Thursday, February 26, 2009

The provocative connection between food and sex

Prudes at Dinner, Gluttons in Bed
By George F. Will
Thursday, February 26, 2009; A19

Put down that cheeseburger and listen up: If food has become what sex was a generation ago -- the intimidatingly intelligent Mary Eberstadt says it has -- then a cheeseburger is akin to adultery, or worse. As eating has become highly charged with moral judgments, sex has become notably less so, and Eberstadt, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, thinks these trends involving two primal appetites are related.

In a Policy Review essay, "Is Food the New Sex?" -- it has a section titled "Broccoli, pornography, and Kant" -- she notes that for the first time ever, most people in advanced nations "are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want." One might think, she says, either that food and sex would both be pursued with an ardor heedless of consequences, or that both would be subjected to analogous codes constraining consumption. The opposite has happened -- mindful eating and mindless sex.

Imagine, says Eberstadt, a 30-year-old Betty in 1958, and her 30-year-old granddaughter Jennifer today. Betty's kitchen is replete with things -- red meat, dairy products, refined sugars, etc. -- that nutritionists now instruct us to minimize. She serves meat from her freezer, accompanied by this and that from jars. If she serves anything "fresh," it would be a potato. If she thinks about food, she thinks only about what she enjoys, not what she, and everyone else, ought to eat.

Jennifer pays close attention to food, about which she has strong opinions. She eats neither red meat nor endangered fish, buys "organic" meat and produce, fresh fruits and vegetables, and has only ice in her freezer. These choices are, for her, matters of right and wrong. Regarding food, writes Eberstadt, Jennifer exemplifies Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative: She acts according to rules she thinks are universally valid and should be universally embraced.

Betty would be baffled by draping moral abstractions over food, a mere matter of personal taste. Regarding sex, however, she had her Categorical Imperative -- the 1950s' encompassing sexual ethic that proscribed almost all sex outside of marriage. Jennifer is a Whole Foods Woman, an apostle of thoroughly thought-out eating. She bristles with judgments -- moral as well as nutritional -- about eating, but she is essentially laissez-faire about sex.

In 50 years, Eberstadt writes, for many people "the moral poles of sex and food have been reversed." Today, there is, concerning food, "a level of metaphysical attentiveness" previously invested in sex; there are more "schismatic differences" about food than about (other) religions.

If food is the new sex, Eberstadt asks, "where does that leave sex?" She says it leaves much of sex dumbed-down -- junk sex akin to junk food. It also leaves sexual attitudes poised for a reversal. Since Betty's era, abundant research has demonstrated that diet can have potent effects, beneficial or injurious. Now, says Eberstadt, an empirical record is being assembled about the societal costs of laissez-faire sex.

Eberstadt says two generations of "social science replete with studies, surveys and regression analyses galore" have produced clear findings: "The sexual revolution -- meaning the widespread extension of sex outside of marriage and frequently outside commitment of any kind -- has had negative effects on many people, chiefly the most vulnerable; and it has also had clear financial costs to society at large."

In 1965, the Moynihan Report sounded an alarm about 23.6 percent of African American children born out of wedlock. Today the figure for the entire American population is 38.5 percent, and 70.7 percent for African Americans. To that, add AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and the unquantifiable coarsening of the culture and devaluing of personal intimacy.

Today "the all-you-can-eat buffet" is stigmatized and the "sexual smorgasbord" is not. Eberstadt's surmise about a society "puritanical about food, and licentious about sex" is this: "The rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone -- and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat."

Perhaps. Stigmas are compasses, pointing toward society's sense of its prerequisites for self-protection. Furthermore, as increasing numbers of people are led to a materialist understanding of life -- who say not that "I have a body" but that "I am a body" -- society becomes more obsessive about the body's maintenance. Alas, expiration is written into the leases we have on our bodies, so bon appetit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Obama needs to trademark Obama

The President's attorneys are way late to this game...

White House Lawyers Look to Limit Commercial Use of President
Julianna Goldman

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Barack Obama’s popularity makes him a marketer’s dream. Now, the honeymoon may be over for those trying to profit from his appeal.

White House lawyers want to control the use of the president’s image, recognizing the worldwide fascination about Obama’s election, First Amendment free-speech rights and easy access to videos and photos on the Web.

“Our lawyers are working on developing a policy that will protect the presidential image while being careful not to squelch the overwhelming enthusiasm that the public has for the president,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Uh... too late, guys. Here are just some of the God-awful, Barack Obama products now available for purchase:

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Facebook Assignment: 15 Albums

Assignment: Think of 15 albums, CDs, LPs (if you're over 40) that had a profound effect. Dig into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wasu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean.

In chronological order:

"The Little Drummer Boy"
A fixture of my youth. I thought "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Jimmy Boyd appeared on this recording... very confused about the adulterous nature of this song, I was appalled that Santa would be making passes at this little boy's mom! But my brother in his most persistent, journalistic, and annoying manner has informed me that the Boyd song was on "First Christmas Record for Children," another record we listened to as kids.

"Mary Poppins"
Ubiquitous tunes of my early youth. I learned to play the piano with songs from "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music." My favorite? "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" which the movie reminds us is what we say when we don't know what to say. I adored Julie Andrews - after all, my name was Julie Matthews and we both had boy surnames and the same first name so we must be soulmates.

"The Association Greatest Hits!"
My parents bought this album but I know I listened to it 1000 more times than they did. I loved the harmonies in "Cherish" and "Along Comes Mary."

"Reach Out"
The Four Tops grooved their way through this stupendous album singing "Reach Out - I'll Be There," "Bernadette," and my favorite, "If I Were a Carpenter." At a very early age, this last song taught me a lot about loving what's important in a person rather than the surface horseshit that everyone else seems to care about.

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
This Beatles record featured the best and scariest album cover ever produced. Released just prior to the "Paul is dead" rumor, the cover sported more mysteries and clues than seven combined seasons of LOST. For a couple of months in 1967, I was terrified to walk through our rec room because I was sure that that demonic album cover was going to reach out and get me.

"Leaving on a Jet Plane"
This song came off of Peter, Paul and Mary's "Album 1700," which I never owned. But I listened to that song so many times in sixth grade, it takes a place on my list. It was the first 45 I ever owned.

By Carole King, of course. Tell me one woman over 45 who says she never owned this album and I'll call her a liar to her face. Everyone had this album. EVERYONE. I've bought at least six copies over the years. I still know the lyrics to every single song on the album, including "Smackwater Jack"! (Smackwater Jack had a shotgun...)

"Sweet Baby James"
By James Taylor...

"Mud Slide Slim"
Also by Taylor. I demolished at least a dozen diamond needles wearing these albums out. I especially liked "Mud Slide Slim" because it featured Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," probably the best song ever recorded. I've grown old with James Taylor and I love him today even more than yesterday. He has truly been a fixture in my life.

"Chicago V"
I picked this album, especially "Saturday in the Park," to honor Mary Jane Inglesby who remembers listening to this record in my bedroom in eighth grade. I remember the wood-cut album cover. Chicago always had the best jackets - and logo. I've studied that logo since I was 14 years old; it's one of the reasons I grew up to be a branding expert and logo designer.

"Tea for the Tillerman"
By Cat Stevens. One of my most favorite albums ever, I especially love "Father and Son," "Wild World," and "Into White."

"Teaser and the Firecat"
Another Cat Stevens album, this one with the classics "Morning Has Broken" and "Moonshadow." Both albums had spectacular jacket artwork that broke every unwritten rule about album covers of that era, instead providing simple, whimsical, hand-drawn images that look like they came from a children's book. Perfection.

By Steely Dan. Along with James Taylor's "Mud Slide Slim," I always take "Aja" on vacation with me because it always makes me feel at home. In 1977, this album played constantly - and I mean constantly - at Sutter's Mill, a great college bar off Syracuse University's famous Marshall Street. I can never hear "Deacon Blues" without remembering the good ole days at SU.

"The Stranger"
By Billy Joel. Another persistent Syracuse memory. All the Long Island kids raved about this piano player from where they grew up - but I'd never heard of Billy Joel in my life. However, it wasn't long before I, too, knew every word of "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." (Bottle of red, bottle of white, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead...)

"Christmases Long Ago - Julie, Jill, and John's Christmas Music"
Compiled by my brother, John Edward Matthews II in the 1980s when he worked for WMAL. John created his masterpiece long before regular people could make their own cassette tapes or burn their own CDs. John's efforts simply boggled the mind because he found every cherished Christmas song of our youth and put it all on one tape. Brilliant! In the 1990s, I re-created the tape as a CD; it still provides the soundtrack for every holiday season.

I will now end where I began by telling you that "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" appears on John's compilation tape, too. But I now understand the irony inherent in this song - and love it just the same.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sounded nice up there

A lovely poem/prayer for the creative by my friend, Jonathan Finn Barber:

Sounded nice up there

May our creative endeavors refine as they age with us,

Our naysayers grow hoarse from speaking ill of us out of jealousy
Our self-doubt be calmed by our diligence

Our hearts be opened for praise from those who care for us

May our work guide us as a beacon through difficult storms of confusion and warm us through the bitter winters of creative blocks

May we nurture our craft like our first born

While it cares for us like children in the twilight of our lives

May we always create for the sake of creation, forever and in all ways

Monday, February 9, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Facebook

From today's WOMMA Word:

You may not have predicted it years ago, you may not even like it, but there's a growing chance that your grandparents are now on Facebook too.

New data from Pew/Internet shows that over one-third of adults have an online social networking profile, an increase of 400 percent since 2005.

  • 75% of online adults 18-24 have a profile on a social network site

  • 57% of online adults 25-34 have a profile on a social network site

  • 30% of online adults 35-44 have a profile on a social network site

  • 19% of online adults 45-54 have a profile on a social network site

  • 10% of online adults 55-64 have a profile on a social network site

  • 7% of online adults 65+ have a profile on a social network site

The entire study can be downloaded for free, and can be grabbed at MGH Word of Mouth's site which is linked below.

The full story at: MGH Word of Mouth - Blog

Uh oh... Mountain Dew changes its logo

One of the joys of Facebook is that I occasionally get to see life from an adolescent perspective. Avery, my cousin Caroline's oldest son, is 16. This morning, Facebook reported that he joined the group, "I hate the new Mountain Dew Logo." The group's description reads:
What is with the new Mountain Dew Logo. WHY has it been changed. It is so ugly. Why change for the sake of change. Why change what needs not be changed. And what is with the (MTN) anyway. I feel like I'm going to a ski resort or something.

For the uninformed, Mountain Dew is "a soft drink distributed and manufactured by PepsiCo... it often incurs the disapproval of health experts due to its relatively high caffeine content for a soft drink... The drink is mainly marketed to people in the 12-30 year old demographic group, creating a connection to activities like extreme sports and to the video game culture." (Source: the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia)

From my visual survey, this Facebook group's membership encompasses almost exclusively white, teen-aged males - Mountain Dew's (excuse me, Mtn Dew's) target audience. I'm certain Pepsi performed lots of market research before making this change, but it still strikes me as another example of branding influenced by the internal machinations of a company. As I wrote in my entry about HLN (Headline News), it's just plain dumb to rename companies or products based on how you refer to them internally. For years, I'm sure every Pepsico staffer has referred to the company's super-caffeinated, lemon-lime soda as Mtn Dew, but that doesn't mean anyone else should.

As one member named Brian writes, "mtn dew can diaf!!!" (Translation for the middle aged like myself: Mountain Dew can die in a fire!!!) We'll see if Pepsi suffers the repercussions of changing the brand fourth most popular soda in the world (Coke, Pepsi, and Diet Coke come first).

But I concur with the Facebook group. Why change something that need not be changed?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why We Twitter

An astute commentary about social networking from today's Washington Post Letters to the Editor:

Why We Twitter

Jeanne McManus ["The Tedium is the Message," op-ed, Feb. 3] shared my wife's bewilderment over why so many people these days engage in the banal minutiae of social network chitchat such as we find on Twitter and Facebook. Why, Ms. McManus (and my wife) asks, should anyone care that she is scrambling an egg right now?

It's quite simple, really.

A growing number of us are doing so because we have become a nation of loners. Our bonds of friendship, neighborhood, family and community have been torn asunder by our sprawling, car-based, sterile, suburban lifestyles. Living without such bonds is incompatible with our sociable, convivial genetic heritage.

No one disparages the importance of the occasional "scrambling eggs, right now, Kathy" chitchat that has happened so much more often in the past over the picket fence. Sociologists recognize how such banal chatting builds and strengthens neighborliness and friendship.

Twitter and Facebook allow us to engage in virtual, cyber-based chatting over the picket fence. They fulfill a deep-seated human need - albeit in a less-that-ideal way.

Let us hope that we more fully return to the timeless neighborliness of our traditional towns and cities. And soon.

Dom Nozzi

The writer is executive director of Walkable Streets, an organization advocating pedestrian-friendly community design.

Monday, February 2, 2009

What were they thinking? Headline News becomes HLN

I.H.A. (I hate acronyms). They S.U.C.K. (Super uncreative corporate kaka)!

Acronyms, the friend of FDR, the New Deal, and Washington, DC, obliterate meaning. If you are a new or even an old company, the last thing you want to do is to create a three-letter name. No one can remember the letters, especially in the DC area.

Even worse, acronyms are almost completely unbrandable. Unless you are IBM, CNN, or AT&T, forget about turning to your bowl of alphabet soup for a name change. The Feds claimed this territory a long time ago; commercial enterprises don't stand a chance.

Given this, you'll understand why the Powers That Be at CNN's Headline News H.L.T.F.M. (have lost their fricking minds). According to a December 16, 2008 Reuter's article:

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - At the end of what will be a record year for viewership, Headline News is getting a name change.

The 26-year-old news channel will be known as HLN. It follows in the footsteps of such other Turner Broadcasting networks as TBS, TNT and, of course, CNN. Along with the new moniker, the channel is getting a new logo and slogan: "News and Views."

CNN Worldwide executive vp Ken Jautz said Wednesday that the channel is acknowledging that it has evolved beyond the headlines-every-hour format that marked its first two decades or so. Since 2005, Headline News has been, at least in primetime, more like cable channels MSNBC and Fox News Channel in programing talk shows. Nancy Grace has had her own 8 p.m. program for the past three years, and Glenn Beck held the 7 p.m. slot for two years before he left for Fox News Channel.

"We feel (the tagline and name change) is more representative of what the channel has become in primetime," Jautz said.

First off, I question the rationale of changing the name at all. If the network soared by 15 percent last year, why fix something that ain't broken? The execs see the network name through their own eyes and not their viewers and it's a huge mistake. Yes, we all know we can turn on Headline News during the day and get the latest news in a half-hour segment. But that doesn't mean that the name becomes nonsensical when execs schedule Nancy Grace at night. As a matter of fact, if you're into sensationalized, up-to-the-minute news about the world's latest scandal, Nancy Grace provides genuine (if rather seedy) headline news.

Second, having all Turner properties adopt acronyms offers another example of H.L.T.F.M. I possess vague recollections of Cable News Network and Turner Broadcasting System, so I know what CNN and TBS represent. But that collective social memory evaporates as younger people watch these networks. Ted Turner is an innovator. I can't for the life of me understand why he'd make all his channels sounds like CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS.

Third, taglines should elucidate for consumers the unique attributes your product or service delivers. "News and views" could be the tagline for CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, MSNBC, CNBC, and the like. This generic tagline is useless, meaningless, and BAD.

Fourth, look at that new HLN logo and tell me that you don't immediately think HSN - Home Shopping Network. I want to whip out my credit card and go buy something dumb on television! The only thing I like about the logo is the voice bubble. The rest S.U.C.K.S.

So what does this mean for you?
  1. Don't name your damn company with a damn acronym.

  2. If you are a sole proprietor, don't name your company with your initials. Remember, your company isn't about you, it's about your customers. Don't ever forget it!

  3. If you have a real company name, use it. Don't turn The Washington Post into WP, for example. Use the most important or distinguishing word in your name as the corporate moniker instead. Thus, most Washingtonians call our city's paper the Post. Remember, people will remember your name - but never your acronym.

  4. Pick a meaningful, useful tagline.

  5. Hire Julie & Company to help you with naming issues. Just like everything else in branding, it looks easy but it's not. It's tough work and belongs in the hands of experts. Truly. Headline News would never have been renamed HLN if its execs had hired Julie & Company - even if it meant we didn't make much money!

To conclude: HLN is SOL. And that's the truth!