Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Appeal of a Place, Two


It may be said that every individual man and all men in common aim at a certain end which determines what they choose and what they avoid. This end, to sum it up briefly, is happiness and its constituents.

Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!
-P. T. Barnum

Forty years ago, I devoured the books of Vance Packard, including The Hidden Persuaders and The Status Seekers. Packard (1914 – 1996) was a journalist and social critic whose non-fiction works became bestsellers in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. His pop sociology explored how motivational research and depth psychology were used to create ad campaigns that exploited every vulnerability of the American consumer.

If they were still around, P T. Barnum and Vance Packard would find plenty to catch their attention in The Location, The Luxury, The Life, by Elizabeth Adams (2004). With its revelations of carefully crafted hucksterism, this slim volume more than lives up to the blurb on the back cover:

What compels people to spend vast sums of money to own a sliver of status or the promise of a dream? In the world of resort real estate, status and dreams are prized possessions, packaged and sold in fanciful brochures and detailed floor plans, often before the actual property they represent is even erected….

This book is a rhetorical study of what made Intrawest Corp “the world’s largest developer of village-centred destination resorts.” From the history of the notion of luxury, to the values of the new upper class, this study lays bare the tactics used to motivate the purchase, and the dreams and desires of those eager to pay the price.

A self-described “strategic storyteller,” Adams ran the Intrawest resort campaign and also created promo pieces for the River Rock (Legasus) development locally. She describes her work in these words:

I am a creator of fantasy lifestyle brochures designed to sell millions in "luxury" resort real estate across North America. In essence, I am a ghostwriter, one of several Sophists spinning fantastic tales for a faceless corporate entity.

Essentially, her book is a response to a challenge:

I felt compelled to develop a firmer grasp on the particular type of rhetoric I was creating, and why.

To analyze the developers’ efforts to reach the modern upper class, Adams considers “The World of Intrawest” as a rhetorical creation, based on the classical rhetorical theory of Aristotle and contemporary theorists such as Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz.

Bitzer, on the one hand, views rhetorical discourse as a response to a pre-existing need. Thus, the fantasy-based reality of the Intrawest resort is aimed at satisfying specific needs such as “escape, reconnection with nature and family, greater social status, a legacy to pass on…”

Vatz, on the other hand, believes that rhetorical discourse doesn’t merely respond to specific needs, but actively brings those needs into existence.

Bitzer might argue that Intrawest rhetoric reflects reality, while Vatz would counter that it creates reality.

Or, to borrow their own words on the matter:

“Exigence (a need of some kind) strongly invites utterance.” (Bitzer)

“Utterance strongly invites exigence.” (Vatz)

Adams raises this “chicken and egg” conundrum early. She concludes, 120 pages later, that both theories contribute to understanding “the complexities surrounding today’s need for luxury living.”

In the first chapter, Adams examines the evolving concept of luxury from ancient times to the 21st century. The book's publication coincided with the peak of the high-end resort developments. From that pre-collapse perspective, Adams writes, “the right to luxury items and leisure activities is affordable for more people than ever before.”

Chapter Two focuses on the specific strategies behind the Intrawest resort rhetoric. Once again Adams quotes Aristotle:

Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.

The author outlines six of the most important means of persuasion available to Intrawest:

1. Location, or natural setting
2. The Intrawest “village” as a rhetorical creation
3. Intrawest neighborhoods
4. Real estate project names and themes
5. Materials and textures used in sales materials
6. Language and imagery

Adams describes these in the context of Intrawest and, as we shall see, the same tactics reappear in the fantasy-based reality of the River Rock campaign.

next - river rock's rhetorical discourse and the language of place

1 comment:

elizabeth adams said...

hi there!
i've been meaning to write to you for quite some time re your review of my humble thesis, which i thought was excellent! i'm glad you share my interest in the rhetoric surrounding supposedly fantastic (mostly man-made) places.
i noticed you had 'River Rock rhetorical discourse and the language of place' as a blog to come... i'm very much looking forward to your thoughts on that one. the storyline for this 5-parceled luxury community was the result of nearly a year's worth of research, envisioning and storytelling. let me know of you have the pdf!
kindest regards,