Monday, July 22, 2024

I'm Busy.


I've been back in the land that I love, filthy, rat-filled, systems-collapse, there-are-no-more-cops-on-the-streets-New York, and walking around I realized something about the current condition, yes, of advertising.

I am an inveterate walker. Since I stopped long-distance running about a decade ago, I've migrated to long-distance walking. While the Gingham Coast gives me miles of secluded shoreline to wander, there's nothing like walking in New York. Uptown, downtown, east side, west, in my week back so far, I've logged, according to my Apple Watch close to 60 miles. 


I like the solitude. I like seeing people. I enjoy the laughter of little children eating soft-serve. The dogs smelling for a place. The chatter of babysitters and construction workers. The pinball mayhem of eight million cars all trying to beat a light. I like the sky and the rainstorms and the world's most-interesting piles of garbage. I like the old architecture, the flyers, the half-town posters. I like, as Poe wrote, the tintinnabulation of the whole jumble. It's like reading Thomas Wolfe and Dylan Thomas and Thomas the Tank Engine all at once. If your brain has a trillion synaptic points, New York fires all ten trillion of them. That's why for all the inherent decay and structural ugliness of the place, there's no more magnetic draw anywhere on our benighted orb.

As we used to say, "If you're not in New York, you're out of town."

Yep. It ain't anywhere else. And nowhere else is even close.

Now, back to advertising.

There's a lot of blather in the ether about living your best life, and work life balance and all that au courant bullshit. There's so much talk and so much captivity.

In short, everyone I see, no matter where I see them or when, seems to be not taking in the world at large--with its horrors and joys. Instead they seem rapt by the world at small. The incessant pixelled pulsations of their phone screen. The endless conversations in order than no one ever again walks alone or no one ever again regards taking a walk, walking the dog, running to the deli as something to do, not something to do while you're multi-cacocphony-ing nine other things.

It's no way to live life.

It's no way to see, feel, breathe, or heaven forfend, think.

There has been, lately, a spate of articles in The New York Times about so-called "grown-ups" recognizing the pernicious effects of constant cellphone usage on their children. Various school districts around the country are measuring the idea of banning cellphones in school. It's talked about as some sort of gulag-esque deprivation like Ivan Denisovitch having to subsist on 2000 calories-a-week.

I see people I'm close to under the thrall of their devices to the point where every moment they live is a moment they're not present in. This seems to be par--or birdie--for the course. The whole world seems to be ignoring the whole world.

I spent the first 36 of my 44 years in advertising never hearing the word culture unless I was working on a yogurt brief. Today it's all the agency business talks about. Culture and the need to be authentic.

But culture, today, and authenticity seem to be about a seclusion from your surroundings and an abnegation of life. We're not living it, we're walking through it staring at something else. I picture a matador solving a Rubik's cube while trying to slay a bull. We don't do either well and our souls are never far from being gored.

I've never had a serious addiction but if I had to lick a phone addiction, I'd start by giving myself a walk around the block, roughly .25 miles everyday without any device. After a month of that, maybe I'd up it to half a mile. Maybe after a year we could train ourselves to spend an hour a day actually being alive.

By the way, the Times just ran a piece that was sent to me by the good graces of my wife. It asks you to look at a single painting for ten minutes. That is, concentrate.



I wonder what would happen if an agency set this in motion. If they talked to people about the world they're missing and how it's fucking up their lives and their livelihood. Mandate you have to check your phone at the door when you arrived at work. Mandate doing one thing well before flitting to the next thing.

It would never work. No one would ever see the message.

Or anything else.

They're too busy.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Working With GeorgeCo.


As I round out my fifth year running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company, I'm pleased to report that not only have I surpassed in revenue what the New York office of Ogilvy brings in, I have happier clients than ever.

Last night I got a note from one of my clients. 

He sent me the cover of a book he's written. With one of my lines as the title. And a note that reads, "
you get a shoutout in the book! I’ll send you a copy in September."

At a time when all that seems to matter to the ad industry is trumped up awards for work that may or may not have run, or may or may not have had a materiel effect in the market, these sorts of things from paying clients are of immeasurable importance. In fact, I'd take that book title and note over about 75% of all Cannes Felines. And I didn't even have to pay for it.

I've been in the ad business my whole life. Writing the title of a book for a client, and getting a mention in that book is a first. It's up there with a tech client who thanked me for a children's book I had written during a pitch that explained what the client did--robotic process automation.

She said, "My 12 year old now understands what I'm doing." 

When the ad industry made sense--when we acted as "agents" for clients (that is, our job was to make them, not us, look good) these were the barometers of success and personal fulfillment. They will always be more important to me than a plasticine statuette. It's a shame that extrinsic and spurious recognition has become more important than real thanks. Especially in an industry that uses the word "authentic" about every eleven seconds.

In any event, my client dance card is fuller than it's ever been. So here are some tips for work with me and being a mensch in general.

1. Say please and thank you. That's simple. And it should be obvious.

2. Make it easy to have a meeting. It shouldn't be harder to schedule a meeting than it is to do the work. If all 17 people you want in the meeting can't make it, schedule it anyway. And hire GeorgeCo again, so they have another chance to see me in action.

3. Make it easy to get paid. Don't sit on invoices for 45 days then tell me I have to input information I've already given you into a database I've already populated. You might be a poorly organized multi-billion-dollar company, but I know you're stalling and getting the float on the $79K you owe me.

4. Watch these two videos from Dave Trott. They make it clear why I do what I do and why I refuse to do anything that's expected, anything that's been done before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6v0L9AoRE0


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88z2ZHJxTL0



5. Recognize that there's a vast difference between doing the assignment and doing the job. Good creative thinks bigger, more expansively (and often expensively) than the assigned task. Because we serve the steak along with appetizers, sides and often dessert. If you're open to thinking, not just doing what's been ordered, you'll get much more for your money.

6. Be on time. With briefs. With meetings. With feedback. With payments.

7. See number one.

8. Thank you.



Thursday, July 18, 2024

Born. Mourn.

Insomnia to my sleep patterns is like the water pressure at the bottom of Niagara Falls. It's always on high. But sometimes it's on even higher than high. Hopefully, those sentences put you to sleep.


Last night, Dame Insomnia visited me and she wouldn't let go. She tortured me like a telemarketer with Tourette's. She had my number and she was relentless. Like she was selling solar panels. Or running for office.

At least, I'll give her this, at least Dame Insomnia came well-armed with a topic last night. There was a theme to the torments that kept me awake. Those torments were varied, of course, but like the travails faced by Odysseus on his twenty year journey from Troy back the Ithaka, they were all related.

I realized when the dark Dame released me after hours of torture, the torment had been centered around a simple idea. 

All the times I got knocked down.

Knocked down so completely I was afraid I would never stand again.

There were at least four times I was struck by such blows in my life, and, again like Odysseus visiting the Underworld, Dame Insomnia took me on a tour of all four of them last night.

The first knock-down was when my sister died in a horrific motorcycle crash. I had to go down to the New York City morgue on First and 31st Street to identify the body. 

The attendant came out and prepped me.

"It's pretty bad," he warned. "She's pretty bruised up."

Then a doctor came out. He asked my permission to use her body for an autopsy or whatever they use dead 47-year-olds for. A barbeque?

"No."

"It's very helpful if we can examine her."

"No."

They wheeled her out on the gurney and pulled a dusky white sheet away to reveal her face. 

"That's her," I said. "I've identified her. Goodbye, Nancy. Take her away."

The eager doctor came at me again.

"No."

We then switched to my kids deciding to cut me off and not talk to me for a year. The imaginary camera focused not on them, not on me, but on my sadness. A sadness, really, that will never go away. A sadness as complete as any I have ever felt because it ushered in a loneliness and an estrangement from nearly all creatures great and small. My reason to be did flee. 

Then was the phone call I got from the HR apparatchik at Ogilvy at 4:30 in the afternoon--seven hours after the rest of my firing class was fired. What made that so horrid wasn't being fired. It was the constant onslaught of lies about how wonderful and inclusive Ogilvy pretends to be but how in reality they hate old people as much as Norman Bates hated his mother. For all their bushwa about inclusion, just 2% of WPP employees are over 60, vs. 20% of the population. So much for the fairness they so ardently lie about and applaud themselves for. Oh, and get awards for. 

Remember: the worst lies are the ones you tell yourself.

The final scene was my best friend, Fred, dying. He died after a long illness--the big C--and he was just 63. We'd been friends for almost exactly a half century. He saved my life, Fred did, in ways I could never adequately thank him. No one could.

When your best friend dies, it's not like everyone moves up a notch and your second best friend takes his place. No, there's a hole that will remain as empty as a promise for the rest of your life. 

Fred was also the rare person who got me. There aren't many. In fact, with him gone, there might not be any.

Worse, those last three scenes, all happened at once. I was left and bereft and my life had no heft left.

Those were the four scenes that Dame Insomnia dragged me through, like Achilles dragging Hector three times through the dust around the grave of Achilles' love, Patroclus. I was dragged through these moments.

And at each juncture, I took notes.

I said no to my sister, too often. I said no, don't come over, I'm tired, the evening before the morning she died. I did the same with Fred. As much love as we had for each other, we didn't talk or see each other as much as we should have. On the other hand, with my kids and my job at Ogilvy, I gave too much. I was too there. I had subsumed myself too much for their benefit.


That was a harsh session, I dreamt to myself once Dame Insomnia parted. That was something out of Eugene O'Neill served with a self-loathing chaser.

But I was finally asleep.

We're all born in hell.

At least I got a blogpost out of it.


Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Driving. Me Crazy.

We drove back to the city from the Gingham Coast early Saturday morning, through 2024 traffic on 1950 infrastructure. Except for weaponry, amerika stopped investing in itself around that time, so nearly every road you drive on is too heavily trafficked, nearly every bridge is crumbling, and nearly everything you'd like to count on is un-count-on-able. Including amerika itself.

The drive is only one-hundred miles which should take about one-hundred minutes. Instead, because of the above, it takes about half-again as long, usually 150 minutes and when I finally arrive at the garage I park in, I feel like I've spent a week at the wrong end of a shooting gallery using live ammunition.

City driving, I am the Mario Andretti thereof, is different than country driving. The drivers are bad in Connecticut, where no one uses turn signals because things like courtesy and regard for those you share the road with are considered infringments on your own personal liberty. I've written in this space about the economic notion of "altruism." By definition it means doing something that helps others, not yourself. Using turn signals, not tailgating at 85 miles-per fit the bill. But for 99.7% of people on the road, such things are a bridge too far.

One of the few, visible technological advances in our modern world is EZ-Pass, the electronic toll collection systems used throughout many of the dis-united-states. I wonder if one unintended consequence of "invisible" systems like EZ-Pass is that, like traffic cameras instead of actual cops, they allow us to forget that there is government and authority present and doing their job. We don't see physical evidence of policing, so we therefore disregard it. We think it no longer exists.

I've written roughly the same thing about the disappearance in amerikan businesses if the physical paycheck. You used to get an envelope with a check or a paystub given to you. Sometimes along with a "thank you" and a handshake. When those small semiotic effects disappeared, a lot of humanity did, too.

I think, someday, some companies will realize that AI chatbots have the same pernicious result. They show people who need help that they're so unimportant that they don't deserve to have a person helping them, they'll get a dumb word-regurgitator. Their problem won't be solved, their time will be wasted, all in the name of efficiency. Efficiency, btw, is also efficiency in pissing off customers. But no one sees that.

Back to the city and the most benighted of all the world's roads, the always-under-construction Bruckner ironically, Expressway. To avoid the Triborough Bridge toll, which today is the equivalent of a mortgage payment, I shift to the right lane, to exit onto the Deegan. I get off in one exit and take the free Third Avenue bridge into the city.


A truck was stopped in the right lane, there was no shoulder, and with everyone going 80, it was hard to escape my Procrustean roadblock but I did, and while navigating the always-iffy Bronx, I noticed a change in my driving demeanor.

First, when you're driving in New York, everything is a misdemeanor. Da more you do it, de-meaner you get. The sine qua non of driving in the city is that the other guy is a homicidal maniac. If you don't out-maniac him, you're dead. Or worse, stuck behind a city bus or garbage truck.

The first thing I do when I enter the city's precincts, is move my left-hand, my steering wheel hand, onto the center of the steering wheel console. That's where the horn sits and if you're not driving with your horn, you're like Van Gogh painting without a brush. My right hand stays on my gear shift. I hope I'll live long enough to drive in the city out of second gear. But it hasn't happened as yet. Second gear in my 1966 Simca 1500 gets me to 35 mph, and that's good enough.

I horned through the city through congestion as backed up as Joey Chestnut's sphincter after the Coney Island hot dog-eating contest, but, magically, timed the lights without missing one on second avenue from 126th Street to 88th Street, where I turned east toward my parking garage.

The proper definition of a New York minute is the amount of time it takes after the light turns to green before you honk. My reflexes are better today than when I was playing professional ball and I have it down to the micro-second. To a life-long urbanite, this is a point of pride. In fact, if I could choose the copy for my as yet unwritten obituary it would read:


In a short while I dropped my wife and her 49 separate pieces of luggage in front of my building and circled up, around and over to my garage. I flashed my brights as I descended the ramp because someone is always trying to exit at 75 mph, the devil take the hindmost.

I made it, unleashed Sparkle, my golden retriever, and went on my way.

We had really good Chinese food for lunch.

There's no place like home.


Tuesday, July 16, 2024

AI YI YI.

I've often written in this space that I don't read books on marketing or advertising or whatever it is we're currently calling the dying business we're in.

I read books, instead, on life. Then I relate them back to the life I'm trying to lead and the work I do.

I won't suggest my course to anyone else. I'd just rather read a writer like Robert Caro--two national book awards, two Pulitzer prizes--than lightweights like Seth or Simon or the oh-so-trendy (and slightly rancid) flavor of the month.

In trying to figure out life, I read a lot of books on science. I'm not looking to become a chemist or a physicist, but I like to see how ideas are developed, tested, put forward, accepted, spread and then, how we move on from them. I like the idea that as a species we rarely figure anything out--but life, both macro and micro, is instead trying to figure things out. 



I'm reading the above now, in which I read the passage above the other night. Everyone and his cousin is pontificating on AI, advertising, the election, Biden's cognitive condition, who will win the All Star game, what will become of the Left or the Right based on this election or that. It's what precipitated this post. 

Everybody is proclaiming someone dumb because of something they were brought up believing. Forgetting that what's considered "normal," or "ok" or even plain-old "right" is fleeting and subject to changing beliefs and mores.

In other words, life is gerundive, not settled. It's an "ing," not an "ed". We're learning. Not learned. We're an ongoing, not a finished, moment in time.


One of the best things I've ever read on science--and by application, advertising--was "A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds." By no means am I a birder. Yes, I spend a lot of time up on the Gingham Coast. And I often from my bedroom or living room see the intense drama of an osprey talon-ing a fish and flying back to its aerie to feed its family. And yes, I read a great book called "Owls of the Eastern Ice," but that's about it.

"Wing"--beyond ornithology--was about how amazing life-forms are and how little we know about them. If we think human technology is amazing--like GPS--it's only because we don't recognize shit about avian-abilities. They can out-think, out-smart, out-find-their-way, out-adapt, and will probably out-last our benighted species.

That's the passage of "Wing" that I haven't stopped thinking about since I read it three years ago. 

So much of what's gone wrong in our world--and in the advertising business is because we look for certainty. Because we say, "we used to think, but now we know." When we should be saying, "we used to think, but now we think."

When I think of all the new things that were going to "change everything," supplant everything, make everything that went before them "dead," it fairly makes my head swim.

As if our learning based on some cockeyed study paid for by some cockeyed vested-interest discovered something as absolute as the undiscoverable Grand Unified Theory.

Then the legions of (continuing the bird leit-motif) blind parrots repeat whatever finding until it becomes an absolutism and the final solution, no matter what the problem. It's somewhat--to be extreme--the Sovietization of thought. In the past six months alone, we've had a Lazy Susan full of miracles spin around to proffer solutions to everything, from Jora to Chat or something else.

Even the original holding company reason for being, that enormousness was a benefit has backfired. Not too long from now, my guess is more and more holding companies will start divesting themselves of constituent parts. And there will likely be a holding company merger before long, if only to attempt to show shareholders that something is happening.

The more you circle the sun the more you realize that no one really knows anything. The only course is to work hard, try a lot, and cross your fingers. Those things aren't miracles, but they help.




Monday, July 15, 2024

Be Kind. And Mean.


It seems to me about 37 times a day someone on some social platform, or wearing a t-shirt with a message on it, tries to show how profound they are by telling the world to "Be Kind."

I can barely think of anything dumber or more platitudinous. 

Because if you have to be told, and if you're taking life advice from strangers on corrupt and polluted social platforms, you never will be kind. You will instead be kind of a dimwit.

Toward the middle of last week a young person reached out to me. She asked for career advice. I wrote back to her and offered her an hour on Friday morning at 9AM her time. We spoke for a full hour.

I work pretty hard on these calls. I've been in the business a long time and I see a lot. I think I offer a lot to these people.

As Steve Hayden once said to me, "free advice is worth what you paid for it." I take that as a challenge and try to make it punch above its weight.

Usually, toward the end of our call, I say something I think is pretty good. And then I add, "that's it. That's your assignment. Do that work. Talk to the people I've told you to talk to and you'll be closer to getting a job."

I always add one more thing.

"Be mean to yourself. It's Friday now. Be done with the work I've told you to do by Monday. Be mean to yourself. Get it done. It's a pain in the ass, and hard, and introspective and maybe you have things to do this weekend, but be mean to yourself and get it done. It's how you'll get what you want from your career."

I wrapped up this particular talk with a nice turn of a phrase. "Being mean to yourself is the best way to be nice to yourself."

I'm not sure everybody gets that. But that's ok.

When my younger daughter was ten, she was determined to pass her open-water scuba diving test. Ten was the youngest age at which you could become certified.

We were all on vacation in Hawaii, and rather than hang out on the beach or play in the pool, my daughter sat at the poolside and studied her scuba text book. She looked grim, furrowed and slightly miserable. Studying when she wanted to be playing.

I didn't make her. I didn't tell her to. But she understood.

She did that also when she became a rescue diver at 15 and a open-water dive-instructor at age 18. Today, at 32, she helps run the world's premier Marine Science Master's program.

She got there by being mean to herself. Denying and trying.

When Friday rolls around, I do the same to myself. Virtually every Friday for the last 247 years, I say to myself, "It's been a helluva week." Because work, even as much as I love it, is hard. You put your whole brain, your whole heart and all your sinew--every-slow and every-fast twitch into it. 

When my work-week ends, even if I have no pressing client deliverables upcoming, I open--not shut--my computer. I do what I'm doing right now, I dope out a blog post or two for the upcoming week. I've done that for seventeen straight years without missing a day.

A lot of making it in our business or any other business is finding something that makes you stand out from the myriad people who can do roughly the same things you can. I mean, what we do is pretty easy. When you get down to it, writing a commercial is writing about 60 words about peanut butter or baked beans. It's really not that hard.

What's hard is showing the people who want those commercials why they should pick you to type them. What's hard is showing people what makes you different.

I realized early on in advertising that I had a lot going for me. But even with that I was never going to be one of the cool kids. There would always be people who won more awards or were smarter about hopping on the latest trends. Or their ass-kissing skills surpassed mine, which are not inconsiderable.

I realized my many shortcomings.

But I still had the same ambition.

To be picked. To be chosen. To get the job. To get the money.

How could I get there?

About 99.9% of what I do now--the blogging, the ads, the general sagacious-izing--is because I want to win. I want the money.

I know to get the money I have to be mean to myself. I have to drive myself. I have to metaphorically sit by the side of the pool and study while everyone else is drinking blue drinks and slipping into or out of various bikinis.

So, I recoil when I see platitudes like "Be Kind."

You're better off being mean. Denying yourself and trying harder.

Mean, I know.

 

Friday, July 12, 2024

Used.





That ugly rectangle with the hideous photograph of an ancient man wearing ancient clothing sitting in an ancient chair is what us old-timers in the ad business used to call an "ad." This ad, and ads like it ran in things we used to call magazines.

A magazine was made of paper, often glossy, and stapled together. It had a variety of words and pictures put into a form we called "articles," or "news items," or "stories," or "reporting." It also had dozens of ads in dozens of different sizes. If you wanted more impact, you bought more ads and bigger ones.

People paid for these things we used to call magazines. They either signed up for a subscription, in which case the magazine would be sent to them whenever it was published (printed) or they walked to a store or a kiosk we used to call a "newsstand." On that newsstand, there were dozens of magazines and newspapers. You could put money on the counter and buy them. More newspapers and magazines came in every day, and many things we used to call people (not users) would visit often and buy them.

People would keep magazines for a while. Sometimes a week or longer. Once-in-a-while, they'd read an article they liked and they'd clip it out, or Xerox it, or give the magazine to a friend and say, "you might want to read the story by Ray Bradbury on page 71."

As I said above all that is quaint and outdated now.

We have no more magazines, we have sites. We have no more articles. We have content. We have no more ads. We have banners. We have no more time because there are so many sites and so much content and such an onslaught of banners, that we ignore virtually all of it.


As Neal Postman wrote in 1985 (before you were born) in "Amusing Ourselves to Death,"


All that brings me back to the top of this post and to the copy in the aforementioned ugly rectangle:

I don’t know who you are.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know your company’s product.

I don’t know what your company stands for.

I don’t know your company’s customers.

I don’t know your company’s record.

I don’t know company’s reputation.

Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?


When I was a boy in the ad business, until the time the ad business deemed me obsolete for making it too much money, most of the ads I worked on tried to answer the "I don't knows" above.

Most of us didn't go to ad schools back then. I didn't know anyone who did post-graduate work in advertising. And I'm not even sure if I knew one account person in all my years who had an MBA. Also, decks were usually typewritten, not 144-page powerpoints. 

Today, though I make more money than ever before in my life, have more disposable income and am statistically in the top one-percent of American income-earners, there's scarcely a brand or a product that tells me anything I feel I need to know about themselves. 

I love cars and I'd be damned if I could tell you a material difference between a Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, VW, Ford, Chrysler, GM product other than people seem to have orgasms when they hear about Apple Car Play and hands-free parking. The same holds true for just about everything in every store. Oh, and there's never any traffic, people buy cars because of balloons in showrooms, and the apotheosis of life is driving your kids to soccer.

No one answers the "I don't knows." They don't even realize they exist. (That would be harkening back.)

As a consequence, I no longer buy anything. I don't know what I'm buying anymore or why it's better or why I should care.

That's progress!

When advertising stopped caring about me
I stopped caring about it.

When advertising stopped saying what I needed to hear, 
I stopped listening to what it was saying.

The end.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Spinning.

The other day in this space, I wrote a smidgen about Long History. That is, looking at the world not just with a view of the last two, five, seven or eleven cataclysms, wars and disasters, but through looking at the last few thousand.

Long history tries to make sense of the present by looking at centuries, even millennia past. It tries to discern trends that you might miss when you view things through a narrow aperture. For instance, if you watch the sensation nightly news--at least in amerika--you're likely to hear a cacophony of murders, abductions, sexual assaults and more. It takes a step away from our quotidian mayhem to discern if life is getting more or less violent, more or less stable, more or less chaotic. Even comparing decades of data doesn't really do the trick.

The goal in a lot of in-the-moment reflection on current events is to bolster one particular agenda over another. It was very easy to paint a picture of inflation being out of control at the onset of the Covid pandemic. The data looks different if you can look at it through a different lens. 

A lot of people my age, for instance, will wank on about gas being fifty-cents a gallon in 1975. They use that data point as proof of some global serenity. Ignoring that fifty cents in 1975 is equal to roughly $3.40 today. So all the apoplexy about out of control gas prices was really just politicking, not science.

Same with eggs for that matter. Adjusted for inflation, they're about the same price--give or take a yolk--that they were 50 years ago. 

The figure that's really grown disproportionately is the one no one talks about: CEO pay.

In 1975 CEO wages averaged twenty times median employee wages. So, if a median worker made $15,000, the CEO made $300,000. Today, the average CEO makes three-hundred times their median worker. So if the median worker makes $75,000, the average CEO makes just under $23,000,000.

Then there's this, which should be self-explanatory.  Workers are making more, and getting less. The profits from productivity gains are going to the C-suite, not the you-and-me-suite.



Now, to the aforementioned Long History portion of today's post.

If you go back to the Black Death, either it's 14th century or 15th century occurrence, when about half of Europe's population was killed, something else happened in Europe. Workers--there had been a glut of them before the plague--gained power. They could break their indentures. They could leave their Lords. They could strike for higher wages. 

In short, the balance between capital and labor was altered by the cataclysm. You heard a lot of fretting about this during Covid. The great resignation. $15 minimum wage. No workers.

Taking a Long History view of our era, I'd suggest that with the Great Depression (roughly 1929-1941), World War II, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, labor--that's you and me--gained an upper hand. The highest marginal tax rate was over 90-percent, and as stated above, workers wages were in line with those of management. Plus, at least theoretically, taxes were somewhat redistributive. The wealthier helped the less fortunate.

My view is that that arrangement--since the Reagan years--has come under attack. I believe Project 2025 is evidence of that. As is the evisceration of employee benefits and generally lower wages. What's more, something like 45-percent of workers in amerika are "contingent," gig workers. They're permalance. With no security, no benefits, no real investment in amerika or its economy.

What we have today is Reverse Robin Hood capitalism. Steal from the poor to feed the rich.

There's bonafide smart people--not advertising bloggers--who write about this stuff. One is Walter Schiedel, a Stanford University historian who's book "The Great Leveller," is tough-going, but a must read. 



At the least, you might want to read these few sentences:


My usual enemies will read this and screed at me that I'm living in some liberal fantasy world. That's fine.

I think if you look at long history from serfdom to union busting to today, you'll see there's been a constant battle between capital and labor. When I grew up, labor was still ascendant. The legacy of the New Deal, the collapse of world capitalism and, I suppose, luck. 

Today, the tables have turned.

The little guy--and we're all little guys--is being rotisseried. Project 2025 is evidence of that. And I can't believe that the four or five agency holding companies don't have their own version of Project 2025, call it Private Jetting, that they're slowly enacting. 

I've seen it.

It sucks.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Kerplunk.


Of all the banalities I've heard during my 66.7 years, the most banal of all might be the one that was repeated roughly every 12 seconds when I was at R/GA back 15 or so years ago before we realized that the internet was to cesspits what donald trump is to ethics.

Back then, those under the narcotic effects of technology would sing the praises of the splendors of technology, refusing to recognize or acknowledge the corrupt and corrupting influence of great power under no governor or editorial restraint or, even, the smallest dram of fact-checking.

Back then every planner in creation was extolling the power of Sheryl Sandburg leaning in and told us on auto-repeat that "the consumer was in control." 

Somehow, the un-thinking went, the consumer could make content, could comment on a brand, could be heard and that would check the unchecked power of soon-to-be trillion dollar brands that are too big to fail and too evil to give a shit.

Yesterday, I got a text from xfinity which is owned by comcast telling me that my service will be interrupted for an unspecified length of time because they are maintaining the fiber optic cables that my fees paid for

As I do, I texted back. "I pay for 24/7 service. Will I be refunded for this outage?"




The bot of course told me that outages caused by maintenance are ineligible for credit.

Life's great when you bill what you want and make the rules you want and are so powerful that no one can do anything to protest your power.

But the consumer is in control.




Today, just about everything amerikans buy is controlled by just two or three companies. What's more, and most pernicious, is the schtupholm syndrome that afflicts most people today. What I've found is that many people actually root for oligopolies versus the people fighting them. We have been trained as a "society," to disdain people who speak out. They're regarded as trouble-makers and loudmouths. Seeing, say, Coca-Cola as the world's largest distributer of plastic pollution and diabetes makes you a pariah. "But they sponsored the concert I paid $400 to attend, and they spend $1,000,000,000 telling me how kind they are."

Not only is the consumer not in control, today's consumer is too lazy to be anything but ill-informed and so has no idea how shitty the oligopolies make life.

That includes, of course, our advertising oligopolies in which five white men control 85% of all advertising jobs and if you protest, you're black-balled out of the business. 

The diminishment of the importance of advertising, the very destruction of the industry, the self-hagiography in the industry's obsession with pay-for-play awardingness, and the constant reductions in force are identical to the modus operandi of all the monopolized industrial sectors mentioned above.

When every industry acts like an extractive industry--taking the wealth and leaving slag and detritus behind, we have a world in systems collapse.

Of course, we have political oligopolies, too, where the dimmycrats and the repugnants in a country of 330,000,000 can't find anyone more palatable than a serial thug, liar, fascist and abuser or a old-man who no longer has all his faculties intact.

They're also a monopoly.

The consumer is in control. 

Yup. Just like sand is in control of the sea



.


Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Long and Winding Rude.

One of the great privileges of being as old as the reptiles, and working for yourself, not directly for a corporate behemoth, is that you have something of a chance--if you take it--of looking at the world from a distance, not from up-close.

If the good graces of the world had given me the patience and the scholarship money and I had somehow become an academic instead of an advertising man, I probably would have toggled back and forth between teaching English and teaching history. The two were always tangled in my mind and like my daughters' long, thick hair. I was never able separate one strand from another. They were interwoven like mammon and cruelty.

How can you read "The Goophered Grapevine," for instance by Charles W. Chestnut with no historical understanding of American history from 1619 to the early 20th century when the book was written? How could you read "The Grapes of Wrath," by Steinbeck, or "Heaven's My Destination, by Thornton Wilder devoid of the elucidation that comes from knowing something of the times in which they were written? 

That goes for just about any piece of literature that I can think of. Columbia professor James S. Shapiro probably agrees with me. He's written dozens of books about literature, historical context and why those book are important today. If you think things are rough in amerika in 2024, you might want to read Shapiro's "The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606." Order here.

All this is to assert, I've managed to enter my dotage with my faculties intact, a decent book of business and more clients than I can shake a pay-stub at. That allows me the privilege of trying to piece together something people above my pay-grade call "long history." That is, not an historical account of the Franco-Prussian war, which lasted little less than a year, but instead at the tectonic movements of people, empires, technologies and ideas that shape history, not over the course of a human life-span, but across centuries or even millennia.

It's easy with our quotidian "we're about to be wiped out for all time" mindset to think we're about to be wiped out once and for all. At the height or the depth of the cold war I remember reading a small item about some experimental anthrax that escaped from a Soviet laboratory and killed everything in a swath as broad as trump's cranial merkin. 

After reading that article, I spent years looking over my shoulders for an anthrax attack, from russia from our own government from walmart from verizon from wpp or from some other malign force beyond my control. I still have unnatural worries about anthrax, it must be said, or half-a-dozen other things that you can read about in the paper or hear on the news about as often as you encounter a sequin on Taylor Swift's pupik.

Long history encourages, as the name indicates, a long view. A view that is positively Faulknerian in outlook. That mankind will not only endure, we will prevail. Sure, I can counterpoint the fuck out of that, and so can my myriad readers. But as Hank Williams sang, and you should sing now and again, "I've been down that road before."

Mankind, for what it's worth, have survived everything we've thrown at ourselves and has been thrown at us by cosmic and pathological forces. Damn, we survived the Antonine plague, the Justinian plague, two bouts of the Black Death, the scourge of smallpox, AIDs, Covid and Gilligan's Island re-runs. We've survived more wars than you have hair on your arms and more advanced weaponry too. We've survived leaders who would make Vladimir Putin look like Florence Henderson and I suppose we'll have to do so again before too long. Things might really suck for a while--there might be no chunk light tuna in the grocery store, but somehow we'll get through.

Right now I'm ensconced in some client work and I've written a sentence or two about a company and their ability to hang onto their clients for a long-time. I said something like, "they don't work quarter to quarter, they work quarter of a century to quarter of a century."

In our business we live under the thrall of a belief system that proclaims that the latest is always the greatest. We look for the hottest trends, the hottest technologies, the hottest VO's., directors, colorists and more. We chase trends like priests chase pre-pubescent children during a "friendly" game of tag.

That's the sort of apoplectic history that is all too much with us. So we produce ephemeral thinking following transitory trends because we deal in nothing that isn't of the moment.

In most cases the depiction of life as I see it expressed in television commercials and online advertising is so far from the reality of the life we all lead it would be comical if it weren't so horrifying. The verizon spot above is one of the worst assaults on humanity that humanity has ever contrived. In terms of realism, it makes bad AI look like something painted by George Bellows or another ashcan school artist.



All these so-called "we're here for you" monopolists who rip you off willy-nilly produce crap like the above. Their spots and other bullshit blandishments remind me of Hieronymus Bosch reconfigured by Edward Bernays. 

Maybe our current advertising palette is so well-focused-grouped we interpret it as "show people happy, dancing, slim, and worry-free at all times. Never show anyone with a problem, a need, a care or a bill to pay." 

Our avoid-the-moment, plasticine the smile advertising is based on alternate facts, because we can't bear to even think that the real ones are real. The best thing I ever read about lies is this: "it's terrible to lie to people. But the worst lie is lying to yourself."

We do advertising that avoids humanity, that ignores history, that's cognizant only of pay-for-play awards. 

Etiam si omnes, ego non. Or

h/t harry.