By Deborah Leigh Wood
There's no time like the present to
look back at an imaginary past, suggests an anthology of essays
co-edited by Kellogg School Marketing Professor John Sherry
Present: tense. Future: uncertain. Past...
Now there's a nostalgic comfort zone.
Marketing campaigns routinely revisit an idealized
past, tapping into people's memories, burnishing them to accentuate
desirable elements while diminishing the unpleasant gritty
The dynamics of marketing and nostalgia is
a key subject in the recently published Time, Space, and
the Market: Retroscapes Rising.
Co-edited by Kellogg School Marketing Professor
John F. Sherry Jr. and Stephen Brown, professor of marketing
research at the University of Ulster, the text uses vivid
personal narratives to immerse readers in the mind- and time-altering
world of retrospaces — environments that evoke remembrances
(albeit false) of times past.
Sherry, who contributes two essays to Time,
Space, and the Market, says the book departs in tone
from the more conventional style of recording social science
"We wanted to give readers a visceral
experience of being 'in the moment,' because that's what retroscapes
are about," he says. "So we selected writers who
could reconstruct that feeling."
One of those writers is Robert Kozinets, Kellogg
assistant professor of marketing, who took artistic license
in the first draft of his essay on the Burning Man project,
a unique celebration of art and community that occurs one
week a year in the Nevada desert. Both he and Sherry have
participated in the event. Realizing that a narrative about
being abducted by a "crazy cult from the future"
wasn't going to fly, Kozinets revised his essay. The retooled
version still vibrantly captures the immediacy of a "transformative
event" that brings together some 30,000 free spirits
yet erases all traces of its presence after the encampment's
Kozinets welcomed the opportunity in this
anthology to present research "as text to be read, rather
than a law book to be followed," emphasizing the author's
passionate connection to his work.
A number of essayists in Time, Space,
and the Market seem to agree. Their pieces allow readers
to reimagine yesterday through such phenomena as: "Surf
City," Calif., awash in commercialism; the department
store catalogue reincarnated online as a "dreamy, reflective"
experience; and a week at a shopping complex, hilariously
chronicled by Brown as he reports on bargain hunters' odd
Sherry says academics should pay more attention
to retroscapes, which range from quirky malls to quaint theme
parks to "micro-universes" (think Las Vegas). It's
clear that re-creation as recreation, the past as it never
was, is here to stay.
Sherry addressed this phenomenon in a highly
touted 1998 study on his adventures at Chicago's Nike Town,
an example of what he terms "retail theater." This
piece served as the inspiration for Time, Space, and the
For this text, Sherry tackled the world of
sports in the fan's ultimate funhouse, Chicago's ESPN Zone,
where he spent a year reconnecting with his primal side and
analyzing the experience.
Similar motivations also figure in his account
of participating in Burning Man, what he calls a "postmodern
pilgrimage" to the desolate terrain of Black Rock City,
Nev. The event attracts those seeking to escape mundane life
temporarily to understand more profound parts of themselves
using as tools art, music, poetry, yoga, meditation, dance
"Burning Man literally remade me,"
Sherry says. "As an academic I have few opportunities
to drop out of the regular social structure." Sherry
notes that the event let him do this and also sharpened his
skills as a researcher, while providing deeper insights.
"We don't spend much time in the present,"
Sherry says, "but in the middle of the desert, with a
24/7 flow of artistic expression, you're up against the present.
You lose all sense of time. It's amazing."