Fleshing out a metaphor

Archetypes in Branding

Are 60 archetypes better than 12?

If you’re into archetypes and/or branding, Archetypes in Branding is a new piece of eye candy you might find interesting. The physical book is an impressive thing. Over-sized. Uniquely bound. And filled page to page with colorful visuals. When I saw one of these sticking out from a shelf in the art section of Barnes and Nobles, my heart leaped.

But soon my enthusiasm waned. After flipping through the pages, I felt that the authors, Hartwell and Chen, had taken an idea that was beautiful in its simplicity and made it intimidating.

In the branding sense, this book is really an extension of the work by two other authors, Carol S. Pearson and Margaret Mark. In their earlier work, The Hero and the Outlaw, Pearson and Mark are able to distill the storytelling narratives of dozens of “cult” brands into a straightforward framework of 12 archetypes, each positioned on a perceptual map to help you understand one brand’s story in relationship to others. In the new work, Archetypes in Branding, the authors had taken a relatively simple metaphor and exploded into more nuances that I felt were necessary. (Especially since Pearson and Mark already establish that each of the 12 archetypes would allow for countless sub-motifs and character names.)

harley davidson

Harley’s story is that of the outlaw.

Of course, we should probably give Hartwell and Chen a break. They acknowledge Mark and Pearson in the same way they acknowledge Jung and Joseph Campbell. Perhaps their work is meant to be an esoteric riff on archetypal branding, ideal for those already familiar with archetypal ideas, much like jazz is a medium best understood by musicians.

One wonders, however, if adding complexity to accessible foundational ideas benefits the author or the reader more?

We can apply this question to a variety of ideas that begin with simple insights, but then become intricately complex. Take, for example, the most popular religion in the US, Christianity. At its roots, Christianity seems to be a simple metaphor: a personification of basic truths (or at least, tendencies) about human nature:

  • Humans often harbor feelings of being incomplete or flawed in some way (humans are born with “original sin”);
  • But when a person stops obsessing solely on their own needs and begins to consider the needs of others, this has a tendency to relieve some of the psychological burden of feeling flawed (Christ died for humankind and took away that sin);
  • As we continue to focus on both our needs and the needs of others, and adjust our behavior accordingly, we begin to change the world and people around us (the path to “heaven” comes from embracing God through the teachings of his son).

I’m no theologian. I know these Biblical examples are crude. But the narrative elements are accessible. We get it. And yet, if you were to open any holy book, I suspect that you’d find a bit more content than the three bullet points above.

Which begs the question, why?

Many of my religious friends bristle at the notion that their faith’s narrative is a series of metaphors gone rogue. They insist that their beliefs are based upon historical events. Some go so far to say that their books are infallible — every word on every page is a literal description of the physical world (and supernatural world, too).

But every defense attorney will tell you that the more complex the prosecution’s case, the more opportunities there are to poke holes in it. I believe that my generation is turning to atheism more, not because the religions of our parents have nothing to teach us, but — in this message-soaked world — we are craving simplicity. Some religious belief systems are so complex and detailed, that they no longer serve to instruct. Young readers realize a flaw here and there, and the Rube-Goldbergian device falls apart. But while the pieces noisily fall, and the clouds of comical dust fly into the air, the simple foundations of truth that lay beneath become invisible.

Whether it’s tomes about archetypal branding or religious works intended to provide clarity, we humans sometimes (unintentionally) hide the truth as we flesh out the metaphors. That’s a shame.  Because beneath the now-broken stained-glass panels of complexity, the truth is still there. It’s just that no one can see it.


Stopping the alternative behavior madness

20120517-095110.jpgSo then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.

Mark 16:19
American Standard Version Bible

Today I want to talk about evil – an evil that we have tolerated for far too long in this society. I’m talking about a sickness that we permit to be paraded around us, and it’s a deviant behavior must be stopped.

You know what I’m talking about, but speaking out isn’t enough. It’s time for action – time to start enforcing, with wrath and vigor, the purity of body that the our most holy books mandate. We must rise up and take these willfully, woeful souls who choose to ignore historical tradition and spiritual truth and smite them.

Their argument that they cannot control their natural inclinations is absurd. The devil tests us all with desires and temptations that take us down the road to eternal torment. For us to let these freaks of nature walk among us is an abomination.

But there’s hope! We can rise out of this dark time and return to the world as it should be. We can have a world where those who choose to communicate, gesture and state their identity with this grotesque defect are dispatched from our very shores.

So let us raise our righteous hand. We will change the laws. We will take to the streets. We will pull these demons from their homes and show them that waving their natural inclinations in the face of our children will no longer go unpunished.

For these reasons, I encourage you join me, brother and sister. Salute your beliefs and take them to their logical conclusion. Let us all write to our legislators today and join our fight.

Together we can make sure that people who are left-handed will not be allowed to be married in America. Because, after all, Jesus sat at the right hand of God, not his left.

And lefties don’t deserve rights.

What evangelicals forget about Lady Justice

20120512-123835.jpg Should government be secular? Or should government reflect the traditions, and religions, of the people from whom it derives its authority?

Those on both sides of this issue seem to be in a stalemate. Each can selectively introduce historical evidence to support or refute the positions of the other. And while the courts may declare winners, I fear that the evangelical movement has been led astray by allowing itself to be distracted from a simple, glaring truth.

They already support secularism under a different name.

Advocates for secular government are simply asking for fairness in the law. This is not a particularly controversial point of view. Consider our notion of justice, for example. We believe that all people should be equal before the law (we even have the 14th amendment to help protect that belief.) We believe that justice, or the equal application of law, should be blind.

Great controversies arise when some of us feel that Lady Justice peaks from beneath her blindfold and treats one person differently before the law than another. If we feel we are being treated unfairly – or judged disproportionately – in relationship to others, our Golden Rule alert system kicks in. This is an old friction point, worn thin by a long history of perceived contrast in treatment under the law in relation to wealth, race or religion.

Someone who advocates for secular government is simply asking for this same fairness in the creation of law that we already hold dear in both the interpretation (courts) and enforcement (police) of the law.

If we are ever to fully realize that ideal which we have personified into marble statues, we all must accept that – when it comes to the governmental institutions that create law – race, wealth or religion should be checked at the door.


Why “The Shawshank Redemption” has something to teach atheists

What do I do now?

If you’ve read the book and/or watched the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, you no doubt recall the tragic character named Brooks. [spoiler alert] Wonderfully portrayed by actor James Whitmore, the character is, in my opinion, the most endearing of the story. In the darkest of places, he finds joy in life. In the cruelest of prisons, he finds comfort in routine. And in his eventual freedom, he meets his tragic, unexpected end.

I never really understood why this film, and this character in particular, moved me so much. Certainly it was affecting me in both a literal and figurative/archetypal level. But I never recognized the powerful metaphor of Brooks, until now. While reading one of the many stories online about a young man in the American Bible Belt “coming out” as an atheist, I made the connection.

Forget Brooks’ age. Forget his gender. Forget the literal setting. Brooks is a metaphor of a person imprisoned by his circumstance. He lives in “prison,” as all wondering theists do, and fears leaving its familiar setting. He has friends there. He knows the rules there. They tell him when he can and can’t do everything. In this structure, social network and “protection from the outside,” he is trapped – even as he loves and feeds the little bird of freedom that visits him from time to time.

This is story of every secret atheist and doubting theist in the world. They are trapped in a prison of their own custom, both internally and externally. To leave this prison is to leave everyone (and everything) they’ve ever known, abusive as it may be, behind them. And when the gates slam behind the new atheist, they know there’s no going back; not to their beliefs, and often, not to their family and friends.

This realization has made me think of theists in an entirely new way. Hate the game, but not the player.

Should we belittle the very people we hope to help?

I admit it. It’s tempting to make fun of theism. Some people, like Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher do it so well. But it’s a very thin line that separates the critical assesment of ideas versus the mockery of individuals and their struggles with shaking off those ideas.  Taunting them, while they stand inside their prisons, looking out at the world though bars of fear, is a mean, petty, insensitive thing to do.

Much of what people have done in the name of religion will forever stain our history books. I am certainly not apologizing for any of it. But if I am to help theists embrace the rational foundation of their humanity, to step into the sometimes harsh light of day, I need to remember to be more considerate of those who may be struggling to escape from a very dark place.

Why no charms mean no chains

family guy religion

Look! Look! I'm defining myself!

I have about 25 charms in a small keepsake box. Crosses, Celtic crosses, anks, oms, a Seminole arrow head, a Sicilian horn, sun symbols – all piled atop one another, each representing brief periods in my life that I’ve attempted to say, “This best represents my beliefs.”

I could never find the one, over-arching belief system that allowed for my view of the world.  I know…that sounds rather presumptuous. Who am I to determine what’s right and wrong? I should just pick a medalion and then shut up and do as I’m told.

But who really does this?

With the exception of the most fundamentally religious people, like say, the Amish or Kirk Cameron, how many of us actually believe everything that little charm around our neck implies?

A.J. Jacobs took a crack at it. In his book, Living Bibalically, he spent an entire year trying to do everything the little cross on his neck told him to do. I encourage you to check out his webpage. Let’s suffice to say that, at the end of the year, Jacobs walked away with a new insight on what parts of his faith made sense, and which did not.

The bigger point here is that 99% of us don’t really represent the icon that sits on our chest. We may have family and cultural affiliations. We may participate in rituals. But “something else” guides us when we act in a manner that goes against our religion’s teachings.

What is it?

Plato had a good way of explaining it. He asked, “Are things good because god does them, or does god do them because they are good?” If you believe in the first part of the question, then anything god does (or instructs) is right, and you’re all sinners when you stray from his word in any detail.

However, evidence would suggest that most people believe the second part, which begs the question, why do we need to listen to god at all (to know what is right for us)?

Today, I wear no charm – or chain – around my neck. I realized that no one else will ever develop an ethos that perfectly matches my beliefs because no one has ever lived my life. And since the relativism/libertarian paradox supports the idea of a free society, that works out fine for me.

Besides, I never really had the chest hair to pull off a gold chain, anyway.