Cool Fusion

Metaphors for the atomic age…

Wednesdays are often a good time to reflect on the events of Tuesdays and to plan out one’s life for Thursdays. Reflecting on Tuesday, which was yesterday, I see that I procrastinated the work of the Monday before. A sticky note stares beckoningly up from my desk. It reads:


These stickies are all I need to remind me of my forgotten tasks – wee notes piled high and in order of appearance. An archaeologist’s dream, a procrastinist’s nightmare. I may at times tunnel and loot for these abstract artifacts, but for the most part, I erode away at the pile from top and side like a recycled drop of rain on a rising Himalaya.

When I was growing up, half a lifetime ago, I was made to understand that a regular run of aircraft flew overhead each day bearing the stuff of nuclear war. It was the atomic age, and Einstein, though long dead, ruled despondently over the cold war. His disheveled hair came to be a symbol of science, and was an even more accurate symbol of the insanity of the American-Russian proliferation.

Born from this era are a host of nuclear-related metaphors – not about atoms, but about every other thing. Our heightened senses over these words makes them a big red button of rhetoric: if you say nuclear, you mean business.

Perhaps the easiest reference would be “nuclear family”. This smallest possible unit of family gained popularity with the advent of the television storyteller and the computer nanny. Maybe we didn’t need the extended family anymore because we had all the essentials ourselves. Its monicker reflecting the era, with nukes and reactors the star of our fears – the nuclear family threatened to fission our traditions and contaminate our culture.

Then we have the word “nucleus” as it pertains to an office or command centre. Cells have nuclei to, but I find it hard to imagine that we think of the nucleus of a cell as having the same awesome power as an atom’s core.

At the top of my list, which was at the top of my pile, was the word fusion, which was followed by blend and mix. Blend and mix are similar enough in meaning that it suffices to say that we can call them equal: they both imply that one combine two or more ingredients in such a way as to be indistinguishable from one another. Raw gunpowder is a mix and a blend.

Fusion is a little different. Two ingredients become a third unique material, inseparable – changed. Igniting gunpowder results in a chemical fusion, the ingredients bound completely. Welding is a form of fusion that is the product of melting metal along a seam. Fusion denotes a sense of homogeny, while mixing or blending implies a loose and alterable association.

Just look at the etymology of the word blend:


Etymology: Middle English, modification of Old Norse blanda; akin to Old English blandan to mix, Lithuanian blandus impure, cloudy

(from Merriam-Webster Online)

And compare it to that of fuse:


Etymology: Latin fusus, past participle of fundere to pour, melt

(also from Merriam-Webster Online)

Nuclear fusion is a process where atomic nuclei are joined, courtesy (at this time) of large amounts of added heat. Though the ingredient particles are not actually melted, the metaphor “fusion” would endure since the process being described has never been palpable to us. Like God, black holes or other intangible things, nuclear fusion has always been theoretical from our body’s perspective, and therefore our cognitive perception of it will always be at the mercy of whatever metaphor we happen to give it.

This means that nuclear fusion was actually a DOA metaphor, arriving as the only available term for the concept. It was first popularly resurrected in the musical form jazz fusion (late 1960′s), then more recently in product names such as the Gillette Fusion razor, Dr. Pepper Red Fusion soda or Cadbury Fusion bar. It appears in product descriptions such as “the fruit-flavor fusion of” Fruitopia and Pepsi Blue’s “A fusion of berry and cola”. So the atomic age created – then slew – the metaphor fusion, which musicians and marketers would later reincarnate for its high-energy and hi-tech implications.

The third word on my list would bear a surprising hidden similarity to the first. This well-travelled word has stayed intact for millenia, perhaps popping its head up as a metaphor here and there, such as “mixed emotions“. Then it got picked up by sound recording studios to describe the controlled mixture of sound volumes. Like fusion, the new hi-tech version of the metaphor mix would die young. And also like fusion, mix was resurrected by various candy and beverage marketers, becoming a compounded metaphor (a living metaphor based on a dead metaphor).

The dead metaphor “mix”, and its reference to sound engineering (especially in the hip-hop sense) became revived to describe a mix of food ingredients that work well together. The perfect example is “Sprite Remix Aruba Jam” – a soda that comes complete with a website offering a virtual music mixing studio. Talk about hip-hop pop!

The cool, music-lovin’ youth are not new bullseyes to trigger-happy marketers. Does anyone here remember the Cheerios “Feelin’ Groovy” campaign? [Though apparently their arrow fell short of the mark, appealing not to the targeted older youth but to their younger siblings!] Nor is it new to use metaphor to empty children’s pockets. However, the popularity of these specific metaphor systems reveals that contemporary youth hold in highest value anything connected to hip-hop music, high energy and hi-tech.

But don’t just take my word for it. The stellar new hi-tech music gadget, the not-so-metaphorically-obvious iPod Nano, had a successful commercial run offering a track from “The Resource” called Gimme That. The Resource have been called on for a number of other youth-oriented ad campaigns by such megacompanies as McDonalds, Pepsi and Nike. A visit to the band’s overwhelmingly hip website starts with the three word greeting: Music…Art…Science…



I’ll just make an addendum as I find more references…

  • The new 2006 Ford Fusion, with its matching website, allows visitors to fuse photos while listening to piped-in pop music. The first song, “Reactor” by Detroit’s (now fissioning) band 19 Wheels, enters its chorus with phrases like “don’t wanna’ be shut down, cooled off“, “burning up on the inside” or “I might explode” and the repeated word “reactor“. Once again, a product is being marketed to atomic age youth (specifically Gen-X) through music, art and science. Ford also allow users to “fuse the perfect mix“, with a virtual music mixer right on site.

    Since a target demographic is comprised of even smaller groups, it is not uncommon to market within these groups. Ford has decided to target the Hispanic sub-group with a metaphor a la español: “chispa“, meaning “spark”. The high-energy theme is extended in Ford’s marketing approach here, as well, with the slogan “Energy that Moves You” and a Spanish version of the online music mixer.

    Meanwhile, a series of in-theme English commercials peaks with two full-length ads titled “Particles” and “Ignition”. If this product line continues, and expands, I’m sure we can expect to hear about a compact “Nucleus” or a larger “Isotope” any time…

    Added: The Ford Fusion starred on the cover of Consumer Reports’ New Car 2007 Preview, released in early November of 2006. While SUV sales are running out of gas, car sales are fueling up, perhaps leading us away from the “vehicle-as-rugged-explorer” metaphors that have been leading the pack (Trailblazer, Expedition, Pathfinder or Safari to name a few). Who knows? Maybe we’re ready for a second life of the wild feline theme, with its Lynxes and Cougars and Bobcats – oh my!

  • Further to the Fusion is the Gerber® Reactor™ Flashlight. This LED based lightsource is notably whiter and brighter than the classic incandescents, which may give rise to its high-energy name.

  • Cadbury Dairy Milk Peanut Butter is currently being tracked by the Observatory for its reference to hip-hop and what is believed to be the word remix. This sighting has yet to be confirmed.

  • Confirmed: Commercial for Cadbury, making a direct visual correlation between music and chocolate with the script “Mmm…new mix! Like Cadbury’s new mix of chocolate and …peanut butter.”

  • Under watch: Recent freeze on bling-bling and other cool hip-hop paraphrenalia in pro-basketball presages a change in megamarketing, threatening a meteoric end to “re-mix” and its orbiting phat metaphoric bodies.

  • Sighted: Dino Gets an Upgrade! RoboRaptor, a robotic dinosaur with all the trimmings by techno-toymaker Wow Wee, is being marketed along with sibling droids as “A fusion of technology and personality“.

  • Old News Travels Eventually: Search engine Google released a new service called “My Google“. Its other name? Google Fusion. It seems that like hi-tech Geppetto Wow Wee, this personalized search page also sees fit to fuse the technology and personality nuclei. Is this part of a trend? We’ll mark this spot in the sky, and see if technology has finally left behind its pocket protectors.

  • Adding Gillette Fusion Into The Mix: The short-play Gillette Fusion Music Mix promotion streaked by the Observatory undetected at first, then showing up in our records. Like Ford Fusion’s “fuse the perfect mix“, the word mix is given its bounce from the blendiferous concept of fusion. We’re left wondering which metaphor will outlast the other’s popularity. Our guess is that fusion will, but only by a close shave…

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