Restaging JCB: The Show Must Go On
The founder and former editor of this journal, Professor Michael J. Baker, passed away on August 12, 2021, at the age of 85. Much loved by his family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances beyond number, he was a super-trooper of business studies. In more ways than one.1 An academic impresario of rare talent, Michael stage-managed the rise of marketing and consumer research in the United Kingdom. He had an unerring eye for star quality and did much advance the careers of numerous luminaries including Susan Hart, Mike Saren, Steve Parkinson, Susan Shaw, Douglas Brownlie and Mark Tadajewski. He turned Strathclyde University into the Glasgow Empire of British business schools, a legendary place of learning.2
Michael was no mean performer, moreover. The Fred Astaire of marketing thought, he donned his dancing shoes at Harvard. Then tripped the light fantastic to a distinguished academic career, publishing approximately fifty books, one hundred and fifty articles and several learned journals including the Journal of Marketing Management, Social Businessand the Journal of Customer Behaviour. Largely devoted to B2B, the last of these made its debut in 2001. But as the years rolled by, JCB’s repertoire sashayed into syncopated consumer research and jitterbug marketing scholarship more generally. Hence his decision to cede the editorial stage to offbeat Irish dancers, Stephen Brown and Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe.
The great Michael Baker, it goes without saying, isn’t an easy act to follow. And we don’t intend to imitate him. We aim to tread the boards in a different way. It’s a way, we firmly believe, that combines Michael’s free-wheeling, highland-flinging, sword-dancing spirit with a radical relatable rock-n-rolling rhythm of our own. Yes, the JCB show must go on; but it will do so by eschewing the regimented chorus lines of conventional marketing and consumer research.
There’s nothing wrong with chorus lines, of course. For us, however, they’re a tad too close to the Hokey Cokey of higher education: ‘You put the literature review in, you pull the readability out; you put the methodology in, and fail to shake it all about. Taylor Swift-style, we seek to shake that off by showcasing big, bold, body-popping, break-dancing, boogie-woogie works of marketing and consumer research.
Riverdance it ain’t. Hip-hop here we come…
We begin by turning the clock back to the birth of jazz. More specifically, to that transcendental moment in August 1922 when Louis Armstrong boarded the train from New Orleans to Chicago. Recruited by King Oliver, a leading exponent of the nascent artform, ‘Dippermouth’ took to the stage and, in double-quick time, became the hottest horn player in town. As Jackson recounts, Louis blew up a storm and, in effect, put the sass into the brass of the Windy City:
Within a matter of weeks, he was making all the other jazz musicians sound a little old-fashioned, a little staid. By the end of September, he was the star of Chicago.3
Satchmo’s staggering achievements, to be sure, didn’t take top billing in that year of years. Arguably the most transformational year in twentieth-century culture, 1922 was the year James Joyce published Ulysses, the lodestar of modernist literature.4 It was the year F. Scott Fitzgerald unleashed The Beautiful and Damned, the bestselling novel that blasted him to stardom, then started work on The Great Gatsby. It was the year Virginia Woolf did likewise with Jacob’s Room and Mrs Dalloway respectively. It was the year when Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit bounded into kiddie consciousness, Enid Blyton wrote the first of her 800 stories for children and Richmal Crompton created William Brown, whose boys-will-be-boys adventures captivated millions. It was the year H.P. Lovecraft cranked out copious shock-horror short stories for tremulous teenagers of all ages and Marcel Proust passed away after publishing Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume of La Researche. It was the year when Ernest Hemingway met Gertrude Stein and she taught the whipper-snapper how to write.5
Non-fiction also hit its straps, thanks to Bronislaw Malinowski’s anthropological masterpiece, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s mind-bending Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, György Lukács’ revolutionary tract, History and Class Consciousness and Emily Post’s imperious yet equally epochal Etiquette: in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. As if that weren’t enough, Modernism’s momentous year witnessed the notorious Diary of a Drug Fiend, by sometime mountaineer, enthusiastic sex-therapist, gutter press-anointed ‘wickedest man in the world’, Aleister Crowley. Salacious and then some, Crowley’s diary, unsurprisingly, wasn’t paraphrased in Readers’ Digest, which likewise dates from that extraordinary annus mirabilis.
The other arts were making waves as well. Poetry powered ahead with The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot’s iconic epic, Rainer Maria Rilke’s stunning Sonnets to Orpheus, Mario de Andrade’s intoxicating encapsulation of São Paulo, Hallucinated City, Frederico Garcia Lorca’s legendary lecture, and subsequent poem sequence, on ‘deep song’, and MCMXXI, the triumphant work of ‘tanopis’ by Communist Russia’s premier poet, Anna Akhmatova. Ditto drama, which delighted and disgusted theatre-goers, courtesy of Eugene O’Neill’s shocking Hairy Ape, Berthold Brecht’s expressionistic triumph, Drums in the Night and, partly on account of its costumes by Coco Chanel and set design by Pablo Picasso, the peerless Jean Cocteau’s Antigone.
Nor were radio and cinema backward in coming forward. Nineteen twenty-two was the Big Bang of the Broadcasting Boom, with 500 radio stations opening for business in the USA alone, to say nothing of the beginnings of the BBC. Hollywood went wild, meanwhile, for Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand, Douglas Fairbanks’ rambunctious Robin Hood, and Buster Keaton’s poker-faced performances in countless classic two-reelers. Where Hollywood went, what’s more, the rest of the world followed, most notably to F.W. Murnau’s immortal Nosferatu, which exhumed Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the undead generation, those who survived the Great War and post-conflict pandemic.6
Armstrong aside, the world of music was saddened by the premature passing of brilliantly bawdy Marie Lloyd, bamboozled by Igor Stravinsky’s foxy burlesque, Le Renard, and enthralled by his barnstorming restaging of The Rite of Spring. It also saw the grand opening of the quintessential jazzamatazz nightclub, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, which took its name from an eclectic Cocteau revue, and became the ultimate expression of les Années folles, aka the Roaring Twenties. As for the art world, it warmly welcomed Wassily Kandinsky’s arrival at the Bauhaus, fashion photographer Man Ray’s first of many ‘Rayographs’, Le Corbusier’s visionary design for the machine-like Maison Citrohan, Robert J. Flaherty’s documentary, Nanook of the North, which inaugurated the genre, and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, whose Ancient Egyptian iconography influenced everything from high fashions to sewing patterns, and paved the way for Art Deco.
This welcome, however, wasn’t extended to André Breton, whose bitter attacks on Dada were dismissed as self-centred, self-serving, self-aggrandisement, which they assuredly were. They succeeded two years later, though, with his ‘Surrealist Manifesto’.
In this centennial year of the year of years, we do not intend to do an André Breton on marketing and consumer research. We subscribe to a live and let live philosophy, each to their own. We simply feel that there should be a space, a venue, a ‘cow on the roof’ for those who are disillusioned by the deep-delving, theory-building, robust-or-bust, replicate-replicate-replicate model of marketing scholarship. Those scholars, that is, who wish to cast off the shackles, set aside the conventions, or break the rules of the great academic game. Must every publication make a theoretical contribution, include an exhaustive literature review, explain its methodology at mind-numbing length and go through a combative review process which purports to improve the end product but saps the will-to-live of the producer?
We think not.
Forty years on, isn’t it time to recapture some of the fantasies, feelings and fun, the scholarly joie de vivre, that Holbrook and Hirschman held so dear?
We think so.
JCB, under our curatorship, aims to reanimate that let’s dance spirit and cater for an academic constituency that’s had enough of the stultifying, sclerotic, soul-destroying publication process. Accordingly, the lengthy and often brutal review-revise-resubmit-review-revise-resubmit slower than slow torture will be compressed and made more compassionate. Contributors’ creative endeavours will be treated with care and consideration rather than required to meet ruinously rigorous criteria of ‘competence’. There’ll be no methodological ‘rule books’, nor literature review ‘requirements’, nor expectations about theoretical ‘contributions’.7 ‘Wow!’ will do, as will ‘who knew?’ ‘whatever next?’ and ‘well-I-never!’. In return, we’ll do our best to ensure that creators’ creations won’t be compromised along the way and won’t be required to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop before acceptance. We will work on the basic assumption that contributions are ‘complete’ on submission and, as ‘finished’ works of art, they will be evaluated on that basis.8
JCB, in sum, seeks to model itself on the New Yorker rather than Scientific American. We see it not as a launchpad for the latest cutting-edge, carefully-vetted, scrupulously-tested research findings, be they quantitatively or qualitatively derived, but as a showcase for effervescent works of art. We regard JCB as a dance studio, an art gallery, a concert hall, a rehearsal room, a writers’ retreat, a multi-screen cinema, a down ’n’ dirty nightclub, a big top tent, so to speak, for the acrobats, the magicians, the entertainers among us.9 All works of art are welcome, everything from poems, short stories, videographies and photo-essays to reviews, rants, commentaries and provocative papers that make people think twice.
JCB, to put it another way, is the home of readable radical research. With a welcome mat that means what it says.
The running order on this occasion begins with a fanfare, a bracing blast by a pair of poets, John F. Sherry, Jr. and Pilar Rojas Gaviria. Raging against the research machine, they voice the anguish many creative consumer researchers feel when forced to comply with the norms of marketing scholarship, anguish that JCB hopes to quell. Or reduce at any rate. The poets are followed by a pair of papers extolling – and expressing – the virtues of the visual arts. Joonas Rokka makes the case for videographies, Gary Warnaby shows the way with photo-essays. If we live in TikToked times, a social media-mediated society, visually-inclined scholarship can only increase in importance and acceptance. JCB will do its best to showcase the artworks of our I-for-an-eyeful academics.
Four examples of readable radical research follow the visionaries. Kate McBest takes us back to February 1922, the momentous moment when Ernest Hemingway met Gertrude Stein for the first time. She shows that they were more than wonderful writers, they were commercially-minded twins under the skin. Alan Bradshaw likewise looks back to a momentous moment, that magical musical moment when The Beatles broke through in 1962. Patinated by the passage of time, it’s easy to forget just how innovative the Fab Four were. Bradshaw gets us back to where we once belonged.
A mega Beatles admirer himself, Kent Drummond drags us into the present by way of the past. Reflecting on his lifelong love of Vincent van Gogh, he takes us on a tour of experiential marketers’ attempts to display the Dutch master’s immemorial masterpieces. Then ponders the paradox of populism. Following Drummond’s burst of sunflower prose is far from easy. Rishi Bhardwaj, Annamma Joy and Russell Belk don’t attempt to do so. Instead, they show and tell us about the dazzling dramaturgy of Jatt weddings. These are becoming ever more ostentatious as once-impecunious families jostle for social status in the brave new world of Incredible India.
We turn from incredible to innovative in our four final contributions. Mariam Humayun grapples with cryptocurrencies in an experimental pictorial piece that simultaneously evokes the busy, buzzing, baffling, breakneck, block-chained energy of Bitcoin and the weird, wonderful, what-if, would-be, WTF wealth its financial warp and weft is weaving. This hallucinogenic hybrid is echoed in Luciana Walther’s contribution, a creative cross between convention and invention. Ostensibly a traditional academic article, it transmutes into a transgressive, transgendered short story of temporary personal transformation during the Brazilian carnaval.
Andrea Prothero’s short story also tells a tale of transformation. Specifically, the pandemic-precipitated transformation of her protagonist, Eliza. The cosmetic challenges of on-line interactions demand an expensive facial overhaul that would never otherwise be contemplated. Lookin’ good for Zoom costs more than money. Poet supreme John Schouten then wraps things up with an apocalyptic philanthropic parable of post-human possibilities. Effortlessly outdoing Dave Eggers, he imagines a heavenly herd of high-minded avatars that milk the cash cows of covetous capitalism.10 In cyberspace, no one can hear you moo.
Unless, of course, your cattle are lowing on the roof of JCB.
Here’s to the hoofers of marketing and consumer research.
Notes and References
1. Michael wasn’t just marketing’s mover and shaker, he was a military man who served with distinction in the Royal Artillery.
2. Situated in Sauchiehall Street, albeit long gone, the Glasgow Empire was renowned within the entertainments industry for its demanding audiences. Only the very best of the best succeeded there. Under Michael’s management, Strathclyde’s marketing department contained the crème de la creme of our discipline.
3. Kevin Jackson, Constellation of Genius: 1922, Modernism and All That Jazz, Windmill, London, 2013, p. 273. The electric spirit of Chicago’s jazz scene is brilliantly captured in Ray Celestin’s novel, Dead Man’s Blues. Armstrong is his protagonist.
4. Our principal source for this inventory of the arts is Jackson, op cit. Mary McAuliffe’s When Paris Sizzled and Nick Rennison’s 1922: Scenes from a Turbulent Year also proved useful. For Ulysses’ lodestar status, see Kevin Birmingham, The Most Dangerous Book, Head of Zeus, London, 2014.
5. The biggest bestsellers of the year were Edith Wharton’s Glimpses of the Moon and, more importantly from a marketing perspective, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt. An archetypal small businessman – successful, sanctimonious, supercilious, self-satisfied – the titular character soon became a synonym for the ‘type’. Babbittry abounded back then and the word is still applied to what Jackson, ibid. p. 318, calls ‘smug, moderately prosperous, narrow-minded members of the managerial class’. Lewis, mind you, was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Babbitt was the book that won it for him.
6. Cinema’s biggest star at the time was Charlie Chaplin. Nineteen twenty-two was a fallow year, however, when he basked in the global adulation that followed The Kid. In 1923 his hitherto stratospheric career hit the skids with The Pilgrim.
7. Note, we are not suggesting that theories and methods and literature reviews are unnecessary. We are saying that they don’t need to be so exhaustive, exhausting, exasperating.
8. Some, no doubt, will conclude that our ambitions for JCB are futile at best, fatuous at worst, an exercise in nostalgic narcissism. Nostalgia, however, is good for you; many still-cited marketing classics date from the pre-Ford, Carnegie and MSI epoch; the twin peaks of 1922, Ulysses and The Waste Land, likewise took inspiration from the past, as did our own Consumer Odyssey and Service-Dominant Logic. The former was predicated on Homer’s epic poem, the latter was and remains a debased Grail quest.
9. It has not escaped our attention that JCB shares its initials with an iconic British brand of
earthmoving equipment – diggers, dump trucks, bulldozers, backhoes. Make what you will of the metaphor.
10. We’re thinking, specifically, of Eggers’ The Every and The Circle.