Learning to Love Globalization

By Greif, Mark | The American Prospect, May 21, 2001 | Go to article overview

Learning to Love Globalization


Greif, Mark, The American Prospect


In a climate-controlled conference room in Secaucus, New Jersey, G. Clothaire Rapaille is smoothly welcoming a handful of grateful corporate clients to his latest project. Rapaille has only recently become notorious. As the Jungian-archetype analyst of American business, his method of consumer research includes asking people to lie down on the floor on pillows and recall early childhood memories concerning consumer products. He convenes focus groups unlock the codes of consumers' "cultural unconscious"--codes he says dictate their tastes and buying patterns--and then he hands the key to corporations, for a price. Rapaille has done menstruation in this way for Johnson & Johnson and barbecue sauce for Kraft.

This season, he's chosen something more challenging. Instead of a product analysis, the clients shaking his hand in Secaucus are here to watch Rapaille unlock "globalization"--on behalf of the globalizers. "The danger is real," his faxed communique warned them. "Are we going to see consumers around the world unify their forces with unions and activists of all sorts to attack companies ... even YOUR company?" For only $95,000 (a discount applies for repeat clients), a corporation can get some answers.

The clients settle down to a catered breakfast as Rapaille lays out plans for the morning's focus group. Two weeks earlier, these corporate executives observed the globalization study's first groups in San Francisco. After Secaucus, some will continue on to Seattle and to Boca Raton, Florida. Then others will replace them--in Paris, London, and the outposts of progress of lesser nations--until the archetypal code has been broken.

Rapaille is a handsome man, energetic, with wavy hair, wearing a gray polo shirt and gray trousers. A bottle of Perfect Body pills sits in his open briefcase. "I'm not sure `globalization' is the right word," he ruminates in his lovely French-accented English. "I'm pretty sure it's not the right word."

The clients, eager for results, propose other words. What if they call the changing order a "global community"? Or use the adjective "world-class"? Rapaille shakes his head, concerned with the deep psychology: "There was no globalization when they were children.... Maybe it's Hitler? Maybe it's Dr. Strangelove? Is that why they hate it?"

We are about to find out why they hate it. Next door, on the opposite side of a silvered one-way mirror, "they" will shortly be trooped into a large session room: a group of perhaps 30 ordinary respondents, solicited to come discuss a topic as yet undisclosed to them.

Rapaille stands elegantly beside a giant easel inside the session room. "My name is Gil," he says, "and I just arrived from another planet." Here is his pitch: He is an alien; he knows nothing about the strangeness of human ways and wants to learn. Meanwhile, he and his clients have demographic sheets in their briefcases that spell out the occupation, status, and dollar income of each member of this new focus group. Old and young, men and women, all they have in common is that they are employed flexibly or unreliably enough to be available during work hours on a Monday.

The alien tells them to ignore their "five shifts" at work, their "three kids," their fatigue, and deliver to him their most basic associations. "Don't be too intelligent," he instructs. He flips a page on the easel. A single word is visible in Magic Marker capitals: GLOBALIZATION. "What is this?" Rapaille asks, pointing. "How do you feel about this?"

The response starts slowly. A few people offer hazy associations, as deferential as students in a classroom. An older woman in a yellow blazer speaks up with the first complaint. "It's less personal now," she says. "Nothing's personal. You used to talk to a person; now I talk to a button on a keyboard. It's all machines. Life's not fun anymore."

"No more privacy," a gruff voice offers.

Rapaille is pleased. …

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