Thursday, March 24, 2022

Who are you?

One of the amazing, or dispiriting, things about being as ancient as a California redwood is that you can clearly see things that are happening every day with the distance of age. Because others often don't have your decades of perspective, they sometimes miss what's going on right in front of their eyes,

One such thing is the blanderation of language. Or the bandwagonization of thought.

These phenomena are especially virulent in the ad industry (what's left of it) where agencies and the people who inhabit them lurch from one fad to another. They latch onto a word or a phrase to define themselves at roughly the same time everyone else in the industry latches onto the same word or phrase. 

Not only is such thinking antipodal to the very notion of creativity--aka "Think Different"--it's actually untethered from reality because the words or phrases being used to guide agencies are never, ever defined.

So we lurched from storytelling to data-driven to design-thinking to agile to flat hierarchies to something else to something else. WPP is currently trying to make "borderless creativity" a thing. Though I haven't any idea what it means or how it works or how it's different from the "long hallways" Ogilvy talked about 30 years ago.

I remember about a decade ago sitting in a big conference room at a big agency with fifteen other big wigs who were nominally in charge of the biggest source of revenue in the entire bigness of the holding company.

A new big person (whom I had known from another agency) was introduced as the person who was going to drive our team into a new way of agile way.

I had the temerity to speak. 

One of the reasons I was consistently able to lose a good job roughly every five years. Temerity.

"Elyse," I said, "I have to tell you, the teams that work on this account are the hardest-working, fastest teams I've ever worked with. As you know, I am probably the world's fastest copywriter."

Elyse nodded.

"Elyse, I don't know what agile means. If you're using it as a proxy for fast, you're misguided. We can't work any faster."

Elyse turned as white as an ad agency or a prep school. She started stammering.

"It's not the speed of the work, it's making the process more agile."

Like a dog with a soup bone, I didn't relent. But the meeting broke up without any conclusive answer as to what was wrong or as to how things should change. Or what agile means.

I think the modren world has not adjusted--not to word processing--but to the processing of words. Like processed food has all the nutrition removed, processed words are words with all their meaning removed. 

The great breadth and ubiquity of media and communication has led in many respects to the homogenization of language which, as any Noam Chomsky-acolyte would tell you--leads to the homogenization of thoughts and ideas.

In other words, we all hear the same things, use the same words and think the same way because that's all we hear and read in the "real" world. 

The mass in mass media should really, today, be written MASS. When a capital offense is committed, use capital letters.

The giant networks, TV or web, have control of everything from word choice to thought. 

And agencies run along with their tongues hanging down to their knees so as not to miss a trend--which is really, sorry Andy, 15-seconds, not minutes, of limelight.

Many years ago, before worldwide networks and worldwide ovine-thinking took over the world, there were people, like the great pitcher Dizzy Dean who spoke a language that was unique to him and to the region he grew up in. 

He had no exposure to "the Queens English" or the midwestern newscaster non-accent. He didn't go to Dartmouth and wear argyle socks. He just was.

He said things like this:

“I ain’t what I used to be, but who the hell is?”

When Dean became a broadcaster, he was lambasted for saying 'ain't.' He replied, “Let the teachers teach English, and I will teach baseball. There is a lot of people in the United States who say isn’t, and they ain’t eating.”

When wartime restrictions prohibited announcers from giving details about the weather, Dean said, “I can’t tell you why there’s a delay, but stick your head out of the window, and you’ll know why.”

The point today is the point every day.

Don't be everyone else.

Don't dress like everyone else.

Don't think like everyone else.

Don't create like everyone else.

Don't speak like everyone else.

Be you.

And no one else.

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