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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Closing Time

When dark comes on at the end of day this time of year, the bright, cheery lights indoors seem all the brighter and cheerier, and it’s hard to turn the sign from OPEN to CLOSED, lock the door and leave the bookstore to walk out into the slush (underfoot) and chilly wind (head to toe). On the other hand, it was wonderful to walk into the house tonight, where the lamps and fire were already lit and David offering to fix dinner.

Having finished DINNER AT ANTOINE’S (and even having guessed the murderer, though not from putting together clues, at which task I am hopeless), I turn again tonight to my economics shelf here at home (which is in no way a “home economics” shelf), opening ONE MARKET UNDER GOD to the last page bookmarked, about three-quarters through the book. The topic is brands and the new “discipline” of account planning, evolutionary successor to what we used to call simply advertising. A Ph.D. in anthropology is the recruiter’s new dream candidate, as long as the degree-holder in question brings along no “values” baggage.

As usual with a book of this kind in my hands, this one bristles like a hedgehog with gummed tags (brand name omitted). Here’s the beginning of a paragraph where the author steps forward from his dispassionate reporting stance and makes it personal:

“I confess: The way the word is used in marketing literature, I am an extremely ‘cynical’ person. I doubt advertising. I scoff at brands. I do not believe that Macintoshes make you ‘think different’ or that Virginia Slims help you ‘find your voice.’”

Author Thomas Frank goes on from there to explore--with appropriate, rational cynicism--Nike’s search for ‘authenticity,’ that is, an approach to advertising that won’t seem like advertising because its ‘stars’ come not from Hollywood but from the working class or even the ghetto. Frank “can’t help but marvel at the effort it would require to achieve a comparable level of visibility for the actual concerns, not just the authenticity, of working-class life.” The desperate search for what he calls “redemption through sport,” that search exploited by the commercials in question, is the flipside of the coin whose face is “starvation wages in Indonesia.”

It’s morning on the other side of the world. The sun and moon are impartial.

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