Friday, 31 October 2014

Caulrophobia, the fear of clowns

This year pre-Halloween's news came with strange reports of clowns' attacks on people. Both in the south of France and in Paris groups of teenagers dressed as clowns attacked random strangers, and even beaten them with metal sticks. When the police apprehended the attackers, they confessed that their acts of violence were inspired by Internet viral videos as well as the by the "American Horror Story", a popular U.S. TV series in the 3rd season of which (titled "The Freak Show") a mysterious murderous clown (called "Twisty the Clown") starts his killing spree in a small Florida town of Jupiter.

However, this is not the first time the clown-themed attacks were reported. In 2013, London police dealt with over a hundred cases of criminal acts committed by the individuals in clown costumes. Every year, dozens of crimes involving clowns are reported all over U.S. with the majority of them occurring in California.

Where does this fascination of clowns come from? And why are some people scared of clowns? In fact, they say that Johnny Depp is afraid of clowns, so do Daniel Radcliffe and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Does not that seem strange for an actor who made his name playing in Tim Burton's spooky movies such as "Edward Scissorhands", "Sleepy Hollow", or “Sweeney Todd”? And what about fearless Harry Potter who was not afraid to face the forces of evil but cannot stand looking at a painted face?

"Caulrophobia", or "the fear of clowns" is a neologism, a modern Greek-like (and according to some also a pseudo-scientific) term that was coined in the 1980s. Although there were no clowns in Ancient Greece per se, there were some stilt-walkers to whom the word "caulro" refers to.

Clowns constitute an important part of the popular culture: in one of The Simpsons episode called “Lisa’s First Word” (aired on 3rd of December 1992) Bart Simpson murmured "can't sleep: clown will eat me" which later inspired the song by Alice Cooper. Actually, a clown called Krusty the Clown (Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski by his civil name) is an important part of The Simpsons’ universe. Horror movies about clowns (“Killer Klowns from outer space”, “IT”, “Clownhouse”, “Fear of Clowns”, or “Jingles the Clown”) are very well-known. One of the scariest clowns of all times, Pennywise from Stephen’s King “IT”, an eponymous being that terrorized children in Derry, Maine, will always remain a classic example of a demonic entity of enormous proportions in horror and fantasy literature. It is worth noting that the author deliberately scratched on Pennywise (otherwise long gone according to the book) in one of his latest novels on time travel entitled "10/22/63".

Perhaps fear of clowns is associated with fearing an unknown person who wears a mask or a disguise? People are scared of the unknown and it is difficult to tell what lurks behind a mask. Perhaps this is what scares people?

In addition to the horror books and movies, it might be real encounters with killers who posed as clowns that contributed to the bad image. A famous serial killer John Wayne Gacy who killed 33 children in Chicago, Illinois between 1972 and 1978, used to engage in volunteer work at charitable events dressed as a clown (under the name “Pogo the Clown”).

Starting from the 1970s, a plethora of rock bands such as Kiss, King Diamond, Marilyn Manson, Hollywood Undead and Slipknot have been performing on stage wearing masks and mascara. In the case of Slipknot, a metal band from Des Moines, Iowa, the masks are quite elaborate and are inspired by ritual and burial masks (this fact has been revealed in a conversation between Katarine Bratt and Hary Hole in Jo Nesbo's "The Snowman"). These artists exploit the human fear and curiosity of the mystery that lurks behind the mask, and they are making hefty profits out of it.

Apart from that, actual clown-inspired bands actively perform on stage. Pioneers and founders of horror core (a type of hard core hip-hop with scary lyrics about murder, death and generally uncanny issues), the U.S. duo called Insane Clown Posse usually appear on stage wearing clown makeup and costumes. The singers invented their own clown mythology that involves the “Dark Carnival”, a kind of a limbo in which the lives of the dead are judged by superior entities. The stories of the Dark Carnival are elaborated in Insane Clown Posse’s songs through the stories called “Joker's Cards”.

It seems that Twisty the Clown from the aforementioned "American Horror Story" has many predecessors. The “Freak Show” season’s episodes gather about 5-6 million viewers in front of TV screens in U.S. only, which makes it the most successful season of the series so far (previous seasons’ most viewed episodes never reached 6 million viewers’ threshold). People just like to be scared and are prepared to pay well for that. Happy Halloween everyone!!!

WS

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Marketing power and potential of Halloween

Dear all,

Have you ever asked yourself a question 'What would be the marketing potential of Halloween?'. Clearly, Halloween represents a powerful brand, and although it only happens once a year, the amount of money people spend on candy, costumes, Halloween decorations, Halloween parties, foods and drinks, mascara, and other related and unrelated stuff, must be enormous.

We decided to sit down and to make some basic calculations for you. Surely, Halloween cannot beat Christmas or Thanksgiving, but its value might be compared to the St. Valentine's Day. According to some accounts, Halloween might be the third most popular holiday (both according to peoples' preferences and according to the amount of money spent) in North America.

Surely, one does not send postcards on Halloween, but the price of trick-or-treat, costumes, music and movie franchises dedicated to Halloween theme, should still be enormous. Take the Halloween franchise for example (see the Table below). The famous horror classics "Halloween" that was released in 1978 made about $47 million in United States and $55 million worldwide, but, most importantly, it started a profitable franchise that continues until nowadays. So, every year, Michael Myers escapes from his mental institution on Halloween's eve and starts his killing spree. Several peoples are typically butchered and millions of horror fans worldwide are delighted.


Film
Box office revenue
United States
Foreign
Worldwide
Halloween (1978)
$47,000,000
$8,000,000
$55,000,000
Halloween II (1981)
$25,533,818
$25,533,818
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
$14,400,000
$14,400,000
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
$17,768,757
$17,768,757
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
$11,642,254
$11,642,254
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
$15,116,634
$15,116,634
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
$55,041,738
$17,958,262
$73,000,000
Halloween: Resurrection
$30,354,442
$7,310,413
$37,664,855
Halloween (2007)
$58,272,029
$20,829,296
$80,249,467
Halloween II (2009)
$33,392,973
$5,312,275
$38,705,248
Total
$308,522,645
$58,370,799
$366,893,444
















The total value of the ten movies that make up the "Halloween" series released so far is estimated to be around $700,000. And this is not mentioning the merchandise: T-shirts, souvenirs, badges and DVD rentals.

Now, what about Halloween-related music? There is a US heavy metal band called "Halloween" and a German power metal band called "Helloween". The latter used to be a very popular act and a pioneer in its genre selling about 5 million albums worldwide since its creation. According to the most modest estimates, the band generated about $50,000,00, and this is not to mention its live shows, performances and merchandise!

However, there are more things that remain unaccounted here. In her article entitled "Halloween - a really sweet business opportunity" Susan Ward estimates that in 2009 alone U.S. consumers spent about $ 5.8 billion on Halloween and in Canada about $331 million was spent on candy alone. In addition, Canadian shopping survey held in 2011 established that an average adult spent about $300 on Halloween, and that the amount of expenditures was growing about 5-7 per cent each year.

People might not send each other postcards on Halloween, but according to the National Retail Federation's 2010 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, 20.8 percent will visit a haunted house. This presents a clear opportunity for software development companies that might want to get their share of the Halloween market pie. And there are no limits to the creativeness and exploiting the marketing potential of ghosts and Boogie men. For example, iTourMobile based developed self-guided ghost tour smartphone applications for Williamsburg and five other cities. When passing by particular sites on a Global Positioning System-guided tour (e.g. the Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg), a user can listen to ghost stories associated with various buildings on her or his smartphone. Users download the app and do not need to press any button to trigger the 25 stories representing about an hour of MP3 audio files. The $2.99 app was released for sale 2 weeks before this Halloween, on October 15, on Apple's App store and has had 25 downloads per week.


According to the smartphone app developers, a basic audio tour experience costs about $10,000 with maintenance fees ranging from $199 to $599 a month depending on its features and attributes.

And the marketing potential of Halloween does not end here. According to the consumer survey mentioned above, there are many other activities people want to do on Halloween (see the Table below):




Activities people want to  do on Halloween
% of the respondents
Don a  costume
40,1
Dress up pets in costumes
11,5
Throw or attend a Halloween party
33,3
Hand out candy
72,2
Curve a pumpkin
46,3
Take their children trick-or-treating
31,7
Decorate their home or yard
50,1
Visit a haunted house
20,8













Yes, it appears that Halloween is not just for kids anymore! Nowadays, people are prepared to spend considerable amounts of money just to be "in" and to get scared. 
Overall, it seems that Halloween has an enormous marketing potential. There are both traditional and non-traditional (e.g based on the novel web technologies and smartphone apps) opportunities involved and one would be a fool to neglect the slowly but gradually emerging Halloween market of new business potentials.

Hope you have had a great Halloween this year!

WS

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Summer travels and supernatural roads

How is everyone doing?

Summer is the time of travels, and one of the most affordable forms of travels (long live to the economic and financial crisis) is surely the road trips. Driving across the country in your SUV or cabrio on the interstate highway, purposelessly moving from a point A to a point B with no specific purpose – what can be better? Human beings have once migrated through vast distances and we probably just love to be nomads and wander around from time to time (although some people are afraid to admit it).

The majority of local travelling in United States nowadays is done in personal vehicles. Americans just love to drive, but Europeans, Africans, Indians, and Chinese begin to enjoy systems of well-connected highways and motorways that make long and purposeless driving for hours, and even days, possible.

Long-distance driving is done along roads and highways, the arteries in the body of global transportation. There is a plethora of ghost stories, anomalies and natural phenomena that occur in some particular places along the transportation routes on virtually all continents. For instance, one of these accounts includes the story of the “Vanishing Hitchhiker”. Popularized by the Jan Harold Brunvald’s book “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” published in 1981, the story describes the account of drivers in various parts of the United States stopping to offer a lift to a lone person waiting by the side of the road. The first proper study of the story of the vanishing hitchhiker was undertaken in 1942 by two US folklorists and urban legends specialist Richard Beardsley and Rosalie Hankey. Beardsley-Hankey collected written reports of 79 accounts of encounters with vanishing hitchhikers identifying four distinctly different versions “distinguishable because of obvious differences in development and essence”. According to the most common legend, the driver stops to give a stranger a ride. The stranger gets into the vehicle and the journey proceeds in total silence. However, at some point the passenger vanishes from the vehicle. In some cases, the hitchhiker vanishes when a vehicle reaches the hitchhiker's destination. One other twist of the story describes how both the mysterious hitchhiker and the driver disappear together and the empty vehicle is found on the side of the road with no traces of the occupants.

Most of these stories are associated with specific traffic pathways. There are several roads or highways in South Africa, Switzerland, United States, or United Kingdom that are distinguished by numerous strange or paranormal occurrences. Amongst the most famous ones are the following:

Annie's Road, Totowa, New Jersey (United States)
Annie's Road in New Jersey is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a woman killed on the road many years ago. It is located in Totowa on the first half of Riverview Drive.

Clinton Road, West Milford, New Jersey
 (United States)
Clinton Road in West Milford, Passaic County, New Jersey is the subject of local folklore that includes alleged sightings of ghosts, strange creatures and gatherings of witches, Satan worshipers and theKu Klux Klan. Supposedly, if you go to one of the bridges at the reservoir and throw a penny into the water, within a minute it will be thrown back out to or at you by the ghost of a boy who drowned while swimming below or had fallen in while sitting on the edge of the bridge. In some tellings an apparition is seen; in others the ghost pushes the teller into the water if he or she looks over the side of the bridge in order to save him.

Jamestown Road, Jamestown, North Carolina (United States)
Jamestown Road is the subject of local folklore that includes sightings of a young woman in a white party dress, often seen thumbing for a ride on misty evenings, just before dark. Many reports include people stopping to give her a lift and taking her to her home, only to find that she has vanished right before arriving at the destination without any doors opening. Such sightings have been reported since the 1930s. This is published in the North Carolina book of Ghost Stories. The original road has been abandoned and replaced by a new road. However, the old road is still visible although it and the underpass (where the girl is said to be seen) is almost covered by trees and shrubs. Apparently, in the 1920s, a school girl was coming home from a dance that her parents did not want her to attend because of the young man who was escorting her. Apparently, he had a bad reputation was not acceptable to the girl's family. The young girl was killed on her way back from the dance that misty evening. It is said that she can be seen either standing at the old underpass or walking down the road.

Belchen Tunnel, Belhen (Switzerland)
Belchen Tunnel - Switzerland. Sightings of an old woman dressed all in  white who supposedly haunts the tunnel.

Stockbridge Bypass, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire (United Kingdom)
The road, also called Stockbridge Bypass, connects Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, to the M1 motorway. During its construction, security staff allegedly reported encounters with a ghostly monk believed to have been from the Hunshelf Priory.

A38 road, Wellington, Somerset (United Kingdom)
According to legend, phantom hitchhikers have been reported since the 1950s on the A38 road between Wellington and Taunton in Somerset. One tale holds that in 1958 a lorry driver named "Harry (or "Harold" in some tellings) Unsworth" saw a hitchiker he'd given a ride to earlier re-appear miles down the road from where he'd dropped him off.

A75 road, Gretna Green, Scotland (United Kingdom)
A75 road - a major road in Scotland from Annan to Gretna Green has been called Scotland’s "most haunted road" by some authors. According to one story, in 1957 a truck driver swerved to avoid a couple walking in the road but when he stopped to investigate the pair had "vanished" Other versions of the stories tell of a couple or group of friends driving down the road at night and are constantly plagued and harassed by shadow figures, from an elderly woman to the back end of a semi truck that they nearly hit before braking only for it to disappear.

E8 Kuala Lumpur – Karak Expressway (Malaysia)
The E8 Expressway, is reportedly one of the most haunted highways in Malaysia (though there has been no direct evidence of such manifestations). Many people driving late at night claim to see strange creatures and Pontianak (a Malay version of the vampire) on this road.

N9 road, Uniondale, Karoo
 (South Africa)
The road between Uniondale and Willowmore, in the semi-desert area of the Karoo is the subject of a story of the "Uniondale Phantom Hitchhiker", a girl named "Marie Charlotte Roux" who allegedly died in road accident on a particular stretch of the N9 on April 12, 1968 (Good Friday).

We sat down and decided to draft a map of supernatural occurrences in the United States. The list got a bit long but the message is clear – this is an interesting topic worth further investigating. Our map itself can be found here: 


Just a couple of notes related to our supernatural USA map (or what one can encounter on her or his way across the God's country):
  
 -   White tags: ghosts, poltergeists, spirits
  -  Black tags: demons and their servants (dogs and shadows)
  -  Yellow tags: werewolves and shapeshifters
  -  Red tags: vampires and vampire-like beings
  -  Violet tags: other supernatural beings (mutants)
  -  Green tags: pagan gods
  -  Light green tags: witches, alchemists

 -  Light blue tags: dangerous spots where people vanish, gateways to Hell or other dimensions
  -  Grey tags: Four horsemen of Apocalypses
  -  Brown tags: cursed places (talismans, burial places)
   - Orange tags: zombies

So, where are you heading for this weekend? Cannot wait to explore one of the places on our map? Well, we would like to warn you – it is on your own responsibility!

Happy summer everyone!


WS and EL

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Do not let the flu get you!


Dear Friends and Followers,

Winter is almost over and spring is about to kick in. Just to think what this winter cost the world's economy: all these snow blizzards, power cuts, snow removal, roads cleaning, etc. However, there is also a bright side of winter in this economic cost and benefit analysis: consider the winter sports, ski resorts, ice skating rinks, Christmas markets (that often last far past Christmas and straight into Easter) and mulled wine vendors, just to name those few who benefit from a properly cold winter.


Anyways, this post is not about the cost and benefit analysis of winters (although we might come up with some calculations about that in the nearest future). This post is about the flu and infectious diseases, as well as about ways how to avoid the seasonal flu and to avoid catching it.
We already wrote about infectious diseases in one of our previous post on the 11th of November 2011 (check this one if you want to know more about the role of infectious diseases in human population dynamics, the story of the most horrifying infectious disease of all times – the “The Great Spanish Flu epidemic” that started in 1918 and killed between 20 and 100 million people in four years). This time, we want to share with you a poster provided courtesy of Allison Morris from a team of designers (Education Database Online) who build graphics for Internet resource sites with a primary goal to be able to make a connection between visualization and learning.

The poster and the Education Database Online blog can be found here


Think of the costs you and your loved ones can incur to the social and the health system due to the flu you might be nursing or suffering from! Treatment and fighting the epidemic cost something, so do the leave of absence and empty working places to your employer. However, it is always better to stay at home if you get the first symptoms of the flu, rather than go to work, infect your colleagues, and end up in bed in a couple of days anyways (ask yourself whether one extra paid day of work is worth it).

And please do remember that the flu season is not over yet - spring is one of the most treacherous seasons of the year with the outside temperatures playing a roller coaster, so the flu can always strike back (after all, the Great Spanish flu also started in spring of 1918 as a normal seasonal flu).

Be careful, watch out, learn how to prevent the flu and to minimize your risks and economic losses, and do your best to stay flu-free this year!

WS and EL


Sunday, 10 February 2013

Dragon economics or “Dragonomics”

On the Chinese New Year’s Day, we decided to focus on Chinese culture and traditions, trying to evaluate them from the economist’s point of view. Here is where the idea of writing about “dragon economics” emerged.
Dragon economics (or “dragonomics”) is a remarkable research topic that no one has ever considered developing. Well, you might ask: how do dragons and economics match together? The answer is quite simple – we are talking about commercializing the dragons and using them as popular figure in all fields of entertainment industry. Billions of dollars are made on dragon books, films, stories and legends, not to mention the video games and online quests.

Chinese dragons: symbol and tradition

According to the Chinese tradition, dragons are very old and very respectful creatures in China. They symbolize wealth, prosperity and good luck. One can find images of dragons virtually everywhere in China: jewellery, pottery, cloth, decorations. Dragons are known in China since ancient times and are central to Chinese mythology. In contrast to the evil and bloodthirsty Western Dragons, Chinese dragons are peaceful, generous creatures and protectors of the people. The Chinese loved and honoured their dragons - among many titles of the Chinese Emperor, the most honourable one was the "living dragon" and the imperial throne was often called "Dragon’s throne." The coat of arms of the old China also depicted a dragon.
According to one legend, one of the Chinese emperors introduced titles and ranks for his officers by appointing a special dragon protector for each class. Thus, the higher officials of the seventh rank were given the emblem of five-clawed dragon Loong, while less senior officials carried the emblem of less noble dragons with only four claws or less.
In ancient China, dragons were divided not only by the number of claws. At the highest step of the dragon hierarchy were those dragons who could fly. They were subordinate to the spirits of dragons. At the lower steps in the hierarchy were the earth dragons who could fly once but, due to various reasons, lost their ability. The lowest in the dragon hierarchy were underground dragons whose duty was to protect hidden treasures.
Ancient Chinese scholars took the existence of dragons very seriously.  Many of them believed in this kind of monsters and could even prove it logically. For instance, one respected scientist and philosopher reasoned the possibility of the existence of dragons by the following words: "The dragon has a shape. If it has a shape, it can move. If it moves, it should eat. If it eats, it has a material nature. If it has the material nature, it exists".

Dragons in Europe

The mentioning of dragons can also be found in many European legends. According to one Polish medieval legend, there once was a dragon which lived in the cave below the castle Wawel in Krakow. The dragon was a fire-breather, had a taste for young maidens and was fooled and killed by the local cobbler’s apprentice.
In medieval times, when global travel was still centuries away and crocodiles were virtually unknown to the common folk of Europe, a crocodile’s skull brought from Africa or Middle East was often passed for the dragon’s. In such a way, people had the living proof of dragons’ existence. One known example if the Dragon of Brno (today’s Czech Republic): the stuffed mummy of the Nile’s crocodile served well as the fearsome dragon from the legends.
Popular fantasy book series called “Temeraire” and written by an American author Naomi Novik presents an alternative history setting of the world in the 19th century where dragons lived amongst humans and were widely used for transportation of goods as well as for war. Many of them were trained as battle dragons and were able to manoeuvre in flight better than WWI propeller-driven airplanes while spitting fire and spaying acid at the enemies. The world co-inhabited by humans and dragons did not differ from the one we used to read about in history books, however the existence of dragons shifted the balance of world power and made the dragons very valuable and expensive creatures. Because they were quite scarce and meant a lot for the warfare, huge sums of money were exchanged for dragon eggs that could potentially contain the future warrior.
Tolkien’s “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again” which was used as the story for recent Peter Jackson’s movie “The Hobbit” is largely about finding and retrieving the treasure from the dragon Smaug who apparently was an underground dragon and the protector of the treasure he managed to amass (mostly steal and plunder).
Dragons are not just the domain of old legends and tales. Recently (and thanks to the revival of fantasy genre) they found their way into popular culture becoming the central figures of books, films and computer games. “Dungeons and Dragons”, the 1974 role-playing fantasy game that set a base for all role-playing games as we know them today. The game lived through numerous modifications and updated, became a popular computer and on-line game and made millions of dollars among fantasy fans.

How to meet a dragon?

The question is whether one can see the dragon? According to Lev Grossman’s book “The Magician King” (the second book of the series about modern-day magicians which is considered by many critics to be the “Harry Potter for adults”), today’s dragons mostly live in large rivers all around the world and hide themselves from humans. One can relatively easy set up an encounter with the dragon of Venice who lives in the Grand Canal: it is enough to come to Ponto Rialto at night carrying a raw steak and a daily newspaper. At the stroke of midnight, the person should jump from the bridge into the Canal and if the dragon would find the person worthy of chatting, it will invite her or him to his hidden underwater chambers.
However, one does not need to travel to as far as Venice to see the dragons. There is one mighty dragon rising in the world and this dragon is China's economic policy. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that in 2012 China's economy constituted about 80% of the US economy (based on GDP converted by purchasing power parity). It is very likely that in 2013, the Dragon will continue to beat the Eagle at all fronts and will soon make a significant strategic leap that would breaking the hegemony of the American currency in the world. According to some predictions, by 2030 China will take the title of the world’s largest economy away from the United States. The mighty dragon is flying high gaining height and speed.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Happy Chinese New Year!

Dear Friends and Followers!

We would like to share our best wishes for the Chinese New Year that is due on the 10th of February (with the New Year's Eve on the 9th of February)! The "Year of the Snake" is coming and we hope that all the snakes and reptiles alike are going to through a good celebration!

For those of you who do not know (or do not celebrate the Chinese New Year) - it is a mixture of our Christmas and New Year's Eve that combines both dining in the family circle and firing crackers and fireworks on the streets.

On the Chinese New Year's Eve we are going to share a post that we have provisionally called "Dragon economics". Hope you will enjoy it!

Happy forthcoming CNY!

WS and EL