(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Wizard of Oz

“They said I was a valued customer, now they send me hate mail”*…

Is shopping therapy… or an occasion for therapy?…

… Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, videos of irate anti-maskers screaming, throwing things, and assaulting employees at big-box and grocery stores have become a social-media mainstay. As Americans return en masse to more types of in-person commerce, the situation only seems to be declining. At its most violent extreme, workers have been hospitalized or killed. Eight Trader Joe’s employees were injured in one such attack in New York, and in Georgia, a grocery-store cashier was shot over a mask dispute. Far more frequent are the accounts of short-fused shoppers becoming verbally abusive or otherwise degrading over slow service or sold-out goods. Earlier this month, a restaurant on Cape Cod reportedly was so overwhelmed with rude customers that it shut down for a “day of kindness.

America’s ultra-tense political climate, together with the accumulated personal and economic traumas of the pandemic, have helped spur this animosity, which was already intense and common in the United States. But it’s hardly the only reason that much of the country has decided to take out its pandemic frustrations on the customer-service desk. For generations, American shoppers have been trained to be nightmares. The pandemic has shown just how desperately the consumer class clings to the feeling of being served.

The experience of buying a new television or a double cheeseburger in a store has gotten worse in your lifetime. It’s gotten worse for the people selling TVs and burgers too. The most immediate culprit is decades of cost-cutting; by increasing surveillance and pressure on workers during shifts, reducing their hours and benefits, and not replacing those who quit, executives can shine up a business’s balance sheet in a hurry. Sometimes, you can see these shifts happening in real time, as with pandemic-era QR-code-ordering in restaurants, which allows them to reduce staff—and which is likely to stick around. Wages and resources dwindle, and more expensive and experienced workers get replaced with fewer and more poorly trained new hires. When customers can’t find anyone to help them or have to wait too long in line, they take it out on whichever overburdened employee they eventually hunt down.

This dynamic is exacerbated by the fact that the United States has more service workers than ever before, doing more types of labor, spread thin across the economy—Uber drivers; day-care workers; hair stylists; call-center operators; DoorDash “dashers”; Instacart shoppers; home health aides; Amazon’s fleet of delivery people, with your cases of toilet paper and new pajamas in the trunk of their own car. In 2019, one in five American workers was employed in retail, food service, or hospitality; even more are now engaged in service work of some kind.

For people currently alive and shopping in America, this economic arrangement is so all-encompassing that it can feel like the natural order of things. But customer service as a concept is an invention of the past 150 years. At the dawn of the second Industrial Revolution, most people grew or made much of what they used themselves; the rest came from general stores or peddlers. But as the production of food and material goods centralized and rapidly expanded, commerce reached a scale that the country’s existing stores were ill-equipped to handle, according to the historian Susan Strasser, the author of Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market. Manufacturers needed ways to distribute their newly enormous outputs and educate the public on the wonder of all their novel options. Americans, in short, had to be taught how to shop.

In this void grew department stores, the very first of which appeared in the United States in the 1820s. The model proliferated in cities as the 20th century neared and industrial manufacturing expanded. By consolidating sales under corporate auspices in much the same way that factories consolidated production, businesses such as Wanamaker’s, Macy’s, and Marshall Field’s hinted at the astonishing ways American life would change over the next century. But consolidation also created a public-image issue, argues the historian William Leach in Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. Corporate power wasn’t especially popular in fin de siècle America, where strike-breaking industrial barons taught those without wealth to mistrust the ownership class. People were suspicious of new types of big business and protective of the small dry-goods stores run by members of their communities.

Department-store magnates alleviated these concerns by linking department stores to the public good. Retailers started inserting themselves into these communities as much as possible, Leach writes, turning their enormous stores into domains of urban civic life. They hosted free concerts and theatrical performances, offered free child care, displayed fine art, and housed restaurants, tearooms, Turkish baths, medical and dental services, banks, and post offices. They made splashy contributions to local charities and put on holiday parades and fireworks shows. This created the impression that patronizing their stores wouldn’t just be a practical transaction or an individual pleasure, but an act of benevolence toward the orderly society those stores supported.

With these goals in mind, Leach writes, customer service was born. For retailers’ tactics to be successful, consumers—or guests, as department stores of the era took to calling them—needed to feel appreciated and rewarded for their community-minded shopping sprees. So stores marshaled an army of workers: From 1870 to 1910, the number of service workers in the United States quintupled. It’s from this morass that “The customer is always right” emerged as the essential precept of American consumerism—service workers weren’t there just to ring up orders, as store clerks had done in the past. Instead, they were there to fuss and fawn, to bolster egos, to reassure wavering buyers, to make dreams come true. If a complaint arose, it was to be resolved quickly and with sincere apologies.

The efforts that Leach identified among turn-of-the-century department-store owners to paint their businesses as the true sites of popular democracy have been successful beyond what they probably could have imagined at the time. Most Americans now expect corporations to take a stand on contentious social and political issues; in return, corporations have even co-opted some of the language of actual politics, encouraging consumers to “vote with their dollars” for the companies that market themselves on the values closest to their own.

For Americans in a socially isolating culture, living under an all but broken political system, the consumer realm is the place where many people can most consistently feel as though they are asserting their agency. Most people in the United States don’t exactly have a plethora of opportunities to develop meaningful identities outside their economic station: Creative or athletic pursuits are generally cut off when people enter the workforce, fewer people attend religious services than in generations past, and loneliness and alienation are widespread. Americans work long hours, and many of those with disposable income earn it through what the anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”—the kind of empty spreadsheet-and-conference-call labor whose lack of real purpose and meaning, Graeber theorizes, is an ambient psychological stressor on the people performing it. What these jobs do provide, though, is income, the use of which can feel sort of like an identity.

This is not a feature of a healthy society. Even before the pandemic pushed things to further extremes, the primacy of consumer identity made customer-service interactions particularly conflagratory…

American Shoppers Are a Nightmare“– and as Amanda Mull (@amandamull) explains, customers were nearly this awful long before the pandemic.

* Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic

###

As we reconsider commerce, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that The Wizard of Oz premiered at the Strand Theater in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin– one of four Midwestern test screenings in advance of the Hollywood premier at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (on August 15).

Considered one the greats in the American film canon, it was of course based on the work of L. Frank Baum… who, before he created Dorothy and her adventures, was a retail pioneer. An accomplished window dresser (the equivalent at the turn of the 20th century of television commercial director), he founded and edited a magazine called The Show Window, later known as the Merchants Record and Show Window, which focused on store window displays, retail strategies, and visual merchandising; it’s still being published, now as VMSD.

Back Camera

source

“Last time I checked, the digital universe was expanding at the rate of five trillion bits per second in storage”*…

 

Oz in DNA

 

… and rising.  Happily, technologists are keeping up:

The intricate arrangement of base pairs in our DNA encodes just about everything about us. Now, DNA contains the entirety of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” as well.

A team of University of Texas Austin scientists just vastly improved the storage capacity of DNA and managed to encode the entire novel — translated into the geek-friendly language of Esperanto — in a double strand of DNA far more efficiently than has been done before. DNA storage isn’t new, but this work could help finally make it practical…

The full story at “Scientists Stored “The Wizard of Oz” on a Strand of DNA.”  The UT release, here.

* George Dyson

###

As we reconsider Kondo, we might send carefully-stowed birthday greetings to Jay Wright Forrester; he was born on this date in 1914.  A pioneering computer engineer and systems scientist, he was one of the inventors of magnetic core memory, the predominant form of random-access computer memory during the most explosive years of digital computer development (between 1955 and 1975).  It was part of a family of related technologies which bridged the gap between vacuum tubes and semiconductors by exploiting the magnetic properties of materials to perform switching and amplification.

And close to your correspondent’s heart, Forrester is also believed to have created the first animation in the history of computer graphics, a “jumping ball” on an oscilloscope.

Jay_Forrester source

 

 

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all”*…

 

caffeine-coffee

 

You’re reading this with a cup of coffee in your hand, aren’t you? Coffee is the most popular drink in many parts of the world. Americans drink more coffee than soda, juice and tea — combined.

How popular is coffee? When news first broke that Prince Harry and Meghan were considering Canada as their new home, Canadian coffee giant Tim Hortons offered free coffee for life as an extra enticement.

Given coffee’s popularity, it’s surprising how much confusion surrounds how this hot, dark, nectar of the gods affects our biology…

From drip coffee to pourovers to stovetop espresso, the variations in– and the effects of– coffee-based drinks are plenty: The Biology of Coffee.

[Image above, source]

* David Lynch

###

As we take a sip, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that Sesame Street aired episode #847, featuring Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.  It scared children so badly that the episode has never been re-aired. (This, after she had appeared as herself in three episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, between 1975 and 1976– because Fred Rogers wanted his young viewers to recognize the Wicked Witch was just a character and not something to fear.)

220px-Sesame_Street_Margaret_Hamilton_Oscar_The_Grouch_1976 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought”*…

 

Polls

 

On April 25, 2019, former Vice President Joe Biden became the latest big-name politician to join the race for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Among Democrat voters, he leads the field over the next most popular candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by 7 percentage points — with a sampling margin of error of 5.4 percentage points — according to a recent poll from Monmouth University.

But public and media perception has been burned by polls before — see the 2016 presidential election — and there’s still a long, long way to go before the Democratic field is settled. Donald Trump officially became the Republican Party nominee for president in July 2016, but a year prior there were still 16 other candidates angling for the nomination.

Precisely because there are still so many town halls and county fairs to come for the Democratic contenders, we’re rounding up some recent academic research that can inform coverage of political opinion polls in this early presidential contest. This research digs into bias in evaluating political polling, polling errors across time and space, the relationship between media coverage and polling, and more…

With over 18 months to go until the 2020 election, we’re already inundated with poll results, widely divergent, but each claiming canonical status.  Journalist’s Resource has ridden to the rescue with a handy collection of articles offering guidance on how to understand and use them– guidance that’s as useful to us civilians as it is to pros: “Covering political polls: A cautionary research roundup.”

* Warren Buffett

###

As we stock up on grains of salt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 that the 500-strong Commonwealth of Christ (AKA Coxey’s Army) arrived in Washington, D.C., to protest against unemployment.  The march, organized by businessman Jacob Coxey, had begun with 100 men in Massillon, Ohio, and had gathered members as it moved toward the Capitol.  It was protesting conditions in the second year of (what turned out to be a four-year economic depression. the worst in United States history to that time.  In the event, the group never made it into the Capitol: Coxey was arrested for trespassing, and the military intervention the group provoked proved to be a rehearsal for the federal force that broke the Pullman Strike later that year.

Still, Coxey’s Army had an impact.  Among its well-wishers along the way was L. Frank Baum (still a famous window-dresser, not yet an author).  Scholarly political interpretations of his most famous novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, turn on Coxey’s Army:

In the novel, Dorothy, the Scarecrow (the American farmer), Tin Woodman (the industrial worker), and Cowardly Lion (William Jennings Bryan), march on the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, the Capital (or Washington, D.C.), demanding relief from the Wizard, who is interpreted to be the President. Dorothy’s shoes (made of silver in the book, not the familiar ruby that is depicted in the movie) are interpreted to symbolize using free silver instead of the gold standard (the road of yellow brick) because the shortage of gold precipitated the Panic of 1893… [source]

300px-Coxey_commonweal_army_brightwood_leaving source

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 29, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I don’t understand how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography”*…

 

email readers click here for video

Because…

* Nicolas Roeg

###

As we noodle on the nanny-cam, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Samuel Goldwyn acquired the film rights to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The novel, published in 1900, had become an instant classic, spawning sequels (that continued under the direction of Baum’s widow after his death in 1919), a long-running Broadway musical, and several silent films.  Goldwyn’s version, released in 1939, had modest success at the box office (though it did garner several Oscar nominations–including a Best Song win for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a special award for Garland as Best Juvenile Performer). Then, in 1956, an estimated 45 million people tuned in to watch the movie’s television debut on the Ford Star Jubilee.  Countless TV airings later, The Wizard of Oz is one of the best-known– and most beloved– films of all time.

source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: