Ridge Writers on Books: ’Culturematics’

By DONNA McCrohan Rosenthal

Anthropologist Grant McCrac-ken sees what the rest of us do, then extrapolates unique in-terpretations that skillfully justify his subtitle “How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football, Burning Man, the Ford Fiesta Movement, Rube Goldberg, NFL Films, Wordle, Two and a Half Men, a 10,000-Year Symphony, and ROFL-Con Memes Will Help You Create and Execute Break-through Ideas.”

Having monitored the disparate elements of American culture and business “as if listening to shipping lanes on a shortwave radio,” McCracken concluded that Apple, Cirque du Soleil and Starbucks had in common that they produced not just competitive brands but new markets, gaining the immense advantage that “belongs to corporations that can create new worlds.”

He observed something similar happening with Andy Samberg’s digital shorts on “Saturday Night Live,” Ed Sabol’s filming of National Football League games at a time when nobody else saw any potential for it, Twitter’s brainstorm of communicating in bursts of 140 characters, and the SETI project that invites ordinary people to Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence with their home computers.

“Hey,” he writes, “it could be you who discovers intelligent life in the universe. This will look good on your résumé and make a great story to tell over dinner.”

From these and a wealth of other examples that he discusses in this book, McCracken derived the concept of the Culturematic, “a little machine for making culture. It is designed to do three things: test the world, discover meaning, and unleash value… We use Culturematics to find the future, but some of these probes actually invent it.”

Fortunately, he does not stop there, but proceeds to deliver on his subtitle, demonstrating the evolution of specific Culturematics and offering concrete how-to advice, such as a “what-if?” strategy. Consider the TV show “Being Human” as “What if you took a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost and put them in a house to live together?”

Prodigiously researched and well reasoned, “Cul-turematics” prescribes an antidote for the incomprehensible black hole of consumerism that confronts today’s movie studios, advertising agencies, corporate R&D labs, publishing houses and newspapers.

Fans of China Lake’s halcyon era and pioneering types in general will relate to McCracken’s formula for keeping innovation cheap and fresh in order to set a visionary finish line and beat everyone else to it.

This weekly column is written by members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Wednesday eve-ning of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church, and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, the Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and www.planetmojave.com

Story First Published: 2013-01-16