In Memory of Joy

I thought for a while before writing this blog entry, which is really about a personal matter, a death in my family of my father’s first cousin this week. I just attended her funeral. I thought: “is it right to mix a personal family matter with this blog, which usually discusses more formal, business stuff, like my research work.”

After contemplating it for a while, I came to the realization that a lot of this blog actually is about personal matters. In fact, a lot of my research is sort of personal and introspective. I recently have given a few doctoral consortium talks about research topics and research impact, and I’ve noted how personal good research often is. So, if there’s one thing I’ve discovered lately that feel important, it’s that the personal and the “business” oriented concerns mix and merged together in my thoughts and in my research.

Blogs are interesting places where we can do this sort of exploration. This blog in a way gives you a little insight into some of the stories behind my other writing, and it gives me a forum for exploring my own thoughts in a way that’s a lot less constrained and forced than my more formal writing like articles or book chapters.

So I am writing this blog entry about my late cousin Julie Garden, was also known as Joy Hall. Joy had a lasting impact on my life and interests and I wanted to share some of the impact she had on me in on the world in general.

Joy was an entrepreneur. After getting her accounting degree (one of the first women in Canada to do so), in the 1950s, she had an idea for a new company that she started with her husband, Moe. The company was called Ambassador Leather Goods. Her idea was to make a type of file folder for credit cards and build it into a stylish wallet. They distributed it through mail-order sales, in a time when the mail order company was cutting-edge marketing science.

Joy was an innovator. The idea behind the company was to merge two at that time cutting-edge trends: the rise of credit cards, and the consequent need the people and organize them, and the efficiency of the mail system and the ability of it to look deliver goods and services through direct mail and catalog-based businesses. This was like riding the Internet wave of the 1950s.

Joy was extremely successful. The business Joy and her husband started was wildly successful, moving from Toronto to Niagara Falls, Canada and from there to Niagara Falls, New York. In the memorial service today, her brother quoted the astonishing figure that at one time 87% of the mail going to Niagara Falls, New York was headed to Ambassador Leather Goods. The company later relocated again, this time to Phoenix, Arizona, which at this time in the mid-1960s was still largely undeveloped, but whose potential Joy, again presciently, recognized.

One of the things that I noticed when I read about Joy’s business in some of the reflections that people had about it online, one of thing that people found most memorable about the Ambassador Leather Goods catalog was the picture of Joy and Moe on the inside front cover and it was signed Joy and Moe Hall. People reflected on that picture. They opined that this was a happy family, a family that somehow by buying these wallets in different goods through the mail they were partaking in. I have no doubt that this personal touch, with their actual signatures, was Joy’s idea.

In a way this was a brand community, maybe even one of the first brand communities. It was a mixing of familial and close knit communal feelings with the commercial and economic workings of the business.

That theme, the relationship and interrelationship of the communal and the commercial, has been a central element of my research work throughout my career. It certainly was a part of Joy’s business and her family’s business as well, as they experimented with forms of multilevel marketing that tried to combine various social relationships with the logics of business. Ruminating on them, writing about them, I had contemplated these interesting social interminglings for decades before I even entered my doctoral program.

It was during her time in Phoenix that Joy had a serious health issue that led her to distrust conventional medicine and to embrace alternative forms of treatment. She was diagnosed with a terminal disease, but she resisted conventional treatments and drugs and sought out alternative treatments, which cured her.

After this incredible experience, she became an evangelical advocate of various sorts of alternative remedies and alternative belief systems. Later, she would be instrumental in institutionalizing, fundraising, and bringing naturopathic medicine to Canada. Because of this work, naturopathy has thrived in Canada, and on practically every corner in my neighborhood there is a naturopathic and homeopathic clinic.

Joy was into healthy food. I remember first learning about the merits of organic food and about vegetarianism from Joy when I was just a kid. And colonic irrigation. Wheat grass juice. Chelation therary. And aura reading. I remember that she insisted that green grapes had powerful anti-toxin properties. She had cheated death once, and I think she planned to continue cheating it, perhaps indefinitely. She was very interested in life extension, and I believe she had ties to the early post-human movement.

Joy was an iconoclast. Another way that Joy influenced my thinking, probably the most profound way, was her introduction of a range of alternative thinkers and writers to me. I remember one of the early books she gave me to read I was probably about 11 years old) was Vera Stanley Alder’s “The Finding of the Third Eye,” and T. Lobsang Rampa’s “You Forever.”

She introduced me to the work of Baba Ram Dass and Dr. John Lilly. I even met some of the spirit channeling and UFO worshiping Unarians at a meeting in her home where, as an impressionable 12 or 13-year-old, I was told by one of their leaders and ‘sensitives’ that I had an “extraordinarily high vibration level” (I felt really special at the time). That exposure contributed to a lifelong interest in mysticism and alternative and particularly Eastern religions, some of which is apparent in my writings about Burning Man (particularly the book chapters).

Joy was a freethinker, she used her wealth and influence to explore and share new ideas. I remember her enthusiasm and her clear bright eyes, the passion with which she spoke, and my own thrilling excitement when I heard the ideas I had never heard from anyone else before being shared. She would take the time to invite my sister and I to share in these ideas, coming to meetings as if we were sort of modern-day cellar Christians, in her wild, extravagant penthouse mansion on Toronto’s Bloor Street was our secret hiding place.

This is my tribute to my cousin, Joy Garden, to a dynamic, independent, free spirited, and compassionate woman who changed the lives of so many she touched.

Joy, you are loved, and you will be missed.

Brandthro Goes Hardcore

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Well, after a long absence Brandthroposophy is back online. There’s been a lot of busy craziness in my household, and lots of productivity on the writing front (which I will be happy to fill you in on in future postings). I have a lot of new material in store for you and I’m planning some exciting changes with the Brandthroposophy website and form.

No, the changes aren’t that kind of hard-core. There’s enough of that on the Internet already. But they’re the kind of material that this blog has become known for, stuff that challenges contemporary marketing thought, develops methodologies, and keeps you up-to-date on the latest theory and practice merging anthropology and cultural studies with the needs of consumer researchers, and retailers, and marketers.

I have some ideas coming up that are going to take this blog, um, where no blog has gone before (sorry).

Thank you for hanging in there. Here we go.

Deep Thinking about Deep Recession II: Globalization

Global financial shifts

These postings are about the current “deep” “recession.” As CNN reported yesterday, “the U.S. economy suffered its largest drop in 26 years during the fourth quarter.The nation’s gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, fell at an annual rate of 6.3% during the final three months of 2008″ (see original story on CNN.com). Worldwide, similar, and worse, is being repeated. And the pain isn’t likely to end yet.

In this post, I’ll briefly discuss the first of three critically important factors that make this global recession different from past recessions, Globalization, which I defined loosely as continental shifts in capital flows.

The evidence is everywhere. Foreign investors own 45% of U.S. Treasuries, with Asian investors alone holding more than 30%. U.S. stocks made up 69% of the world market capitalization in 1970; today they make up 42%. And Western Europeans and North Americans are increasingly hiring programmers and designers from Asia and Eastern Europe. These include hiring “virtual personal assistants” on other continents to screen phone calls, pay bills, and even handle customers. One example is that the website Pasadenanow.com hired two India-based reporters last year. Their assignment? To cover Pasadena city council meetings that are broadcast over the Web. Information tech and globalization obviously are intertwined in different ways such as these, although I discuss them separately for the sake of intelligibility. I’ll deal with infotech in my next post. So let’s turn to globalization.

Continental shifts in capital flows acknowledges that a lot of the productive labor has shifted to Asia, in particular, China and India (Thomas Freidman’s The World is Flat book has publicized this well-known trend). These major flows of capital — not only monetary, but human capital, the kind that creates innovations and brands, and even social capital — have been shifting radically for well over a decade with relatively little corresponding reaction at the level of markets and currency. If that’s true, then the shifts we have already seen might be moderate compared to the ones to come.

In other words, if North American car companies can’t build cars that global consumers want to drive and buy, then propping them up artificially only means that they’re going to come down harder when they do, eventually, fall. The United States and much of Western Europe is dependent upon a number of industries that are being similarly propped up. The market is beginning to reflect that. And, even as companies in these countries survive but find themselves with growing liabilities, they’re going to be spending much more of their capital servicing their increasing their debt rather than making investments in brands and innovation that will pay off into the future. If currency rates continue to decline, those foreign debts become harder and harder to service, for governments as well as companies.

On the ground level of consumers and consumption these shifts in capital manifest as unemployment and general belt-tightening. People lose their jobs in the Rust Belt, the support services that serve them fold, housing prices drop, tourism recedes, and so on. Government artificially stoking spending only works if the spending can be directed into areas that are going to create lasting jobs and redistribute capital away from its current configuration — the configuration that is at least partially causing these shifts.

That’s trend #1. Trend #2 is Informationalization, which I’ll talk about in the next post.