Age American Gothic: Cultural Creatives, Green Branding, Suburbia
drive east on Oso Parkway through Ladera Ranch, South Orange
County California’s latest megadevelopment. Bill
Hicks, The Prince of Darkness, spins in my CD player. The
brilliantly bitter stand-up comedian, ad buster and despiser
of charlatans is ranting about the monoclimate of Southern California.
and sunny every day,” he says. “Isn’t it great?
What are you, a fucking lizard?”
the village of Terramor appears
on the lizard-friendly hillsides. Today, November 15, at its
grand opening, Terramor sprawls like any another suburban tract:
the walls stuccoed; the roofs pitched; priced from the mid-$200,000s
to $800,000; perfectly prosaic.
if you believe the marketing for these homes, Terramor is the
heaven-blessed and world-wise future: “A
Visionary Village,” the salespeople say, “for
the Cultural Creative.”
who died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 32, mutters “Bullshit” as
if to counsel me from the grave.
not for Paul
H. Ray, a social scientist and management consultant known
for his work in market research, Terramor might be a different
kind of village. He is in some ways the real architect here.
the mid-1990s, after analyzing 13 years of surveys from 500
focus groups, Ray uncovered “a new revolutionary movement
emerging in America.” Below the surface of the pop mainstream
there was an untapped, growing community emerging from the social-justice,
environmental-protection and self-actualization movements of
the 1960s and early ’70s. In 2000, Ray teamed with his
Anderson, to publish a guide to the new social phenomenon: The
Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.
foreword begins, “a country the size of France suddenly
sprouting in the middle of the United States.” They’re
referring to the size of the domestic Cultural Creative population.
Buzzwords follow. Authenticity, engaged action, nurturing, whole-process
learning, altruism and spirituality are sprinkled like fairy
dust through chapters titled “Turning Green,” “Waking
Up” and “Caterpillar, Chrysalis, Butterfly.”
Creatives are a coherent subculture,” Ray and Anderson
proclaim, “except for one essential thing: they are
missing self-awareness as a whole.”
the book, according to which Cultural Creatives will soon reach
a kind of critical mass, a tipping point when they suddenly
become aware of their own collective power. Then they’ll
transform how everyone else lives and, in turn, how the world’s
fundamental problems are solved. Cultural Creatives will, as
the moniker implies, create a new culture.
wonder. Are Ray’s Cultural Creatives the branding of crystallized
hocus-pocus? The New Age American Gothic? Pop sociology?
an after-the-fact canon for the middle-aged Woodstock Nation, The
Cultural Creatives is heavy on pie-eyed belief and light
on competition, politics and organizing — the building
blocks necessary for the creation of a new culture.
turn off Hicks and walk into the iGallery, which is what they
call Terramor’s visionary village real estate office.
It’s a nurturing, soft, green world. Across flat-screen
computer monitors, happy families stroll through idealized suburban
landscapes and soft-focus greenbelts. Spotlighted murals on
the wall practically coo with the language of a new commercial
Because you dreamed it, we will build it.
A home in harmony with nature.
A village in touch with its soul.
a demographic with huge market potential.
speaking, Cultural Creatives represent a Gaiatic-size upper-income
segment of the population. When Ray and Anderson first gleaned
the impact of Cultural Creatives from their data, they must
have felt they had discovered empirical proof of the dawning
of marketing’s Age of Aquarius.
Cultural Creatives today have, in just the U.S., a disposable
income after taxes of about $1.1 trillion, ”Ray said in
a recent CNN interview.
what better way for a Cultural Creative to spend cash than on
a culturally creative home. In Terramor, we have a place where
suburbia meets the New Age.
responsible” homes come with solar panels and photovoltaic
roof tiles that generate electricity and send surplus back to
the utility company when usage is low. Terramor’s paints
and carpeting are reportedly less toxic than most others. Community
landscaping is largely drought tolerant and uses green-waste
mulch—grass and plant clippings, fallen leaves. Runoff
areas are designed to cleanse water naturally before it gets
flushed to the ocean. Terramor is also foot friendly, with a
network of arroyos, courtyards and greens connecting to a 10-mile
trail that accesses over 1,800 acres of open space bordering
may ask yourself, is this my beautiful home? Am I a Cultural
Creative? First, consider the alternatives.
their book, Ray and Anderson divide the American cultural pie
into three slices. The biggest slice, 49.5 percent, belongs
to the culturally dominant Moderns. “They are the people
who accept the commercialized urban-industrial world as the
obvious right way to live,” say the authors.
bliss out on material gain, success and technology. They’re
NASCAR dads and soccer moms enrolled in the mainstream of corporate
America: IBM, NBA, CBS, NFL, USA Today, GM, Citibank
and the Wall Street Journal. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger — consumer-driven,
action-hero Hummer driver.
are the smallest slice of the Anderson/Ray pie at 24.5 percent.
They idealize the past, dreaming of simpler Norman Rockwell
picket-fence times. Socially and religiously conservative, Traditionals
live everywhere on the income/ethnocultural map. They are heartlanders,
patriarchal Northern unionists, Southern segregationists, Bible
Belt fundamentalists, and ethnic Catholics. Think Pat Robertson — small-town,
tuna-casserole, made-in-Detroit mid-size sedan driver.
to Ray and Anderson, Traditionals and Moderns have been waging
a culture war since the birth of the nation. Only in the past
30 years have Cultural Creatives, a growing slice of the pie
(now 26 percent), emerged to bring peace to the world — and
brings us back to Terramor, “a place designed to meet
the different lifestyle desires of those people searching for
tightly knit, socially progressive, non-auto-oriented neighborhoods
with a strong environmental orientation.” So
says Anne Marie Moiso, director of marketing for Rancho Mission
Viejo LLC, Terramor’s master planner and developer.
are people who express their core values of altruism, idealism
and concern for others through concern for the environment and
cultural innovation. They appreciate all that is authentic within
their homes, neighborhoods and communities — while sharing
a special concern for key issues impacting the broader community.
They are well educated, successful and extremely curious about
life — they are the Cultural Creatives.”
you can practically hear the brass erupting in Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare
for the Common Man.”
Moiso is a fifth-generation member of the landowning family that ranched, farmed
and then developed most of southern Orange County. When family patriarch
Richard O’Neill Sr. began buying up ranchland in 1882, the land
was a plein air heaven of rolling hills and grazing cattle and sheep.
World War II, O’Neill’s property holdings extended
over 200,000 acres — from El Toro on the north to Oceanside
on the south. Then in a move both traditional and modern, the
U.S. government appropriated Camp Pendleton and El Toro Marine
Base for the war effort.
the 1960s, the family was ready to suburbanize segments of its
remaining 52,000 acres. In 1964, they formed the Mission Viejo
Company and began plans for their first crack at suburbia, the
10,000-acre planned community of Mission Viejo. In 1999, Ladera
Ranch debuted. And today is the grand opening of a “Visionary
is a landmark for Southern California,” Moiso says, “as
Terramor takes its place as the largest green-oriented residential
village of its type in the nation.”
you have any similar developments planned?” I ask her.
Terramor, we pretty much raised the bar,” she says. “Other
areas of Ladera Ranch will also have green development standards.”
ask Moiso if she’s a Cultural Creative.
thought I was, but actually I’m a ‘Winners With
dominant subgroup of Moderns, Winners With Heart are goal driven
and status oriented — that’s the “Winners” part.
They’re also environmentally aware and yearn for psychological
growth — that’s the “Heart.”
continues. “We’ve done annual psychographic profiling
of Ladera Ranch residents as well as our interest list. We’ve
identified four psychographic profiles that find Ladera Ranch
to be their lifestyle solution — Cultural Creatives, Traditionals,
Winners With Heart and Modern Cynics."
Cynics, another subgroup of Moderns, are highly analytical,
and want success and its trappings, but feel disenfranchised
and cynical. At least that’s what the marketing consultants
say. They also say, “Terramor truly is destined to be
a place like no other. It will be a welcoming village where
the opportunity for self-expression is nurtured, solitude is
sacred, interaction is fostered, and you can be as green as
you want to be.”
long as you don’t spell green with a political G. The
Mission Viejo Company won’t emphasize the global environmentalist
side of Terramor. In a survey of potential buyers, the company
28 percent feel strongly about preserving the earth.” As
a result, Terramor’s marketing consultants downplayed
the politically charged “Green” image and conjured
the ambiguous slogan, “360-Degree Living.”
Hernandez, an Orange County
Green Party council member, calls 360-Degree Living mere
marketing. Well, no, she doesn’t. She calls it “bullshit.”
Living means nothing,” Hernandez says. “And I don’t
believe the low percentage of people, the 28 percent identified
by the developer’s marketing department. There is an extremely
high percentage of the population who are concerned about the
environment, especially if they are made aware of what is actually
is being threatened?
Terramor, we are talking about some of the last open space in
the county and the removal of critical wildlife corridors,” Hernandez
says. “In fact, the land adjacent to Ladera Ranch and
Cleveland National Forest has been identified as one of the
top 25 global hotspots — one of the most unique areas
on the planet, since it is composed of endangered species and
plant life specific to that region only.”
about Terramor’s “non-auto-oriented neighborhoods”?
these residents plan to just stay in their private enclave and
not venture out with the rest of us,” Hernandez says, “they’ll
be forced to fight the same traffic jams created by this never-ending
suburban sprawl — especially since they are living on
the edge of it.”
says the only really green development would take place in the
county’s urban centers. “A much better solution
would be to create attractive, sustainable communities in areas
already developed — mixing homes with local businesses
and positioning them close to mass transit stations to minimize
auto use,” she says.
what about Terramor’s “strong environmental orientation”?
that was the case,” Hernandez says, “they wouldn’t
buy or support this type of destructive development in the first
place. Once this environment is gone, it’s gone forever. Let’s
save some of it for our grandchildren.”
to Hernandez, I get the feeling that Terramor’s marketing
is Greenwashing, a word that now has its own place
in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Disinformation disseminated
by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible
public image.” In practice it means advertising with montages
of lush green rain forests, condors in flight and pristine streams
sparkling in daylight — all brought to you by major polluters.
Terramor’s case it means that the marketer’s “Visionary
Village” may exist simply to give developers leverage
as they expand suburban sprawl to San Onofre and points beyond.
After all, favorable public opinion generated by a culturally
creative lowercase green development like Terramor could justify
the latest toll-road extension through San Onofre State Park
or the newest development of 14,000 homes proposed for Ortega
Canyon. In front of a county or city planning commission, 360-Degree
Living might serve as the developer’s crowbar for massive
tell Hernandez that the brochure at the iGallery says 360-Degree
Living “approaches home as a nest responding to individual
needs for privacy, individuality, and efficiency.”
think the whole thing sounds really phony,” she replies.
walk to the front of the iGallery and ask the receptionist how
many degrees of living I’m experiencing right now, here
at the iGallery — 360? Perhaps 240? If I live in Long
Beach, am I likely to experience more degrees than if I live
in Yorba Linda?
receptionist smiles and gives me the once-over twice. It wouldn’t
surprise me if she’s sizing me up as a Modern Cynic. She
certainly works for a place that has the credentials. Housing
Zone, an online magazine for the real estate community,
says, “Nobody is better at creating and executing detailed
marketing programs directed to distinct like-minded groups than
Rancho Mission Viejo Company.”
like-minded groups is standard operating procedure for marketing
people. In the past, straight-up demographics were the rule — age,
income, education, occupation and geographic location determined
the sales pitch. But by the late 1970s — with the rise
of personal computers — marketing departments found they
could increase sales by tossing personal values, attitudes,
behaviors and tastes into the mix. As with all things in marketing,
they came up with a cool new name for this strategy: psychographics.
advertisement built on psychographic data doesn’t describe
the product so much as it describes the personality and character
of the prospective consumer — a campaign that almost ignores
the product so that it can flatter you for having the good taste
to want it. In Terramor’s world, you’re the kind
of amazing person who “dreamed” of a “home
in harmony with nature” in a “village in touch with
its soul.” And because you dreamed it, the Mission Viejo
Company can have only one response: “we will build it.”
cultural values are identified with specific psychographic segments
of the population. You may be “Bohemian
Mix” or “Pools & Patios,” or “Shotguns & Pickups” or “Rural
Industrial” or “Winner’s Circle.” You
Shop at Banana Republic, watch Wall Street Week, live a granola-and-grits
lifestyle. You’re urbane or rustic; hunt with a gun or
wonder how this all fits into the Cultural Creative/ Modern/
Traditional grid. So I call Brooke Warrick, president of American
LIVES, a value- and lifestyle-based market research firm.
Warrick founded American LIVES 17 years ago with Paul Ray — the
man who coined “Cultural Creative.” Warrick also
did the market research for Terramor and helped with its development
and marketing plan.
Ranch was an evolution,” Warrick says. “There were
five phases and we marched our way through each, pushing the
envelope. We were going after different kinds of people at each
phase. We decided in the last phase, Terramor, that there was
one part of the market that wasn’t being served: a segment
that wanted some sort of green development phenomena. We knew
what their values were. We knew what was important to them.
said to ourselves, ‘Why don’t we design a part of
the community that appeals to Cultural Creatives?’ If
we did the Green Thing — internally we called it ‘the
Green Thing’ — if we did the Green Thing, couldn’t
we capture another part of the market?”
ask him what other markets he targeted. Warrick tells me about
Covenant Hill, another Ladera Ranch development. “I talked
to a builder about that development the other day. I said to
him, “Remember everything we said about the target for
Terramor? Forget about that. The target for Covenant Hills is
exactly the opposite. It’s for Moderns and status-oriented
how do you market homes to Moderns?
want a lot of baubles and bangles on the front of their homes,” he
says. “We came up with the term ‘statement-oriented
architecture’ to describe the embellishments for Moderns.”
are parts of the development [at Ladera Ranch] that went after
Traditionals, too,” he says. “For Traditionals,
the fewer things on the home the better.”
far as marketing to the 28 percent who think the earth is worth
preserving, Warrick says, “We want all that 28 percent.”
architecture? The Green Thing? My head is spinning. I hear the
squeal of feedback, statistical white noise emanating from the
movement of marketing information between consumers and researchers
and market and back again. It sounds like this: poll-data-marketing-poll-data-marketing-poll-data-marketing. And
this: You want/I want/You want/I want/You want.
does that create culture?
the marketing bubble of like-minded groups — the Moderns,
Winners With Heart and Traditionals — shouldn’t
there be a segment called “Leadership Seekers” — a
huge untapped portion of the population looking for someone
with fresh ideas that haven’t been diluted by polling
more I learn about Terramor’s pitch to Cultural Creatives,
the less “authentic,” “nurturing” and “altruistic” it
feels. I tip my imaginary hat to the iGallery receptionist,
get in my car and cruise through the tract.
on grand opening day, the streets are lined with green and white
360-degree balloons. Surrounded by paradoxically bulldozed hillsides,
prospective Cultural Creative buyers in their antithetical SUVs
cruise down O’Neill Drive past Gaia Lane, Aura Lane, Thoreau
and Ethereal Streets.
possible to attack the Mission Viejo Company as cynical — as
inauthentically green. And you’d have so much evidence,
including the fact that the developer might have chosen to throw
green upgrades (photovoltaic cells, solar panels, wastewater
wash/rinse and the like) into each and every home as standard,
and could have simply insisted, because it was the right thing
to do, that this is how everybody should live on a planet whose
resources are tumbling around on the sides of freeways, festering
in landfills, falling from the sky like hard rain, running through
our fingers. Or you could praise the company, and say, well,
hell: capitalism has something for everybody with money, even
people the capitalists wouldn’t really like very much
hanging around their swimming pools.
homes, wrong place,” I think and flip Hicks back to life
on the CD.
anybody here is in marketing or advertising,” Hicks yells
though my speakers, “kill yourself. No joke here. Really.
Seriously. There is no rationalization for what you do. Kill
know what bugs me?” he continues. “Everyone here
who is in marketing is thinking the same thing: ‘Oh, cool!
Bill’s going for the anti-marketing dollar. That’s
a huge market!’
it! Oh, quit it!” Hicks cries. “Don’t turn
everything into a dollar sign!”
marketers in Hicks’ head speak again. “‘Oooooo — the
plea for sanity dollar. Huge. Huge market. Look at our research.’”
at the research and the results, it appears that the Cultural
Creative market wants creativity as long as it’s institutionalized
and standardized in museums and universities. It wants self-expression
as long as it doesn’t violate the Talmudic CC&Rs of
the homeowners association. It wants altruism and idealism as
long as they don’t get negative numbers. It wants polls
instead of considerations, population trends instead of truth.
is to the social-justice, environmental-protection and self-actualization
movements of the 1960s and ’70s what Vanilla Ice is to
rap, what Cat in the Hat the movie is to Cat in
the Hat the book, what The OC is to Orange County.
in the hills of Ladera Ranch, Terramor is a marketing analyst’s
answer to a global community — a preprogrammed Cultural
Creative world with hiking trails and solar panels. But the
real creators of culture won’t be living here. They’ll
be directing the future from between the slices on the Anderson/Ray
head north on the 405. Through a demographer’s eyes, I’m
passing miles and miles of flat suburban piescapes populated
by marketing segments.
minutes later, I’m surveying 19th Street in Costa Mesa’s
Westside — the breeding ground for Rock
Harbor Church, Diedrich
Roasters, Wahoo’s and Chronic
Industries. Throwing back a beer at Taco Mesa, I take in
the wild open environment of humanity living outside the marketing
bubble — approximately 180 degrees from 360-Degree Living.
might ask, “What does the pie chart look like here? What
are the psychographics? What’s the marketing campaign?”
are Mexican Altruists, Guatemalan Idealists, Indian Subcontinent
Optimists, Gay Thai Episcopalians, Bug-eyed Hopped-up Propellerhead
Poets, Catholic Narcotraficantes — all subgroups of what
Nathan Callahan calls Society’s Mavericks, expressing
their core values of bebop, hip-hop, trance, ranchera, No Wave,
narcocorridos, rockabilly-acid-jazz-funk and biting the hand
that feeds them. The Real Shit — the Unknown Rebels, creating
a culture without an adjoining dollar sign, monkey-wrenching
the engine of homogenization, stopping the line of Red Army
tanks, bending yardsticks into burning men, engaging in life
outside the marketing survey.
— Nathan Callahan,
December 11, 2003