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Monday, January 22, 2007
n+1 and the semiotician
I'm not disputing Evan's contention that n+1's website is getting McSweeneyish. He could be right; it's been a long time since I checked in on the n+1 website, so I have no idea. But I would like to make two quick points about the interview with the individual described as a "commercial semiotician." (At the moment, the interview is accessible here.)
1) Evan doesn't make note of this, but the so-called commercial semiotician -- I'm pretty sure he refers to himself as a "semiotic brand analyst" -- is none other than A.S. Hamrah, the writer whom I compared to Roland Barthes in a Brainiac post a month ago. Barthes, of course, helped spring semiotics loose from linguistics departments; like Barthes, Hamrah employs the tools of semiotics to crack cultural codes. Just because he sometimes does so at the behest of the manufacturers of shampoo and soda pop doesn't mean he's not terrific at it. (Full disclosure: Hamrah and I have, in the not too distant past, collaborated on semiotic brand analysis projects paid for by the manufacturers of, like I said, shampoo and soda pop.) So let's not scoff.
In an Ideas column I once asked Slavoj Zizek about his decision to write copy for an edition of Abercrombie & Fitch's softcore magalog. "If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing [EXPLETIVE] to get a tenured post," he told me, "I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!" I can relate.
2) I thought that everything Hamrah said in the interview was funny and interesting. But I didn't like the interview -- Hamrah's interlocutor, though no doubt a very intelligent person, insisted on sharing her less-informed opinions about branding, and that didn't work for me. That did make it seem kinda McSweeneyish.