. Mythic Figures in Combination and in
            Local Cultures

SECTION IV  Harnessing Archetypes
Chapter 20. Managing the Intangible
Chapter 21. Improving Consumer Connections

Now, from the sound of that, combined with the cluelessly lurid cover art, you might be forgiven for thinking the author to be yet another New Age no-brainer on bad drugs. However, while I frame no hypothesis as to his actual IQ, get a load of this official "About the Author" clip...

Kent Wertime is a veteran of the international advertising and communications industry. His career to date has included executive positions in New York, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore. Kent has worked with dozens of blue-chip multinational clients, covering a wide range of product categories. He is also an experienced writer and lecturer whose articles and professional commentary appear frequently in the Asian press, including the Asian Wall Street Journal, Media, CNN, and CNBC. Currently, Kent is the CEO of OgilvyInteractive Asia, the Interactive division of the Ogilvy & Mather Group.
If you don't find that at least vaguely horrifying, try this blurb from no less a light than Philip Kotler, S.C. Johnson Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University...
Kent Wertime successfully argues that while products are becoming more alike, brands can avoid "commoditization" by drawing on the rich language of archetypes to tap into more unconscious and emotional levels that influence consumer perception and preference.
We are now fully through the looking glass. That wasn't very painful, now was it? Unless you object to Global Economy by Ouija Board. Unless you thought rationality was still intact among the much vaunted spoils of some fondly imagined Age of Enlightenment 1.0. Unless you thought "New Age" was merely something involving tinfoil hats and crystal gazing in Sedona, AZ.

But oh, it gets so much richer! In How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding (Harvard Business School Press, 2004), author Douglas B. Holt -- the L’Oreal Chair of Marketing at Oxford University, so he should know! -- "shows how iconic brands create 'identity myths' that, through powerful symbolism, soothe collective anxieties resulting from acute social change."

Don't you feel soothed already, just reading that? Can you handle a little more? This is from p. 39...

Targeting myth markets can be a complicated task, for they don't stand still. In fact, myth markets are routinely destabilized by cultural disruptions: Symbolic earthquakes pulse through society, shattering the value of existing myth markets and spurring the creation of new ones. Iconic brands not only target the most appropriate myth market; they are also sensitive to cultural disruptions, shifting their target when opportunity strikes. Successful iconic brands leap nimbly across cultural disruptions by deciphering the new myth markets created by the disruption and homing in on a new target.
Sounds pretty freakin impressive, no? Until you read the next sentence: "One especially agile iconic brand has been Mountain Dew."

In the preface, Holt tells a story about an ad for Diet Coke that used the Cheap Trick song, I Want You To Want Me. He describes the voiceover by Renée Zellweger about some loser flossing his teeth in the apartment across the alleyway or some such bullshit. The details are supremely unimportant, trust me. Then the author tells us...

this ad touched me because Diet Coke had grabbed familiar cultural source material and used it to tell a story about manhood, a story I wanted to believe in. The story tells us that guys caught up in frivolous pop music, guys so immersed in their music that they find spiritual moments in the most mundane of tasks, are endearing, even cool in a way.
That was when the projectile vomiting set in.
When the individual has no belief in his own act and no ultimate concern with the beliefs of his audience, we may call him cynical, reserving the term 'sincere' for individuals who believe in the impression fostered by their own performance. It should be understood that the cynic, with all his professional disinvolvement, may obtain unprofessional pleasures from his masquerade, experiencing a kind of gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he can toy at will with something his audience must take seriously.

~ Erving Goffman, p. 18
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

This was going to be a lot longer, but it's too long already. So I guess there'll be a Liar Liar 4, and maybe even a Liar Liar 5. Lying turns out to be a central theme and major mode for the Mystic Bourgeoisie, even if they call it their "Mythic Journey," which is where we'll pick it up next time.

For now, let me leave you with this from the Conclusion (p. 201) of The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers into True Believers...

We live in a spiritual economy. There is a
marketplace for worldviews and communities as
well as goods and services. There are both
consumers and producers of belief systems and
community. And the laws of supply and demand
apply as much in the spiritual exchange as
they do in the economic. Where the economic
and spiritual marketplaces differ, however,
is that in the former, demand can rise and
fall. In the spiritual marketplace demand is
pretty constant. There is always a need to
belong and make meaning
. They are the
essentials of the human condition after all.

Yeah, after all.