Thursday, February 17, 2011

Leveraging the zeitgeist

It's a new age. Information has never been as freely accessible as in our time. The people of my generation are the first to truly embody the concept of 'global citizen', with the entire knowledge of the world at our disposal, literally at our fingertips. We are also the originators of another unique paradigm, participating daily in something that can best be referred to as the cultural conversation. It began with messages exchanged over usenet newsgroups, and has, over time, evolved quite naturally and organically into the many so-called social networks represented by services such as facebook, orkut, myspace, twitter et. al. A basic human urge is the need to be heard, to have a voice with which to share oneself with one's peers. What has been conceptualized as a 'global brain', as the ephemeral, illusive 'noosphere', is the Leviathan, and it is finally here.
Everything I have just said is wrong. The world-mind has always been a characteristic of the human race, the only difference is that now we are able to externalize, refine and track the movements of individual ideas in the noosphere. As above, so below, and so on ad infinitum in endless, fractal complexity. But you already knew this, even if you didn't know you knew it. Every generation likes to feel unique, to feel as if it is 'the first' whereas in truth, every generation is merely an echo of the previous one, albeit a more refined version, a slight variation on a familiar theme. Similarly, every generation has experience with the 'cultural conversation' in some way, shape or form. Hegel, in the 1700's, called it the 'zeitgeist'; the theosophists arrived at an approximation of it and chose to call it the 'akashic records'; the good people of 1980's Mtv called it 'pop culture' and James Cameron made a movie about it and called it 'eywa'. Our generation is unique in that our cultural conversation is truly global, in the sense that it includes more people than any other generation before us. Even our children learn how to access the internet almost as soon as they learn how to speak, if not sooner.

The gist of the matter is that being part of this grand cultural conversation, it is safe to assume that almost everyone (give or take the few inevitable outliers) is privy to the same knowledge, that there exists, at any time, a superset of collective information that is shared equally by the collective consciousness. Consider, for example, the rapid (almost virulent) spread and enduring appeal of internet memes. This opens up all kinds of possibilities in terms of marketing to this new, ultra-savvy generation. In order to appeal to the interests of the new consumer, products must be packaged accordingly, wrapped in the terminology of the 'new' generation, riffing on whatever happens to be at the forefront of the cultural conversation.

A great example is the announcement trailer for the game 'Dead Island'.
The relatively short, approximately 3 minute long trailer incorporates several tropes and idioms prominent in the current zeitgeist and then leverages them successfully, making a lasting impact on the viewer. The music is sensitive, evocative, and poignant; the opening sequence, with the close-up shot of the eye, coupled with the music, is heavily reminiscent of the wildly popular tv show LOST. The scenes that immediately follow are out of chronological sequence, running backwards inter-cut with scenes running forward, meeting halfway, highlighting the tragedy at the heart of the trailer, which is then further amplified by a short 'coda' sequence at the end of the trailer, which is, again, out of chronological sequence. This was a technique used most popularly in the movie 'Memento', and subsequently emulated in several other pop culture staples such as music videos. This is clearly not a novel technique, but it is well executed, and succeeds in engaging the viewer. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the trailer features zombies, a particular fixation in the current cultural consciousness. The most telling part of the entire trailer, however, is that it is completely animated using CGI and thus says nothing about the gameplay and/or the graphics of the finished product. What it does manage to do, and do quite well, is get people to notice the game. All these factors coupled together make for a compelling viewing experience and are sufficient to propel the trailer, and with it, the game, into the ongoing cultural conversation.

Which leads me to ask the inevitable question: what else are we being encouraged to talk about, and perhaps more importantly, what are we leaving out of the conversation?

1 comment:

CreativeShocker said...

riveting post baap. The words in this video are true to this day http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cysS2nFOc08&feature=player_embedded