From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fieldnotes From History (14)—Company, Copamy

[a] Electronics RF
Part of an occasional Round and Square series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987—some nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.

[b] Baby, tire RF
This is the third in a series of three fieldnotes I wrote on the same day. The "spur" for my thinking was intellectual property "piracy" in Taiwan. I saw it everywhere, and I will admit to viewing it then as a matter of "right and wrong." Of course, I retain some of those perspectives as I watch the growth of globalized, commodified behemoths from all over Asia. On the other hand, within weeks of writing these notes, I began to have discussions with vendors that, at the very least, gave me added perspective on the matters. These notes represent an initial foray into a question (how is intellectual property culturally and historically configured?) that continues to interest me today. The only thing that particularly bothers me about this note is the continuing, "othering" use of they when writing about cultural matters. On the other hand, I was young, lost, confused, and learning. It is a challenge even to read (much less post for pedagogical purposes) these paragraphs.

—For me, Copam Electronics was just a place where a former classmate worked in May 1985. When he left Taiwan later that year, I took over his job as English language editor and "advertising director," even as I continued my research and language studies. In May 1985, I had no idea that I would later work there.
We Are the World. It was everywhere in 1985.
—If you are too young to have seen the Michelin "baby-tire" commercials, just go to YouTube. I have linked a few of them here. Don't let the dates fool you. They ran (in print and on television) through the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s.

          Baby Tire 1          Baby Tire 2          Baby Tire 3          Baby Tire 4          Baby Tire 5

Related Fieldnotes: 1   2   3

 18 May 1985
Taipei   (3 of 3)

Foreign companies are tired of the whole thing. My [college] classmate, who works for a computer company here in Taipei says that he takes a lot of heat from American companies when he journeys to computer fairs in and beyond Asia. An IBM representative told him (the company’s name is Copam—Coin Operated Amusement Machines, from whence it got its name) what many American companies think of the pirates: “Even your name says you’re thieves—Copam,’Copy American.’" 

This particular company is clearly on the "legal" side of the divide, but the IBM representative's response taps into one of those cultural and economic equations in which both sides assert that they are "right." The definitional boundaries keep changing, and especially in a developing market such as computer technology. Automobiles, for example, are less fluid in that regard, and there is somewhat more agreement about intellectual property rights there.

Not so—or not so much—with computers. Even the legitimate companies use practices that in the United States or Europe would be considered immoral, if not illegal. In order to create a “complete” system, many companies in Taiwan (this is common knowledge) buy monitors from a different firm and simply paste their company’s label over the original one. “It’s o.k.”, I have been told by half a dozen people, “we all do it.” 

Less jarring, but equally derivative (not much different from Hollywood, television, or book publishing) is what I might call "idea replication." In the same way that one great detective drama seems to spawn a dozen ill-conceived cookie cutter copies, successful ad campaigns all over the world get reworked here for the local market. A tire company here clearly saw that Michelin’s ad in the United States—the ridiculous one with babies crawling through white sidewall tires while the father wavers between Michelin and a cheaper brand—was working. Up went a huge billboard on Zhongshan North Road with a Chinese child of three or four, two bean sprouts of hair popping out of her head in the style of a Chinese cherub, leaning on a tire. The ad says, in effect, “Only Fei Da brand will do for your loved ones.”  The keen eyes for profit know few limits—practical or ethical. Yes, "We are the World" has even been pirated.

Related Fieldnotes: 1   2   3
[c] Panda brand RF

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