Saturday, September 22, 2012

Clotaire Rapaille: The Culture Code

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If you haven't figured it out already, themacinator is an intellectual snob. While I pretend to be somewhat of an anti-intellectual, I only do it in the snobby way: I speak my own little version of bad English while knowing grammatical and spelling rules, I "only" have a bachelor's and question the value higher education as in my discussion of "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower," etc, but when it comes down to it, this is all a form of snobbery. I don't watch (much) TV, I never read magazines, and I scorn people (like those Americans I read about today who don't believe humans are the cause of global warming- less than half of us/them!) who don't believe in inconvenient facts. So pop psychology is right up there on things that I'm likely to look down on.

But there's this problem: sometimes it rings true.  Clotaire Rapaille developed a system of cultural "Codes" for everyday things: "the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing- a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country- via the culture in which we are raised." "The Culture Code" talks about focus groups he does for various large companies interested in product developing and better marketing, and how he has coded various things- love and sex, home and dinner, money, alcohol, shopping, and America, for Americans. He explains that these "codes" won't work for everyone, of course, but that based on the resulting sales for the companies who use his codes, they're pretty reliable. Rapaille admits toward the end of the book that he basically left his native France because he didn't fit with the French code of French people: "idea." "French children," he writes, "imprint the value of ideas as paramount and refinement of the mind as the highest goals." This has something to do with French philosophers and thinkers. But Rapaille had bigger ideas: he wanted to turn these big ideas into a big company, and French people thought this made him a "megalomaniac," which fit right into the American code for Americans: "dream." So we've got pop psychology that actually sounds pretty accurate, created by someone who left his country because people thought he was off his rocker, or at least out of line.

So where does that leave me? In the case of "The Culture Code," kind of put off. Rapaille spends a lot of time talking about the "reptilian brain." He holds "discovery sessions" with his focus groups that he holds for companies seeking his marketing expertise which access the same feeling that we have right after we wake up after sleeping when we can remember our dreams. In this relaxed state, participants "can access this state and in so doing ... bypass their cortexes to reconnect with their reptilian brains. People regularly report that memories come back to them during these sessions that they had forgotten for years." No footnotes, no citations, no explanation about where this theory comes from or who but Rapaille believes it. It's great and seems to work, but it sounds a little like hocus pocus. In the third hour of his discovery sessions, Rapaille figures out how people across cultures imprint the things he's studying onto their brains. Impressive, if you believe it, and it's tempting. I like the idea that each culture views concepts differently, and agree with it. However, I think there are entire academic fields devoted to this: sociology, anthropology, and even psychology (probably more), that have real research to back it up. Further, it feels tainted to have these well researched phenomena used in the name of selling cars. I know it happens, but my academic snobbery is showing again: Rapaille figures out how Americans sees sex, calls it a "discovery," and uses it to sell us shit. No thanks.

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