Monday, March 6, 2023

A Session in the Clouds.

It's not very often that I find people to talk to who get me. To be fair, it's not very often that I feel I get me. 

But Thursday morning, ensconced in the Vienna-dawn of Dr. Lewis' purposefully-designed Mittel-European office, I felt gotten.

I started by talking about my trip up to City College of New York to attend the memorial service for George Lois. And to herald his gift of the donation of his archives--they must take up as much room as a Chinese spy balloon--to CCNY.

Dr. Lewis and I, both aging Jews, that is alte-kockers, hold City College in high regard. Not only was it the first free college in the United States, it was also a place where people kept out of elite educational institutions like the Ivies could find Nobel Prize teachers and go on to bigger things.

Molly Ivins, the writer, once said about George W. Bush, "He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." Extending that metaphor, City College was built for women and men who didn't live within twenty miles of the baseball diamond.

It was a school for people displaced by poverty, race, creed or just for being a little different than those who controlled the power in America.

We spent the rest of my 45-minute hour talking about displacement. 

He started with a New York City program called "Prep for Prep," which brought black and brown children into New York's elite private school system. Dr. Lewis lamented that many of those gifted students were fine academically, but didn't receive the emotional and social preparation and inoculation that they might have needed. It's can't be easy to live in a housing project in the Bronx while your classmates are flying privately to the Caribbean for a long weekend.


I brought up, as I do, two books and two poems that seemed to me on topic.

1. The Last Negroes At Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever.

and 2. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League.

And two of my favorite poems, both of which I read when I was just a teenager. Both of which I read often, now that I am an old man.

3. Amiri Baraka's (LeRoi Jones) "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note."


4. Langston Hughes', Theme for English B.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not one-hundred percent sure what this post is about. Or if it belongs in a blog that's ostensibly about advertising.

But this is also a piece about displacement.

That feeling we all have sometimes, maybe many times, that we don't belong, that we're outsiders. Today, some people I suppose call that displacement-ness "imposter syndrome."

What advertising at its best has always done is give people a sense that they're smarter, better-looking-er, keener than others. That they "get it," where other people might not.

If you look at the tagline of Apple's early work, "A computer for the rest of us," that conveyed the sense that it was ok not to be allegiant to the MS-DOS world. You could march to the click of your own mouse. Same with Nike. You don't have to melt into the sofa in a syrup of adipose like so many others. You are an athlete (if you 'just do it.')

I hate the man and everything he stands for, but the trump campaign got this in 2016. Millions of people, feeling estranged from the country they felt they knew, were going to "Make America Great Again." I'm not endorsing him or obeying the dog whistles in the line, just remarking on why the line worked.

Ron Berger of Ally & Gargano and Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG renown reminded me of something Carl Ally often took credit for saying. "Advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."

When brands do that, they very often create a sense of inclusion and belonging around their brand or product. That's not the explicit purpose of advertising, but it might be a necessary precondition for selling things. We don't like to buy from strangers, from people we don't like or from people who don't get us.

I know, there's a lot rattling around in here. I apologize about its headiness--or wooliness.

I'm just trying to improve how I reach people. And improve the person I am.

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