Marketing Communication Anthropology: Social Branding, Media Machines, Netnography The blog of Robert Kozinets, USC communication/marketing professor

July 31, 2007

Burning Man Founder Larry Harvey Responds to my Blog

Filed under: Branding,Burning Man,Green marketing — Robert Kozinets @ 12:43 pm

A few weeks ago, following the incendiary Business 2.0 story about changes to Burning Man this year, I wrote a series of blog entries that looked in detail at the article, and then analyzed the responses and what I took to be a bit of a Black Rock Mountain being made out of a corroborative molehill. Larry Harvey, the co-founder and executive director of the Burning Man Project, was kind enough to write an extensive and insightful comment to my blog entry, expanding upon a number of points and providing a wealth of very valuable background information.

Yesterday, it was posted on ePlaya by Larry Harvey (Mon Jul 30, 2007 12:36 pm Post subject: Will the (drink) Org respond to the 2.0 controversy?). Unfortunately, Larry had some difficult posting it to my WordPress blog, probably because of the length of the message. But it certainly deserves our full attention.

I run it here, with thanks to Larry, in its entirety:

The following post was intended as a response to an entry in the blog of Robert Kozinets entitled, Burning Man’s Sold Out!! I think my mini-essay may have overburdened his website. It wasn’t accepted, so I decided to post it here. You see, we really do care about the ePlayans! — Larry

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your thoughtful essay. Thanks also for the following statement, “I’ve been researching and writing about Burning Man with the permission of great people like Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell, Jim Graham, Lee Gilmore, and Jess Bobier for almost a decade (my first burn was 1999). I have never heard them talk about Burning Man as a brand.” What you say is correct. We, the organizers of Burning Man, never speak (or even think, I’ll boldly add) of Burning Man as a brand. I’ll admit, however, that I have participated in an act of branding. This took place some years ago on the playa. One night a red hot branding iron was applied to the hide of Dale Scott, a good friend of mine and one of the original carpenters who helped construct the Man. I held the flashlight. I took this for a fairly radical act of self-expression. It produced an ugly welt (apologies to Dale) that roughly resembled our logo.

As a general rule, however, I hold that only cattle should be branded, not human beings. Commercial ‘branding’, like the branding of livestock, comes from without. It is imposed on consumers by the apparatus of marketing. It advances the seductive image of a ‘lifestyle’, shrewdly associated with purchasable goods and services, at the expense of a more authentic kind of identity: a mode of being and belonging that’s produced by acts of self-expression that we freely share with others. Unlike commercial branding, real identity can only issue from within. Its agency is deeply personal participation in a culture, not psychological manipulation.

The above expresses our ideals, but we are now accused of violating these principles. So, let me address what I believe to be the two immediate causes of the ruckus that has recently ensued. The first, of course, is the article in Business 2.0. We announced our plans for the Green Man pavilion back in February. Somewhat disappointingly, it generated very little public comment. However, the current controversy over the pavilion and the role of corporations at Burning Man was incited by that article. So let me start by pointing out that Business 2.0 is, very obviously, a business magazine that addresses business people. The author of this piece, Chris Taylor, was apparently trying to translate the values of our culture into business-speak.

For example, you cite four “lessons from the counterculture” that are contained in a sidebar. Each one of these so-called lessons revolves around a statement that I made to Chris Taylor. Lesson number one quotes me as saying, “People contribute [to Burning Man] because they feel that Black Rock City is them, not a source of entertainment. That’s an enormous motivator”. However the headline which summarizes the lesson supposedly derived from my remarks reads, “Make your customers feel like owners.” This reeks of manipulation. I was speaking of people – volunteers, theme campers, artists, nearly everyone at Burning Man—who feel that their identity’s enhanced by their involvement in the culture of our city. Making ‘customers’ feel like ‘owners’ sounds like Nike attempting to persuade consumers that they have a swoosh in their souls. As you suggest, a great deal was lost in translation.

However, I, like you, nearly jumped out of my seat when I read the fragment of a sentence that you quote: “Branding’s important.” Important to whom? To us? To them? Branding is inimical to nearly everything we’ve stood for over 22 years, and to see this phrase glaring back at me felt positively aberrant. I have never used the b-word in relation to Burning Man, in public or in private. What could she have meant? Was she offering up Black Rock City as a testing ground for viral marketing? Is this the beginning of that famous slippery slope – you know, the one whereby we gradually sell out and retire to pleasure spas?

I am quite certain that Marian regrets ever having said, “Branding’s important…” This statement, more than anything else, is the match that lit the fuse that exploded a firecracker. I think she may have been trying to make her language rhyme or resonate with that of the reporter. However, another clue to understanding what she meant to express is contained in the remainder of her sentence, spoken in the very same breath: “…but there’s a middle ground between having it all over the place and just knowing that it’s Current TV and feeling good about the way they’re treating you. That’s a very interesting potential for companies that see a value in Burning Man culture.”

The “interesting potential” of a “middle ground” that she refers to concerns Current TV’s netcast in 2006. We’ve always welcomed media at Burning Man. We’re eager to communicate what we are doing. We believe that we can change the way the world does business, and in this case, we did. They distributed cameras to participants (allowing them to produce the content), erased their logo, ran the programming commercial–free, and for one week became an interactive participant-driven news service. Frankly, I would love to see more companies behave in this way. Did this segment gain them more viewers? Maybe (though much of this potential audience was at the burn). If they continue to produce more programming in this fashion—and make it commercial-free – will they deserve attention? I am inclined to think they will. Did we make any money by allowing them to film? Absolutely not.

The same is true of our relationship with Google. In the magazine article, I am quoted as saying, “A lot of Google people come to the event. And the reason is that their corporate culture has similarities to ours. They do what they’re interested in. They have fun and worry about monetizing it later.” I was referring to Burning Man Earth, a version of which we hope to house in this year’s Green Man pavilion. We are working with Google to create a three-dimensional model of Black Rock City as it actually exists from year to year. Participants will be invited to map themselves, their artworks and their camps into this digital environment, just as they create things on the playa. What is the point? This is what I asked when I was first approached with this idea. Is this some sort of hermetic game environment, a passive and masturbatory entertainment, a substitute for immediate experience? Far from it. People who enter into this digital realm we be able to travel—eventually, it’s hoped—down every street of Black Rock City. They’ll also be enabled to make contact with every participant who chooses to become a settler in this on-screen metropolis.

In other words, one needn’t just ogle on Google. This is not intended to be a spectator environment. It will be possible to see behind the scenes, to knock on the door (or scratch at the tent flap) of anyone who has elected to participate. It’s never possible to experience all of Black Rock City. It really isn’t feasible to see even 5% of Burning Man. But, once we’ve gathered up successive years of the event, once people have lovingly labored to recreate what they have done in the desert, it will be possible to witness something like the fullness, the spatial-temporal plenum, of the Burning Man experience. But, again, the crucial point is that people will be able to make direct contact with other people, to visit their websites worldwide and communicate with them via email.

It is notoriously difficult to describe Black Rock City to people who have never attended the event, and efforts to evoke it too often reduce down to descriptions of spectacle. Burning Man Earth will allow participants to peel back the spectacle and reveal the lives, knowledge and the aspirations of fellow burners. In other words, we hope to engineer, with the help of our community, one of the largest fully (and deeply) interactive social environments ever contemplated. Did you see something on the playa that you’d like to emulate or understand? Soon (well, relatively soon and with a whole lot of work on our part), you will be able to go to the source. Just ask people why and how they’ve done things. Burners being burners, they will probably tell you.

So, what is Google getting out of this – a lucrative demographic, a valuable branding opportunity? Hardly. They’re very rich and we (I don’t want to offend anyone who thinks that Burning Man is the center of the known universe) are really very small. The truth, instead, is that we’re near and dear. The founders of Google have attended Burning Man for years. They feel they’re part of our community. Many of Google’s employees are participants, too. People put it in their resumes. Entire walls at their headquarters a papered with Burning Man photos. Are we being paid off? No. Are they making money? Well, no. They are offering resources as a gift. Does this large cooperation covet your business? Not really. They have plenty of business (and most of you, in point of fact, are probably their customers, already). Both parties simply thought it would be fun to work together. We’ve signed no contracts. We have done no deals. And we don’t envision advertising as a feature of Burning Man Earth. We regard this collaborative effort as a purely culture-bearing enterprise.

What I’ve been describing is a process of benign détournement whereby one reuses or repurposes well-known media to create a new work with a different message that’s conditioned by the context of authentic culture. This is a form of decommodification, and it applies directly to the Green Man pavilion. After all the ballyhoo, — the howls of execration and denunciations—let me describe the ground-floor reality of this effort. Currently, about 30 different parties are contributing installations to the Green Man pavilion. The majority of these projects are DIY affairs undertaken by veteran burners. These are attempts at self-expression by individuals and groups who care passionately about the environment. They have no commercial profile. This also applies to three or four non-profits that are exhibiting.

What is left reduces down to a handful of mom and pop entrepreneurs who’ve accepted all of the remarkable restrictions that we’ve placed on marketing. We banned, as you note in your essay, the use of logos, the display of brands and any sort of sales representation. They were willing to participate in a festival of ideas that focuses on green technology. Will witnessing a solar carport, stripped of its commercial context, interfere with anyone’s experience? Will it substitute passive consumption for an immediate act of encounter? Or will it function as a motivator that inspires folks to go back home and re-examine how they lead their lives? Our theme this year is educational. The purpose of the Green Man pavilion is to display environmental technology, some of which might help to change the world. This is not a sly attempt at marginal or viral marketing. I really can’t imagine that an anonymous carport is going to corrupt anyone.

The Business 2.0 article induced some people to assume that we were frolicking with corporate colossi, doing secret deals, accepting sponsorships, but none of this is true. It is true that we talked to some large corporations about exhibiting their wares at the pavilion. However, when faced with all the strictures we applied to marketing, these big boys chose to walk away. In the end, the pavilion project will host only two businesses that can be said to represent capital in a significant way. The first involves the installation of a very large (and beautiful) solar array that will power both the Man and the pavilion. After the conclusion of the event, we intend to install portions of it, at our expense, in the small Nevada towns of Gerlach and Lovelock. It will provide power to a public school and hospital, respectively.

The company that’s doing this brokers solar power deals, mostly for large institutions. They make their money from clean energy tax rebates that are offered by the government. Neither we, nor our participants, can be said to represent their target demographic. They are accustomed to much larger operations. What, then, is their motive? They were simply tickled by the notion that, over time, the tiny town of Gerlach could become the first municipality in America that employs solar power to produce more energy than it consumes. I’ve no problem if our partners in this project want to claim the bragging rights for eventually doing this. Last year, we distributed $91,000 in charitable contributions to local communities in Nevada. For us, this is simply a continuation of that practice.

The second large-scale pavilion project involves an array of wind turbines that will be installed along the Y3K light circle that surrounds the Man. In this case, we were able to go around the marketing departments of various companies and approach the scientists themselves. Scratch a scientist, I’ve often said, and you will find an artist. These folks felt that exhibiting their beautifully engineered handiwork would be ‘cool’. They’ve been motivated by a kind of passion – radical self-expression, if you will. They have no intention of selling these large objects to our ‘customers’, any more that Jim Mason, the artist who is creating the Mechabolic—a massive mobile slug-like object powered by organic refuse—has any intention of selling Mechabolics to ‘consumers’. (Although, I almost wish he would. I’d like to imagine that the roadways of America will some day teem with giant fire-spewing slugs.)

After reviewing all that I have said about the pavilion, I think it’s clear that we are doing nothing that betrays our values. Specifically, we are not violating the principle of decommodification. This is the third of our Ten Principles. It states, “In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.” Nothing that I have described violates this tenet. It’s said that he who sups with devil must dine with a very long spoon. However, in this case, I think its clear that we’re not supping with the devil; we’re not even doing brunch.

This talk of deviltry brings me to my last point and to what I think is the second cause of controversy. After the Business 2.0 article, talk of corporate involvement struck a visceral nerve in our community. Many of those who bitterly protested the Green Man pavilion seemed to feel that we were trying to inject some sort evil corporate bacillus straight into the heart of Black Rock City (though others, gratifyingly, had faith that we would never do this). But why were so many ready to impute a bad intention? It seems to me that, as consumers, we are tempted to assume that there is a law of spiritual entropy, a force inherent in the ‘default world’, that drags us down, that makes us all ‘sell out’.

This can sometimes generate a callow cynicism, a half-baked knowingness, a virulent sense of distrust. It can lead people to say that the Org, the BMORG or, my favorite, the BORG conceals deeply sinister motives. We are imagined, in this scenario, to be a profit-driven Juggernaut: a heedless corporation, an impenetrable bureaucracy that ignores the needs of the community. In reality, we are a very small corporation that employs only 30 full-time people. The majority of participants in our community, on the other hand, probably work for much larger corporations – certainly ones that do not publish letters such as this. This sometimes makes me wonder if we’re being offered up upon an altar as a sacrifice to pay for other people’s economic sins.

The disgruntled tone of some of what has recently been said about the Burning Man Project speaks to me, at times, of a deep-seated malaise. Only a consumer of mass-marketed products would assume that objects such as turbines and carports can be mysteriously instilled with meaning at the factory. This, after all, is what consumers often seem to feel they’re getting when they buy a ‘life-style’. Furthermore, only a dispirited consumer could yearn for deliverance, for some kind of absolution in a city that they imagine to be a moneyless utopia that’s unconnected to the word-at-large. The truth is that the Project, as a corporation, spends millions of dollars to create Black Rock City, and our participants spend many millions more in a capitalist marketplace in order to inhabit this city. Once that occurs, however, it is entirely up to all of us to actively instill these goods with meaning. That is what identity is all about.

We believe that our community can change the ‘default world’. This is what the Green Man theme aspires to accomplish. We know that this is possible because the Project has already begun to help insert Burning Man’s culture back into everyday life—without selling out. For those who’d like a progress report on these efforts, I suggest you consult this year’s Burning Man Journal and, in particular, a front page article entitled, The Default World. It may accessed at our website. I also suggest that people read the featured article in last year’s Journal, Commerce and Community. It might help to put these issues in perspective.

Larry Harvey

July 30, 2007

Green Marketing, The Alleged Hybrid Car Scam, and the Power of MR

Filed under: Green marketing,Marketing Research — Robert Kozinets @ 10:50 am

Okay, you’re waiting for the rest of the Poschiavo mysteries, like the Alpine witch trials, right? Well hang in there. I wanted to post something about Green Cars and Green Consumption first. The Swiss Horror stuff is coming soon….and it’s juicy….

This is a different kind of story. It start with an updated major research study by CNW Marketing Research. The report looks at the “life cycle” energy required for more than 100 makes of cars and trucks, a rather gargantuan task that had been tried once by Volvo, and then abandoned. The article in the newspaper I read, one of Canada’s national rags, the Globe and Mail, calls this “the world’s most comprehensive analysis” of this sort.

Here’s their punchline: when you account for all of their additional energy costs, and for how many miles they are likely to be driven in their lifetime, hybrids like the Prius are not very Green at all. Many different cars and trucks, Hummers, Durangos, Explorers, TrailBlazers, and Grand Cherokees are more environmentally friendly than hybrids in terms of the reports’ energy costs. That cost is the dollar cost of energy per mile of use, or “US dollars per lifetime mile.” So while a Toyota Prius has a lifetime energy cost of $2.86 a mile, the Hummer has one of $1.90 according to the report. The writer of article, Neil Reynolds, used this finding to consider that the tax credits being offered by a Provincial government in Canada are a waste of money and energy (the American government does something similar). Rather than subsidizing Prius drivers, if we really want to look at all-in energy costs, we should be looking at the best cars overall.

Which cars are those? Although Toyota disagrees with a lot of CNW’s findings, assumptions, and figures, CNW doesn’t see to be biased against the company, it just critiques their (and others’) hybrids. The report finds that Toyota makes some of the most energy efficient cars on the road: the Scion (48 cents per lifetime mile), the Corolla (72 cents), and the Echo (77 cents). Apparently, those are the cars we should be subsidizing. If you drive one of those cars, you deserve some subsidizing.

On closer reading, the article gave me a sense of deja vu, since I remembered reading something like it last year and sure enough, the main findings seem to date from April 2006. But this is the second annual report.

As someone who has thought carefully about these issues, and taught the Toyota Priis case for several years in my Consumer Behavior course, I think that the article raises some very valid points about hybrids. Consider what it says about the massive, vaunted nickel-hydride battery of the Prius:

“Toyota buys 1,000 tonnes of nickel a year from Ontario (mined and smelted in Sudbury). This nickel gets shipped to Wales for refining, then to China, for further processing, and then to Toyota’s battery plant in Tokyo – a 10,000-mile trip, mostly by petrol-gulping container ships and diesel-powered locomotives.”

This is good cradle to grave sustainable design stuff. That’s very valuable in that it points us to the lifetime energy costs of cars, directing us to try to guesstimate holistic environmental impacts.

These ratings don’t take into account other important factors in environmental degradation and cultural reality however, and that’s been the point of some negative responses to the report. An extremely well-reasoned response, for example, is Prius versus Hummer: Exploding the Myth by Bengt Halvosen. Halvosen has read the entire 300 plus original report and makes some insightful comments.

Here are two additional things to consider. First, consider the development of innovations. At the beginning of innovation cycles, products are always more expensive to produce and can be considerably more energy intensive. But as production grows, the kinks come out of the system, scale efficiencies are realized, and the innovation realizes its potential. According to this way of thinking, hybrids will, as they get popular, achieve real energy returns on the energy invested, and reduce dependence on oil. Of course, this future gains type of thinking can be used to justify almost anything and, at its core, isn’t all that different from any ends-justifies-the-means kinds of argument (and we all know where those tend to lead).

Secondly, and even more importantly, I think the symbolic identity function of cars like the Prius fulfills a very important cultural role that transcends (for the moment) their actual environmental impact. The Prius says something about Being Green. It sends out a message that tells people that you (yes, you Mr. And Mrs. Upper-Middle class) are willing to shell out extra money to drive a slower, smaller car in order to seem environmental. To me, that says something about Green Chic, which we need a lot more of. Of course, the ultimate Green Chic is to drive you bike to work, but there are lifestyles that make this difficult (commuting with four kids, for example). In a culture in which personal and collective prestige is built through massive potlatch like burns of money and resrouces, this is a movement in the right direction. Maybe the crest of a real, lasting Green movement. Maybe.

A bigger implication of the study that is worth thinking about is the role of marketing research firms like CNW Marketing Research. A lot of the complaints about the report sounded something like this:

But the biggest problem with engaging in a serious debate is that CNWMR won’t release its data or methodology from its report for critical peer review. Meanwhile, the report’s conclusions are often stated as fact throughout conservative and anti-environmental commentary (from autobloggreen, which is, you guessed it, a Green Auto blog).

So who is CNW Marketing Research? Searching their web-site, reading their FAQs and other information, I gather that…they apparently like to golf. A lot. And, apparently, to boat. From my read of it, the studies that they specialize in look at the purchase process, including such consumer behavior-y types of elements as the size and income of intended car purchasers, and consumer “wish lists” of product features. The survey-regression skillset of this kinds of study seem pretty distant from the delicate engineering calibrations and resource engineering perspectives required of a cradle to grave resource impact study of the entire automotive study.

This type of research study is called a “Syndicated study” which means that they perform the research and then sell it later to clients. They claim that they did this so as not to be influenced by anyone during their data gathering and analysis. Perhaps, but they still probably had a target consumer in mind. They still likely knew that their report was going to appeal more to particular players than others, depending upon what it says, and who it favors.

That leads to my central point. Marketing Research is increasingly politically important. Because it is legitimized as factual “research” it gives companies like GM confidence to present products like the Hummer in a particular light. It gives newspaper and blog writers material they can use as “facts” that then go to publicly criticize government policies that affect consumption and to encourage consumers to take actions in forms both political and financial. It can be used to influence consumers and to suggest to politicians material changes in legislation and regulation that affect consumption. In the absence of other facts, it becomes the de facto set of facts.

In North America today, we are currently in the Age of Green Consumerism, where the consumer is expected to bear almost the full weight of making the right environmental decisions, from using the right recycled toilet paper and replacing light bulbs to driving the right car. But where is the quality assurance of the information that the consumer is to use to make those decisions? It’s a free for all! How is the consumer to decide on the scientific rigor and general accuracy of research? How do we judge its quality? Who is conducting and overseeing the research? Who is paying for it, and whose interests is it likely to manifest? Who is rating it and telling us it is legitimate? As it currently stands, anyone can hang up a shingle and practice marketing research, saying just about anything they want. They get coverage, they get press, they have influence.

I’m not saying that I completely mistrust this particular set of findings. But is this marketing research firm really qualified to make the delicate and highly-skilled engineering types of estimations that this type of report requires? I am saying that I don’t have enough information or knowledge to really be able to evaluate its quality. And I’m a skilled marketing research professional with a Ph.D. and twelve years of intense research experience. I’d expect the average consumer to be even more confused. And the fact that the way these important judgments are reached is kept “proprietary” doesn’t help things one bit.

In this age of Green Consumerism, when there are a lot of people who care and truly want to try to make a difference through their shopping and consumption, I think we deserve better information, valid and validated research.

Not only is Knowledge Power, but in this contemporary world (Marketing) Research is Power. Those can be very different things: knowledge and research findings. That power is in the hands of a lot of private companies right now, with almost no oversight. We need to ask ourselves if self-regulation is adequate in these important matters? Are operational codes tight enough? Are we really trying to change to world through redirecting our consumption? If so, then these are by definition world-changing matters and should be taken seriously as such. Could a government agency or another arms length certified party start to oversee the quality of work that impacts the environmental impact ratings that products contain ? How can we all get more critical of the research that gets report to us as fact?

July 26, 2007

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?

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