Category Archives: Mysteries and Spirituality

Is Star Trek Better Than Star Wars? Is J. J. Abrams The Saviour?

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

In this month’s GQ magazine (May 2013 issue, p. 68 in my print copy) John Ritter has an article about J. J. Abrams, the Lost creator-director whose speciality has becoming reviving old franchises like Mission Impossible and Star Trek. About Star Trek, he opines–with an opiate reference–in relation to J.J. taking on the challenges of building the new Star Wars Disney franchise:

  • “The idea that the same man can mainline both Gene Roddenberry and the Force is mildly alarming. Think of what opposite Star Trek and Star Wars are. We’ve been defined since childhood by which we prefer: rationality vs. mysticism, robust and morally complex characters vs. good-and-evil archetypes. A guy who can reunite the two halves of the Great Sci-Fi Schism shouldn’t be making movies, folks–he should be our envoy to the Middle East.”

This is an incredibly rich paragraph. A veritable treasure trove.

Let me first offer my opinion on whether Star Trek and Star Wars are actually opposites or, more accurately, oppositional poles. Although I know many fans will choose one franchise over another, or that fans often say that they are “Star Trek people” or “Star Wars people” like they say they are cat people or dog people, I also know that there are many people who, like me, have worshiped at the altars dedicated to both Spock and Yoda since they were children (and yes, I am also both a cat person and a dog person—jeez, I wonder if there is a correlation).

But I think the dichotomy that Ritter sets up in this paragraph is incorrect, particularly on the Star Trek side. Star Trek is “rationality” devoid of “mysticism”. Um, not so fast. Have you seen what’s inside Mr. Spock? Like, telepathy and mind control. How many times has a false god been mistaken for the real thing: Apollo, Vaal, Q, Trelane, the Metrons, and on and on?

As numerous authors have written (for three strong examples, see Porter, Jennifer E. and Darcee L. McLaren (1999), ed., Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture, Albany, NY: SUNY Press; Wagner, Jon and Jan Lundeen (1998), Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos, Westport, CN: Praeger; Jindra, Michael (1994), “Star Trek fandom as a religious phenomenon,” Sociology of Religion, 55 (Spring), 27-51), Star Trek in all of its vainglorious iterations is chock-full of mysticism and spirituality. Many, many episodes in the original series could, for example, be seen as symbolizing humanity’s ongoing quest for God, or gods, and an overturning or ambivalence towards this seemingly inescapable yearning in modern times. And as Wagner and Lundeen’s book demonstrates, Star Trek has plenty to do with mythology and archetype. As has any great story.

Which franchise do you think Ritter favors? My bet is that he sees himself more as a rational type than a mystic, and prefers “morally complex” characters to “archetypes” (or is that fictional stereotypes?).

But comparing fan debates in the fictional space to long-standing territorial and religious conflicts in the Middle East is particularly revealing. The fact that a writer can devise and a publication can publish such comparisons can only point to some deep resonance of belief, belonging and identity that comes from fan identity, particularly this, one of the core fan identities of our time.

J.J. Abrams is a master director who plays with mysticism and ambivalence to science. Like creator Chris Carter of The X-Files, his works often peer into the (small v and plural) existential voids, they look at the holes and gaps in technoscientific rationality and human society (even its sciencefictional reflection) and find there the ever-unfulfilled need for certainly and belief, and even spirituality and mysticism.

His works vividly portray this ambivalence and fear and hope and desire, which burns at the very heart of our society. And that is exactly why he is such a good choice to continue to tell these precious modern myths which so many of us hold so dear.

Synchronistic Science: Ilium and Me

Jung, Zeus, or God–take your pick

I’m still planning to write some stuff about the CCT conference last month, but I just wanted to share something strange with you. As some of you know, I started this blog, and named it, based on the sense that what is missing from a lot of the discussions about marketing and consumer culture is a deeper appreciation for the sacred, even mystical, elements of marketplaces and consumption.

I’ve been writing a lot about this lately in my own idea journals, and will have a lot more of this topic to share with you in future blog postings and other writings. I think something is in the air. A number of my colleagues in England and Italy are researching and writing about the connection between magic (as in nature magic, paganism, witchcraft) and marketing. John Sherry and I have written a bit about neo-paganism and neo-shamanism, building on the work of anthropologists like Graham St. John (whose excellent blog is here).

We have barely even begun raising the topic of the mystical and magical side of markets, marketing, and consumption. Not in the “symbolic” or “consumers think this is sacred” sense, but in the way that Jung would write about the Mystical-as a genuine Force operating in the world.

This brings me to my little story.

Do you remember over a year ago I posted the original story that I wrote for the Brown and Sherry “Time, Space and the Market: Retroscapes Rising” volume? An unpublished science fiction story that combined my ethnographic research on Burning Man, but developed it within the literary framework of a science fiction story? Here’s an internal link to the beginning of that post on Super Hyper Ultra Post-postmodern Primitives.

Now, I had posted that post (and written that chapter, originally) as an illustration of the variety of resonant forms of representation that were possible in marketing and consumer research.

But something really pretty freakishly weird just happened.

In that story, written and submitted in December of 2001 (as John Sherry and Stephen Brown would attest), I set myself up autobiographically, as myself a professor in a Midwestern university (Northwestern’s Kellogg), but I cast the tale in the far future. I had been forcefully reincarnated using future technology, my consciousness and memory brought back into a physical body by people in the future who had need of my scholarly ability. These people, future groups of warring tribes, in fact, had need of my knowledge of Burning Man. Which sets up the tale and allow me to position my ethnographic reflections on Burning Man as a retroscape, a place that evokes the primitive past even though it also partakes in a timeless sense of the future.

Okay, that was kind of fun and I liked the result. Here’s the weird part.

Ilium by Dan Simmons–with altered colorschemeI recently started reading the book Ilium by one of my favorite science fiction authors, Dan Simmons. In the book, godlike people in the future forcefully reincarnate a Midwestern professor in order to use his scholarly abilities for their own purposes.

Reading that was totally strange. It was almost the exact same idea of using professors from the past and bringing them into the future for the purposes of these future people. I was really struck by that Jungian synchronicity, that unexpected concordance.

Synchronicity, if you aren’t aware of the concept, was Carl Jung’s word for coincidences that are just too strange to be coincidences. Too weird, or repeating, patterned, or just so weirdly impossible that they give us a sense that everything in reality (“reality” or, maybe, Reality?) is connected somehow by forces larger than ourselves (cue Twilight Zone music, right?). It suggests a different notion of causality, a causality linked by meaning rather than brute physical elements.

The story gets odder.

As I’m reading this book about the reincarnated professor in the far future, I come across page 76. Some of the characters are trying to locate a strange, ancient woman, and are asking one character, named Daeman, about her.

“Where did you meet her?” asked Ada.

“The last Burning Man. A year and a half ago….Lost Age ceremonies never interested me very much, but there were many fascinating young women at this gathering.”

“I was there” Hannah said, her eyes bright. “About ten thousand people came.”

Burning Man? In the far future? I did a double, then a triple take when I read that, my heartbeat loud in my ears.

What the heck was going on here?

This was just a pileup of coincidences. A causal connection and concordance of meaning. Consider these facts:

  1. Both science fiction stories are set in the far, far future.
  2. The central character in the book is Thomas Hockenberry, a future-science reincarnated professor from the Midwest. My story’s central character is Robert Kozinets, a future science-reincarnated professor from the Midwest.
  3. Both stories involve the idea of “posts.” In my story this is a post-postmodern primitivism that deeply involves the sacred. In Ilium “posts” are post-humans who sponsor a type of primitivism involving ancient gods.
  4. Burning Man plays a peripheral role in Ilium, but a central role in my story. But this book is probably the only major science fiction book I know of that involve Burning Man at all. Burning Man in the far, far future. AND for some strange reason it occurs alongside the reincarnated Midwestern professor thing, just like my story.
  5. The Ilium book was first published in 2003. That is two years after I wrote my story. There was no way I could have seen it before. The Retroscapes book was finally published in 2003 as well (with the edited, amended chapter, which had the science fiction elements excised.

Maybe the creepiest thing, the creepy coup de grace that sent a shiver down my spine is this. I started reading this book during the Olympics. Not intentionally, really, but maybe all of the Greek references in the book made it a bit more attractive to me during this time. It has lots of Olympian references, because it is about Greek gods living on Olympos Mons on Mars and an incredible re-enactment of the Homer’s Iliad.

I just went back to bookmark and re-read the sections on the story that I posted on the blog. And then I find Renan Wagner’s old comment post at the end of my story where he talk about being “in ancient Olympia” taking a course on “Olympic Studies.” And then he links up the Olympic Games, a giant burn, the lack of a marketplace, and Burning Man. Just like the book does.

This is just too weird.

Now, if you believe me that I did indeed write this story in 2001, and that I didn’t read Ilium before I wrote it, how would you explain these convergences? Doesn’t this seem to be too much intersection and patterning of meaning to be a random coincidence?

What’s your explanation? Am I missing something? Or is this just the way the universe winks at us and tells us that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye?

Burning Man Burns Again

Oh, in case you were wondering, the Man burnt on schedule this year despite the adversity I reported earlier.

Bocking: A premature burn. A suicide. A serious injury. Lots of weird publicity.

And a very big crowd. The Associated Press reports that 48,011 people showed up for Burning Man this year. That’s the biggest crowd ever, and a whopping 23 percent increase from last year. Quite remarkable given that the event’s attendance has been flattening for a while.

I can’t help but to try and interpret all of these events not only for what they mean for Burning Man as a Project and a social movement, but also for what they harbinger in terms of an understanding of the theme of The Green Man this year, about our relationship with the Planet at this point in time.

And it makes me wonder…

Lucky Charms?: They’re Magically Ambitious

After writing about so-called trivial culture and commercialized society, I can’t hold back any more. I need to write about the truly important stuff in the world. I’ve written and published about breakfast cereal and its fans before in an article for the Journal of Customer Behavior with Stephen Brown and John Sherry about Quisp consumers/fans. It’s time to write about breakfast cereal again.

Now, yesterday I was commenting about consumer society and its penchant for collecting and merchandising just about everything. I mentioned the Onion’s wonderful article about how everything in the world is now collectible. The lead photo in that article is a picture of the limited-edition box of PowerPuff Girls cereal. From the Onion article:

With everything on the planet officially collectible, collectors have more items to choose from than ever. Objects such as plastic twist ties from speaker-wire packaging, the tin-foil lining of chewing-gum wrappers, and the little rubbery residue left in magazines when attachments are removed have all jumped sharply in value–and investors see no signs of a slowdown.

Manufacturers have caught on to the trend, releasing mundane products such as cigarettes, beer, and snack chips in special collector’s “platinum” editions at marked-up prices. As collector mania spreads, even items like floor polish, paper plates, and rubber bands are becoming prohibitively expensive for many Americans.

What makes the article funny is that we recognize the behavior and we recognize the marketing response. The Onion even asked, in an earlier article, whether the government should get involved in curbing the supply of what they subtly term “Incredibly Stupid Shit?”

But what is behind the story? Why do people want Jar-Jar lollipops and musical Austin Power sun visors? I think that we need to turn to breakfast cereal for answers. Yes, breakfast cereal. Kids’ sweetened breakfast cereals are fascinating to me because they are a product that is also tightly tied into the entertainment industry. They are inevitably constructed of equal parts food and character. The commercials are highly entertaining, they make an impression upon kids, and then the entertainment continues with the packaging, promotions, and even the cereal product itself. When successful, they all tie into one another: myth becomes matter. Mmmm…matter.

When I was younger, Lucky Charms was pretty much about the Leprechaun bestowing gifts, or getting caught and chased. Catch those Lucky Charms, they’re magically delicious. He was kind of an easy mark. Well, Lucky Charms has come a long way, baby. I’m sitting in front of the box of Chocolate Lucky Charms I bought for my kids and I can tell you, this thing is so packed full of symbolic references that Dan Brown would have a party interpreting it.

What is most intriguing to me is the side panel that invites us to “discover the magic of each charm.” The marshmallows of course, are the treats of the cereal, but they are also magical talisman, each conferring a particular power. The blue moon is “Invisibility.” The orange star gives the power of “Flight.” The purple horseshoe gives “Speed,” while the red balloon gives the power to “Float.” Similarly, the pink heart grants “Life” and the yellow crowned oval gives “Illumination” (oh, Illumination, is it?). The green shamrock is of course “Luck” and finally the rainbow offers “Travel.” Well, if that isn’t mystical fodder for young imaginations, I don’t know what is. Write a book or a story about the charms and their mythic power? Easy. A movie? A theme park? Multiple spin off collectibles? Why not!

I’ve been asserting for a while that commercial culture weaves its spell through mythical associations. Commercial culture offers us a variety of rich, deep stories that have immediate material manifestations. And I believe that humans, as a species, are constantly thirsting for stories, for meaning, for mythical connection. We crave it. How else can we understand the universal penchant for drama and entertainment, and the content of those dramatic forms? Drama and story telling are our religion at base, our fount of meaning and source of inspiration. And that story-telling task, once held almost solely by institutions like religion, has been seriously taken up by commercial culture in the mass mediated years since the last World War.

In the Journal of Marketing article that Stephen Brown, John Sherry and IU wrote, we argued that the key to retro beanding was story-telling. I’ll expand that and state, along with a number of contemporary writers who have caught on like Lawrence Vincent, MArk Gobe, and Scott Atkins, that story-telling is the key to all sorts of branding, and that the elements of branding and story-telling intersect:

  1. Attractive Characters
  2. Interesting Plots
  3. Arresting Conflicts
  4. Meaningful Themes
  5. Involving Settings

How hard is it to tease out these elements for successful brands like Apple? My colleagues Russ Belk and Gulnur Tumbat did exactly that in their wonderful film/article on “The Cult of Mac.”

Back to the story in the cereal bowl. So you’ve got the Leprechaun and the Kids involved in some sort of quest (what is it? we don’t really know yet? are they searching for Horcruckzes?). Where is the conflict, the villain, the challenge? What’s the theme? Is the Leprechaun trying to save the power of Childlike Imagination from the adult-like Dweebs? Does it involve a quest through many places, such as the ancient, powerful, and mysterious “Charmhenge”? We can see that this Lucky Charms tale is not just idle myth-making, either, but it siphons a sort of universal resonance. It has mystical ambition as well. With a generation raised on high technology miracles, videogames, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, the lingua franca of the New Consumption Age is a variety of Mystical Materialism.

General Mills and their Luck Charms cereal are a wonderful example. If you go to the Lucky Charms web-site you can see how they have built out the charms into a variety of exciting and entertaining games. Every aspect of the cereal is on its way to meaningful status. Below, I provide a screenshot from the videogame that I took today, of a place called “Charmhenge.”

Is it witchcraft, black magic, or just good marketing? Maybe those activities are more connected than we usually think.

The Alpine Witch Trials, and other Terror-Filled Tales of Touristic Tradeoffs

Now, we return to Switzerland, to the beautiful and historic little town of Poschiavo, nestled beneath the Alps, Italian speaking, with great food, clean air and sparkling water, and lots of happy, happy cows all around. But what mysteries do those smiling bovine faces hide? As it turns out, there is a dark past to this pretty little town. The picture above is taken from an old courthouse in Poschiavo whose upper floors used to double as a jail. You can’t perfectly make it out, but the long hallways towards the stairs slopes downward. The reason? Because shackled prisoners were dragged downstairs to be tortured and, eventually, executed. The slope made the guards job easier.

During the Seventeenth Century, and probably reaching a peak between 1671-1678, Poschiavo was Witch Hunt territory. There are estimates that the Witch Hunts here took the lives of 100 people over a period of ninety years. That is a remarkable stretch of time. The courthouse and prison cells are fairly creepy and resonant of darker times. But I must confess, I had a very hard time finding anything about this interesting period of history on the Internet, or anywhere in English (with the exception of a few references to the feminist side of the Witch Trials, for which Poschiavo seems to be famous).

Now consider for a moment and for comparison the super-famous Salem Witch trails that took place starting in the late 17th Century in Massachusetts, in the good old U.S. of A. These Witch Trails were gory and fascinating, resulted in the execution of twenty people, and took place over one year. And look at the tourist industry they’ve spawned! American style touristic excesses abound around the Salem Witch Trails. There are, of course, numerous Salem Witch tours to choose from. Do you want to travel to the Witch Trials Memorial? See The Burying Point? There is a also a wonderful Salem Witch Museum in Boston. All around Salem you can find a huge variety of merchandise that is branded with the place and the Witch Trials. You can find books, of course, DVDs, and innumerable t-shirts. But you can also get accessories, jewelry, clothing, cards, games, novelties, housewares, and more. Sign me up for a Salem Witch Trials backpack. Who doesn’t need a set of Salem With Trials tumblers? Of course, if you’re a real witch, you are going to want to pay your respects to the Craft and the Sisterhood and shop locally at Crow Haven Corner: The First Witch Shop in Salem Massachusetts. There are, in short, numerous opportunities to explore and to tangibly realize consumers’ collective fascination with these historical matters of the Dark Arts, and equally wonderful ways for good capitalists to cash in on those needs.

So how about those Alpine Witch Trails? That’s my name for it, I trademarked it, I own the symbol and all the rights are reserved. We need to sensationalize this! Right? We need some gruesome pictures. Some big quotes from the well-stocked Poschiavo archives translated into six languages and put on a board: “Confess, Witch, else Thee Shall Feel The Fresh Anvilled Heat of the Devile.” We need some ancient torture apparatus. Maybe a daily or weekly “re-enactment” using tourist volunteers. I’m a marketer, forgive me, but this is kind of like discovering oil on public land for someone who is attuned to the potential of touristic marketing.

So why, I wonder, doesn’t Poschiavo do some of these things? I didn’t even mention the creepy Memento Mori full of skulls in the town square, the reminder that we are all mortal, and that the Reaper waits for each of us. I didn’t mention an entire generation of Witchcraft and Wizardly fanatics, via Harry Potter craze, with its Harry Potter Spoiler fever (need I mention it, after so recently writing about it here). I also didn’t mention the growing important of Halloween as a European family holiday, imported from the USA. How important and central Poschiavo becomes in this mystical, historical, horror-drenched Halloween-oriented touristic trend is up for grabs.

I wonder if there is a type of high-class European disdain as the prevailing sentiment here. Poschiavo is an “authentic” place, pretty low key, not a lot of neon, no big hotels with names like “The Venetian.” It is quaint, quiet, and beautiful. Maybe it doesn’t need or want the sort of crass commercialism and promotion that such publicity would bring. Writers about tourism from John Urry to Kevin Hetherington to Shelley Hornstein have all noted consumers’ desire for authenticity in their travel experiences.

Would publicizing the true and truly horrific events of Valposchaivo that took place for NINETY YEARS really undermine the place’s authenticity? Or would it increase it? Would a touristic rush of witch-fans tip the touristic scale and make the place less desirable for Alpine travelers and hikers? Is there a Terrible Touristic Tradeoff that one must account for when branding and promoting a place? Does it cheapen history? Does it degrade the memory of those who perished? I suppose we should ask the same question of the people who profit from and who visit places like the Salem Witch Museum, Gettysburg, Normandy, the Auschwitz concentration camps, and other places of historical interest.

It’s worth thinking about the branding of authenticity in terms of place a lot more, and untapped touristic resources like the Mysterious Sibyls of piazzo del Borgo and the Alpine Witch Trials of Poschiavo are great places for thought experiments like this one, or even more, careful enactments that could start from, oh I don’t know, some blog entry by some marketing professor who is oddly attracted to strange and wonderful things.

But I’ll tell you what: I’d love to go back there to Valposchiavo and help them plan it out. Find the right balance. But let people know what happened there, and what it means, and what mysteries the place holds. And maybe, when I’m done, you’ll have heard about the Alpine Witch Trials, learned their lessons, and those of you who want them will have your t-shirts, Sibyl calendars, torture chamber museums, and Memento Mori toothbrushes to choose from, and to remember. And the residents of Poschiavo can take their town’s amazing history and its authenticity to the (Swiss) bank.

The Mysterious Sibyls of Poschiavo: The Illuminati Connection

This is a spooky tale of branding horrors that is going to continue for a few days. Are you ready for it, kiddies, cuz it ain’t gonna be pretty…..

During my recent travels in Europe, I had the opportunity to stay with a good friend in the small, old, beautiful town of Poschiavo, Switzerland, in Italian Switzerland, at the base of the Alps. It’s part of the whole region also called Poschiavo, or the Valley of Poschiavo, branded as Volpasciavo. A few years ago, following the major success of the St. Moritz region and their sunshine logo and branding campaign, came up with the logo above and branded themselves. So far, so good. The place has a ton of natural beauty, great hiking trails and access to skiing in Winter, some wonderful old churches, great restaurants with Swiss-Italian food (great pizzas!), and access to the Bernina Express train line through the Alps, one of the most scenic train rides in the world.

It also has some very cool features that you’re not likely to read about in any tourist book or pamphlet, and that’s what this blog is about today. My famikly and I were very fortunate to have our good friend, who is also a tourism official and local politician, as tour guide. He provided all kinds of insider information that made me wonder: why doesn’t anybody else know this?

Here’s the first part of my touristic tale. It starts with dinner out on our first incredible evening in the Albici hotel, an old and elaborate Manor called piazza del Borgo, owned by the 18th Century Baron De Bassus with ties to the strange and powerful mystical movement termed the “Illuminati.” Here’s some great detail that I found on the wonderful “Conspiracy Archive” website which draws upon the work of one of my favorite modern mystical writers, the late Robert Anton Wilson:

The baron Thomas Maria Freiherr De Bassus was born in Poschiavo, Switzerland, in 1742. He studied jurisprudence at the University of Ingolstadt. Weishaupt (code name Spartacus), who founded the Order of the Bavarian Illuminati, on the 1 May 1776, was his schoolmate. De Bassus practiced for a year as an Adviser of court to Münich in Bavaria. In 1767 he became Patron [Podestà] of Poschiavo, a task already taken from his father Giovanni Maria. . . .At the premature death of his father, he inherited the palace of piazza del Borgo in Poschiavo, known today as the Albrici Hotel, in addition to his wealthy possessions in Valtellina and in Val di Poschiavo. . . .

Entering the Order of the Bavarian Illuminati with the code name of Hannibal, De Bassus had the assignment, like the pseudonym suggests, to spread Illuminism beyond the Alps, above all in the Three Leagues (Swiss) and in the north of Italy. De Bassus acquired a printing company that, with the help of the Illuminatus typographer Joseph Ambrosioni, became the center of the diffusion of Weishaupt’s ideas from Poschiavo. The edition of De Bassus (1782) of the first Italian translation of the Werther of Goethe, written by Gaetano Grassi from Milan, was famous.

In 1787, police searches of the Baron’s castle turned up incriminating evidence against himself and the Illuminati. He was a great recruiter for the Order. In letters to Weishaupt he boasted of his conquests at Bozen (in the south of Austria), initiating “the President, the Vice-President, the principal Counsellors of Government, and the Grand Master of the Posts.” Later, in his travels to Italy, he sends back word of having initiated “his Excellency the Count W…” in Milan. [AB: 605]

Perhaps most powerfully of all for all for me were the paintings that surrounded us in the dining room, each of a mysterious sibyl. The Sibyls, of course, were the oracular seeress’s of Greek mythology, but these paintings had a variety of different sibyls, not simple the Delphinians, some of the paintings have mysterious signs and iconography. Here is my photo of one of the paintings.

This is of the Roman Tiburtine Sibyl, who is famous for an apocalyptic prophesy in which a final Emperor actually slays the Antichrist. As I start my very superficial investigations into these mysterious paintings, I can see how they can weave an amazing tapestry of history, myth, and legend, a lot like the Da Vinci Code book by Dan Brown (but in this case, the quality of the research is up to all of us, these are genuine mysteries, and a genuinely mystical secret society; of course Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons was about the Illuminati).

But maybe the strangest thing about these paintings is their lineage. No one seems to know who painted them, or why, or where or when the Baron got them…they are, like the entire Illuminati movement, shrouded in mystery. They really are a sight to behold, amazing to see, fascinating to investigate, and my picture does not do them justice at all.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about the much gorier and horrific Alpine Witch trials, and we’ll continue to wonder…how might this connect to the branding of place and touristic marketing?

Marketing and Mystery

Maybe this will shake things up a touch. On Friday, “This is London” covered an official air-miss report that was filed several weeks ago and which had appeared in Pilot magazine. Aurigny Airlines captain Ray Bowyer, 50, flying over the Channel Islands close to Alderney first spotted an object that he described as “a cigar-shaped brilliant white light.” His sighting was confirmed by passengers, by radar imaging on the ground, and by another pilot flying for another airline.

After realizing the distance to the object, he estimated the size of the object to be a mile wide. Later in his approach, he saw another object. He said it was visible for about nine minutes, which seems to rule out all sorts of optical effects. His interview with ITV News is posted on YouTube and seems quite revealing. The guy seems shaken up and sincere.

What does this have to do with Marketing and Consumer Culture? Well, nothing and everything.

My posts on Philip K. Dick and ontology assert that the way we think about Marketing and Consumer Culture is deeply shaped by our underlying view of what we believe reality to be, what we believe is possible and worthy of study. It’s a guiding assumption of this brandthroposophy blog that we should all stay open minded. There could definitely be an interesting story about the marketing of this story, about UFO stories, about the marketing tie-ins between mystery and controversy and marketing. In fact, my very first conference paper and very first publication were about X-Files fans (“X-Philes”) and in that paper I wrote that X-Files fans

consume mysterious and mystical notions through The X-Files show and through their Internet activities and membership in the fan community. As noted by Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry (1989), mystery is an important element of the sacred. Mystery is “above the ordinary” and derives from “profound experiences and meanings” (p. 7). Consumers are increasingly turning to secular sources –such as television shows, and the subcultures of consumption that spring up based on them– to fulfill their deep-seated need for connection with the sacred. It is also possible that in our faithless, hyper-rational and scientific society, many people crave the excitement and energy that the only the unexplained can inspire.

So, I’ve believe for a long time that there is a massive market for the unexplained. MIT Scholar Geoffrey Long has written about the “negative capability” of fictional characters who are sketched out fairly well in terms of identity and motivation but leave much of the details of their backgrounds and lives for fiction readers to fill in from their own imaginations. Fans love characters with negative capability because they fill in their missing details. There is a lot of conceptual room for them to do identity work with them and inject them with deeper meanings and significance. Boba Fett in the Star Wars universe is a great example.

I suggest that we think about major mysteries such as religious miracles, Virgin Mary sightings, miraculous healings, and modern UFO sightings as a type of supernegative capability, an aporia or conceptual gap writ large. We all seem drawn to their openendedness, to figure them out. There is much that matters and much to explore about our own exploration of these matters.

I enjoy the controversy swirling around this recent UFO news story particularly evident in the hundreds of comments on the digg story. There are true believers and equally hardcore skeptics. The very first comment was someone lamenting the fact that they had a flight to catch that day, right after reading this story. A statement of fear. That was followed by 6 comments chiding the person and mocking their belief, comparing it to an iiratonal faith in “the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

Something interesting seems to have happened over Aurigny, confirmed by multiple eyewitnesses. But we will almost certainly never completely understand it. There are mysteries left in our world that we won’t solve. And these mysteries are what keep me fascinated by future prediction, big thinkers, utopian dreamers, edgy science fiction and also edgy nonfiction such as that written by Daniel Pinchbeck and Erik Davis, thinkers who don’t shy away from mysteries simply because they are popularly viewed as pseudo-scientific or on the margins of respectability but who also treat them with a healthy degree of skepticism and subject them to rigorous evidentiary claims.

If we are going to adapt to the many global-scale challenges that will face us in the coming years, to innovate brilliantly and effectively, we are going to need to embrace ambiguity on an emotional and intellectual scale we can scarcely conceive of right now.

In marketing, in business, in innovation, and in consumer culture, there are still mysteries left. These systems of thought are highly rational, highly structured, dominated by mathematical and engineering approaches. But the topics they impact–life and society–contain entire universes of fuzzy ambiguities, boldly bizarre belief systems, endless portals of complexity. If we are truly seekers after the novel and the new, I don’t think we should turn away from the darkness and the strange. I am a student of unflinchingly peering into the void.

UFOs in 2007? Weird? Significant? Interesting?