Background

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Hollywood Boulevard in the 1950s

I grew up in LA and have been writing for as long as I can remember. I published a newsletter for my brother and sister when I was around  five and wrote my first story in the third grade. After graduation from UCLA and Loyola Law School, I moved to the Bay Area and worked for an international corporation and continued my writing on the side with short stories and another newsletter called The Jazz Newsletter popular throughout the Bay Area in the early 80s. During this time, I wrote the biography Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane (1980) after working for a large, international company. It was finally independently published in 1996 and was awarded Best Biography of 1997 by the Small Press Association.

While working as Marketing Director for a company in the Midwest, I wrote my initial books on symbolism. It was titled Symbolism of Place: The Hidden Context of Communication (1993). It attempted to translate the ideas of Marshall McLuhan to symbolism in stories. The idea of the book is that the 60s mantra of McLuhan the “Medium is the message” translates cinematographically to the scenes of a dramatic narrative such as film. In relationship to what McLuhan says of media, the various “scenes” of life are similar to “mediums” containing “messages” within them. In effect, content is contained within context in a similar way fish are contained within water. While context influences communication much more than content it is hidden because it acts as an all-pervasive medium. (As someone once said, “We’re not sure who first discovered water but we’re sure it wasn’t a fish.”) The manuscript was brilliantly edited by our good friend communications professor Stuart Sigman and published in part on our website at www.symbolism.org.

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A few years after Symbolism of Place, I produced a second book on symbolism titled The Symbolism of Popular Culture (1995) that applied the ideas of symbolism to the wider culture and to questions of brands and branding as well as collective cycles of culture and major trends. Like our first book on symbolism, we never tried to publish the manuscript other than on our site http://www.symbolism.org.

In 1998, I left the Midwest and the position as Marketing Director for the company in the Midwest and moved to the Valley of the Moon in Sonoma Country where I started GreatHouse Marketing, a marketing consulting firm applying my ideas on symbolism to my writing as well as products and brands. I began utilizing the ideas about symbols and symbolism I was developing and writing a number of articles for magazines like Psychological Perspectives (from the LA Jung Society), Business 2.0, Adbusters and The Industry Standard in the early years of the new decade.

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“Gnarly Tree in Sonoma” (John Fraim, 2001)

I wrote a long piece called Electric Symbols (2004) that was published in the academic peer-reviewed journal First Monday. The premise of the article was that rising words on that upstart company called Google could predict future trends in culture while declining words in Google search showed declining items of interest in popular, collective, culture. I sent the article link to Google and in a few days heard back from the PR Director of Google at the time. It was a chance to discuss my ideas and drove down to Google in 2002.

“Your article is fascinating,” he told me as we walked around the growing Google campus.

“Would Google be interested in elaborating the ideas in the article by working with me on a project?” I asked.

The Google executive was non-committal.

“Google has tremendous data on the dynamics of words or what I call electric symbols,” I told him. “For the first time, we can measure the dynamics of these symbols in culture. It has tremendous applications for research and application.”

We talked more but the Google person was still noncommittal on any assistance from Google in such a project. The rest of the tour went well but the marketing person never agreed to help in any research project I proposed but Electric Symbols is still out there on the Internet – a cyber-neon sign of a passionate article and belief we had at this time –  and I am still proud of its travels and sometime get reports on its whereabouts.

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9/11 effected me in that separate way it effected all of us who remember it. I was still living in Sonoma when the tragedy occurred but down in LA celebrating my brother’s 50th birthday. I had just come back from a trip to Disneyland with my family and was staying at a hotel in Santa Monica when my brother called me the morning of his birthday on 9/11 and told me to turn on the television set.

Over the next few months, I scrambled to assemble a number of posts off the newly emerging Internet about the 9/11 events. We grabbed many off the Internet and put them into the developing manuscript. Eventually, it began to take form and by the end of the year was a complete manuscript of 400 pages. I called it Battle of Symbols: The Dynamics of Global Advertising, Entertainment and Media and posted a number of parts of it to various sites on the Internet like the popular Jung Page. Robert Hinshaw (Publisher of Daimon Verlag, the largest publisher of Jungian Books in the world, located in Zurich) called and was interested in the manuscript. We met for dinner one night in Glen Ellen and he agreed to publish it in 2003 under the Daimon Verlag imprint.

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“Weathervane in San Luis Obispo” (John Fraim, March 2014

The book Battle of Symbols offered an outward application to our ideas on symbols and symbolism after the events of 9/11. It was before the coming era of political correctness when America reacted to a mass event in a more spontaneous, collective manner. The book has the feel of reportage from an “embedded journalist” on the front lines of the battle between world symbols at the time. The divisions of the later years had not developed and the nation more united in a “collective” feeling more than any other time I can remember. I think it’s fair to say many others who remember 9/11 would agree with me. It was an excellent time – the best really – to observe global symbols clashing against each other.

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In 2004, I went to visit my friends Donald Theall (former President of Trent University) and Eric McLuhan in Toronto. Don had recently published The Virtual Marshall McLuhan, one of the most brilliant books on McLuhan I had ever read and Eric was perpetuating the ideas and theories of his famous father. I spent a wonderful afternoon visiting Don having lunch as his home and meeting his lovely wife. We discussed many things. The next few days, I met with Eric in Toronto and we also discussed many things. Eric had always been one of my biggest fans and we’ve discussed many projects over the years.

A few months later, a manuscript called Media Nations (2005) emerged from my Toronto trip and the meetings with Eric and Don. It proposed that the new world map be composed of nations defined by the mix of media usage rather than nations of traditional boundaries such as language, customs and popular culture. I termed these new nations “media nations” and suggested this was the emerging way of defining nations in the 21st century. The mixtures of media usage are fairly widely known being published in the CIA World Demographic Reports every few years and available to a large base of readers. The manuscript uses CIA data to rank the nations of the world into the spectrum (opposite) symbols of 1) interactive, two-way communication and 2) one way, broadcast, non-interactive communication. The theory being that political concepts such as freedom and democracy are associated with two-way, interactive communication and totalitarianism and control are associated with one-way, broadcast communication.

The manuscript Media Nations argues that nations in general are biased toward one-way or two-way communication and that this bias has a large effect on how things are perceived in the particular culture. For example, a culture with a high interactive index might desire to be more interactive in the mutual construction of stories. Members of this particular national media culture see themselves as actively participating in creating their culture. However, in a culture with a low interactive index and high broadcast index (a totalitarian culture) there exists little construction of the social landscape available to citizens within this culture. Whereas an interactive idea will work within an interactive media culture, an interactive idea simply will not work in a one-way, broadcast culture. Of course, though, there might be little “cells” or “outposts” of interactive media within a broadcast society. But also, importantly, “outposts” of broadcast media within interactive media. In other words, many think the Internet so interactive, two-way. But is it really?

The next few years in the Midwest produced a website called Midnight Oil containing approximately 40 short films put to music. The website was built in the (now defunct) Apple system called iWeb. It was a great site with much of our music, writing and movies on it. In addition we wrote a novel about jazz in Columbus, Ohio in the 40s and 50s called The Gold Coast and a biography called Extra Large on the Columbus jazz musician Gene Walker.

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In 2012, I returned to my home state of California by moving to Palm Desert, California and continued my GreatHouse marketing business. On the side I spend a lot of time creating High Dynamic Range photographs of scenes around the desert. The photos can be seen in a number of places such as the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce, the Palm Desert Historical Society and Palm Springs Writers Guild. The photos were featured in the Spring 2013 issue of Desert Magazine. We’ve also wrote some pieces  for Desert Report, the desert publication of the Sierra Club.

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“Vista Point” (John Fraim, February 2013)

We also created a type of eclectic, chronological history of Palm Desert history called Transcendent City. The outline was created around years rather than events and was an attempt to provide a new way of looking at history. The manuscript is still in development with the Palm Desert Historical Society.

In May of 2013, we were offered the chance to write a regular column based around our ideas of applying symbols and symbolism to cinema via a regular Script Magazine, the world’s largest forum for screenwriters. The column offered us a chance to update our ideas and research on symbolism as it relates to film and has produced a number of popular articles under the column title of “Script Symbology.”

In June of 2013, we brought our writing experience and ideas to the memoirs of a captain in the American Navy in Londonderry, Northern Ireland  in the middle seventies. The manuscript Londonderry Farewell (2013) mixes history with fiction to produce an account of a difficult period in Northern Ireland called “the troubles.” We used the memoirs of the captain to tell the story but took artistic license where it would help highlight the drama of the story. Always, the story was the biggest concern of all. The book is picked up by one of the larger publishers in Northern Ireland and we are now in the process of deciding what we are going to do. Today we just presented the book in front of a “Shark Tank” of three judges. I told the Irish Publisher we were going in front of this group and that I would revise the marketing plan for the book based on the Shark Tank. He wrote saying that all of this seemed to equal what they called the Dragon’s Den in Ireland.

Another current project we are excited about is the project of creating a survey of screenwriting books and theory. The book Hollywood Safari: Navigating Screenwriting Books & Theory will be published sometime in 2014. More than thirty of the leading screenwriting professors or screenwriters are contained in the book and categorized into “schools” of screenwriting theory. The manuscript has received tremendous response from authors within the book and continues to expand and grow all the time as I keep pushing publication farther ahead.

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By the time you read this, there will be other projects in process and we will add these to this Background Page if we get the chance. If not, you can be assured that the projects will continue to explore out lifelong interest in combining media theory, symbolism and screenwriting into new forms of stories for our clients and ourself.

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