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How to be a dictator and sell cola at the same time

DUF is a Dutch-language book-magazine for 12- to 18-year-olds. It’s a ‘cluster bomb’ of text and visuals. Edition three is out now and acts as a primer in navigating our world’s media insanity. Buy it. It’ll blow your mind and your kid’s. There’s even dirty pictures. Below is my contribution in its original English.

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COLA & PROPAGANDA

Do you want to lord over your friends, parents and – why not? – the whole freaking world? Learn now how you can become a dictator and sell cola at the same time! In seven easy lessons!

by Steve Korver, for DUF 3 (2012)

What is the difference between advertising and propaganda? Um, good question. Advertising aims to sell a service or product (‘Mmm that’s the best cheeseburger ever!’). Propaganda aims to sell a particular ideology (‘Yippee, we’re the happiest country in the world!’) or goal (‘This war is justified.’) Meanwhile in most Spanish-speaking countries, when people say ‘propaganda’ they mean ‘advertising’.

Both advertising and propaganda tries to influence human behaviour – to get you to open your wallet for a cheeseburger, or to sign along the dotted line at an army recruitment office. They both play on your emotions and not your intelligence. So it’s not ridiculous that both dictators and marketeers use the same box of tricks.

BIG SECRET NUMBER 1:
People are sooooooooo stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid! But…
‘There’s a sucker born every minute,’ the American circus showman PT Barnum allegedly said. And it’s true. So keep it simple. But remember that people NEVER consider themselves as stupid. Half the time they are not even aware they are being brainwashed. Yes, humans suffer from overconfidence.

So it’s very important to not make your target audience feel stupid otherwise they will find someone else to get brainwashed by. The easiest way to do this is by dumbing down. Be folksy. Be a regular person who represents regular wants and needs. Be the Joneses or be Henk & Ingrid. In short: posh it down and sincere it up! Continue Reading…

Posted: November 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm.

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CODE’s ‘edit and reconstruct’ issue

CODE21LR-379x469The spring/summer 2012 issue of CODE magazine has been out for a while.

Besides managing as managing editor, I wrote a travel feature about grey – but mighty and magical – Kaliningrad. This city-formerly-known-as-Königsberg is now a dislocated blob of Russia in the heart of the EU, and offers crash courses in Teutonic Knights, WWII, the Cold War and how to build arts scenes out of freaking nothing. It’s also got killer beaches and drunken pine trees.

I also had the honour of interviewing Magnum Force of Street Style (and cover boy) Nick Wooster, as well as the Dutch artist/designer Joep van Lieshout. As founder of Atelier van Lieshout, Joep has brought the world fully-realised ‘Free States’, slave camps and rectum bars. Now he’s just come out with a line of unisex handbags. So I asked him if he was undermining his past work, playing with people’s minds or just being hilarious – he definitely proved to be hilarious. He also had interesting things to say about order vs. chaos.

This issue also has features from two of my favourite writers: Sarah Gehrke (on Noses) and Floris Dogterom (on doodle tattoos). And the design is by the inspired lads of Het Echte Werk. So check, check, check it out. It’s now available at the world’s better mag shops – including Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum in Amsterdam.

Read about CODE’s ‘2012 Survival Kit’ issue here.

Posted: June 4, 2012 at 11:54 am.

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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH

I got to preach about the meaning of value to the future business elite of the Netherlands. Nice work when you can get it. Read it on page 6 in the fall/winter issue of Nyenrode Now. Or below…

thethinkerFOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
By Steve Korver

‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get,’ the financier Warren Buffet once observed when asked for the meaning of value. When mere mortals are posed the same question, we tend to come up with repackaged clichés: ‘It’s all relative’, ‘Value is in the eye of the beholder’, ‘Everything is worth nothing without your health’… In short, value appears to be a rather random construct. And recent global financial disasters can largely be explained in terms of people and institutions being much too arbitrary – or plain tricky – in how they establish ‘value’. Now much of the world is left wondering what it actually means.

Happily, philosophers have sweated for millennia about the concept. Plato made the distinction between ‘instrumental value’ (something that can be used to get something else, such as cash, gold and real estate) and ‘intrinsic value’ (something that is worth having in itself, such as friends, family and a sense of home). Currently, many explain the current economic and environmental realities in terms of our nasty habit of overemphasizing the instrumental over the intrinsic. It is certainly impossible to deny that there has been a hidden price to many human activities. There’s some truth in saying: ‘The only time you know the true value of something is when you lose it.’

Many things blur the line between the instrumental and the intrinsic. A common example is a green, wild and dynamic natural ecosystem which has obvious intrinsic value in its beauty, but can also be taken apart into resources of instrumental value. Another example is an education. Studying can expand one’s mind to a world of possibilities but it can also aid you in getting a well-paid leadership position. If you manage to balance the two, voila: you are, or could be, a successful entrepreneur.

Information, partnerships, networks, diversity and sustainability… they’re all things that have added value from the way they can surf the wave between the intrinsic and the instrumental. Perhaps it would be wiser for us to bank more on those things that don’t qualify to be locked up in a bank.

The final word, for human value, is for the writer F Scott Fitzgerald. He advised: ‘What we must decide is how we are valuable, rather than how valuable we are.’ Perhaps there’s even value in clichés.

Posted: January 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm.

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Dragan Klaic (1950-2011), RIP

dragan_klaic_by_robin_van_der_kaaVery sad news. The cultural analyst and theatre scholar Dragan Klaic has passed away at age 61. I knew him as a host with the most. He was also perhaps the most freakishly productive person I ever met. Yet he always had time to answer any silly questions that this Canadian boy had about ‘Europe’. During his memorial at Amsterdam’s Felix Meritis this past Sunday, a video compilation was screened. In one clip, he was particularly hilarious as he mocked populist politicians who imagine a loss of national identity through outside forces. ‘Identity is not something you can lose! It’s not like a wallet or a shoe!’ Below is an interview I did with him a few years back that aspired to capture his bouncy brain in action. It doesn’t do him justice.

 

 

The FSTVLisation of everyday life
Amsterdam Weekly, 31 May 2007
By Steve Korver, Illustration by Robin van der Kaa

There’s one incontrovertible explanation for the explosion in the number of festivals over recent years: festivals can be fun and people like to have fun.

Amsterdam-based cultural analyst and theatre scholar Dragan Klaic, however, has a deeper view. Among his many activities as a Central European intellectual type — lecturing here, leading discussion groups there — he is chairman of the European Festival Research Project (EFRP), and plans to lead a workgroup at the University of Leiden’s Faculty of Creative and Performing Arts to research what he calls the ‘festivalisation of everyday life’.

In short: he’s a festival professor. Continue Reading…

Posted: September 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm.

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Guardian’s Amsterdam City Guide

Guardian Travel playlist for Amsterdam by De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig by Guardiantravel on Mixcloud

The Guardian just published their online guide to Amsterdam. It’s quite fine indeed and features some fine local contributers — including the folks behind Unfold Amsterdam. My contribution involved asking the Dutch gibberish-hop collective De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig about their favorite Amster-songs. The interview was both hilarious and exhausting. Sadly much of what they said proved to be too racy for a family newspaper. My favorite part was when they claimed that volkszanger Andre Hazes was the nation’s Tupac and was actually black — ‘but you know how the history books always change everything.’

Posted: June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am.

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ROAD TO GAGARIN ON FACEBOOK

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Please join our ROAD TO GAGARIN Facebook group.

On 12 April 1961, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-68) yelled ‘Let’s Go!’ as he was launched for a 108-minute circuit around the earth to become the first human in space. For the last decade, photographer René Nuijens and I have been re-visiting Russia to document the major settings of Gagarin’s bizarre and dramatic life, and talking to people who were close to him. In the process, we are capturing the essence of both the man who is dead and his myth that is still very much alive. He remains the most popular 20th-century figure in Russia, where he has the legend status of a JFK or a Bruce Lee – inspiring love, art and conspiracy theories. We believe, like many others, Yuri should become more of a global icon again.

To be published in 2011, the book Road to Gagarin – In Search of the First Man in Space combines photography, travel writing, archival material and a tasty selection of cosmonautic kitsch. Yuri was our rocket into Russia. We recommend the ride to anyone.

Posted: February 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm.

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Unfold Amsterdam hits the streets

Unfold_Vol01_01_COVERUnfold Amsterdam has officially hit the streets. Every two weeks, Amsterdammers will be able to pick up this free English-language poster/mag highlighting the work of local artists/designers and covering the best of what’s going down around town. Hopefully it will fill the gap left since the demise of alternative weekly Amsterdam Weekly. In fact, Unfold Amsterdam arises from the luminous efforts of some of the more luminary ex-Weekly staff and freelancers. So I dig it indeed. Especially this edition’s poster by Simon Wald-Lasowski. So check, check, check it out — or at least put your finger on the pulse by checking regularly at their sweet-looking website.

Also keep your eyes out for the Unfold special edition covering the mighty Klik Amsterdam animation festival coming up on 15-19 September.

Posted: September 15, 2010 at 10:00 am.

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Atlas Obscura

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A website charts out all that is weird and wonderful in the world.

By Steve Korver

Attention, jaded travellers who are convinced that everything exotic has long become familiar to them. The website Atlas Obscura — “a compendium of this age’s wonders, curiosities, and esoterica” — should get you all worked up enough to hit the road again. Their Canadian listings alone should give you a taste of what’s in store: the Diefenbunker nuclear shelter in Ontario, the Gopher Hole Museum in Alberta, and the Downtown Hotel that serves Sourtoe Cocktails (a combination of champagne and an amputated toe) in the Yukon.  

When it was launched last summer, the website seemed to tap into something that was still missing from the internet and went immediately viral and contributors lined up to donate their own desperately odd destination — ones that have not yet been co-opted by package tours or beer ads.

Atlas Obscura’s mission statement is a noble one: it’s the place to look for: “miniature cities, glass flowers, books bound in human skin, gigantic flaming holes in the ground, phallological museums, bone churches, balancing pagodas, or homes built entirely out of paper.” And who isn’t looking?

Two 26 year-olds, the film-maker Dylan Thuras and the science journalist Joshua Foer, came together after discovering a shared passion for the desperately obscure. They met three years ago organising a society meeting for Athanasius Kircher, the 17th century Jesuit scholar and “last renaissance man” who is listed as the inventor of both the “vomiting statue” and the “cat piano”.

But their taste for the wondrous began much earlier: with travels across that most obscure and wondrous of countries: their very own US of A. Dylan Thuras recalls: “I was twelve and my parents took me on a family vacation around the mid-west which is filled with all kinds of bizarre places: Wall Drug, the South Dakota Badlands, and the most amazing and unbelievable was ‘The House on The Rock’. It was like entering a fantastical universe someone else constructed for you.” And indeed, its Atlas Obscura write-up does make it sound enticing. It’s a sprawling construction in Wisconsin that houses a collection of automated orchestras and a 200-foot model of a sperm whale.

Joshua Foer’s coming of age came later: “I was 19 and I bought a beat-up minivan and spent two months driving around the country. At the time, I’m not sure I could have told you why I was doing it, except that I was curious to know what the rest of America was like. I spent a lot of time trying to find wondrous and curious places. It was a life-changing experience.”

Both quickly realised that was no single, great resource for travellers like themselves. Until they realised the power of the Internet and user-generated sites. But while all are welcome to contribute, the listings are edited and fact checked. “We love these places and want to respect and honour them,” says Thuras.

So yes, it turns out that our Earth is still, as Thuras describes it, “a very big and very weird and interesting place, and there are plenty of things left to be discovered by the traveller.” Isn’t that wonderfully reassuring?

 

The editors of Atlas Obscura Editors give their top wacky destination tips — as of September 2009 (since “our favourites are always changing”).

 Dylan Thuras:
1. “The Root Bridges of Cherrapungee in India take at least ten to fifteen years to build. Locals guide tree roots over a river and have them take root on the other side. Some of these living bridges are over a hundred feet long and strong enough to support fifty people. There’s even a double-decker one.”

2. “The Gates of Hell is a 328-foot wide hole in the desert that has been on fire for thirty-eight years after a Soviet drilling rig accidentally drilled into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and poisonous fumes to be released. To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, they set it on fire.”

3. “The Relampago del Catatumbo is a near-constant lightning storm over a river in Venezuela. For almost half the nights of the year, for ten hours at a time, there’s almost constant lightning. Weirdly, it is silent because all the electrical activity happens way up in the air. It’s just insanely cool.”

Joshua Foer:
1. “The other day someone posted an absolutely frightening place that I have no interest in ever visiting: Snake Island off the coast of Sao Paulo, Brazil that is filled with venomous pit vipers: one snake per square meter. Try to picture that…”

2. “The Tempest Prognosticator (a.k.a. the ‘Leech Barometer’) is an ingenious weather-prediction device that debuted at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Leeches get really worked up before a storm, so if you attach bells to them you’ve got yourself a pretty good barometer. A full-scale working model can be viewed at the Barometer World Museum in Devon, England.”

3. “I long to visit New Zealand to see the Electrum, the world’s largest Tesla coil, in action. It stands four stories tall and zaps out three million volts. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Posted: July 14, 2010 at 11:23 am.

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Unfolding Election

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For those who want a, um, concise view on the national Dutch elections, my pal Floris Dogterom is writing a series of reports on the still very-BETA website of Unfold Amsterdam. This web/paper  publication is a very welcome endeavour to fill the void left by Amsterdam Weekly‘s demise and includes a lot of Weekly alumni. They won’t be truely kicking off until 1 September but meanwhile the website already features a savvy choice of what’s going down in town. Check it out! It will rule! Support!

Posted: June 3, 2010 at 11:53 am.

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400 Years of Newspapers

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Pretty amazing. Via the Royal Dutch Library one can now search, or just browse through, the most important newspapers in the Netherlands  between 1618 and 1995, including ones from the former Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Suriname and the Antilles. If you search for ‘kaas‘ (cheese) you get a total of 94 763 hits…  Mmm cheese.

Posted: May 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm.

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