The Liminal Space

Quick Read: Motion blur in animation, the current pandemic times and quadratic voting systems have one thing in common – they magnify and normalise that moment in time/space/perspective that’s neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’. And that could have its own benefits.

Motion blur is an interesting concept in animation.

In fact it’s a unique technical challenge that consumed Ed Catmull and his team during his early days leading to Pixar Animation. Quoting from his book Creativity, Inc.

Another technical challenge that occupied us was the need for something called motion blur. With animation in general and computer animation in particular, the images created are in perfect focus. That may sound like a good thing, but in fact, human beings react negatively to it.

When moving objects are in perfect focus, theatregoers experience an unpleasant, strobe-like sensation, which they describe as “jerky.”  When watching live-action movies, we don’t perceive this problem because traditional film cameras capture a slight blur in the direction an object is moving. The blur keeps our brains from noticing the sharp edges, and our brains regard this blur as natural. Without motion blur, our brains think something is wrong. So the question for us was how to simulate the blur for animation. If the human eye couldn’t accept computer animation, the field would have no future.

-From Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Today, motion blur has its own place in the craft of visual expression across still photography, film making, animation and video games.

Figure-Animation2 (1)
Two animations: with motion blur (left) and without (right) Source

Without that, we’d have no way to capture and process the concept of ‘something being in a state of motion’ – that state of being neither here nor there, that state of ‘in-betweenness’.

At its purest, motion blur could be said to be the visual expression of an abstract concept called ‘liminality’.

What is liminality?

In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. (wikipedia)

Evidently when liminality as a concept was first developed, it was more in the anthropological contexts of rites and rituals. But today, the usage of the term has broadened to describe socio, political and cultural changes across contexts. Sample this, again from Wikipedia..

During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.

Wikipedia on liminality

Reminds you of something?

To be in today’s pandemic crisis is to be betwixt and between. Our conception of space and time is unmoored from the conventional constructs of ‘home’ and ‘work’.

What does this liminality mean to our individual and collective consciousness? How does this change our relationships with institutions – our offices, schools, places of worship? How does this redefine our notions around concepts like commute, entertainment, socialising? Who knows?

But at least these liminal times are forcing us to question our deeply held assumptions and mental models and be a bit more tolerant to well considered alternatives while arming us with a better compass to help navigate our complex world.

In fact, I tend to wonder if the current Covid times and the recent mass mobilisations in support of movements like Black Lives Matter have a good degree of causality associated with them. Which leads me to..

Liminal Thinking

It might be instructive to take a closer look at the word liminal. It’s a derivative of a Latin root that means threshold – which literally means doorway.  Seen with that lens, a threshold is essentially a boundary that marks a point of transition between one state and another.

How do you then find, create and use ‘thresholds’ to create change that matters? How do you deliberately create those opportunities to make a transition from one world view to that of another? What is obvious to you that is not so obvious to someone else? And how do you recognise that?

Liminal Thinking is Dave Gray’s answer to this question through his book by the same name. A quick whiteboard version of his book here.

Our world today, a boiling pot of divisions and polarisations could perhaps do with a dose of liminal thinking so we seek out and normalise that middle ground versus prying it out of shape and character in an attempt to take one side or the other.

And speaking of polarisation

One just needs to look at the democratic politics today to see that one of its key problems is the lack of a middle ground. The result: political polarisation and amplification of extreme views.  Now juxtapose that with another key element of our reality – that while we may seem more divided than ever before, many people on all sides of the political spectrum care about the same handful of issues — education, healthcare, pensions, and etc.

So how do we make a provision for the expression and capture of a more nuanced voting preference in a participatory democracy.

One potential answer: quadratic voting. Unlike a binary “yes” or “no” vote for or against one thing, quadratic voting allows a large group of people to to express the degree of their preferences, rather than just the direction of their preferences through a decentralised voting system.

In fact, the Colorado’s legislature has successfully become one of the first test cases for quadratic voting in the public policy realm. This is the remarkable story of how it deployed Quadratic Voting to normalise the middle ground (vs amplifying the bi-partisan extremes) and how it managed to get a ‘better signal with less noise’.

Seventy-second General Assembly first regular session.
Chambers of the Colorado Capitol where the quadratic voting took place. Source

So there we have it, while we see ourselves stuck in an unfavourable state of liminality in the current times, sometimes it is these very liminal spaces that could potentially make allowances for solutions that magnify and normalise perspectives that are unfettered by extreme/bi-partisan imperatives.

And just sometimes it might mean that we become a bit more tolerant, a bit more inclusive in our beliefs and a bit more optimistic as we hope to see our world become a better place.


Noteworthy ingredients – that may or may not have gone into the making of this post:

[Featured Image: Motion Blur expressed through Still Photography, Source: BGU

Is Sweden a Low Context Culture?

Quick Read: Differences between high context and low context cultures in branding could just be theoretical. All it takes is some brilliant marketing to blur the lines in between.

High-context culture and low-context culture are terms coined by the anthropologist Edward Hall.

Theoretically this categorisation between culutures has implications on branding and communications associated to them.

For example, according to this recent article, in a high cultural context, inherent cultural cues (e.g, symbols and emotions) add a lot of meaning to asociated marketing communications. Think of ads that reference cultures like Indian, Latin American or Middle Eastern for example and you get the picture. 

(A great ad that references Indian culture)

Low cultural contexts, by contrast, are those where there is little influence of emotions, gestures and cultural cues over the associated marketing communications.

For example – the article goes on to state – Sweden has a low cultural context. In other words, Swedish cues and metaphors are believed to contribute little meaning to any branding/communication.

But is it? 

While differences between these cultural contexts might help us to justify to ourselves the relative decibel levels of ‘cultural noise’ that gets thrown into their respective communications (e.g., narratives in films, ads etc), communications that reflect a culture are more complex and do not necesarily confine themselves to these siloed definitions.

Let’s take Sweden for example. Why is there a stereotype that Swedish metaphors add little meaning to any associated branding or advertising?

This cultural guide to Sweden encaplsulates it well when it says “Despite the generally contented natures of the Swedes, there is an underlying melancholy most often attributed to the long, dark and cold winters.” In other words, theoretically there is nothing much beyond a brooding sense of gloom to add as ‘cultural cues’ when it comes to referencing anything Swedish.

But lately, marketers seem to have used this very subdued under tone of melancholy and turned it into a state of mind (and soul) to be celebrated as uniquely Swedish!

Now that’s not exactly how a low context culture is meant to work. Right?

Volvo ‘Vintersaga’ – Embrace the Swedish melancholy

With a montage that celebrates the miserable weather conditions of Sweden aided by some spectacular photography and echoey music, Volvo recently paid a “tribute to Sweden at it’s worst” through its Vintersaga (Winter’s tale) campaign.

By capturing the country’s bleakest weather, Volvo goes on to explain that without the harsh Swedish winters it would not have become what it is today, or make the cars that it does.

Stutterheim Raincoats – ‘Swedish melancholy at its driest’

Being melancholic is an essential part of being a human being. 

…so says the philosophy page of Stutterheim’s rain coats. What for Mr. Stutterheim was initially an art project, has transformed – with a stroke of marketing genius coupled with a sharp positioning – into a line up of raincoats that are now shipped worldwide, with a price tag between $370 –  $1,400.

Stutterheim

(Source: Stutterheim’s philosophy on Melancholy and Creativity)

Apparently Swedish gloom seems to have a tremendous market demand with the brand today seeing strong growth in Europe and the U.S., with sales estimated to reach $4.8 million in 2015, up from $180,000 in 2011. (source)

After all as its philosophy goes on to say …

Through our melancholy we come up with new ways of seeing the world and new ways of being in the world. Let’s embrace Swedish melancholy. Embracing rain is a good start.

Now that’s some smart marketing that has converted something as monochromatic as Swedish melancholy into a unique (and dare I say sufficiently loud) motif of the Swedish culture.

Bonus Links: Check out this Volvo campaign that celebrates Swedish wilderness and this recent one by Grey London that celebrates Swedish….. (hold your breath & drum rolls)…. air!

Now, do you still believe Sweden is a low context culture?

Any classifications exists only as long as marketers allow it to.

Isn’t it?

(Featutured Image: Sutterheim – Swedish Melancholy At It’s Driest)

When Sub Cultures Influence Brands

Quick Read: There are several fascinating Sub Cultures and Urban Tribes around the world that could give us insights and compelling perspectives into consumer behaviour by way of their unique shared values and behaviours. In each such instance they exemplify how anthropology can influence advertising and vice versa. The Floggers in Argentina and The Sapeurs in Congo are two cases in point.

As a Youth sub culture, THE FLOGGERS originated in Argentina at the end of 2004 and have become popular through their unique fashion and went on to popularise the concept of picture sharing via photo blogs.

Essentially the floggers have two key characteristics:

  • They are dressed up in unique style: Floggers wear bright coloured unisex clothing – commonly tight trousers , V-neck T-shirts and canvas trainers and have dyed hair with long emo side fringes which cover their eyes and lip piercings. They have even developed a particular way of dancing to electro/techno music called Electro. 
  • They share their pics on Fotologs: Floggers take photos of themselves and friends and post them on photo blogs. Among FloggersFotolog.com is one such popular platform and lists more than 5.5 million users in Argentina, which is one of the two biggest markets for the site (Chile is the other). Here users comment on one another’s photos. The more comments, the more famous the flogger. (source)

floggers09(Flogging Frenzy, Source –  The Argentina Independent)

As a sub culture, if you come to think of it, the Floggers represent an interesting niche that are at the intersection of fashion, photography, social media, music and dance. Elite members of such a unique urban tribe naturally become trend setters in fashion and are the de facto voice of their generation cutting across class, creed and hierarchy.

Augustina Vivero a.ka. Cumbio is one such Flogger. She has a fotolog site that is said to be the most viewed Internet sites in Argentina logging 36 million visits in a single year alone! She is known to be the most popular and by many accounts the most influential flogger in the world and by age 17 has catapulted herself to stardom and unexpected affluence by transforming her Internet fame into marketing muscle –  signing modeling contracts, promoting dance clubs and writing a book about her life. (source)

Not surprisingly Nike enlisted her for a three month campaign including a giant sneaker-shaped slide that the floggers could slide down while posing for pictures.

cumbio(Agustina Vivero a.k.a Cumbio holding a NIKE poster featuring her, Source)

 Active members of sub cultures like the Floggers being ‘extreme users’, make for a rich minefield of emerging trends, attitudes, values and vibes of a whole generational cohort for the marketers. Thus they make for an interesting case study on how Anthropology influences Advertising (and arguably vice versa).

The Gentlemen of Bacongo

Take the Sapeurs – one of the world’s most exclusive fashion clubs in a city that you least expect – Congo.

SAPE – which loosely translates to The Society of The Elegant Persons of Congo – are a group of people whose life is not defined by occupation or wealth, but by respect, a moral code and an inspirational display of flair and creativity by way of their stylish dressing.

SAPE(Of Style and Swagger – The Sapeur. Picture by Daniele Tamagni. Also a cover page of his book)

In the words of Hector Mediavilla – who photographed the Sapeurs in his outstanding project, the SAPE can be considered to be the most interesting anthropological phenomenon for several reasonsDespite being surrounded by poverty and civil war the Sapeurs:

  • Dream on and survive the harsh reality.
  • Bring joy to those around them by way of their clothing and
  • Are required at funerals, parties and other celebrations to bring a touch of stylishness to these events.

Essentially, while everybody knows their elegance is just a façade but nevertheless, they perform an important social function for their fellow citizens. And in journalist Tom Downey’s words “when men dress as Sapeurs they become different people. Their gait, their gestures, and their manner of speaking are all transformed. The clothes are the gateway into a whole other way of being in the world.”

No wonder, the Sapeurs have inspired some fascinating photography projectsbooks and even music videos. More recently Guinness has brilliantly weaved the sartorial sub culture of the Sapeurs into their latest campaign, as part of which they enlisted Hector Mediavilla to shoot an inspiring documentary and a TVC.

Don’t miss this 5 mins documentary and the TV Spot.

Sapeurs Documentary

Guinness Sapeurs TV Ad, Agency AMV, BBDO London

For me, the connect between Guinness as a brand and Sapeurs as a spirit is a creative masterstroke truly befitting the flair and the flamboyance of ‘The SAPE Spirit’.

Do you know of any other marketing initiative that has sought to tap into a sub culture or an urban tribe

(Featured Image:  Sapeurs of Congo, Hector Mediavilla, Source.)