Vices we love: September 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where did you learn to speak in soundbites darling?

Comfortably ensconced in a large apartment near the top of a brownstone building on west end avenue, I heard the following words; "I'm the only non politician running in this race." The speaker was a loud old man, a boxing promoter in cowboy gear. His daughter is an actress. He won a luxury car in a poker game. With two days to go, he sought my services for the upcoming city council election. Timing is everything- at least he didn't ask me two days after the election. Politics is the only field where you can tout your inexperience in and hostility to a profession as a selling point for being allowed into that profession. Nobody will say "I'm a non professional heart surgeon." Nor will you hear chemists explain to you how much they hate science. I waited a beat. "What is your specific platform?" "I'm the only non politician running in this race." "I understand that but what do you want to accomplish? What do you believe in? What are your plans?" "I'm the only non politician running in this race. I'm also (significant pause) a renter." A renter in New York City. Imagine that. Next we'll hear about how he rides the subway. One of the discomfiting things about modern America is that people's idea of originality and daring do is being the same as everyone else. They pick up words, phrases, ideas from tv and the Internet and run with them, expecting bonus points for the novelty of them also saying what everyone else is saying. This is then mass marketed; someone once asked me to " Pattersonize" their writing, that is re write their work to make it sound more like the books of James Patterson, a best selling writer whose prose is about as lyrical as a furniture assembly manual. He wanted this because, he said, by Pattersonizing, he too would be a best seller. The idea of creating something of his own never occurred to him. This process starts in school. You are not taught much about subjects (an educated population is not in anyone's interest) but you learn rules, structure, conformity and power. Stand up. Say the pledge. Take off your hat mister. Lately, we have added standardized tests into the mix, which function as a way to further separate students. It seems that poor kids who can't afford breakfast score lower: weird huh? They're then judged to be idiots and have approximately zero chance of college and upward mobility, a concept America used to be big on. As you get further along, this is only reinforced. A headhunter once told me to put my skills in billet points at the top of my résumé and make that part larger, font wise. The unspoken message was that nobody would read further. Workplaces are run the same way- no matter how edgy or cool a company pretends to be, they all expect a specific kind of sameness. And they get it. The result is a guy like cowboy who does not understand or know how to think and speak independently and has clearly never needed to.

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