Friday, November 20, 2009

Thank you for the wisdom of your inexperience.

Something has happened in the world and I suppose I’m somewhat responsible since it probably started with my generation. Growing up in “The Era When Everything Changed,” my generation rejected everything that came before it. In the classroom, we clamored only for things that we deemed “relevant.” I remember a wood-paneled seminar room at Columbia University when one of my fellow graduate students said this about Shakespeare to a distinguished professor of English: “Me and Billy boy don’t jive.” No, I am not making it up. I am using it as an extreme example of the wholesale expurgation of all things hallowed as meaningless, dated and therefore somehow irrelevant.

This attitude pervades the advertising industry today. You might be working for a financial services company that (like most businesses) caters to the affluent. Invariably a bunch of “body-art-acolytes” will burn thirty-two thousand hours talking about twitter and how to make something that should be thoughtful, intelligent and deep shallow, irrelevant and cool.

Cool is not a strategy. Often times it's not even in the ballpark.

As I said in a previous post, I am re-reading Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” right now. I guarantee that 99 44/100s of the people in the world would think I’m reading something esoteric and irrelevant as opposed to something essential and important. Not because they have read it and rejected it but because it was written before 2007 and doesn't involve vampires.


Tore Claesson said...


Unknown said...

My English teacher used to call Shakespeare "Billy Wobbledagger." If that's all I remembered from his class it would be sad, but he also taught me to think critically and appreciate subtext, so it worked out.

Sorry about the random comment.

Unknown said...

My grandfather, dead fifty years, taught Latin and Greek to high school seniors for his entire teaching career. I found a trove of his papers recently, and among them were several from former students. Their common theme was how little regard they had at the time for knowledge he imparted that they would later come to realize was priceless.

Kelly said...


To this day, Billy boy has relevance modern writers wish they had. How sad.

Here's the thing about "thoughtful, intelligent and deep-shallow, irrelevant and cool." You can't get any of that if you haven't built that depth within yourself.

I'm beginning to think I should take my kid to dig for worms at 3am. She's got an English teacher who can't spell, a music teacher (at school, not her real one) who told her the type of guitar *she owns* doesn't exist, and a science teacher who thinks inventions and discoveries are the same thing.

Knowing the essentials, as John says thinking critically and appreciating subtext: without those things your deep-shallow is only shallow, and your cool is only faddish.

Cool's not a strategy but it is a mood; one that can be important to an ad or a marketing plan in general. Too many people who think they're creating cool these days are just putting on a skin they mocked up by grabbing elements from other cool.

Ack. Wondering where the wisdom of the future will come from can get me steamed in a hurry.