Brand this, gunslingers!

One of the most succinct formulations of wisdom ever devised is Plato’s famous maxim, “Know thyself.”

Kathy Srabian posted a really well-written, thoughtful and thoroughly depressing account of the recent “Love Humboldt” event for The Humboldt Herald.   Money quote:

If you are branding Humboldt as a place perfect within itself with fresh air and lovely rivers and mystic enriching fog why try to induce the flavor of its exact opposite, Hollywood — known for its paved movie lots, pricey stores, bad air, crowded freeways and clowns getting out of VWs?

Seriously.  Do you not know who you are, you antisocial libertarians, stoners, hippies and gunslingers?  You live in one of the last settled places in the continental United States.  This is the Wild West – not Hollywood.  It wasn’t so long ago that people from this part of the state were agitating to secede from California.  Your heritage is a badass heritage.  You live in the State of Jefferson, but so many of you seem to exist in a state of denial.

This is Kathy Srabian, again, describing the main event at the Love Humboldt gang:

Then finally, their movie starts. If we have a local lipstick manufacturer it was well represented. A young attractive girl who works too hard at the natural healthy look is walking across Arcata Plaza. She is carrying an open basket of lavender. Her walk is slowed by some film adjustment to show she is not in a hurry. She is happy and content with her basket of lavender. Yes! Humboldt where everyone walks with an odd gait and has nowhere in particular to go. She shows up several times in the shorts. Her presence on screen reminded me of a feminine hygiene commercial celebrating those days you can still do anything you want or perhaps a medication that makes everything happy for you. No worries, just walking. See me walking?

I know that lots of people up here think that path to prosperity will come from developing the coastline so that one day Humboldt will look as ugly as the southern California nightmare I just woke from, and apparently, some people think that path is lined with baskets full of lavender.  I’ve got news for you, Humboldt Film Commission, that basket’s full of weed, not lavender.

I know, Humboldt – and Mendocino, and Trinity – have a lot more going for them than one stupid illegal plant.  This is the most beautiful spot in the whole state of California, and that also means that this is one of the most beautiful spots on the entire planet.  The culture up here is deep and rich, and the caricature of the place that’s been promoted in Hollywood does a dis-service to that cultural depth and richness.  But get over it.  That’s what Hollywood does – and it’s not just about you; they do it to everyone, including themselves.  Hollywood has historical richness and cultural depths, too, but you don’t care about that, and the marketing whizzes of Hollywood know you don’t care about that, so they don’t make a big deal of it.  They know what they’re good at, and they do what they’re good at because they want to keep living in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed.

Sure, it’s unfortunate that dumb Hollywood is such a powerful force in global marketing, but it is what it is.  And when one of the most powerful engines of mass marketing decides to shine their spotlight on your little corner of the world, what are you going to do – fight it?  Here’s a thought:  Focus on what YOU’RE good at.  Take the tourist dollars they want to throw at you and build up a nest egg for the time when they forget about you and move on to their next target.

Look, I know it embarrasses lots of you up here to think that this amazing place you all love and appreciate is being defined to the rest of the world in a two-dimensional way, as the home of a stupid, stupid, STOOPID drug; and a drug that was only recently brought here by grungy hippies who weren’t welcomed or wanted when they first came, which was then celebrated and embraced by all kinds of additional stoner idiots around the country.  I don’t even blame those folks for trying to combat the inaccurate, embarrassing and limiting stereotypes that have proliferated about their beautiful, beloved home turf.  After all, those stereotypes are responsible for bringing in waves of newcomers who are mostly oblivious to the depth and richness of the culture around here, drawn in only by the lure of easy money.

I’ve got some news for those folks, though – regardless of what you’ve all come to appreciate about your home, it’s the persistent waves of the unwanted and unwelcomed that is your real heritage, whether you’re interested in embracing it or not.

Read the excellent posts that have been appearing on Lynette’s NorCal History Blog about the way the indigenous populations of this area were systematically slaughtered and removed by settlers who were eager to get their hands on the land.  Read Randy de Rezanov’s excellent post on how those same indigenous inhabitants were legally enslaved, just so the people who took their land would have the free labor necessary to develop it in their own image.

Regardless of how emphatically you want to assert your current ownership of the land you occupy, the historical record is pretty clear.  The Emerald Triangle used to be populated by a bunch of distinct indian groups, doing whatever it was that they were doing before the gold was discovered.   But that discovery changed everything, and once it was discovered, the marketing machines of the mid-19th century kicked into high gear.  Waves upon wave of unwanted immigrants came to get the promised resource that would make them rich.  Most of those people left poorer than when they arrived; of the rest, a few people got rich, and a few people got by.  Some of those people stayed.  And when the gold ran out, those people moved on to the next resource, and then the next – the timber, the fish – and yes – the marijuana.  Don’t kid yourselves – lavender grew on the hillsides, and communities sprung up, but it was never about the community, and it was never about the lavender.  It sure as hell wasn’t about the love.

And speaking of the love – who’s bright idea was this monstrosity?

Maybe I don’t get it, since I’ve only been up here for a little while and I lack that long-term resident cred, but when did Humboldt become the capital of cheesy purple hearts?  What the fuck is that?  Did I miss the Valentine’s Day candy factory tour, or is this just the product of deluded people with too much time on their hands and not enough imagination?

And who are those deluded people?  Here’s the skinny from Ryan Burns, writing for The North Coast Journal:

Funded jointly by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the county’s Headwaters Fund, the North Coast Small Business Development Center and the participating businesses themselves — to the tune of almost $170,000 — the Humboldt branding project has its sights set on the sea of consumers beyond the Redwood Curtain. The idea, as we understand it, is to publicize not just specific local products but an overarching image, a romanticized Humboldt mystique characterized by pristine landscapes, eco-conscious citizens and quality, hand-crafted wares. Couple these idyllic visions to our county name in the minds of consumers and voilá — the rising tide will lift all Humboldt-made boats.

Really.  Really?   You’re taking economic advice from the U.S. government?

Ryan goes on to point out that local rapper José Recendiz (aka KYZ-J) has been conducting his own branding campaign for some time now, marketing his “Rep Hum” line of clothes.  Sounds good.  In that same spirit, here’s something I whipped up in five minutes on my home computer.  Well, okay, I have to come clean on this, it was really my partner who came up with it.  I just produce anger, frustration and outrage; she’s the creative one in the partnership:

emerald triangle.jpg

Here ya go – a simple emerald triangle with a letter to indicated county of origin – H, M, or T.  I’ve seen stickers like this in every beach community I’ve ever lived in, so I know it’s easy to convince people to identify with a letter.   Convince every grower and dealer and dispensary operator to slap one of these little stickers on every $70 eighth ounce of weed that starts its journey here in our own resource-rich part of the world, and pretty soon everyone from San Diego to Denver to San Francisco is going to want to pay top dollar for what we have, regardless of how easy it might be to grow weed in a garage in Visalia, or Eagle Rock, or Temecula.  Because you know what those places don’t have?  They don’t have the marketing power of Hollywood in their back pockets.

Don’t fight Hollywood.  Manipulate Hollywood to get what you want.  And don’t do it by trying to be something you’re not.  YOU’RE the badasses.  YOU’RE the gunslingers.  For the love of god, YOU’RE the ones with your sticky fingers on the production of the largest cash crop in the state, and every bit of power and prestige that comes along with it.  Even though you don’t seem to know it.

So, again, step one:   “Know thyself.”


15 Responses to “Brand this, gunslingers!”

  1. 2 Kathy
    February 15, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks Partner! You said much I felt but could not articulate. There is so much to our county. We have so much to offer the outside world. Their framing and branding is missing the whole point. If we grow the best Bud in the world why not the best beef? Picture that on a billboard.

    • February 15, 2010 at 10:13 pm

      I think you said it pretty well. The absurdity of the red carpet choreography you describe reminded me of that scene in Michael Moore’s first documentary, Roger and Me, when the elected officials in Flint decide to blow their remaining funds on a new opera house. (Or if a classic Simpson’s reference isn’t lost on you, one word – Monorail!) Funny and terribly, terribly sad at the same time.

  2. 4 Kym
    February 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Once upon a time there were little stickers with redwood trees and marijuana leaves titled Humboldt that were making the rounds of the growers. The idea was to put one in every pound sold. But the fear of somehow making it easier to trace the pound back to the grower suffocated that idea.

    I like the concept but you have to overcome the paranoia of large numbers of growers first.

    • February 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

      I suppose it does depend upon the participation of large numbers of growers. No one crucifies Spartacus if we all stand up and call ourselves Spartacus, right? Still, it seems like it should be pretty easy to get some kind of labeling started in the dispensaries up here, just to get the ball rolling. A “buy local” strategy that could be exported.

      Kathy’s notion that we could work from strength to emphasize an overall aesthetic of agricultural excellence suggests a way around that problem, too. If the legal industries decided to piggyback on what is already widely-celebrated – and why shouldn’t they use that reputation, at least in a playful way – that would give the marijuana growers the cover necessary to join in a wider marketing strategy. Beautiful beef, beautiful beer, beautiful bud.

  3. 6 Kathy
    February 15, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Do you have an email address you would be willing to share with me?
    or can I write you ‘not for public stuff’ from a comment box?

  4. 7 Snickerdoodles
    February 16, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Funny thing: at a recent Water District Workshop an audience member questioned Jacqueline Debets why the economic development crowd doesn’t embrace the best economic engine in the area – namely marijuana production – and promote legalization as a means to creating a flourishing and ‘legit’ local industry.

    Debets answer was a claim that she doesn’t have any viable data on pot because it’s an illegal industry and there are no solid numbers on the black market trade. (ignoring the legitimate medical models around the state, and their #s, as well as a data across the state pointing to cannabis as the #1 cash crop in the #1 agricultural state), and lacking the data, there is no way to push for economic development that’s illegal (ignoring state laws to the contrary) … regardless, it was indicative that the person at the helm of the County’s Economic Development cabal is still operating under a pre-215 mindset of the ‘Devil’s Weed’

    The subtext for this branding project (and what was whispered between friends involved) is that the push for branding Humboldt as a great place for Beef and Cheese is a direct assault on our rep as the weed capital of the western world. The Economic Dev. folks deplore the fact that we’re known for our weed. And yes, i agree that it’s a disservice to everything else our area has to offer — but why deny the power of our strongest brand, and instead seek to dilute it? Doesn’t make economic sense. Embrace the brand, do like the Times Standard does and stick a pot leaf front and center every time you want to sell out the rack … Humboldt ‘Grass’-fed beef suddenly means something else — and all the crazy folks who tried smoking banana peels when they couldn’t get ahold of the Humboldt Green will try our beef, thinking it might give them a buzz …

    This kind of thinking made Anheiser and Coors and all the other pleasure pimps a ton of money … Embrace the brand. We’ve already built it … and they’re coming (and they’re not asking ‘Where’s the Beef?’)!

    • February 18, 2010 at 10:37 am

      Too right. And how about that “happy cows” dairy ad campaign? All the cows I’ve seen in those dairy factories along the 99 look miserable, but our dairy cows? Sure they’re happy – they spend their days munching on Humboldt grass!

  5. 9 Kathy
    February 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I don’t know if it would be the best time to put our specialty agricultural product front and center. I would not want to taunt extra trouble during this time of well placed DEA raids. But it is a good time to acknowledge that it is cash crop money in the registers of businesses that want to stay alive until the tourist return and they pretend again that this place is funded with tourist dollars. It’s good pretending. It works.
    But the ‘know how’ and excellence behind our counties rep can be transferred to beef and cheese and wine and baskets. ” Humboldt Beef….. More Excellence”

    “Regardless of what you’ve all come to appreciate about your home, it’s the persistent waves of the unwanted and unwelcomed that is your real heritage,” ………. and our future?

    However, the branding folks have no web savvy and what goes viral will be what we put out there.

  6. 10 Mr. Nice
    February 16, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Viral doesn’t mean it is going to do anything. You could get a million viral views for some dorky movie and have that translate into zero interest for anything other than the clip. Take the Times-Standard earthquake movie… does anyone care about anything besides the dog?

    I’ve never heard of a one-off viral movie actually generating advertising. Unless it is a series that doesn’t get played out, the clip is just the clip.

    Look at any viral video associated with Humboldt and look at the numbers on their other videos. HumboldtMike’s is #1, look at that… errybody loves the time lapse cloud thing, that is fucking awesome. But it’s not like that turned over into mad hits for the rest of the videos.

    No offense if you read this HumboldtMike, your videos are doing hella good, I am just using that as an example of what it means to be viral.

    What I’m saying is, making a viral internet thing has got to be more than just some one off shit. To work, it has to get people to subscribe and be eagerly awaiting the next dumb ass video.

  7. 11 Kathy
    February 17, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Good points.
    I do want to share that I saw a woman carrying a basket today. I think the basket thing is going to be an growing phenomenon. Baskets are going to go viral. Change is in the air.

  8. 12 rad local film maker
    February 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    I am a totally awesome local film maker who got shafted and didn’t get hired to film this project. My definition of local is someone who is stuck in humboldt because they are car-less and don’t have money for bus fair. Also locals must be bitter and hyper-critical of anyone who ever achieves success, escpesialy successful people who say they are local; by my above definition, successful people can not be locals.
    These movies suck because they are racist and sexist; I mean, a female “local” directed them, but why couldn’t they have hired more non-whites. well the lead male looked ethnic, but the waiters and servants were all white! how unrealistic is that? White people in humboldt? WTF??? why couldn’t non-white actors have received the hundreds of thousands of dollars the other hollywood actors received. These hollywood actors, who call themselves locals, have been spreading rumors that they were unpaid and that they donated hours and hours of their life energy in exchange for experience and their names in the credits; all LIES!!!
    the millions spent on this film would have been better spent on local charities, like my grow room operation and my homeboy’s trip to burning man this year.
    also, the business owners who call themselves locals are evil liars who dare to make profits and who try to sell things! they even try to market to people and business outside of our county! this will bring in revenues and create more local people with jobs and assets, thus by my above definition, people who are no longer locals!
    in conclusion, these good ole boys hollywood millionaire insiders should stop working so hard and producing quality products, cause they suck and I am rad!
    also, i am very brave and i am using a fake name here on the internet.

    p.s. i didn’t enjoy the free food either; it was room temperature!!!

    p.p.s. one more thing that proves these people are evil idiots. they didn’t even make commercials for the only local product that matters: pot.

    p.p.p.s. good on you Kathy Srabian, for criticizing an underage girl for being beautiful and for having a strange gait. your ugliness makes you more “humboldt” than anyone ever!

  9. 13 Mr. Nice
    March 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Damn blood, you sure got that whole type a lot without saying anything deal going.

    What do these videos got, 5,000 views combined? That’s pretty good. It’s gonna catch some of those pepper spray q-tip videos someday. Tallest tree, how to roll a blunt, and some garthvizzle videos are still gonna be ten times as successful.

    It’s real easy for folks to just lay in the cuts until it is time to get up and be like y’all suck, your attempt at success was wack. Since it’s so easy, there you go.

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