Wednesday, May 31, 2023

No More Altruism.

I'm closing in on 65-and-a-half-years old and I never knew about Altruism as an economic concept until I read "My Journeys in Economic Theory," by the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, Edmund Phelps.

Like most people, I suppose, I thought Altruism was simply a fancy word for abiding by the Golden Rule, that is doing unto others as you would have them do to you. Or, to put it another way, from the story told about the great Babylonian rabbi from about two-millennia ago. The story goes like this:

"One famous account in the Talmud tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism but only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while the prospective convert stood on one foot.

He went to Hillel who said, "What is hateful to you, do not
do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it."

That's what I thought Altruism was, a general kindness. 

But serious economists have a different viewpoint of Altruism--and a harsher one, compared to my more-Hillel-like point-of-view.

Stopping at red lights, for instance, is considered Altruistic, because stopping, obeying the law and other societal conventions results in an "unexpected gain for all--a collective good." And we're not for all--we're not for the collective good.
We're in it for ourselves and ourselves only. As Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy says to Eva Marie Saint at Edie Dugan, "You wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you." (2:08-2:18, if you don't have four minutes to spare for Brando.)

In other words, why should we stop at red lights? What good does it do us? How does it benefit ME?

To my old eyes, it seems that America's lack of belief in Altruism is leading to--this is melodramatic--the early stages of "systems collapse." [Systems collapse describes the sudden inability of once prosperous populations to continue with what had ensured them the good life as they knew it.]

When a vast number of people no longer believe in the greater good to the point where they'll not lift a finger to help others or pay taxes so others can have schools, healthcare, decent housing and the other appurtenances of civilization, everything  falls apart. 

It's happening in our industry, I'm afraid. The people at the top no longer believe--or care about--the health of the industry, the companies they control or the people who ostensibly work for them. The no red light metaphor applies here. "Why should I pay you a decent wage? What good does it do me?"

This is all dour, I know.

But I learned it from a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Edmund Phelps, and it's been keeping me up nights. I don't want to believe it any more than I want to believe that that weed I pulled out of the dirt with my bare hands was poison ivy. 

But damn, something itches.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Lou Dorfsman's Wall.

I'm not sure anyone today in what's left of the ad industry has any recollection of who Lou Dorfsman was or even why they should know his name. Today we seem to abnegate the heroes of our past. It's not just the holding companies who throw out talent, experience and wisdom along with the salaries they no longer want to pay. I think many of the trend-chasing ad schools do the same. It seems to me, last year's awards are studied--not the very foundations of great advertising, design, art direction and writing.

I'm sure there are filmmakers who have never seen Welles' Citizen Kane or Touch of Evil. There are more who have never seen anything by Jean Renoir--a director who has four or twelve films on most lists of the greatest movies ever, including Boudu Saved from Drowning, A Day in the Country, The Grand Illusion, The Lower Depths, La Bete Humanite, The Rules of the Game and The River. Or my favorite director--who no one knows anymore, Preston Sturges, whose eight hits in six years are among the greatest comedies ever made. They include, Christmas in July, The Great McGinty, Miracle at Morgan's Creek, The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, Unfaithfully Yours and a commercial failure The Sin of Harold Diddlebock which starts with the greatest 25 minutes in American movie history.

In much the same way, no one knows Lou Dorfsman today. Though in my day, Hall-of-Fame art directors like Mike Tesch cut their teeth working at CBS for Dorfsman.

One of the reasons my wife, Laura and I traveled up to the Hudson Valley on Laura' birthday weekend was to see "Lou's Wall, his "GastrotypographicalAssemblage," which after it was discarded by CBS (who had commissioned it) was tossed into the trash.

Below are some bits from Lou Dorfsman's 40-year at CBS, including a five minute film on his wall and its rescue. Below that thirty or so of my lousy photos of the wall.

The trip from New York City to the wall takes about 90 minutes. You can even take the train to Poughkeepsie and a ten minute uber to the Culinary Institute's campus. There are nice people there who will walk you over to see the wall. Then, if you have reservations, you can eat in one of the CIA's great restaurants. When you're done eating and belching, you can stop by the Craig Claiborne bookstore and choose from their selection of 91 lemon-zesters or 47 garlic presses. Then you can find a place to stay overnight or take the train back to Grand Central Terminal.

Either way, you'll be well-fed, well-stimulated, and well-inspired. And remember, the artist does not weigh his clay.