"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see


posted by R J Noriega at 1:00 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Regrowing Limbs: Can People Regenerate Body Parts?
Progress on the road to regenerating major body parts, salamander-style, could transform the treatment of amputations and major wounds

By Ken Muneoka, Manjong Han and David M. Gardiner

A salamander’s limbs are smaller and a bit slimier than those of most people, but otherwise they are not that different from their human counterparts. The salamander limb is encased in skin, and inside it is composed of a bony skeleton, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and blood vessels. A loose arrangement of cells called fibroblasts holds all these internal tissues together and gives the limb its shape.

Yet a salamander’s limb is unique in the world of vertebrates in that it can regrow from a stump after an amputation. An adult salamander can regenerate a lost arm or leg this way over and over again, regardless of how many times the part is amputated. Frogs can rebuild a limb during tadpole stages when their limbs are first growing out, but they lose this ability in adulthood. Even mammalian embryos have some ability to replace developing limb buds, but that capacity also disappears well before birth. Indeed, this trend toward declining regenerative capacity over the course of an organism’s development is mirrored in the evolution of higher animal forms, leaving the lowly salamander as the only vertebrate still able to regrow complex body parts throughout its lifetime.

Humans have long wondered how the salamander pulls off this feat. How does the regrowing part of the limb “know” how much limb is missing and needs to be replaced? Why doesn’t the skin at the stump form a scar to seal off the wound as it would in humans? How can adult salamander tissue retain the embryonic potential to build an entire limb from scratch multiple times? Biologists are closing in on the answers to those questions. And if we can understand how the regeneration process works in nature, we hope to be able to trigger it in people to regenerate amputated limbs, for example, and transform the healing of other major wounds.

The human body’s initial responses to such a serious injury are not that different from those of a salamander, but soon afterward the human and amphibian wound-healing strategies diverge. Ours results in a scar and amounts to a failed regeneration response, but several signs indicate that humans do have the potential to rebuild complex parts. The key to making that happen will be tapping into our latent abilities so that our own wound healing becomes more salamanderlike. For this reason, our research first focused on the experts to learn how it is done.

Lessons from the Salamander
When the tiny salamander limb is amputated, blood vessels in the remaining stump contract quickly, so bleeding is limited, and a layer of skin cells rapidly covers the surface of the amputation site. During the first few days after injury, this so-called wound epidermis transforms into a layer of signaling cells called the apical epithelial cap (AEC), which is indispensable for successful regeneration. In the meantime, fibroblasts break free from the connective tissue meshwork and migrate across the amputation surface to meet at the center of the wound. There they proliferate to form a blastema—an aggregation of stemlike cells that will serve as progenitors for the new limb.

Many years ago studies in the laboratory of our colleague Susan V. Bryant at the University of California, Irvine, demonstrated that the cells in the blastema are equivalent to the cells in the developing limb bud of the salamander embryo. This discovery suggested that the construction of a limb by the blastema is essentially a recapitulation of the limb formation that took place during the animal’s original development. An important implication of this insight was that the same genetic program is involved in both situations, and because humans make limbs as embryos, in principle we should already have the necessary programming to regenerate them as adults, too. It seemed, therefore, that all scientists needed to do was figure out how to induce an amputated limb to form a blastema.

One of us (Gardiner)—working with Tetsuya Endo of U.C. Irvine a few years ago—took a minimalist approach to answering the basic question of how to make a blastema. Instead of studying amputation sites on the salamander, where a blastema would naturally form, we looked at simple wounds on the side of a salamander limb, which would normally heal just by regenerating the skin. Our idea was that such wounds are similar to the site of an amputated mammalian limb that fails to generate a new limb. If we could get an entire limb to grow where a simple wound-healing response would typically occur, then we could further dissect the regeneration process.

After we made a small incision in the salamander leg, epidermal cells migrated to cover and seal the wound, as they would at an amputation site, and fibroblasts from the dermis layer of the skin also moved in to replace the missing skin. But if we carefully deviated a nerve to the wound site, we could induce those fibroblasts to form a blastema instead. Marcus Singer of Case Western Reserve University had already demonstrated more than half a century ago that innervation was required for a regeneration response, but our experiments clarified that unknown factors provided by the nerve were influencing regeneration by altering the behavior of resident fibroblasts.

These induced blastemas never progressed to the later stages of regeneration to form a new limb, however. One more ingredient was needed. The key to inducing a blastema that produced a new limb was to graft a piece of skin from the opposite side of the limb to the wound site, which allowed fibroblasts from opposite regions of the limb to participate in the healing response. The resulting accessory limb was, of course, growing out at an abnormal location, but it was anatomically normal. So the basic recipe for making a blastema seemed relatively simple: you need a wound epidermis, nerves and fibroblasts from opposite sides of the limb. With this minimal view of limb regeneration in mind, we began to focus on understanding the roles of the individual ingredients.

We knew that the epidermis is derived from one of three layers of primitive cells within an early developing embryo, the ectoderm, which is also well known to provide signals that control the outgrowth of limbs from limb buds on the embryo. Ectoderm cells gather in the bud to form an apical ectodermal ridge (AER), which transiently produces chemical signals that guide the migration and proliferation of the underlying limb bud cells.

Although some of the critical signals from the epidermis have not yet been identified, members of the family of fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) are involved. The AER produces a number of FGFs that stimulate the underlying cells of the limb bud to produce other FGFs, fueling a feedback circuit of signaling between the AER and limb bud cells that is essential for the outgrowth of a limb. A similar feedback circuit spurred by the AEC is thought to function in the same way during limb regeneration, and Hiroyuki Ide of Tohoku University in Japan discovered that the progressive loss of regenerative ability in frog tadpoles is associated with a failure to activate the FGF circuit. By treating older nonregenerating tadpole limbs with FGF10, he was able to jump-start this signaling circuit and stimulate partial regeneration of amputated limbs.

The excitement this result inspired was tempered, however, by the fact that the induced regenerates were abnormal, consisting of irregularly placed limb parts, which raises the important issue of how regeneration is controlled so that all the appropriate anatomical structures that are lost when the limb is amputated are accurately replaced. It turns out that the other primary cellular players, the fibroblasts, carry out this function.

Location, Location, Location
Recall from the minimalist accessory-limb experiments that the presence of fibroblasts per se was not sufficient for regeneration because fibroblasts are present at the simple wound site that does not make a new limb. It was the fibroblasts from the opposite side of the limb that proved essential. That discovery illustrates the importance of cellular position in triggering a regeneration response. In an embryo, the sequence of events in limb development always begins with formation of the base of the limb (the shoulder or hip) and is followed by progressive building of more distal structures until the process terminates with the making of fingers or toes. In salamander regeneration, on the other hand (or foot), the site of amputation can be anywhere along the length of the limb and regardless of where the wound is located, only those parts of the limb that were amputated regrow.

This variable response indicates that cells at the amputation wound edge must “know” where they are in relation to the entire limb. Such positional information is what controls the cellular and molecular processes leading to the perfect replacement of the missing limb parts, and it is encoded in the activity of various genes. Examining which genes are at work during these processes helps to reveal the mechanisms controlling this stage of regeneration.

Although a large number of genes are involved during embryonic development in educating cells about their position in the limb, the activity of a gene family called Hox is critical. In most animals, cells in the developing limb bud use the positional code provided by Hox genes to form a limb, but then they “forget” where they came from as they differentiate into more specialized tissues later on. In contrast, fibroblasts in the adult salamander limb maintain a memory of this information system and can reaccess the positional Hox code in the process of limb regeneration.

During regeneration the fibroblasts bring this information with them as they migrate across the wound to initiate blastema formation, and once in the blastema, cells are able to “talk” to one another to assess the extent of the injury. The content of this crosstalk is still largely a mystery, but we do know that one outcome of the conversation is that the regenerating limb first establishes its boundaries, including the outline of the hand or foot, so that cells can use their positional information to fill in the missing parts between the amputation plane and the fingers or toes.

Because muscle and bone make up the bulk of a limb, we are also interested in understanding where the raw material for those tissues originates and what mechanisms control their formation. When the regenerative response is initiated, one of the key early events involves a poorly understood process called dedifferentiation. The term is typically used to describe a cell’s reversion from a mature specialized state to a more primitive, embryonic state, which makes it capable of multiplying and serving as a progenitor of one or more tissue types.

In the field of regeneration, the word was first used by early scientists who observed under the microscope that the salamander stump tissues, particularly the muscle, appeared to break down and give rise to proliferative cells that formed the blastema. We now know that those muscle-associated cells are derived from stem cells that normally reside in the muscle tissue and not from dedifferentiation of muscle. Whether or not dedifferentiation is actually happening in the case of every tissue type within a regenerating limb has yet to be proved, although it is clear that a variation of this theme does occur during regeneration. Fibroblasts that enter the blastema and become primitive blastemal cells have the ability to differentiate into skeletal tissues (bone and cartilage) as well as to redifferentiate into the fibroblasts that will form the interstitial meshwork of the new limb, for instance.

Returning to another of the central cellular players in blastema formation, the epidermal cells, we can also pinpoint moments in the regeneration process when it seems these cells are making a transition to a more embryonic state. A number of genes active in the embryonic ectoderm are critical for limb development, including Fgf8 and Wnt7a, but as the ectoderm of the embryo differentiates to form the multilayered epidermis of the adult, these genes are turned off. During regeneration in the adult, the epidermal cells that migrate across the amputation wound and establish a wound epidermis initially begin to display gene activity, such as production of wound-healing keratin proteins, that is not specifically related to regeneration. Later the wound epidermal cells activate Fgf8 and Wnt7a, the two important developmental genes. For practical purposes, then, the essential definition of dedifferentiation—as it pertains to the epidermis and other cell types—is the specific reactivation of essential developmental genes.

Thus, our studies of salamanders are revealing that the regeneration process can be divided into pivotal stages, beginning with the wound-healing response, followed by the formation of a blastema by cells that revert to some degree to an embryonic state, and finally, the initiation of a developmental program to build the new limb. As we move toward the challenge of inducing limb regeneration in humans, we rely on these insights to guide our efforts. Indeed, the hardest things to discover in science are those that do not already occur, and limb regeneration in humans fits snugly into this category, although that does not mean humans have no natural regenerative capacity.

Potential at Our Fingertips
One of the most encouraging signs that human limb regeneration is a feasible goal is the fact that our fingertips already have an intrinsic ability to regenerate. This observation was made first in young children more than 30 years ago, but since then similar findings have been reported in teenagers and even adults. Fostering regeneration in a fingertip amputation injury is apparently as simple as cleaning the wound and covering it with a simple dressing. If allowed to heal naturally, the fingertip restores its contour, fingerprint and sensation and undergoes a varying degree of lengthening. The success of this conservative treatment of fingertip amputation injuries has been documented in medical journals thousands of times. Interestingly, the alternative protocol for such injuries typically included operating to suture a skin flap over the amputation wound, a “treatment” that we now know will inhibit regeneration even in the salamander because it interferes with formation of the wound epidermis. The profound message in these reports is that human beings have inherent regenerative capabilities that, sadly, have been suppressed by some of our own traditional medical practices.

It is not easy to study how natural human fingertip regeneration works because we cannot go around amputating fingers to do experiments, but the same response has been demonstrated in both juvenile and adult mice by several researchers. In recent years two of us (Muneoka and Han) have been studying the mouse digit-tip regeneration response in more detail. We have determined that a wound epidermis does form after digit-tip amputation, but it covers the regenerating wound much more slowly than occurs in the salamander. We have also shown that during digit-tip regeneration, important embryonic genes are active in a population of undifferentiated, proliferating cells at the wound site, indicating that they are blastema cells. And indirect evidence suggests that they are derived from fibroblasts residing in the interstitial connective tissues and in bone marrow.

To explore the roles of specific genes and growth factors during the mouse-digit regeneration response, we developed a tissue culture that serves as a model for fetal mouse-digit regeneration. With it, we found that if we experimentally depleted a growth factor called bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4) from the fetal amputation wound, we inhibited regeneration. In addition, we have shown that a mutant mouse lacking a gene called Msx1 is unable to regenerate its digit tips. In the fetal digit tip, Msx1 is critical to the production of BMP4, and we were able to restore the regeneration response by adding BMP4 to the wound in the Msx1-deficient mouse, confirming BMP4’s necessity for regeneration.

Studies by Cory Abate-Shen and her colleagues at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School have also demonstrated that the protein encoded by Msx1 inhibits differentiation in a variety of cell types during embryonic development. That link to the control of differentiation suggests that the protein plays a role in the regeneration response by causing cells to dedifferentiate. Although Msx1 is not active during the early dedifferentiation stages of salamander limb regeneration, its sister gene Msx2 is one of the first genes reactivated during regeneration and very likely serves a similar function.

The Human Challenge
The idea of regenerating a human limb may still seem more like fantasy than a plausible possibility, but with insights such as those we have been describing, we can evaluate in a logical stepwise manner how it might happen. An amputated human limb results in a large and complex wound surface that transects a number of different tissues, including epidermis, dermis and interstitial connective tissue, adipose tissue, muscle, bone, nerve and vasculature. Looking at those different tissue types individually, we find that most of them are actually very capable of regenerating after a small-scale injury.

In fact, the one tissue type within a limb that lacks regenerative ability is the dermis, which is composed of a heterogeneous population of cells, many of which are fibroblasts—the same cells that play such a pivotal role in the salamander regeneration response. After an injury in humans and other mammals, these cells undergo a process called fibrosis that “heals” wounds by depositing an unorganized network of extracellular matrix material, which ultimately forms scar tissue. The most striking difference between regeneration in the salamander and regenerative failure in mammals is that mammalian fibroblasts form scars and salamander fibroblasts do not. That fibrotic response in mammals not only hampers regeneration but can be a very serious medical problem unto itself, one that permanently and progressively harms the functioning of many organs, such as the liver and heart, in the aftermath of injury or disease.

Studies of deep wounds have shown that at least two populations of fibroblasts invade an injury during healing. Some of these cells are fibroblasts that reside in the dermis, and the others are derived from circulating fibroblastlike stem cells. Both types are attracted to the wound by signals from immune cells that have also rushed to the scene. Once in the wound, the fibroblasts migrate and proliferate, eventually producing and modifying the extracellular matrix of the area. This early process is not that dissimilar to the regeneration response in a salamander wound, but the mammalian fibroblasts produce an excessive amount of matrix that becomes abnormally cross-linked as the scar tissue matures. In contrast, salamander fibroblasts stop producing matrix once the normal architecture has been restored.

An exception to this pattern in mammals does exist, however. Wounds in fetal skin heal without forming scars—yielding perfect skin regeneration and indicating that the switch to a fibrotic response arises with the developmental maturation of the skin. Although this difference could reflect a change in the biology of the fibroblasts, it is more likely a result of altered signaling from the extracellular wound environment modulating the behavior of the fibroblasts, which in turn suggests that therapeutically modifying those signals could change the healing response. At the same time, the fact that limb amputations during fetal stages of development do not result in regeneration of the limb reminds us that scar-free wound healing is likely to be necessary but not sufficient for regeneration.

To advance our understanding of what it will take to induce limb regeneration in people, we are continuing our work with mice. Our research group has already described a natural blastema in a mouse amputation injury, and our goal within the next year is to induce a blastema where it would not normally occur. Like the accessory-limb experiments in salamanders, this achievement would establish the minimal requirements for blastema formation. We hope that this line of investigation will also reveal whether, as we suspect, the blastema itself provides critical signaling that prevents fibrosis in the wound site.

If we succeed in generating a blastema in a mammal, the next big hurdle for us would be coaxing the site of a digit amputation to regenerate the entire digit. The complexity of that task is many times greater than regenerating a simple digit tip because a whole digit includes joints, which are among the most complicated skeletal structures formed in the body during embryonic development. Developmental biologists are still trying to understand how joints are made naturally, so building a regenerated mouse digit, joints and all, would be a major milestone in the regeneration field. We hope to reach it in the next few years, and after that, the prospect of regenerating an entire mouse paw, and then an arm, will not seem so remote.

Indeed, when we consider all that we have learned about wound healing and regeneration from studies in various animal models, the surprising conclusion is that we may be only a decade or two away from a day when we can regenerate human body parts. The striking contrast between the behavior of fibroblasts in directing the regeneration response in salamanders versus the fibrotic response leading to scarring in mammals suggests that the road to successful regeneration is lined with these cells. Equally encouraging is the recent discovery by Howard Y. Chang and John L. Rinn of Stanford University that adult human fibroblasts, like salamander fibroblasts, retain a memory of the spatial coordinate system used to establish the body plan early in the embryo’s development. Given that such positional information is re­-quired for regeneration in salamanders, its existence in human fibroblasts enhances the feasibility of tapping into and activating developmental programs necessary for regeneration.

Now, as we watch a salamander grow back an arm, we are no longer quite as mystified by how it happens. Soon humans might be able to harness this truly awesome ability ourselves, replacing damaged and diseased body parts at will, perhaps indefinitely.


posted by R J Noriega at 10:51 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
TV Is Not Going Anywhere, So We Might As Well Fix It
by Dylan Thomas

The effectiveness of television ads are declining, but as long as television keeps expanding, the ads themselves are going nowhere. Changing how TV ads are delivered can transform them from the waste of media they often seem to be into a relevant brand invitation.

Targeted advertising and interactivity can accomplish this by harnessing viewer input to trigger ad selection and subsequent communications. Herein lies the opportunity to finally break away from simple demographics and context and move towards marketing to complex individuals based on their multifaceted tastes and individual needs.

There are ways to know, or guess, who is watching a television and their preferences. While there are currently some privacy concerns, for the purpose of this column, it is only important to know that targeting is possible with existing technology.

I define "Targeted TV Advertising" as: Using gathered data, artificial intelligence and feedback from viewers to display messages viewers indicate to be relevant and predict the relevance of other messages.

Targeted Ad Selection

In addition to automatic profiling based on viewing habits, with a little interaction, viewers themselves can actively affect ad selection. For instance, while watching a TV spot, a viewer can give it a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" by pressing a button on his remote. Like StumbleUpon for TV, over time the system will learn his likes and dislikes and adjust its ad service accordingly. This differs from current opt-in "press to play" ad systems because the ads are displayed inline and appear with or without user prompting. For the less privacy-conscious this can be augmented by filling out a preference questionnaire, thus ensuring the best possible matches for the viewer and the advertiser.

Some tangible benefits of filling out the questionnaire:

No tampon ads in a household of men.
Mortgage ads for those in the market for a new house.
Pet foods ads to people with pets, not for those without.
No non-kosher food ads for kosher families.

Targeted advertising largely solves the issue of relevance, but how do we extend our message and make it easier for the viewer to become a customer?

Interactivity and Message Extension

Acting upon information in a TV spot is hard. Not only is the ad itself competing for attention, so is the act of processing it, remembering it and acting on it at the appropriate time.

Responding to an ad can be made easier using the same remote control technology as above, additionally gathering data and increasing brand touch points for the advertiser. If a viewer sees a spot he wants more information about, he can click a button on his remote, and the brand will send him an email to peruse at his leisure. Or, to get more sophisticated, pressing a different button will send a brochure in the mail or a text message with a coupon to use at the local store. To those familiar with "direct response television" (DRTV), this extends those principles, but lowers the barrier to interact (pressing a button versus making a phone call) and increases the breadth of actions that can be performed automatically.

If an advertiser hooks these leads into their customer relationship management system (CRM), they have a self-engineered gold mine because not only do they know how many people saw their spot, they know who the people are and where they live, allowing all other marketing efforts to be more focused. When advertisers have better information, they can put out fewer, better communications with greater effect, nurturing more meaningful relationships with customers. Who would send out 100,000 cheap direct mail pieces with a low return rate when they could send out really impressive, sexy packages to people who watched their spot and liked their product?

In conclusion, targeted television advertising has two main strengths. The first is that it requires guesswork for an advertiser to pick an audience for a product, but the audience is rarely wrong when it chooses the product itself. Secondly, and more importantly, viewers will be treated as real people whose opinions matter, and their time and attention will be respected. As viewers and advertisers, let’s all hope that targeting comes to television soon.


posted by R J Noriega at 6:16 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
The Brand Called Obama
By Ellen McGirt

Win or lose, Barack Obama's rise changes business as usual for everyone. Here's why.

"Whatever you do, don't hurt Barack!" It was the afternoon of Super Tuesday, and the Chicago sky threatened snow. Senator Barack Obama had just returned to his hometown as voters in 22 states were making history by choosing between a black man and a white woman to be the Democratic nominee for president. The road-weary candidate put off calling fund-raisers or leading one last rally. Instead, he headed over to a downtown gym to play basketball with his nephew, his brother-in-law, and a few buddies. He needed to take a few minutes to chill out, and hoops was his therapy.

Among those on the court would be his old friend -- and major contributor -- John W. Rogers Jr. Rogers is the founder and chairman of Ariel Capital, an investment firm with some $13 billion in assets under management. He is a neighbor of Obama's in Hyde Park and has traded elbows with him on the hardwood dozens of times. But as Rogers left for the gym, he was accosted at the door by his colleague, Ariel president Mellody Hobson. A friend of Obama and his wife, Michelle, Hobson knew that Rogers, usually a shy sort, could be aggressive on the court. So she implored him to go easy on the senator: "He can't look all beat up!" It wouldn't be good if the candidate showed up on TV later that evening with a black eye.

Hobson had no need to worry, and not because Rogers held back. As Obama has been known to joke before he hits the boards -- or the podium -- "Relax, I've got game. I've got plenty of game." Super Tuesday proved him right: On the court, his team won two of three contests, and he walked off without a scratch. At the polls, he took 13 states to Hillary Clinton's 9, generating momentum that would build from the Potomac to the Pacific and, in some eyes, make him the Democratic front-runner.

The fact that Obama has taken what we thought we knew about politics and turned it into a different game for a different generation is no longer news. What has hardly been examined is the degree to which his success indicates a seismic shift on the business horizon as well. Politics, after all, is about marketing -- about projecting and selling an image, stoking aspirations, moving people to identify, evangelize, and consume. The promotion of the brand called Obama is a case study of where the American marketplace -- and, potentially, the global one -- is moving. His openness to the way consumers today communicate with one another, his recognition of their desire for authentic "products," and his understanding of the need for a new global image -- all are valuable signals for marketers everywhere.

"Barack Obama is three things you want in a brand," says Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide. "New, different, and attractive. That's as good as it gets." Obama has his greatest strength among the young, roughly 18 to 29 years old, that advertisers covet, the cohort known as millennials -- who will outnumber the baby boomers by 2010. They are black, white, yellow, and various shades of brown, but what they share -- new media, online social networks, a distaste for top-down sales pitches -- connects them more than traditional barriers, such as ethnicity, divide them.

"Barack Obama is three things you want in a brand: New, different, and attractive. That's as good as it gets."
-- Keith Reinhard, DDB Worldwide
Obama has risen above what he calls a "funny" name, an unusual life story, and -- contrary to the now popular (and mistaken) notion that nobody sees race anymore -- a persistent racial divide to become a reflection of what America will be: a postboomer society. He has moved beyond traditional identity politics. And whether it's now or a decade from now, the new reality he reflects will eventually win out. Any forward-thinking business would be wise to examine the implications of his ascent, from marketing strategies and leadership styles to the future of the American workplace.


When People Magazine asked a slew of presidential hopefuls late last year what they never leave home without, the answers were revealing. Mitt Romney's choice, homemade granola in his Dora the Explorer bowl, left the blogosphere snickering. Clinton cited her BlackBerry -- efficient, businesslike, and an homage to the Web 1.0 world. Obama's response, via his wife, Michelle, was a half-step ahead: a Webcam. "We talk at the end of the day when the girls and I are in Chicago and Barack is out on the road."

Obama has deftly embraced -- and been embraced by -- the Internet. His campaign has deputized soccer grandmoms and hipsters alike to generate new heights of viral support. And he has been exceptionally successful at converting online clicks into real-world currency: rallies in the heartland, videos on YouTube, and most important, donations and votes.

The question is how. Social networking poses challenges for marketers, no matter what -- or whom -- they're selling. Traditional top-down messages don't often work in an ecosystem where the masses are in charge. Marketers must cede a certain degree of control over their brands. And that can be terrifying. (Remember that "I got a crush on ... Obama" lip-synched YouTube tribute?)

Yet giving up control online, in the right way, unleashes its own power. And more than any other "national product" to date -- and far more than any other presidential candidate -- Obama has tapped into that power. The campaign's secret weapon: a fresh-faced 24-year-old named Chris Hughes. Four years ago, he was at Harvard, helping launch Facebook with his roommates, kids named Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz. Just over a year ago, Hughes took a leave from Facebook to do online organizing for Obama. A history and literature major who did no coding at Facebook, he brought with him a mastery of the human side of social networking that has translated into real results for the campaign. Early on, when resources and credibility were in shorter supply, one insider told me, "We were completely focused on making sure that people knew on a very basic level how, where, and why to caucus in Iowa. And a local network, like Facebook, was ideal for that." It was a cheap and effective way to leverage supporters' personal connections.

The campaign's Web site is "far more dynamic than any of the others," says Bentley College professor Christine Williams, who has been studying Web sites and social media in campaigns with her colleague Jeff Gulati. BarackObama.com features constant updates, videos, photos, ringtones, widgets, and events to give supporters a reason to come back to the site. On mybarackobama.com, the campaign's quasi-social network, Obamaniacs can create their own blogs around platform issues, send policy recommendations directly to the campaign, set up their own mini fund-raising site, organize an event, even use a phone-bank widget to get call lists and scripts to tele-canvass from home.

The Obama crew has also tapped into other online communities. "One of our members had excerpted a portion of a Vibe profile of Obama," recalls Kay Madati, vice president of Community Connect, a suite of niche demographic Web sites including blackplanet.com, asianave.com, migente.com, GLEE.com, and faithbase.com. A flurry of discussion drove traffic to BarackObama.com, drawing the attention of Scott Goodstein, who runs the campaign's external Web strategy. He called Madati, who invited all the candidates to create profiles for each of his company's targeted communities. Only the Obama people, Madati says, have created credible presences: "They sometimes update daily; they even update more than Oprah." It has worked. The Obama profile on BlackPlanet has more than 450,000 "friends."

"This is where the Obama campaign has been strategic and smart," says Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, a Web site that explores how technology is changing politics. "They've made sure the message machine was providing the message where people were already assembled. They've turned themselves into a media organization."

They've also taken advantage of messages created by others. The "Yes We Can" mashup by the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, starring a handful of his famous friends, cost the campaign nothing and became a viral hit. By comparison, a Clinton mockumentary called "Hillary's Leaving the Band" -- young rockers, clearly actors, lament the loss of their favorite guitar player -- fell flat. It seemed ad-agency slick and forced. "It's even easier to reveal inauthenticity in the online world," Bentley's Gulati says. "If it doesn't resonate in the offline world, it won't resonate in the online world."

What's true in politics is no less true in business. "There is a new, authoritative consumer empowered by the Web," says Karen Scholl, a creative director at the digital-advertising agency Resource Interactive. "And they can smell a fake." The agency has coined the term "OPEN brand," an acronym for on-demand, personal, engaging, and networks; it is a framework for companies to think about distributing brand messages in new ways. With Obama, "not only do people feel they know who he is, they feel trusted to share their views," Scholl says. "And they get constant feedback from the campaign and from each other."

"There is a new, authoritative consumer empowered by the Web. And they can smell a fake."
-- Karen Scholl, Resource Interactive, a digital ad agency
Being an OPEN brand can be daunting when something as simple as starting a company blog can entail interdepartmental reviews and legal vetting. But, Scholl points out, "you don't have to cede all control, just some." A case in point: the do-it-yourself ads for Doritos during the 2007 Super Bowl. More than 1,000 snack-food fans submitted their entries -- but it was Frito-Lay that decided which ones would run.

The Obama campaign plays its own version of this game. The candidate himself has been made available to the press in strictly controlled doses. (The campaign declined requests for a sit-down interview with Fast Company.) And while the Web site may have set the bar high in terms of openness, the campaign still keeps an eye on the imagery and messaging associated with the movement. When supporter Joe Anthony's "BarackObama" fan page on MySpace attracted 160,000 friends, the campaign found itself in a tug-of-war over ownership. Ultimately, MySpace brokered a peace treaty; Anthony gave up the domain name but kept his friends. Obama's emails urging supporters to take action -- "Tell the superdelegates what's on your mind," a recent blast implored -- are often signed simply "Barack," implying intimacy without risking exposure.


Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has long considered himself a political independent. An Obama encounter at a campaign event inspired him to take up arms for the Democratic candidate. But he can't quite explain why. "I'm still struggling to articulate what it is about him beyond the issues that I care about," he says. Newmark then fumbles his way to this realization: "I see him as a leader rather than a boss." A leader, he notes, gets people to do things on their own, through inspiration, respect, and trust. "A boss can order you to do things, sure, but you do them because it's part of the contract."

What Newmark is describing is more complicated -- and more modern -- than it might appear. There have long been leaders who are bosses, and bosses who are leaders. Having a vision and inspiring or instructing others to follow that vision have long been hallmarks of business and politics. But Obama epitomizes a new way of thinking called "adaptive leadership," which is now being taught at Harvard's Kennedy School, among other places. This approach, as Stephen Bouwhuis recently wrote in The Australian Journal of Public Administration, is effective in handling problems that necessitate "a shift ... in ways of thinking across a community." While a visionary puts forth a specific plan to be implemented, an adaptive leader works with constituents to devise one together.

Obama has tapped into this adaptive-leadership vein by inviting voters in with his "Yes we can" slogan, then reinforcing it with attacks on the complacency and withdrawal from politics of many Americans, particularly the young. "Change will not come if we wait for some other person," he said on Super Tuesday, "or if we wait for some other time... We are the hope of the future." Marty Linsky, professor at the Kennedy School and cofounder of Cambridge Leadership Associates, is among those who've taken note of Obama's adaptive style. "Obama often proposes process plans that involve a trust in the community at large," Linsky says. The potential ramifications for business leadership are enormous. The cult of the imperial chief executive officer still reigns in most C-suites and boardrooms. But winning tomorrow's talent -- and tomorrow's consumer -- may require a dramatically different approach.

And not only to reach the young: Dennis Edwards, a white 50-year-old small-businessman from South Carolina, told me that his main issue in the presidential campaign is health care. "I know that no candidate can push their plan completely through," he says. "That's not cynicism, that's reality. But I believe Obama can get people to the table to talk. I think he'll listen to other points of view. I also believe he can move it further in the right direction than anyone else."

"Obama and Clinton make an interesting contrast in brands," says Professor John Quelch, senior associate dean at Harvard Business School and coauthor of Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy. "Obama communicates that he loves people, and Clinton communicates that she loves policy." Consider Starbucks, Quelch says. "People love it for the experience, not for the specifications of the coffee." Obama, through his inclusive Web site and, yes, his lofty rhetoric, reinforces the notion that everyone is included and that this movement is actually a conversation to which everyone is invited.


"The coloration of society is changing." Harriet Michel is president of the National Minority Supplier Council, which helps corporations find qualified Asian, African American, Hispanic, and Native American vendors. When the organization started 35 years ago, Michel continues, "people felt forced to check boxes instead of thinking about how new suppliers might help their businesses." Today, census data make clear that a changing population means new markets and new opportunities. "The 'right thing to do' is tired, quite frankly. It's business," she says. "This is economics. Now when you're talking about imperatives, they accrue to the bottom line of the company."

Michel is an Obama supporter. "The success of his candidacy indicates that we have moved a bit beyond our tortured past as it relates to race," she says. "If he's credentialed enough and experienced enough to be elected by all the people, it will make a difference to how everyone views America and Americans."

The fact that a black man may soon be a major-party nominee, or even sit in the Oval Office, has far-reaching implications for a business community that's still overwhelmingly white at the top. As of 2005, one third of the Fortune 500 had no African-American directors; of 5,572 available seats, 449 were held by 245 black board members. Of course, executive ranks are also overwhelmingly male -- 85% of Fortune 500 boards -- making Clinton's rise, too, a challenge to the business status quo.

Ariel's Mellody Hobson personifies both of those constituencies. At 38, she is the president of the firm and one of the few women of color in a C-suite. She sits on the board of public companies including Starbucks, Estée Lauder, and DreamWorks Animation, as well as private organizations such as the Sundance Institute, the Chicago Public Library, and the Chicago Public Education Fund. She is a trustee of Princeton University. She is self-made, smart, and outspoken. It's hard not to be impressed, and a little intimidated, by all she has achieved. And yet, she says, "I still feel the bias." Biases are baked into the human condition -- "we all have them," she says -- but they don't have to be baked into the structure of American business. "We haven't come nearly far enough." Would a black president make a difference? "Yes," she replies without hesitation. "It would send a message. But there is so much more work to do."

Her boss, John Rogers -- who played hoops with Obama on Super Tuesday -- has been leading some of that work. Rogers cofounded an informal group of black directors of major publicly traded companies in 2002. At that first meeting, about 30 people showed up. "My concern was that African Americans on corporate boards were uncomfortable addressing civil rights issues, and worried about being typecast as a minority member and wouldn't speak up," says Rogers, who sits on the boards of McDonald's and Aon Corp. "If not us, then who will?"

The meeting, which has become the annual Black Corporate Directors Conference, now attracts more than 100 business bigwigs and last year featured Time Warner's Dick Parsons and Wal-Mart's Lee Scott, along with CNN's Soledad O'Brien as moderator. The group spends a good deal of time talking about the distinction between being a black board member and a board member who happens to be black. Rogers explains: When you are in the room, do you shortchange your fiduciary duties by advocating for diversity? "Diversity benefits the bottom line substantially, for all sorts of reasons," he says. "But it also takes years to establish a culture, with all the benefits that come with that. If there is only an immediate business imperative, then you might end up creating expectations that might not be met."

Tory Clarke, who is British, and Larry Griffin, an African American, have heard these debates for years. As the founders of Bridge Partners, a boutique executive-search firm that specializes in placing minority candidates at senior levels, "we've seen the shift from a quota mind-set to a business case mind-set," says Clarke. "Now we hear very specific requests -- we want a Latino male or an African-American female -- specifically so our clients can better approach a particular market, or solve a problem with a particular community." They cite the recent election of Avon CEO Andrea Jung to the Apple board -- its sole Asian and only its second woman. Business acumen aside, Jung offers a direct conduit to millions of female customers, a segment that Apple would dearly love to exploit. She also speaks fluent Mandarin, a plus for a company that has just invested $40 million in its first store in Beijing.

Both Griffin and Clarke acknowledge that minority representation at the upper echelons of business remains "abysmal." As a result, Griffin explains, the closer minority hires get to the corner office or the boardroom, the more they become symbols. Even people recruited for their legal or financial expertise may be pressed to become what Griffin calls "internal brands." "They may be asked to show up at campus recruiting events, or take a more public-facing role than they are prepared for," he says.

While some observers hoped the Sarbanes-Oxley provision calling on companies to seek out new independent board members would bring about more change, progress has been slow. But with census data projecting that 40% of Americans will be nonwhite by 2010, business leaders who are charged with inspiring and attracting the best talent and satisfying an increasingly diverse pool of shareholders may soon find that diversity is a business imperative.


Should Obama become president, his leadership style -- not to mention his brown skin and African name -- could give a new face to the image America telegraphs to the rest of the world. "It's already made a difference that a minority could rise this far through the democratic process," asserts Harvard's Quelch.

"It's already made a difference that a minority could rise this far through the democratic process."
-- John Quelch,Harvard Business School
That brand U.S.A. has suffered in recent years is indisputable. According to the Pew Charitable Trust Global Attitudes Survey, updated in the spring of 2007, the country's favorable ratings have declined over the past five years in 26 of 33 countries -- including most of our European allies -- and are particularly negative in the Middle East. A BBC International poll from 2007 is even more dismaying: A survey of 26,000 people in 25 countries shows that three out of four disapprove of how the United States is dealing with Iraq, Guantanamo, global warming, Iran, and North Korea.

"It's a constant discussion point in international business," says Keith Reinhard, whose DDB Worldwide has offices in 99 countries and has been the steward of such premier global brands as Hasbro and Anheuser-Busch. "We're seen as culturally insensitive on a personal level, and on a corporate brand level," he says. Determined to do something about it, Reinhard dipped into his own pocket in 2002 and started Business for Diplomatic Action, a coalition of marketing, political science, and media professionals aimed at improving the standing of America in the world through business outreach. (He has scaled back his work at DDB to work for the coalition full time.) After commissioning research and testifying before Congress, Reinhard can distill his advice to brands to one word: Listen. "Everywhere I go, from CEOs to people on the street, I hear the same thing," Reinhard told me as he rushed between conferences in Frankfurt, Germany, and Doha, Qatar. "The U.S. needs to listen to the world."

This is precisely the strategy that Obama professes in international relations: to engage, even with countries that have been viewed as America's enemies -- in much the same way that businesses from McDonald's to ExxonMobil often find themselves engaging in places where regimes are not necessarily to their liking. Obama's strategy is not one that all geopolitical experts agree with, but it is consistent with how American business has conducted itself. It is also consistent with his criticism at home of what he terms "a politics that says it's okay to demonize your political opponents when we should be coming together to solve problems."

Obama's candidacy and its call for change may already be resonating in countries that have lamented U.S. policy but still want to believe in the promise of American leadership. "That Obama exists has already begun to recalibrate the way the world sees us," Reinhard contends. "This is a good thing."


Sitting at the bar in the Chicago Hyatt on Super Tuesday, I scarfed a burger before rejoining the Obama press circus. My 24-year-old waiter seemed bored by the chaos, but took some time to admire my iPhone and chat. He'd known only a Clinton or Bush in the White House, he said. "I'm sort of looking for a change." Then he caught sight of Obama on CNN over my shoulder, tossed his dreadlocks, and smiled. "But that guy," he patted his chest, "he makes me believe."

Barack Obama may not win his party's nomination. And even if he is nominated, he may lose at the polls. If that happens, pundits will be quick to point out strategic or tactical missteps, and some will say America just isn't ready to elect a black man as president. Such a pat analysis is to be expected. But there is no question that the brand of Obama -- what he represents to the next generation of Americans -- is important. A business that ignores this message does so at its own peril.

Labels: , ,

posted by R J Noriega at 6:13 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
What's Racist? The Importance of a Glance
By Tiffany Sharples

You're in a large group of people when someone makes an edgy remark about African Americans. You glance over at the African-American man sitting across from you to see how he responds. Everyone else does, too. It's natural.

"Think of the Oscar ceremony," says psychologist Benoit Monin. "Someone says something that has to do with race, and you pan to Samuel L. Jackson."

A new report published in the journal Psychological Science finds that when reacting to an ambiguous but potentially racist situation, non-blacks were much more likely to focus on the reaction of an African American than that of whites.

Jennifer Randall Crosby, an assistant professor of psychology at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, used eye-tracking technology to follow the gazes of 25 non-black college students while they watched a video. The film depicted four men, three white and one black, all wearing headphones.

One group of participants was told that all of the men in the video could hear one another, while a second group was told that two of the men — the African American included — could not hear the discussion taking place.

In the video one of the white men makes a statement that could be viewed as raciallly offensive: "I think one problem with admissions is that too many qualified white students are not getting the spots they've earned," he says. "These students work hard all through school and then lose their spots to members of certain groups who have lower test scores, and come from less challenging environments. They get an unfair advantage." Crosby deliberately did not include the words "black" or "African American" in the conversation, in order to distinguish glances that could be based on simple association — looking at a black person when "black" is mentioned — from those looking for the African American's reaction.

As might be expected, participants in both groups watched the speaker more than any of the other three people in the film. When they believed that the African American man's headphone was off, they paid little attention to him. Yet participants who thought that everyone in the group could hear the conversation spent five times longer watching the black man in the video.

"We think that people are looking for cues," Crosby says. In ambiguous situations, we look to those most likely to be offended to define what discrimination is.

When Imus mouthed off last year about the women's basketball team from Rutgers, the media looked to African-American intellectuals and female cultural leaders to determine whether his remarks — referring to the young athletes as "nappy-headed hos" — were his standard brand of on-air provocation or if he had in fact crossed the line into racism.

In 2002, when then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested that if separatist candidate Strom Thurmond had been elected President in the 1948 election, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years," we turned to prominent members of the black community to determine how far he had overstepped.

"There was a lot of conversation about whether he was a racist, or whether was he just ignorant," says Crosby. The ensuing cultural discourse, and subsequent condemnation of Lott's comments, fascinated Crosby, and prompted her research. "How do we figure out what is discrimination?" she asked. More blatant offenses or extreme examples such as hate crimes are easier to determine. Crosby, however, wanted to home in on the nuanced and ambiguous circumstances more common in everyday life.

In her latest research, currently under peer review, she asked students to fill out questionnaires about scenarios in which discrimination was possible but not explicit. A company remains open on Martin Luther King Day, or a police officer stops a black man whose clothing and hair match those of a crime suspect, for example. "They're ambiguous because we want more information," Crosby says. "If it's an ambulance company, you might want it to stay open," or if the person in question is actually the criminal, you would want him to be stopped.

Participants were asked to rate the discrimination on a scale from 1 to 9, where 1 represented no discrimination, and 9 definite discrimination. To gauge how people influence one another's views of discrimination, she made the questionnaires appear as if previous participants had filled out their answers on the same page. "When faced with responses attributed to a white individual, people averaged 4.4 when whites said the items weren't discrimination and 5.2 when whites said the items were discrimination. When the same responses were attributed to a black individual, the means were 3.3 and 6.1, respectively — a significant move from the baseline," she explains.

Consistent with her previous findings, non-blacks' assessments of the situations were strongly affected by whether African Americans had supposedly answered before them.

Crosby worries that this deference may mean we don't trust our own instincts when deciding what is offensive. As Monin, one of the study's co-authors, says, "That's great, of course, that downtrodden groups have a voice," but it also means that too often we may be leaving the responsibility for confronting discrimination in the hands of those discriminated against.

Crosby recalls an example of this from her undergraduate career at Stanford. The school's sports teams were called the Indians from 1930 to 1972, when the name was dropped because of protest from Native American students. Still, from time to time the former mascot would appear on t-shirts and paraphernalia — and each time it fell to Native American students to bring up their objections to the administration, Crosby says. "Why is it always their job?" she asks.

Labels: , , , ,

posted by R J Noriega at 11:28 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Rebels with a Marketing Cause
The authors of the new book Punk Marketing talk about the emergence of advertising that rejects tradition and embraces edgy attitude

by Reena Jana

Punk-rock impresario and Sex Pistols producer Malcolm McLaren once said, "Punk was just a way to sell trousers." The quote appears, appropriately, in a new book, Punk Marketing, by Richard Laermer, chief executive of public-relations firm RLM PR, and Mark Simmons, a marketing consultant and former executive at hot ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

The duo defines punk as "an attitude of rebellion against tradition" and the genre of punk marketing as "a new form of marketing that rejects the status quo and recognizes the shift in power from corporations to consumers." They apply the term to any type of ad or marketing campaign that defies traditional tactics—think consumer-generated ads that spread via YouTube or guerrilla-marketing stunts such as the Cartoon Network's controversial electronic displays that were mistaken for bombs by Boston residents last month (See BusinessWeek.com, 02/09/2007, "Guerrilla Marketing Gone Wild"). The book, which is perhaps not as rebellious as the snappy title suggests, is best seen as a neatly organized time capsule of late-2000s marketing and ad strategies.

While Laermer and Simmons christen today's newest forms of advertising "punk," giving them an air of youthful edginess, the authors also place current ad trends within the context of media history.

For instance, Laermer and Simmons point out that in the 1950s, marketers created TV shows to push products. So the current trend of company-produced shows serving as ads, such as those promoting Unilever's Axe body spray on MTV, aren't really a new concept. The authors also argue that the remote control, rather than TiVo (TIVO), delivered the first blow to TV ads. By allowing consumers to switch stations during commercial breaks and skip 30-second spots, the remote forced marketers and ad executives to come up with imaginative ways of capturing consumers' attention.

Taken together, their anecdotes show that truly original, engaging, and—most important—surprising ads will always prevail, whether they're labeled "punk" or not.

The book features the occasional dubious prediction, such as "someone will make a bundle in the next few years with $100 Qwerty keyboard accessories that can be connected to phones." (The idea, presented in a footnote, seems unlikely, as consumers are growing more and more comfortable thumb-typing on small keys.) But the elegantly designed book, illustrated with pencil drawings, offers a spunky snapshot of today's trends. BusinessWeek.com's Reena Jana spoke with Laermer and Simmons about how they coined the phrase "punk marketing," and real-world examples of it, both from the pages of the book and beyond.

What do you mean by the term "punk marketing"?

Simmons: I was a teen in the 1970s, and in 1977, punk was such a breath of fresh air. Marketing needs that same breath of fresh air today.

Laermer: In the States, the whole idea of punk was "stand up and slap people in the face…."

Simmons: And punk marketing is about always having a fresh ideas. We see a need for a punk attitude now.

Laermer: Hence this book. We want people to use it. And that also means making notes on the pages and submitting suggestions to our Web site [www.punkmarketing.com].

What campaigns exemplify punk?

Laermer: Here's an example. I'm not a fan of chain restaurants. But I saw a print ad for Outback Steakhouse in USA Today recently. It featured a picture of a red chili pepper with seeds falling out. It looked succulent. The seeds were shaped like boomerangs [the restaurant's logo]. In tiny letters, there was a line: "Our seeds aren't shaped like boomerangs, but we thought this was funny." I would call this punk, because it's not what you expect from ad copy.

What about, say, Apple's (AAPL) "I'm a Mac" ads. Those certainly have a cheeky attitude.

Simmons: All of Apple's ads tend to work, simply because its products are so good. So their ads fall into place. We're not talking about a difficult brief for the ad executives.

Laermer: I have some criticism of Apple, though. I think they're not looking at the big picture, beyond the ads. I use Apple products, and now I get so much spam from Apple. I wouldn't think Apple would send out a lot of annoying spam. By sending out the spam like everyone else, Apple's not as cool as it seems in the ads. It almost seems like a separate company doing that.

You discuss how companies successfully use blogs as marketing tools. Give us an example.

Laermer: Netflix (NFLX) has a good blog, by [Chief Executive] Reed Hastings. I like reading about upstart companies taking over. You feel like you're part of an inclusive society. But I'm shocked that Jeff Zucker [chief executive of NBC Universal] hasn't blogged more. He's articulate and angry. That's a great voice for blogging.

Simmons: It suggests that he doesn't understand the online world.

Speaking of the Internet, what fresh sites do you recommend paying attention to?

Simmons: Joost, by the guys who first did KaZaa and Skype (EBAY). I'm amazed by what they're starting to do: putting TV, with shows and ads, on the Internet. Others are trying to do it, sure. But Joost is all about simplicity and content. It allows marketers to target individuals really specifically by location and offer them tailored marketing messages. And it has way less ads than traditional TV channels, just a couple of minutes an hour.

That means a more compelling viewer experience. That it's subtle and highly targeted is a marketer's dream.

Laermer: I'm watching an online network called xy.tv. It's a promotional tool for brands like American Express (AXP) to show off their products and services with instructional videos that show people using them. These shows are sponsored by companies. But xy.tv creates the content.

Consumer-generated ads are gaining a lot of attention. Do you think they're just a fad?

Simmons: Totally. We won't see them during the Super Bowl next year. What's long lasting about consumer-generated ads is the broad idea that companies and agencies now need to involve consumers more. If they don't invite consumers in, the consumers can now create and distribute parodies and their own ads anyway.

Laermer: It's important for companies to embrace criticism and play along when they see consumers making fun of their products.

Simmons: Even if consumer feedback is negative, it can be great. It allows a company to learn about its own product. If you can say, "We heard and we listen. So give us another chance," consumers might even trust the brand more.

What are the punk-est ads you've ever seen?

Laermer: There was an ad for Carleton cigarettes that was brash and straightforward. The campaign said something like "Try our cigarettes. You'll really like them."

Simmons: My favorite punk ads were an outdoor campaign in Australia, advertising beef. The ads said, "Buy more beef, you bastards." Funny. To the point. And unexpected.

Laermer: I also liked a recent Chevrolet TV ad that ran during this year's Grammy Awards, featuring different pop songs about Chevy cars. I liked how it made you think of the brand's cultural legacy.

That ad actually sounds pretty mainstream. In your book, you predict that all ads will one day be "punk." If that happens, won't your conception of "punk" lose its meaning?

Laermer: All good marketing and ad campaigns keep people guessing. So in that sense, all good campaigns are punk, as we define it.

Simmons: What we mean is that the current establishment will change in the next few years and adopt today's punk strategies. But there's always a need for fresh attitude to challenge those ideas. And that's punk.


posted by R J Noriega at 1:30 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Hearing Voices
Hearing Voices

FROM age 13, Daniel Smith’s father heard voices — inner instructions to move a glass across the table or to use this subway turnstile rather than that one. The strain of fighting the voices in secret, Smith believes, led to the psychotic depression his father suffered in his late 30s. The father responded with rage when he later learned that his own father had also heard voices, ones that advised on discards at gin or (less correctly) on bets at the track. What pain could have been avoided if only it had been clear that such voices are not necessarily signals of mental illness.

Smith hopes to make that truth widely known. When people read about “inner voices,” they may think of those commanding a disturbed patient to commit a violent act. But auditory hallucination is common. In one survey, 39 percent of healthy volunteers said they had heard their own thoughts aloud. Another survey found that 13 percent of widows and widowers heard their lost spouse’s voice. In surveys of healthy people, 3 percent or more report a history of vivid auditory hallucination; most do not think the experience calls for treatment.

With the advent of scanners that can track brain activity, neuroscience has taken a new interest in hallucinations. A recent study shows that schizophrenic patients who hear voices activate a language-related region in the right brain when reading, while people who do not hear voices use the left. The researchers suggest that because the “wrong” side of the brain helps process words, hallucinators may generate inner speech that is not attributed to the self. This conclusion is speculative, but the study shows the sort of findings researchers expect — glitches in the biology of producing and interpreting language. Other investigators have had some success treating these hallucinations by applying magnetic fields to specific parts of the brain.

Smith begins his exploration of the neurobiology of hearing with a clever description of what happens, from the vocal chords of the speaker to the neural networks of the hearer, when a wife tells her husband, “I want a divorce.” Smith concludes that hallucinated speech might implicate a range of brain areas controlling such functions as perception, emotion and attention. To try to understand what it’s like to experience auditory hallucination, he dons a headset that plays tapes simulating inner voices and later tests out a “sensory deprivation” flotation chamber. (Neither method succeeds.) He also attends an annual meeting of the Hearing Voices Network, a British organization within a broader movement advocating “liberation, not cure” for psychotic and well-adjusted hallucinators alike.

But Smith’s strongest interest is in hallucination as inspiration. He provides a fascinating account. Generations of religious figures have understood voices as divine. Muhammad heard the Archangel Gabriel order: “Recite!” St. Augustine and John Bunyan (of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”) turned to Scripture at the urging of voices. But with the advent of modernity, inspiration moved away from the aural. In the 16th century, Teresa of Ãvila received divine “locutions” that arrived without sound and argued that nuns with more vivid visitations might be best understood as suffering from mental illness — a position Smith suggests was a way of heading off the Inquisitors.

After St. Teresa, poets either celebrated the loss of “aurality” as a triumph of Christ over the oracles or mourned a loss of direct inspiration. Smith traces the debate, from Milton to Blake to A. E. Housman. Does the muse still speak? Smith tracks down one “automatic writer,” a poet named Sarah Arvio, but she denies that the “voices” she speaks of are auditory hallucinations.

Ultimately, Smith remains agnostic about whether voices convey special wisdom, though he makes a case for taking a nonjudgmental posture toward those who hear them. The association of voice-hearing with religious inspiration cuts two ways. Smith cites the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, who found that sensory hallucinations buttressed the faith of a group of evangelical Christians she interviewed, half of whom heard voices. But a doubter might argue that historically religion has benefited from the impulse to assign value to inexplicable phenomena — experiences now better seen through the lens of science. Smith sets (but does not explore) a provocative challenge: Had antipsychotic medication been available, would Moses have dismissed Yahweh’s demands at the burning bush “as his dopamine system playing tricks on him?”

Issues of faith complicate the question impossibly. Presumably a deity who wants to communicate will use convincing means. If the bush is consumed, if the hallucination is treatable, Moses may be right to ignore the sign. Besides, Smith has argued convincingly that we don’t know how biblical experience corresponds to voice-hearing today.

Perhaps we would do better to substitute a future-oriented thought experiment. Imagine that years hence a person hears a voice that can be traced to a misfiring brain circuit that is easily reregulated by the application of a magnet. Will that message have special standing, above the same idea arrived at in more ordinary fashion? Individuals might answer the question differently, just as Smith’s tortured father and his more accepting grandfather responded to voice-hearing in different ways. But it seems likely that a society with such medical capacities would move further down the trail blazed by St. Teresa, toward neurological and away from mystical understandings of the voices in our heads.


posted by R J Noriega at 1:15 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Creatives With Causes and Candidates
-By Gregory Solman

LOS ANGELES "Stop working for the ni**er."

The year was 1975. In the client's mind, George Lois had crossed a line: On his own time and dime, he'd mounted a controversial newspaper ad campaign and solicited celebrity endorsements to free boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter from jail.

Lois hadn't consulted with his partners, James Callaway and J. Ronald Holland, before undertaking Carter's cause. When you lose the big accounts, he said recently, "you gulp. But [my partners] more than understood."

The self-described "left-wing Democrat," who has worked officially for politicians ranging from Robert F. Kennedy to Dennis Kucinich, added, "I've almost always had trouble with clients."

More than 30 years later, creative directors enjoy unprecedented access to free media channels -- and they're using them to support candidates and causes.

Ben Relles, at the time digital strategist at Agency.com in New York, made an unofficial contribution to Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign with his "I've Got a Crush on Obama" video starring the "Obama Girl." The Omnicom shop's clients include Chevron, a favorite Obama target along with other big oil companies. Chevron declined to comment on Relles' video or its relationship with Omnicom. Relles said he left the agency to start a political satire site, barelypolitical.com, and that the video played no role in his exit.

Mike Jurkovac, CEO of New York production company Cyclops, produced the pro-Obama music video "Yes You Can" (directed by Jesse Dylan), which has gotten a whopping 5 million hits on YouTube. In the video, for which Jurkovac has received praise, not flak, musicians and actors speak and sing the words Obama is saying on the split-screen.

Donny Deutsch, chairman of Deutsch, New York and Roy Spence, principal of GSD&M Idea City in Austin, Texas, worked outside their agencies on both of Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns. Spence is working on Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign -- despite military critic Clinton having made a point of questioning the contracts of one of GSD&M's clients: the U.S. Air Force.

Spence declined to comment, but a GSD&M rep said the Air Force -- which did not respond to an inquiry from Adweek -- is well aware of Spence's outside work.

Deutsch/LA president and CCO Eric Hirshberg sells GM's Saturns on the clock and Obama, who contends he'll take on the auto industry, when he's off it. Hirshberg produced and directed the unofficial Obama video "Hope Changes Everything" with Deutsch cohort Tom Dunlap, director of integrated video.

The black-and-white campaign ad, which imbues the presidential candidate with a cool, rock star glamour, was professionally seeded on sites by like-minded business ally Josh Warner, president of The Feed Company in Los Angeles. Released Feb. 11, the video has already garnered more than 80,000 views.

Hirshberg doesn't just oversee the Saturn campaign, he does its voiceovers. Yet GM remains nonchalant about his political work, despite Obama telling the United Auto Workers that he personally called Mike Sheridan of Local 95 to support a strike against GM. "I know someone once said what's good for GM is good for America," Obama said in a November speech. "But it's time we also recognized that what's good for the UAW is good for America."

"I'm proud of our partnership with Eric Hirshberg and the Deutsch team," said Jill Lajdziak, general manager of the Saturn division, Detroit. "His personal choices are certainly his own. We respect anyone who wants to get involved in a cause or volunteerism or whatever their personal mission is."

Publicly held Interpublic Group, which owns Deutsch, said it has no beef with his Obama work, either -- as long as Hirshberg does it on his own time.

"I'm 100 percent committed to my clients' success," Hirshberg said. "I don't talk to GM about politics any more than I talk to them about my synagogue. Telling me I can't make commercials for Obama is like telling a carpenter he can't work for Habitat for Humanity in his spare time."

Candidates aren't the only controversial causes. While his agency represented energy company BP, Josh Tavlin, group cd and senior partner at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, spearheaded pro bono spots warning against global warming for the Ad Council. And IPG's McCann Erickson works for Nestl? on the one hand and creates anti-obesity ads on the other.

"These lines are blurred more and more," said Howard Benenson, co-founder of cause advertising specialty firm Benenson Janson in Los Angeles, which handles the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. "Corporations are embracing causes, so agencies are, too."

Labels: ,

posted by R J Noriega at 12:25 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Campus Exposure

Aaron Foster, a junior majoring in history at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, was browsing Craigslist one day in 2005 when he saw an ad for nude models. It had been posted by Boink, a glossy new sex magazine by and about college students founded by Alecia Oleyourryk, then a senior at nearby Boston University, and Christopher Anderson, a software consultant in his 30s moonlighting as a photographer. “You’re going to pay me $200, and all I have to do is pretend to be with a chick — you’re going to pay me to do that?” was how Foster, now 24, a slim, dark-haired former marine with pierced nipples and tattoos of raking animal claws on his back, described his reaction.

Soon he found himself standing behind closed Venetian blinds in Oleyourryk’s off-campus apartment, clutching the denim-clad buttocks of a redheaded, similarly nipple-pierced young woman named Jessica as Anderson’s camera clicked away. It wasn’t long before the jeans came off, and the underwear. The impromptu couple then repaired to a queen-size bed, where they simulated intercourse and then lay as if in blissful postcoital repose. The session resulted in a cover shot and an eight-page layout in the third issue of Boink. “It was fun, being nude and being photographed,” Foster told me months afterward. “A good experience. All my friends thought it was pretty cool. Especially if I have a party, the first thing my friends will do is bust out my porn. I think they get a kick out of it.”

It wasn’t so long ago that the male collegians of America hid their copies of Playboy deep inside their sock drawers, and the naked women tucked therein were glamorous, unknowable princesses from a media empire far, far away. These days, when anyone can run a virtual media empire out of a dorm room, student-generated sex magazines, some with the imprimatur of university financing and faculty advisers, are becoming a fact of campus life. Their subjects and contributors are the gals — and guys — down the hall; their target audience is male, female, straight, gay and everything in between. Not all are as overtly titillating as Boink. The grande dame of the group is Squirm, a “magazine of smut and sensibility,” which has been circulating since 2000 at Vassar, once the inspiration for the awkward lunges and contraceptive pessaries of Mary McCarthy’s 1963 novel “The Group.” Topics considered within its pages have included bondage and sadomasochism, the history of the condom and the fluidity of gender. At Yale, there is the earnest, instructive SWAY, whose title is an acronym for Sex Week at Yale, a student-run symposium held biennially there since 2002, with administrative blessing and a corporate sponsor, Pure Romance, a company whose representatives sell sexual aids for women at Tupperware-like “parties.” The premiere edition included a slightly breathless interview with the porn star Jesse Jane along with an essay by the conservative Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., a former Yale economics lecturer, which concluded: “Marriage is for lovers. Hooking up is for losers.” In 2004, H Bomb arrived at Harvard with slightly loftier intellectual aspirations: its founders, Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg and Camilla Hrdy, positioned it as a “literary arts magazine about sex and sexual issues.” Vita Excolatur followed shortly after at the University of Chicago (its title a truncated version of the university’s motto, translates roughly as “Life Enriched”), proclaiming itself “eager to engage all interested parties, from Republican pro-choicers to pro-Foucauldians.” And Columbia now has, simply, Outlet, whose second issue, published online in December 2006, includes a review of eight vibrators and an article on “vaginal personality” — shades of Dr. Betty Dodson, the masturbation instructress — subtitled “How snarky is your punani?”

To middle-aged parents who still remember parietal rules, these projects might seem shocking. True, Playboy has been publishing a feature called “Girls of the Ivy League” since 1979. (Later came “Girls of the Big 12” and “Girls of the Top 10 Party Schools.”) But it could be argued that the co-eds depicted (in a far more decorous mode than their Playmate counterparts) represented only a very small percentage of the student population. College-based sex magazines suggest that the students willing to bare it all may not be so exceptional after all. And while these publications may be less common than the sex columns — usually written by women and often explicitly confessional — that have popped up like little red-light disctricts within the respectable black-and-white confines of established school newspapers, they have taken hold at some of the country’s most prestigious campuses.

In an era when the educated elite seems wholly comfortable with overt sexual imagery (Nerve.com depicts highbrow group gropes; Fleshbot.com and others archly parse the nether parts of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears), maybe it’s not so strange that students are confronting their own sex lives so graphically and publicly. But there’s more to the phenomenon. Considering that a smorgasbord of Internet porn is but a mouse click away for most college students, there’s something valiant, even quaint, about the attempt to organize and consider sex in a printed magazine. It’s as if, though curious to explore the possibly frightening boundlessness of adult eroticism, they also wish to keep it at arm’s length, contained within the safety of the campus. The students involved display a host of contradictory qualities: cheekiness and earnestness, progressive politics and retro sensibilities, salacity and sensitivity. They aren’t so much answering the question of what is and what isn’t porn — or what those categories might even mean today — as artfully, disarmingly and sometimes deliberately skirting it.

Despite the sex magazines’ brash names and general air of exuberance, a scrim of protectiveness, even primness hangs over many of them — a vestige, perhaps, of a not-so-distant past when topics like date rape, sexual harassment and AIDS were dominating the national discourse. Seminars addressing these issues are still a part of most freshman orientations, though mention of the infamous Antioch sex code of the early 1990s — which postulated that students should secure their partner’s verbal consent, button by button, before each stage of lovemaking — tends to evoke blank stares and giggles from the undergraduates of 2007. Still, though personal online pages on Web sites like MySpace or home videos on YouTube often reveal as much as students do in these magazines, Squirm’s release form specifies that the magazine is intended solely for on-campus distribution and that students retain the copyright to their contributions. “We try to limit unwanted exposure as much as we can,” wrote its current editor, Sarah Fraser, in an e-mail message. “It’s one thing to know you’re posing nude or writing erotica for an insulated campus, and understandably quite another to know it’s being disseminated widely.” After a brief initial flurry of publicity, Kimi Traube, one of Outlet’s founders, began declining interviews from noncampus press. “We’re flattered by all the attention but have decided it’s best for the magazine to focus our energies on the Columbia community,” she said, also via e-mail. The current editor of H Bomb, Ming Vandenberg, is especially concerned about the security of the magazine’s content on the Web. “I am trying to design a foolproof plan to prevent any negative externalities,” she said, adding with a note of horror, “There could be a photo of a clothed Harvard student that someone goes into, chops the head off and puts it on an unclothed body.”

These publications vary in tone and content, but while all strive to be provocative after a fashion, they generally eschew the term “pornographic,” hurling it as an insult with the good-natured mutual contempt of varsity football teams. “Outlet ... is not intended to be porn,” sniffs a December letter from Traube to readers, saucily addressed “Dear Hotbottoms.” “They do a very good job of that over at Harvard.” On their Web site, Harvard staff members retort: “If you aren’t mature enough to tell the difference between playful nudity and pornography you probably shouldn’t be reading H Bomb.”

The exception is Boink, which Oleyourryk calls “user-friendly porn”: an unblushing assortment of bared private parts, lewd prose and graphic caricatures. With its panoply of contributors — about 50 percent of whom are enrolled at B.U., most of the rest at other colleges — Boink is the most independent and commercially ambitious of the pack, and at first glance the least interested in critical thought. It retails for $7.95 at Newbury Comics and other stores in the Boston area, has a print run of 10,000 and, atypically for a college publication, pays its contributors. Boink has also sponsored a number of parties, some shut down by the police for under-age drinking. Recalling one of these events, Aaron Foster said enthusiastically: “Girls walk around with their tops off. But it’s just a party. My buddy was convinced there was some secret orgy room. I was like, Dude, there is no secret orgy room!”

The absence of a secret sex dungeon was not enough to endear Boink to Boston University’s administrators. Before the first issue even appeared, it was denounced by Kenneth Elmore, the dean of students. It did, however, attract the attention of Howard Stern, a B.U. alumnus, who promptly booked Oleyourryk on his radio talk show. Ben Greenberg, a young editor at Warner Books, was alerted to the broadcast by a friend. “I was like, Wow, I can’t believe someone would do that — what would their parents think?” he says. But the shock wore off quickly. Harvard’s sex magazine might have been more obvious fodder for a book, but “the general consensus was that the H Bomb one was kind of tame,” Greenberg says. “It didn’t want to consider itself in any way porn. The Boink people were willing to embrace that and run with it and turn it into something sex-positive rather than something that was dirty and smut.” Warner, which has published anthologies by Penthouse and Vice magazines, eventually offered Anderson and Oleyourryk a six-figure advance to compile “Boink: The Book,” a collection of erotic writings and photographs from college students around the country; it is scheduled for publication in 2008, to coincide with spring break.

Oleyourryk, now 23, graduated in 2005 with a journalism degree and is working part time as a bartender. She herself gamely disrobed for the debut issue of Boink. “I was very comfortable with it,” she said on a chilly autumn afternoon at Charley’s, a pub on Newbury Street. Blond and slender, with professionally arched eyebrows, she was wearing a glittery paisley shirt and big gold-medallion earrings and furiously biting her nails. Anderson sat across from her: a dark, calm, slightly portly fellow in a green fleece pullover with a faint sheen of perspiration on his upper lip.

The two met after Oleyourryk, then in her sophomore year, paused at a water fountain during a run and looked up to see a flier Anderson had posted seeking nude models with athletic builds. He was hoping to augment his portfolio of black-and-white art photos, which he sells at www.light-sculptor.com. (Cited influences include Edward Weston and Rodin.) “It was about, Can I do this?” Oleyourryk said. Photographer and subject struck up a friendship, and after Anderson did some work for the first issue of H Bomb, he called to see if Oleyourryk wanted to collaborate on a magazine. “We thought it would be fun,” he said.

“People couldn’t understand that we were just doing it to do it,” Oleyourryk said. “So many people were looking for justifications — like: ‘Oh, there are going to be articles, right? There are going to be articles about S.T.D.’s and contraception and about this and about that?’ Nobody could accept that it was for entertainment value. Why is that not O.K.? It’s just so unsettling, it seems, for people, that it’s just like, Oh, it’s porn for porn, enjoy it, masturbate to it, whatever.”

Oleyourryk said that for her and her peers, the question is not why pose nude, but why not? After all, they grew up watching Madonna (“All she was was naked all the time”), parsing the finer points of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and flipping through Calvin Klein ads: sexual imagery was the very wallpaper of their lives, undergirded by a new frankness about how to protect oneself from pregnancy and disease. “Condoms. They’ve been rammed down our throats ... since we were old enough to start contemplating training bras,” wrote a Boink contributor in an essay called “Fall Fornication Must-Haves,” which apparently included crotchless bikinis and a Swarovski-crystal-encrusted dildo called the Minx.

Sex is “everywhere, and it’s always been everywhere for this generation,” Oleyourryk said. “A body is a body is a body, and I’m proud of my body, and why not show my body? It’s not going to keep me from having a job. Maybe it sticks to people, but it doesn’t have that negative connotation like, I’m going to have to carry around this baggage. Maybe it’s like, I’m going to carry this around and be proud of it and say: Look how I looked then! My boobs weren’t on the ground. I wasn’t 45 pounds overweight. How hot was I? It’s not, like, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ anymore. It’s a little badge of honor.”

Of course, posing naked for a sex magazine is not exactly like making Phi Beta Kappa or playing the lead in the school play. For one thing, it’s generally not something you write home about, though Oleyourryk insists that her parents have been supportive of her venture. (“As much as they could be,” she said. “I was raised very Catholic, but they live in today’s world.”) For another, it’s something pretty much anyone with sufficient moxie can achieve; Boink models are fit and fresh-faced but hardly all homecoming kings and queens. “We’re looking for diversity,” Anderson said.

Indeed, the most recent issue — Boink’s quarterly publication schedule has been suspended while its editors work on their book — is, in a way, a triumphant marriage of the prurient and the politically correct. There is a 10-page layout devoted to the cover model, a fetching blonde named Eve; 7 more pages of Sarah, a buxom brunette, stripping for the shower; and 9 of Crystal and Lexi photographed together in a tangle of pearls and pierced body parts. But a customer buying the magazine to get glimpses of such nubile female flesh might be startled to encounter compact, mop-topped Zach (“I’m planning to get my Ph.D. in mathematics, just for fun”), followed by dark-eyed Costa (“Some of my friends call me Super Greek”) masturbating to orgasm clad in nothing but a silver cross around his neck. “We have different sexualities represented, which commercially has been a hindrance,” Anderson said with a shrug. The practice, however, has won Boink grudging approval in at least one unlikely quarter: the Boston University Women’s Center, the college’s resident feminist organization. “What really stood out is that there were male students in it,” Heather Foley, 21, now president of B.U.W.C., which devoted a meeting to discussing the issue, said in a phone interview. “Because there were men in it, and gay men, under the same cover, it was sort of alternative. It kind of equalized it: gay men could look at it, women could look at it, and that was great. Women as objects, men as objects.”

Foley, a senior majoring in political science, acknowledged that equal-opportunity objectification might represent a dubious sort of progress. “I believe Andrea Dworkin, that porn perpetuates violence against women,” she said. “Most pornography is just women. Boink is different in that way, but because porn does feed into that system, I tend to be against it in general, and I don’t think just because we’re putting men in it that makes it O.K. But it’s a step forward that men are being put in it.” In some way her confusion seems to mirror the awkward pas de deux of college sex magazines and their audiences, a tug of war between pornographic conventions and subverting those conventions, between private and public: Look at me! Don’t look at me! Protect me! Set me free!

For all Boink’s raunchiness, its founders profess a certain idealism and purity of purpose. Back at Charley’s, Anderson told me that he and Oleyourryk have turned down lucrative offers to do reality-television shows and for joint deals with what they disdainfully call “the industry,” with all its implications of hairy middle-aged predators, silicone implants and tacky trade shows in the San Fernando Valley. Oleyourryk stressed the authenticity of Boink’s subjects in a Botoxed, surgically altered world. “We want to be proud of the fact that this is what’s going on in sex and in college right now, and these are real people, and you’re more relatable if you’re a real person,” she said. “We don’t put makeup on them, we don’t do their hair, we don’t Photoshop them. We aim for honesty and truth.”

Over at Harvard, students are pursuing a different kind of sexual veritas. In contrast to Boink, H Bomb was approved by the university’s Committee on College Life and somewhat controversially granted $2,000 in start-up costs by the Undergraduate Council. Sex magazines apparently create strange bedfellows: writing in The Crimson, Travis Kavulla, publisher of the conservative journal The Harvard Salient, suggested with unlikely indignation that this grant shortchanged the Take Back the Night rally, sponsored by the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, an event historically ridiculed by campus conservatives.

Unlike Boink, H Bomb has a faculty adviser and adult champion: Marc Hauser, a professor of psychology and evolutionary biology, who is a friend of Sarah Hrdy, the anthropologist and mother of Camilla, one of the magazine’s founders. But Hauser pronounced himself somewhat disappointed with

H Bomb’s maiden efforts. “It hit the ground with all this big fanfare, but it didn’t really do its thing,” he said. “Stylistically it succeeded, but everyone” — citizen critics gathered breathlessly during the long ramp-up to the magazine’s debut — “felt that it didn’t really succeed in terms of content, that’s where it fell flat.” He would like to see the magazine take a more belletristic bent, reviewing controversial books, perhaps — “You think of ‘Lolita,’ ” he said — and examining what might be called sexistential questions. “Nowadays, what constitutes porn?” Hauser mused. “What does a 21-year-old think porn is? I, as a parent of an 18-year-old, would like to hear that view.”

H Bomb initially shared at least some of Boink’s exhibitionism, if not quite the full-frontal erections. In the spring 2005 issue, undergraduates posed in various states of undress, using only their first names and responding to the question “How’d you lose it?” One young man was depicted with a bare light bulb shining on his flaccid member, his face obscured by shadow. Vandenberg, who inherited the magazine after Hrdy graduated and Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg grew preoccupied with her thesis, plans to take things in a more modest direction (and curtail all the budding Anaïs Nins experimenting with free verse — “I hate the poems,” she said).

“Now that I’m in charge, it’s not the kind of thing that you have a problem with your parents seeing,” the new editor said over homemade oxtail soup in the capacious penthouse apartment she shares with her boyfriend in Boston. “I would prefer if all nude photos were anonymous,” she said. “But people want everyone else to know. People want to stand out.”

On a laptop computer, Vandenberg, 20, showed a few of the pictures she is planning to publish in the next edition of H Bomb, which will be online only for financial reasons. “Quite tame,” she said. In one, female Harvard science majors peered earnestly at test tubes, wearing lab coats opened to expose black lacy bras and panties, as in the old Maidenform advertisements. It was intended, she said, as a comment on the brouhaha that ensued after Lawrence Summers, Harvard’s former president, publicly remarked that genetics might account for why women are still a minority in the sciences. “I really don’t think he said much wrong,” said Vandenberg, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biological anthropology. “I’m not a feminist. Feminism has this premise that men and women are equal, and I have a more biological view of things. I don’t think men and women are equal at all. I think we’re different, and what’s wrong with that?”

She spoke disparagingly of the prose submissions — H Bomb publishes both essays and fiction — sent in by Harvard women. “They’re sent in as fiction, but they’re always barely disguised personal confessions, or not even confessions, outpourings of angst: I entered Harvard and I thought to myself, I’m going to rebel against my sheltered upbringing, I’m going to have sex with whomever I want to — that’s the opening of the piece, and then the body will be Subject A: I led him on and then I felt bad, because I really liked him. Subject B: I thought I was leading him on, but actually he dumped me first. Conclusion: I’m so frustrated, I’ve ruined my reputation and now no one wants to have a serious relationship with me. They realized that they’re not fulfilled by casual sex, and yet they can’t find someone they connect with.”

More photos clicked past: a daytime re-enactment of Primal Scream, a Harvard tradition during which students streak naked across the Yard the last night before final exams begin; a montage of young vacationers frolicking in the Hawaii surf — “like Abercrombie & Fitch,” Vandenberg said, referring to the clothing company’s popular ad campaign; and a young man photographed in the dressing room of a sex-toy store, wearing handcuffs and a feather boa. “This was about making bondage, which is a scary sort of thing, more palatable,” she said.

Sleek and attractive, with a low-key volubility, Vandenberg was a freshman when she walked into a crowded H Bomb meeting in Harvard’s Loker Commons, thinking it was for the film-society magazine. She stayed because there were free T-shirts. “They wanted me to be a model, and I was incredibly scandalized by this,” she said. Hrdy learned that Vandenberg had done some travel photography and offered to provide her with human subjects. “I thought, Well, this would be interesting,” Vandenberg said. “I’ve never taken nude photos before — why not?” Among her efforts was a series of black-and-white shots of a fellow female student sitting on a toilet with her legs crossed, naked but for a pair of pumps, her head turned to the side and mostly obscured, and another of a woman covered in red rose petals, “American Beauty”-style. “I thought it was great fun,” Vandenberg said. “It was a great, controversial thing to say, Oh, I’m a photographer for H Bomb.” Miss Rose Petals, a sophomore named Fiona, returned the compliment, saying on the phone later that she was “honored” by the opportunity. “It’s sort of a document of my time at Harvard,” she said. “My friends were very accepting. Those who saw my pictures thought they were very beautiful.”

You might expect that the staffs of campus sex magazines would convene in some sort of Dionysian, orgiastic formation — multiple bare limbs splayed over a king-size bed — but in fact the publications are just as likely to be produced in digital solitude, submissions beamed over the Internet, no one so much as touching hands. “Right now it’s a dictatorship,” Vandenberg said. “I’m the meeting. I really hate meetings, actually. I really just like to communicate online. It’s very inconvenient to meet physically.”

The exploration of sexuality on college campuses has often had a political, communitarian component. Forty years ago, love-ins and slogans like “Make Love Not War” linked anti-war sentiment with feminist rejections of traditional roles. In 1990, students at Radcliffe — then still a separate institution from Harvard — began publishing a magazine called Lighthouse, after the Virginia Woolf novel “To the Lighthouse.” Considered a “safe space” for women to express themselves, it also contained intensely personal anonymous female sexual confessionals, dropped furtively into a cardboard box in Lamont Library. It died a quiet death in the late 90s, around the time that Radcliffe definitively merged with Harvard. In H Bomb and many of the other new breed of publications, any tolerance for emotional vulnerability appears to have evaporated, replaced by an uneasy, fleshy bombast.

Vandenberg described a social landscape changed irrevocably by the rise of networking Web sites. After meeting someone, it’s now de rigueur to check out his or her profile — a collage of pictures (often risqué) and preferences — on MySpace or Facebook.com. “I have a BlackBerry — so immediately,” Vandenberg said. “You might run into someone at a party, and then you Facebook them: what are their interests? Are they crazy-religious, is their favorite quote from the Bible? Everyone takes great pains over presenting themselves. It’s like an embodiment of your personality.” Except for the die-hard holdouts who refuse to participate in these networks — “They’re treated like pariahs, people will just harass them until they join,” Vandenberg said — to attend college now means to participate in a culture of constant two-dimensional preening, for males and females alike. In this context, posing for a sex magazine can seem like just another, more formalized level of display.

At one of Boink’s parties, Aaron Foster, the cover model from the third issue, met a female model, Anna Lee, signing copies of the second issue of the magazine, in which she appeared wearing only body paint. They connected again on MySpace and had what he described as “a whirlwind thing,” but then he stopped calling her. “It was a weird situation,” he said. “She’s a porn girl, so ... I dunno. I assumed she wasn’t really looking for much from me. I’m a guy. There’s a lot less stigma attached to it. A chick, people think ‘slutty,’ whereas a dude gets associated with male bravado.”

Now a junior, Lee became audibly distressed when asked about her relationship with Foster. “That’s not why he told me he broke up with me,” she said. “The reason we split up is because Aaron was in a time in his life when he didn’t want to have a relationship.” As for her being a “porn girl,” Lee said: “It was a mutual thing. I didn’t know what to think of him either.” About her dealings with Boink, she expressed equally mixed feelings. “It really just started out as a joke. I think it’s good to be proud of your body, especially when you’re younger and stuff, as long as it’s tasteful. Just something to add to the résumé. I thought the body-painting spread was really creative. I wanted people to say, ‘That’s really cool and artistic and different.’ ” But she wasn’t pleased that her image was associated with some other, more explicit shots. “In my issue there’s this guy who posed, and he’s masturbating in the picture. It’s really awkward. I’m like: Wow. That was pretty disgusting.”

Lee, who is 20, was also upset because, she said, Boink had marketed a poster featuring a picture from her shoot — one without body paint — without her consent.

Anderson later told me that he had contemplated making posters of Lee and another model (the release form Boink models sign gives the magazine complete sovereignty over their images, he said), but there was no consumer interest and they were never printed.

“I think this was a case of being in the spotlight and then out of the spotlight,” he said of her complaints. “An attention-getting thing.”

It was a windy Sunday, a model search for the Boink book at a local nightclub had been canceled after the club’s manager was fired and Anderson and Oleyourryk were having a subdued meeting in the living room of the latter’s apartment in South Boston. They were discussing a Web site she had discovered that featured faces — only faces — of people experiencing orgasm, one that a writer for Outlet would also later cover. A cat paced back and forth on a white shag rug, eyeing the birds on the swaying boughs outside. In one corner of the room was Oleyourryk’s discarded Halloween costume, a low-cut green garment with glittery scales. “I was a dragon,” she said. “Girls totally find Halloween a chance to be slutty. Not slutty in a negative way, but — sexy.”

“We’ve had a surprising number of people, writers who have told us they’re virgins, which just seems unusual to me,” Anderson said.

“Why are there so many virgins?” Oleyourryk wondered.

“Might be a lack of opportunity,” Anderson said. “College is supposed to be a time of experimentation, but a lot of people get freaked out by it too. They have all this opportunity, and they don’t really know what to do. Too much choice.”

The duo were sitting on a couch, a bottle of Diet Coke at Oleyourryk’s side, sifting through printouts of essay submissions. “I would guess that if you were watching J. K. Rowling write a book, it would be a bit more stimulating,” Anderson said, passing over a sheaf of papers. Our sex is the Mass, read a piece by a Dartmouth student. You kneel down in the doorway of my chapel. ...

“We get so many female submissions,” he said. “Everyone wants to be Carrie Bradshaw.”

“All girls want to be sexy and have a lot of sex, but they want to do it in an environment that’s safe for them,” Oleyourryk said. “So they’re doing the Carrie Bradshaw thing or dressing up for Halloween.”

Anderson tilted his laptop to show a picture of a blond woman standing in a black bikini in a road, then clicked over to a head shot of a light-skinned African-American woman. “I like her lips,” Oleyourryk said, stretching and getting up. Her cellphone bleated urgently. “Oh, Christ, I will call you back in a minute,” she said, batting crossly at it.

They seemed a bit overwhelmed, to lack zest for the task at hand. Where were the eager freshmen to help? “Who in college doesn’t want to get involved in a magazine like this?” Anderson said. “And then their interest lasts about five minutes once they find out that they’re not going to be surrounded by naked girls. People have a very skewed view of what it’s all about. They think it’s going to be the Playboy mansion 24-7.”

“Wait, wait,” Oleyourryk said in sarcastic imitation. “We’re not going to have an orgy?” Rising from the couch, getting ready to leave for her evening bartending shift, she sounded like any other recent college graduate facing the world. “Oh, lordy, lordy,” she said. “I do not want to go to work.”

Labels: ,

posted by R J Noriega at 3:44 AM | Permalink | 0 comments

free hit counters
Best Buy Coupon