Thursday, August 27, 2009

Being cursed.

An older friend and I were having a conversation. This friend, who at one time in his life had often succumbed to a well-turned ankle, was telling me that he was settled now, no longer susceptible to the allure of flesh. His exact words to me were, "The trumpets of lust have quieted."

I am reading now a book by the late, great David Halberstam that he wrote about JFK's administration and the hubris that nearly destroyed the US by embroiling us in Viet Nam. It's called "The Best and the Brightest" and one of the many Plutarchian portraits in the book is of Averell Harriman. An aide of Harriman's was once asked "What makes Averell different from other men?" The aide responded "Well, he's the only ambitious seventy-seven-year-old I've ever met."

It occurs to me that perhaps the worse curse you may visit upon someone is "may you remain ambitious." There's no room for ambition in advertising today. Against the machine-like hegemony of massive holding companies and massive client "marketing" structures.

I suppose straying afield from advertising into America itself, the dreams of upward mobility, of health, hearth and happiness seem further removed than ever. After all, as Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman pointed out in an op-ed in last Sunday's Times, "To be sure, the wealthy benefited enormously [from "Reaganomics]: the real incomes of the top .01 percent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007. But the real income of the median family rose only 22 percent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years." In other words your potential for economic advancement is roughly 1/35th as great as the already mega-wealthy.

Which is why ambition today consists of attempting to win at the lottery, play in the NBA, win America's Next Top Model or some such or American Idol. Ambition for teens consists of SAT coaching and taking up the oboe so they can get into a elite university and settle into lifestyles less accomplished than their parents'. Ambition in advertising consists of doing fake ads, 32 second spots for Scrabble or pro-bono ads that never run, so you can get a better job yet still be rendered superfluous at 50.

Ambition is futile against such odds and leaves me coining this slogan:

"Give up and live."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

George, Age is not a demographic, it's a state of mind. I've freelanced in agencies and seen 28 year olds that act like they're 77.christ they're boring. Yet I'm your age and I still act 22. I still want to win One Show Pencils and get into CA. Once I'm in an agency, no one thinks of me as old. If you give up on trying to do great work, you truly are doomed. Yes, it's near impossible and endlessly frustrating, but that's the business. I'm working at a place and doing work so bad I cringe at what people here expect from me. But I come up with the good ideas just for myself to enjoy. I'm in my 50s and my dream is to land in a good agency again, if one still exists.