Cranky Post No. 203: Boomer-oriented commercial

Sorry, can’t gear up much sympathy for the Baby Boomers in these John Hancock ads. You’re 60 years old having a text-message conversation with your spouse about “We’re not even close!!!” when talking about how much you need to retire. If you hadn’t been running around spending your children’s inheritance 15-20 years ago, you know, you might be in a better place, ya think?

(And no, by “spending our kids’ inheritance” I’m not talking about the meme du tea party, but about those bumper stickers people from my parents’ generation used to have on their cars in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But you know, it might as well apply in the reverse for the Glenn Beck/Carl Paladino/Christine O’Donnell-addled, since, if we don’t spend some money to create jobs now, all your worries about government debt hurting your kids in the future will be irrelevant if your kids can’t get jobs now, in the present. But I digress.)

And why don’t you just end those messages to your spouse with a few LOLs and BRBs, just to confirm your lameness.


Anger leading to hate, honestly

What scares me most about the Carl Paladino phenomenon is not his use of hate and anger as a campaign tactic — he may be using it more than most, but does anyone remember Lee Atwater? Or a president by the name of Richard M. Nixon? No, it’s the eagerness of people to accept his outbursts as a sort of exceptional level of honesty lacking in mortal politicians, that Paladino is more “real” because he refuses (allegedly) to engage in spin, and there is more like us.

“I don’t think the man hates gays,” one Staten Islander told the New York Times. “He has his views. They’re true views. He’s a believer.”

Forget the fact that Paladino is wealthy enough to say things and not care what others think of him — hardly making him one of us — or that David Duke also said what was on his mind. But is the Paladino phenomenon the hangover we’ve collectively earned after decades of ever-increasingly sophisticated levels of spin? Or are we just poor historians? George Washington’s farewell address was co-written with him by a trio of speechwriters by the name of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton (and, of course, I am OK with that).

Yes, Paladino may be honest about his feelings. If those feelings are based purely on hate and anger, that may make him different from the average politician, but how does that make him better?


Mad Men musings on creativity as a commodity

Among the meticulous historical details, brilliantly gripping story lines, and the spot-on commentary on America then and now, Matthew Weiner’s 1960s-set Mad Men is really a paean to the age-old battle of creativity vs. business, and how those concepts sometimes fit, sometimes don’t in America, yes, then and now.

Obviously, if you enjoy eating and having a roof over your head, you can write and paint as much as you like, but you still need to turn the heat on in the winter.

Still, the lament is that creativity always seems to still get the short shrift — even when creativity is what you are selling — often by devaluing the workers who produce it (through low salaries, under-staffing, or merely a general lack of creative freedom).

Don Draper, the ad man who keeps his firm in business through his much-sought-after creativity, is a proxy for the artist whose work is bought and sold, but whose creativity derives its business value through bringing in money. It’s not art for art’s sake, a point obviously made clear in that he’s in advertising, and not a starving artist. But he is an artist nonetheless, and though not a poet or painter, it’s a point worth noting.

“I want to work,” Don says in last year’s season finale, as he learns his firm is being sold to a larger corporation with even larger eyes on the bottom line (and, presumably, less on the creative aspects of the finished product, except, again, as a commodity). I commented on nymag.com‘s recap of the finale, and I wondered if that episode, and the entire series for that matter, expressed Weiner’s feelings about creative workers, including writers like himself. Don wants to create something — yes, a new firm, but he also wants to create new ads. It’s how he gains his self-meaning in the world. It brings him material gains, and it brought him a wife, kids, and house with a white picket fence — all those things that people expect to see. Don wants the freedom to create ads, and running his own agency will bring that as he railed (in that finale) about accountants wanting to turn a dollar into $1.10.

As much as it is about social change 45 years ago, Weiner’s show is as much about the search for creative freedom (for himself personally as a television writer and creator, but also for all creative types at large). But without being able to turn that $1 into $1.10, Don would be without his own firm and lose that creative freedom he so needs. Mad Men portrays that duality, nicely in a 1965 skin.

Tonight, in this season’s penultimate episode, as they further learn of the dire financial straits their new firm is in, Peggy asks Don, what are they going to do?

“We’re going to sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us, because we’re creative — the least important most important thing there is.”

It’s not a new question: is creativity merely another commodity? Holding a mirror to society to reflect back what you see — it may give viewers greater understanding of the world, but how do you support a family on that? Don’s ex-fling Midge makes a guest appearance in this episode as a struggling artist and heroin addict — does her art have value to her beyond its ability to bring her money to further fuel her habit? Or does it inspire Don to continue the strategy laid out for him in the first episode of this season — to promote and sell himself (and his agency) in order to have creative freedom? Is that inspiration worth the $120 (in 1965 dollars) Don pays for it? Should we even put a dollar amount on it? But isn’t that what you do if you graduate college with a degree in English, Fine Art, Drama, and so on? If your degree can’t help you get a job (and thus earn money), is such a degree valuable merely through its intrinsic value?

Perhaps it is the least important most important thing there is. How do you eat off of that, and is it crass to even ask the question? Or is linking the two concepts mutually necessary?


Alderson, LaRussa way wrong for the Mets

So, Sandy Alderson is interested in the Mets’ newly vacant general manager’s job, and the Mets are said to be ready to interview him next week. This, of course, has the rumor mill ramping up that Tony LaRussa, said to be tired of managing in St. Louis, would logically follow said Alderson to the said Mets (should Alderson get the said job, it is said).

Didn’t the Mets already try this once with re-tread Oakland A’s management? (see: Howe, Art). How’d that work out for them?

First of all, Alderson seems to have the tacit endorsement of Bud Selig. I do not consider that an advantage. Second of all, the buzz of winning ball teams this century have been young, innovative general managers. Not to sound ageist, but as Bill Madden of the Daily News wrote this week: “… ask John Schuerholz ask Pat Gillick, ask almost anyone, the GM job has become a young man’s job.”

Alderson had great success as a GM in the 1980s. So did Frank Cashen, and I don’t see the Mets interviewing him to come back. Alderson, who will be 63 years old next month, hasn’t been a GM in 13 years (though he was the San Diego Padres CEO from 2005-2009, when the Friars went 397-414 for a .490 winning percentage, or 0.00186 percent better than the Mets’ winning percentage this year of .488).

Then there’s LaRussa (who has a law degree, don’t you know?), the Cardinals manager who was Alderson’s A’s manager, and whose name is devilishly linked with his former boss among the Mets commentariat. I don’t like LaRussa’s politics (lover of Arizona immigration laws, featured guest-speaker-introducer for Glenn Beck’s America, though God forbid don’t upset him more than you’re upsetting him now), but, hey, whatever. Even Jackie Robinson was a supporter of Nixon and Goldwater. It’s just, LaRussa can’t stop shining the spotlight on himself and his J.D.-conferred brain.

That’s the problem. LaRussa can’t help himself, which is exactly why I don’t want him here. It’s all about him. LaRussa is to the Cardinals/A’s as Joe Girardi is to the Yankees. Even exempting politics (I have no idea of Girardi’s, which is a plus side in the Yankee skipper’s column, though, did you know, he has an engineering degree from Northwestern?), they have an innate need to let you know how much smarter they are than you.

LaRussa, who claims he saw no evil among the steroid-abuser.

LaRussa, who was outmanaged by Jerry Manuel — that now departed, ever-quotable former manager — in a 20-inning game earlier this season. That road win set the Mets on their much beloved 9-1 homestand in late April, which in turn sparked a two-month winning joyride, which of course they could not sustain. But it sure as hell was fun while it lasted.

Alderson is not the right choice for GM for a rebuilding Mets team. LaRussa is even a worse choice as a potential manager. But some in the Mets commenting community are happily abuzz at the prospects. Are Mets fans so desperate for a winning team that they’d sell the lovable soul of this franchise? What are we, the Yankees?

(who has a law degree, don’t you know?)

90-year-old woman killed in crosswalk; driver only cited for failure to yield right of way: It sounds like it was a complete accident, but until someone strengthens the law to protect pedestrians in our urban areas, drivers have little reason to pay attention, and it’s open season on those who get around on their own two feet. If you’re outside of an insulating car or truck, society and The Law values you less than a vehicle.


Ospreys in Chicago, anyone?

As someone who still, inexplicably, loves newspapers, and who has enough remaining ink coursing through my veins even 10 years after leaving the trade (or is it all the fumes from the presses I inhaled?), seeing what has become of the Tribune properties in the last few years has been enough to make you want to cry. But after reading David Carr’s excellent article in the New York Times alleging management’s failings, harassment, indulgence, bullying, and culture of entitlement under Tribune owner Sam Zell and his cronies, I feel like the men-children responsible should be, in the words of the National Gonzo Press Club, lashed to an oceanside cliff so that ospreys could feast on their eyes. You think that ad executives of the ’60s Mad Men behaved badly? You think the ’86 “Scum Bunch” Mets behaved badly? These pigs can go spit for what they did to great newspapers in Chicago and Los Angeles, and for all the lives they ruined of toiling reporters and editors (with no other journalism job prospects).

Newspapers may have always encouraged a culture of controlled insanity (see, Thompson, Dr. Hunter S.). It’s been something that’s been missed (or muted, at least) for a generation or more in the era of the J-School-trained Master’s of Journalism Journalists (don’t demean them by calling them “reporters”) or the MBA-holding Managing Editors (or Directors of Content and Audience Developments, or whatever they’re called now).

As Pete Hamill, in News is a Verb, wrote:

“Reporters in those days were not as well educated as they are now. Some were degenerate gamblers. Some had left wives and children in distant towns, or told husbands they were going for a bottle of milk and ended up back on night rewrite on a different coast. Some of them were itinerant boomers who worked brilliantly for six months and then got drunk, threw a typewriter out a window, and moved on. Some were tough veterans of the depression and World War II and were sour on the whole damned human race. But all of them were serious about the craft. And oh, Lord — were they fun.”

Sure, there were drinkers like Hamill and Jimmy Breslin and Steve Dunleavy, gonzo writers like Dr. Thomson. But those old-time reporters produced (and, admittedly, the new school reporters sometimes do, too, as soulless as that production might often be).

But had the old-timers behaved as the Tribune management is alleged to have behaved, particularly in the new century, production would mean nothing.

There is Gonzo journalism, and then there is using journalism as an excuse, a crutch, and an entrée to contemptible behavior.

And then, on top of it, there is rewarding yourselves financially as Rome burns, as Carr reports.

Dr. Thompson once said: “Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”

Back to the zoo-cage, eh?


Perfect drink; Near Perfect Game?

After a session of unbelievably unproductive writing/blogging last night, I stopped in at my neighborhood upscale bar and had perhaps the worst Old Fashioned I ever paid $7.50 for. Chilled water (a lot of it) dispensed from a shaker into what looked like a martini glass without the stem. No ice. Some muddled fruit in the bottom of the glass. I think there was a drop of bourbon. Maybe it was rye. It was hard to tell through the shaken, chilled liquid leftover from a Delmonte mixed fruit cup that I was sipping.

Whenever I order one of these and the bartender says “sure,” and then I see two bartenders huddled over their black-covered drinks book, I know I’m in trouble. It’s only one of the six basic drinks in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I want to flag them down and replace my order with a Budweiser, or anything other than what they are about to attempt to pour, really.

So tonight, before a night of somewhat more productive writing/blogging (well, at least piling up my “drafts” folder), I stopped in another upscale bar (more of a restaurant, really) in a different but nearby neighborhood, and had perhaps the best Old Fashioned I ever had in a bar before. For $5.50. The bottom of the glass wasn’t a mashed fruit cocktail (a split cherry and a bare sliver of orange, which is how it should be — not, God forbid, a giant orange wedge). Good proportion of ice. Served in an Old Fashioned glass (the glass, after all, is named after the drink, something they perhaps missed in Pub No. 1; or maybe it’s me). Choice of bourbon (I went for Knob Creek), with just the right amount of booze to walk you up to the edge of putting you on your ass, but not over. Perfect. Don Draper would be pleased.

Of course, naturally, there was no TV, which I prefer in my bars, generally (not because I don’t like TVs, just that they normally show the worst thing they can find at the time, namely a Yankee or college football game, or the local 24-hour news channel, typically headlined by cat-stuck-in-tree stories, but I’m digressing). So of course I missed the end of Roy Halladay throwing only the second no-hitter in post-season history. But as a recently minted Mets fan, that would’ve been salt in the wound (though I always liked Halladay with the Blue Jays), and I was enjoying my drink. So I had that going for me. Which was nice.