Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Achilles on Advertising.

I wonder if there's a Human Resources professional anywhere who's ever read "The Iliad" by Homer. 

I don't suppose there is. 

Partly because there aren't that many people in any profession who still read ancient works. Somehow most people say things like, "it's 5000 years old; how can it be relevant?" Rather than, "it's 5000 years old; it must be relevant."

That dichotomy is the essential tragedy of life. 

Just as every generation of teenagers thinks they invented sex, most people, institutions and eech-o-systems think humanity seminally changes with every new season when, in fact, we haven't changed all that much since bipedalism became all the rage.

The Iliad is really the story of the man-god Achilles. Homer might call him powerful Achilles, or swift Achilles, or strong Achilles. But, sorry Homer, the right modifier is immoderate Achilles.

Achilles is the original do not go gentler. He doesn't have an ounce of half-way in him. He's all or nothing. And he's pissed.

Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, is disrespected by fat old nebbish Agamemnon. Agamemnon steals Achilles' war-prize, the beauty Breiseis and for that injustice and, yes, cruelty, Achilles goes on strike. While the battle against Troy is raging and scores and scores of Greeks are being slaughtered by the Trojan Hector and his men, Achilles, Patroclus and the gallant Myrmidons refuse to fight.

Achilles' anger isn't HR-approved.

His anger with Agamemnon is immoderate. It's not subject to humankind's normal behavioral constraints and practices. In her forward to her translation, Emily Wilson writes: 
The extraordinary wrath of Achilles entails an insistent, deadly refusal to accept any of the traditional forms of compensation for the various losses he experiences. 
In the first stage, Agamemnon insults Achilles by robbing him of a female captive, Briseis. Agamemnon later realizes his mistake and offers to give the woman back untouched, along with a lavish set of gifts as compensation for the affront. But Achilles adamantly rejects the offer, insisting that even an infinite number of gifts—as many as the sands of the sea—could never be adequate compensation for his original humiliation."

In Homer's words, Achilles says: 

I'll admit--and I'll take the compensatory damnation that comes from it--I am with Achilles. I am, like most good creative people are, entirely too immoderate.

I am too angry.
I am too funny.
I am too driven, passionate, competitive, ornery.
I don't stop.
I don't let go.
Fuck compromise.
Fuck conciliation.
Fuck two steps forward, one back.

The blanderization of advertising and the blanderization of our agencies and our work is because we've been told to collaborate, find compromise, cooperate, get along, build bridges.

Discontent--the ab ovo spark of creativity itself--is to be HR-banished from our "tool kit" of pablum-flavored placid responses.

We are supposed to burn not hot, but beige.

Four years ago,  I ran across the article above in “The New York Times.” 

I read the article and liked it. Agency “career discussions” were going on at that moment and I thought the article was valuable enough to share with some people who had the letter “C” in their title.

How fucking naïve of me.

I particularly liked this passage, and underscored it in the note I sent out.
In moments, I got back a note from one of the “Cs.”

“Thanks for this. It's a compelling read. While we currently don't look for misfits as we bring people on board, we do look for people who are highly collaborative agitators…”

Highly collaborative agitators.

Not immoderate Achilles.

people who prize getting along more than getting noticed.
People who like sameness more than difference.
And agreement over controversy.

We look for compliance not contrariness.

“Can't we all just get along” might be great for a family vacation. Its not great for a creative endeavor.

Can't we all just get along and mediocreize our way to an unemployed future.

This is, isn't it, what Ginsburg was Howling against when he wrote, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked..."

Minds are destroyed by compromise and concessions. Junk emotions.

And we're forced into complacent smiling acceptance of crap, notarized by plastic trophies that we pay to receive, as a sop of recognition for the crap we make.

The agency business has lost its way in so many ways in the holding company error-era.

Ignoring the lessons of Achilles may be the worst.

It might be better if we cared a bit more.

And gave up a little less easily.

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