Monday, May 25, 2009

Who is Joe Chip?

I wanted to say a few words about the type of branding people willing participate with, in conclusion (probably. I'm exploding all over blogger today for some reason.) I'm not talking about the fetish, or at least not directly. I am talking about how one associates one's self with labels, brands, celebrities, causes, movements,ect.
First of all, like I have been saying about Twitter for a while now, it is not the thing itself which is good, bad, vapid, destructive, wasteful. It is what people do with it.
People are going to brand no matter what. It is a necessary form of shorthand and it is something that humans have done since the dawn of recorded civilization. I have some that I have come to that serve to clear up any confusion and to direct things ("married heterosexual" comes to mind). I have some that are very helpful but I keep more of an open end on ("Christian" comes to mind. Sometimes I put on my Reformed Baptist hat, sometimes my Lutheran hat, sometimes my Quaker hat. I really do own a Quaker hat, by the way, but Laurie never lets me literally wear it.) Some are brand holes that I have never filled. (I have a very difficult time explaining which political party I most sympathize with.) I think that this is good.
It surprises and kind of worries me when people have all of their brands in a row and are unwilling to accept the slightest variation. First that suggests to me the unwillingness to think further on a subject. Second, take, for example, age. In my late 20s I felt a strong pull, one that I expect a lot of other young men in modern America feel, to hold on to adolescent irresponsibility. The problem gets to be when you reach middle age and still hold on to that. Things get a bit Death in Venice at that point. So some brands will change on you whether you like it or not.
Another example of this might be Martin Luther. In fact, a good deal of history can be viewed through the filter of "people who looked at a feature of the brand and said `hang on a minute here...'" Of course we know from church history that when that happens the brand doesn't tend to mutate, rather a new brand must needs be formed. Sometimes this is with the best motivations (more accurate views of scripture) and sometimes with the worst.
We must be willing to mutate because a time is coming when we will need to mutate.
Another thing about branding is that one must remember that the map is not the territory. You can know all of the brands of a person and not know a whole lot about their character. It's a bit of a defense mechanism, a form of abstaining from accepting responsibility. You can know someone who holds all of the brands that you like and not know if they are nice, good, decent, or will come out at 3am to help you fix a flat tire. I learned this early on when I discovered that just because someone likes the music of Tom Waits does not mean I will like that person at all at all.
And I would suggest that the converse is also true. This is one that is a very fine and important lesson in modern life. Just because someone holds all of the opposite brands dear doesn't mean they are horrible. They may be some of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.
In short and in light of that last post I wanted to take a moment and say that it is important to keep an eye on our brands. What do they say? What don't they say? And while other people's brands are helpful in some ways, in some ways they can be
decidedly unhelpful. We ought to be able to pick our brands, shift our brands, change our brands if we need to, not to hold so tight to our brands that we let them change us in unhelpful ways or without our even realizing it has changed us.

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