Monday, July 6, 2020

Sermon for a Friday. With musical accompaniment by Mr. Jimmy Smith.

Just about every day, I hear about the need for advertising to reflect upon and capitalize on what’s oxymoronically referred to as “popular culture.”

I have neither great love nor great disdain for popular culture. And as we have a crappy tv host presiding over our modern dystopia, you can’t argue about the perniciousness of popular culture. It’s everywhere. And as H.L. Mencken reputedly said,  "No one in this world, so far as I know, has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

That said, I wonder what is the cost of our national obsession with popular culture. I wonder what “un-popular cultures” are forced out of our brains because we are focused on so much on that which is contemporary and transitory.

Sure, I’m both over-educated and a snob. But every time I hear someone extol the virtues of Porky’s II and then admit (without embarrassment) that they’ve never seen Citizen Kane, I worry.

I worry that society is mimicking the common agency practice of confusing availability and capability. Just because someone is around doesn’t mean their right, good or suited to the task at hand.

I worry if we are excluding some of the wisdom of the ages because we fail to ever consider thinking from virtually anyone who isn’t from our era. Or anyone who wasn’t born after 1990.

Thursday morning I was having my usual morning session with Owen, my therapist, rabbi, mentor, tormentor and personal provocateur. I was talking about my ripening as a human—and the success I am having being myself and gaining clients because I am being myself. Myself in all my myness—annoying, enjoyable, wise, funny, frustrating and human.

I mentioned a poem I had taken to sending to clients when I write a new business proposal. Yes, a poem. And if they don’t like it, we are not meant to be. I quoted a stanza or two from it:

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
You are loved.

I don’t care that it’s deep and circuitous and it mentions love. To me it’s about the importance of listening, deeply, to clients as a means to discerning their unique voice. I don’t care that this is weird and different. It’s what you have to do to understand and show understanding.

Mostly I don’t care because it’s my way. And for 36 years working for giant agencies I’ve done things someone else’s way. And the result as often as not is a shrouding of ideas and passion and insights and…soul underneath layer upon layer of dusty corporate speak that does nothing well but emerge from 17 rounds of urinationating from seven c-level people who blanderize language to such a degree that sincerity and humanity are present in quantities similar to what you might find in a Soviet-era instructional booklet on home colonoscopies.

Naw. That ain’t working.

Expressing emotion to a client, telling them of your zeal and drive should not read like an in-flight safety announcement. There should be some you in it.

Owen took my pause as his opportunity.

“George, do you know the poem “Directive,” by Robert Frost?”

“You’ve taught me a lot of Frost,” I said, “Death of a Hired Man,” “After Apple Picking,” something about looking at the past through a train window.”

“Not those,” he chided. “Robert Frost once described the joy of writing as “the surprise of remembering something I didn’t now I knew.”

“That’s right,” I said. “I know that line.”

“You know that line,” Owen said, “because of this from Frost’s “Directive.”

“Shoot,” I said.

“You’re lost enough to find yourself.”

Have a good long weekend, all.

And thanks, Owen.

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