Football season is in full swing, the World Series is nearly the final gun, and our elections are almost decided. With that extremely mixed metaphor out of the way, it’s time to pull out the most non feared weapon in my writing arsenal, the Political and Cultural Penalty Flags.
Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Donald Trump for claiming a system is rigged and fixed before those who rig it have a chance to rig it. Loss of quiet time with Melania, automatic media scrunity.
Illegal Procedure: Hillary Clinton for multiple email server infractions. Half the distance to Weiner, loss of credibility.
Holding: President Obama for not taking numerous opportunities to thank good police officers for their work. Loss of legacy.
Pass Interference: Bill Clinton. You do the math. Ten grope penalty loss of flirting privileges.
Unnecessary Roughness: North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple for his treatment of native lands with the Standing Rock situation. Loss of respect and ton of bad karma.
Holding: Media for refusing to allow third party candidates in the presidential debates. Five rating point penalty, still in business.
Roughing the quarterback: Congress for overriding a veto. Five seat penalty, automatic “Who cares?”
Intentional grounding: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for the whole “BridgeGate” mess. Loss of respect from voters. Automatic end of career.
Offensive pass interference: Joe Biden for saying “oh GOD” about Anthony Weiner during a CNN interview. Half the distance to the end of his term, fourth down.
Illegal formation: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz for her role in Bernie Sanders defeat in the primary. Donald Trumps questionable charities and donations to Florida attorney general Pam Bondi. Penalties offset, replay the bonehead moves.
Election machine issues in multiple states.
Dakota pipeline treaty violations.
Hillary Clintons email server.
Illegal procedure: Vladimir Putin for talking about our election. Ten warhead penalty, loss of next guerilla war.
Face mask: Anyone wearing a Suicide Squad or Deadpool costume this year. Loss of action, turnover on downs.
Too many men on the field: Game of Thrones. Walking Dead. Deadpool. Oh wait, that’s too many LIVE men on the field.
Encroachment: This blog for ripping off too much of Dave Barry’s style. By rule, this post is over.
This is what I’ve feared ever since I left college in 1997.
We’ve reached a crescendo of anger and partisanship in our nation. Those who we once believed were our best and brightest, offices which we once looked to for inspiration and hope, are now becoming synonymous with scandal and mistrust. We have a media which is so steeped in ideology on both sides, common sense has vanished. The notion of an America where anyone can become a success with hard work, a little luck, and some smarts is beyond endangered. It’s been eviscerated.
Everyone is angry at everyone. Family and friends are no longer speaking to each other, separated by ideology, preconceived notions, income disparity and occupation. Ours was a nation once admired for its ability to take the best features of any culture, any religion, and race, and make it our own. The ability to merge, to meld it all together into one made us the envy of the world. Today, we have allowed those who wish to do us harm to claim the ultimate victory. We’ve allowed them to drive us apart.
Worse still, we have allowed others to profit from our divisions. We have embraced them and entrepreneurs and innovators instead of what they really are: unpatriotic predators.
We are better than this. We don’t need tolerance or safe zones now. We don’t need gun control or fear mongering or opportunistic politicians. We don’t need platitudes, slogans, investigations, accusations or organizations. We don’t need moguls taking advantage of situations to enrich themselves. What is needed is what we fear the most, the hardest possible thing we could ever do as a people.
We need to wake up and accept that fact we cannot live In the past anymore.
Progress happens. Forward movement is part of life. Change is reality. Regression is what backwards societies such as North Korea and Iran have done. It’s what ISIS wants. Regression, for a nation such as ours, is death. The question for us is why we resist change so fervently. Why are some changes so embraced, while some are so repellent, and the only thing I could think of was an analogy I once offered a longtime friend. This man, who is an avid tea connoisseur, was asked a practical question; if your doctor told you that tea is lethal for you and that you must stop drinking it now and never touch it again, could you handle it? He admitted it was a very disturbing idea.
This is where we are now. We are a people facing tough choices we don’t want to make because it upsets our lifestyles, our narratives, or our worldview.
We’ve gone from a society of reasonable people to a society of folks who have been told what they must do or can’t do. We have a President who once told Americans we had to “eat our peas,” like a grouchy father scolding oppositional children. We have a slew of pundits on talk radio accusing the party in power of everything short of killing puppies. Whether it is true or not is irrelevant – the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is gone. We have become a society governed by our passions, those passions fomented by those co-opting the message of well-meaning, passionate citizens, and twisting them to fit a very profitable narrative. Rather than listen to the better angels of our nature, we are now embracing our greatest demons, both past and present.
Our Founders were skeptical of the People governing directly, and I can see why. We are no longer a nation of individuals who have the greater good at heart. Ours is no longer a nation which asks what we can do for our country, as President Kennedy once called upon every American to do. Nor is it the nation which once saw morning dawning again, and President Reagan once declared. We aren’t even a nation which only has to fear fear itself as FDR once declared our only enemy to be. We are beyond a nation by the people, for the people, and we have allowed ourselves to become too involved in foreign entanglements. We are no longer a nation of laws, but of men and women. Ours is a people captivated by cults of personality, enthralled by fantasy, obsessed with scandal, and unable to move forward out of a desire for vengeance and bloodlust. We no longer forgive; we retaliate. We are near nihilists, but accept everything told by so-called “leaders” as gospel.
We can come back, if we want. We can focus on the good in our nation, if we would stop looking at each other with suspicion. We can end the hatred if we stop wondering how we can “get over” on each other. We can rebuild if we start focusing on rolling up our sleeves and working on repairs. We can stop the insanity if we realize that our greatest strength is the very thing which many regard as our greatest weakness – our differences, our seeming inability to agree. If our nation was to collectively awaken from its slumber and see just how badly we are being played for fools by both sides of the political aisle, the consequences would be as an earthquake destroying a major city. Anyone who wonders the veracity of this assessment need simply read this quote…
“A military man can scarcely pride himself on having ‘smitten a sleeping enemy’; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack.”
That quote was not by any American, but by Admiral Yamamoto of Japan in 1942 as the war in the Pacific intensified. Three years later, Japan would lay in ruins, and America would have displayed what the collective will of a truly free people, properly directed, can do.
While many small towns across America are in the throes of death and decay, there is another side to this story. Namely, the hope many small towns are giving to communities across the country through stories of innovation, revival and growth. These stories are proof that small towns can come back from the brink. It simply takes a collective will to do so. While many a snake-oil seller comes in from afar on a white horse pitching “can’t miss” schemes to city elders, genuine recovery and revitalization must be done by the residents of these locales. It is gritty, dirty, hard work which boasts immense rewards in terms of both prosperity and pride. So, here are some elemental things all small towns must do, either in whole or at least in part, to begin the comeback trail.
Embrace Your Civic Identity.
It’s so easy for a small town to become married to the idea of what they want to be, rather than what they. Just like a person who decides they want to a police officer or doctor, but has neither the aptitude nor the ability to excel in either position, is often miserable in these professions, so too are towns which attempt to be something other than what they are. If your city has a college or university which has been there a long time, and not much else, the fact which must be faced is your city is a “college town.” If your town has a factory which produces auto parts, and just about everything in the town supports that factory, you are a “blue collar” town. There is no shame in this. By embracing a civic identity, towns can begin to rebuild and thrive.
Blue collar towns can use the success of industry to lure other industries. Cordele, Georgia is an excellent example of this. Once a decaying city with little hope of improvement, this city has leveraged its location at the intersection of US Highway 280 and Interstate 75 as a prime asset to lure industry. Cordele now hosts several distribution hubs and, combined with an active rail line, has become an intermodal transfer point for several major companies. Frozen foods, hardware, heavy goods and such often find their way to terminals located in Cordele and, combined with its centralized location to traffic arteries connecting major port cities such ains Savannah and Tampa with Atlanta, Columbus and other major cities, this once dying town is beginning to make a comeback. Once a dot on the map trying to market itself as a “throwback” city to yesteryear, civic officials saw their assets and used them to reinvent the town.
Move Forward and Innovate
No small town has seen a more profound transformation in the last 25 years than Homestead, Florida. This tiny town, located southern Miami-Dade County near the end of Florida’s Turnpike, was home to an Air Force base, some orange groves, a retirement community or two, and not much else. It was, in essence, a waypoint for vacationers en route to the Keys. When Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, Homestead took the absolute hardest hit, with 90 percent of the city destroyed. Shortly afterwards, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended Homestead AFB be shuttered to take advantage of the so-called “peace dividend” resulting from the end of the Cold War. Even the Cleveland Indians abandoned the city as a spring training location in favor of a location further north in the state. So how did Homestead, which was once pronounced a “dead city” by many in the media shortly afterwards, come back?
Civic leaders took a long, hard look and realized they had an immense asset available: lots of land. The late Ralph Sanchez, the Miami financier who brought open-wheel racing to South Florida with Miami Grand Prix, pitched the idea of a racetrack to the city. Reeling from one misfortune after another, the city council could have said “no thanks,” and decided to just founder. Instead, they took a risk, and did it ever pay off. Shortly after Homestead-Miami Speedway opened, NASCAR began openly talking about the possibility of a Super Bowl-style championship race to decide the then-Winston Cup Series. In 2003, Homestead’s speedway become host to the NASCAR Championship Weekend, the first-ever conflux of all of the sport’s title races, including the Sprint Cup Championship. Homestead soon became as famous as Daytona Beach, and the championship weekend, along with its associated businesses, has helped to revitalize a city once destroyed by nature itself. Homestead’s answer to utter devastation was simple: finding hope through innovation and the assets they possessed.
Find the Common Bond
One of the things which tear small towns apart is income and social stratification. Groups of people cluster together based on profession and money, and it creates resentment and sows the seeds of civic discontent. While ethnic and socio-economic clustering in major cities ,such as New York and Atlanta, can be managed, they spell doom for small towns because everyone knows everyone else. When you live “on the wrong side,” of town, people know it. Residents tend to associated with like-minded, incomed and professioned individuals and, for that reason, small towns can become divided in stark ways which lead to both finger pointing and an unwillingness to work together. When this sort of failure takes root, the associated division only serves to accelerate a town’s demise. There are, however, cities which find their common bond, and those are the ones which are able to begin the long comeback to civic pride and prosperity.
In Conrad, Iowa, this spirit of community has taken a tiny farming community, which was among the hundreds in this state which were dying, back on the road to being a thriving community. According to the article and program on Iowa Public Radio’s website, the people of Conrad saw what was happening and, rather than tear the community apart through finger pointing, began to come together and find the common ground. As the article states, the city’s clarion call came in the 1980s when its grocery store was on the verge of closure. Residents rallied together to save the store, and found they could do much by coming together in a spirit of community. As stated in the article, “small victories” helped to galvanize residents, and soon Conrad on the comeback trail. They even developed a motto ‘e pluribus plow em,’ a play on the national motto to highlight their agricultural roots. Their story has served as inspiration and education for scores of other now-revitalizing cities in Iowa, and this model is now being taken nationally.
Hold the Powerful Accountable
One of the most common refrains among those living in small towns is how power and wealth coalesce into the hands of a privileged few. Those in power tend to pick and choose who gets what, how much of it, and who is able to “get ahead” in life. Those who think differently or come from families who are not related to the innermost circles often find themselves on the outside looking in. These are cities which suffer the most from a “youth flight,” in which the best and brightest of their youngest residents often leave for greener pastures in larger cities or towns willing to accept them. On the other end of the spectrum are communities which have begun to open their collective eyes, and are now holding those in longtime positions of power and means accountable for situation their cities are in.
While there are few public stories of cities whose citizens have been willing to stand up and say “we’re as mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore,” that sort of mentality can have a positive outcome when channeled effectively. Well-meaning public servants, rather than those who expect the public to serve them, are the key to revitalization of many small towns. People with the attitude of the “greater good” instead of “what can my community do for me,” are the individuals who are able to change hearts and minds. The greatest obstacle to this change however is the final key to small town revitalization projects.
Abandon Preconceived Notions
We all have them; those ideas within our minds of how people are and how things should be. Rather than looking at life with a critical eye, we assume. In order for a small town to begin the “great comeback,” all ideas of “the way things ought to be” must be tossed out the window. It’s time write a new book when your city is dying and you’re trying to save it. The same old methods obviously don’t work, so those things once held to as standard practice and procedures must ultimately yield to a new thought process. Once a city’s residents are able to think in more “open” terms (not political correctness but, rather, being open to new concepts of doing business and ways to attract individuals and organizations), change is truly possible.
I invite comments on this post and its related one, as well as testimonials.
We interrupt this election cycle for a special medical announcement:
Experts have been discovered a terrible new medical issue afflicting millions worldwide, so much that even the most mundane of tasks, such as the World Series, must be interrupted for this breaking news announcement. The announcement is being announced for the sake of all affected by premature medical announcements. Here is the announcement.
According to a worldwide medical cadre of people who call themselves “cadres,” a new strain of life-depleting symptoms have arrayed themselves against mankind. This condition is called Total Irrational Reasoning Exhaustion Disorder, or TIRED. This syndrome has become a worldwide scourge, one which must be controlled, contained and, if necessary, eradicated through a complex series of maneuvers which are still being developed by scientists in well shrouded bunkers around the world, most of which are located near large sources of caffeinated organic filling fuel environment epicenters, or COFFEE.
Scientific studies have concluded, in fact, that reduction of the symptoms of TIRED can be directly affected by proximity to COFFEE. Symptoms of TIRED include irritability upon standing, inability to awaken at a predetermined moment or location, aggravation with stressful situations, predisposition to violence due to loss of patience, extreme bouts of oral inhalation of oxygen, and commonly referred to as “yawning.” Conversely, the many healthful benefits associated with being near COFFEE have been cited as reduced inclination to violent action, increased sociability, and the desire to engage with everyday life.
Experts warn that TIRED is a relatively new diagnosis and must be treated as such. It should not be used as an excuse to miss work, school or potentially pleasurable activities, and research holds hope of treatment and possibly, working hand in hand with COFFEE, a potential cure. Many COFFEE locations have been identified worldwide; easily visible by their association with pastries, sugary products, and a bizarre clientele of youthful entrepreneurs identified by anthropologists as “hipsters.” These environments have been known to induce states of increased intellectual awareness, as well as lively debate and the occasional argument over which COFFEE location is superior to the other. According to the research obtained, instances of TIRED are nearly nonexistent at these locations.
We encourage all who read this notice to contact their elected officials immediately and demand that more COFFEEs be made available to combat TIRED. Unfortunately, some of these officials may be COFFEE averse, instead opting for the time honored tradition of the bribe.
This concludes this Important Message Pertaining to International Safety Health (IMPISH) bulletin.
There is an old axiom – the victors write the history books. History, of course, began as a set of written and verbal accounts, handed down from generation to generation. Thucydides, considered the “father of history,” became a legend for accurate, factual storytelling through his own records. The same for Roman Emperor Tiberius Claudius who, despite being portrayed as reckless fool and political shark in countless movies and series, had a passion for storytelling as well, recounting historical events to whomever would listen. As both a storyteller and a student (but far from an expert) of history, I began to put their storytelling approaches, and the axiom of who writes the history books, to an unusual test of why the American Southern history and culture, both antebellum and modern, has been embraced with such amazing affection. My conclusion is likely to spark some debate, but here it is.
Simply put, Southerners may just be better storytellers .
Metlife, one of the world’s largest insurers, announced the end of its 30 year run of using the Peanuts gang as its pitch characters, with Snoopy the star of the show. The company cited a new branding campaign and the withdrawal from retail life insurance as principal reasons for terminating the use of the iconic comic strip cast. While the casting off of the little comic strip stars is one of the most radical advertising moves in recent memory, it is hardly uncommon.
Taco Bell makes the dog walk
In 1994, a little chihuahua named “Gidget” graced the stage of American advertising for the first time and spoke the legendary phrase, “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” The fast food Tex-Mex chain, attempting to capitalize on Super Bowl ad kitsch, staked its claim to this slice of advertising genius and the rest was history. Over the near 15 years, the “Taco Bell Dog” was in a variety of commercials for the chain, some of them featuring a “girlfriend” dog, others in silly scenarios such as the “Drop the Chalupa” ads. Other ad gimmicks included the pitchdog donning a Castro-style uniform for the “Viva Gordita” campaign, while one memorable ad tied, in to the Godzilla movie hype, featured the dog with a box-and-stick trap featuring Taco Bell food as “bait,” leading the dog to say the non-infamous line “uh oh, I think I need a bigger box.”
The dog was not without controversy. Immigration activists decried the campaign as racially insensitive and accused the chain of stereotyping Mexicans. The campaign itself came to an end in 2009 shortly after a federal court ruled Taco Bell had to pay the creators of the advertising gimmick nearly $50 million for breach of contract. Shortly after, the Taco Bell dog was never heard from again.
Domino’s Pizza struck advertising gold in the mid-1980s when it unveiled The Evil Noid, a red-suited, rabbit-eared advertising anti-hero which looked like a cross between a Claymation character and Stretch Armstrong. Taking a page from the animation craze of the day which made the California Raisins cartoon famous, the Noid’s evil schemes encouraged customers to look at Domino’s delivery window promise as a value-added services. Their slogan of “Avoid the Noid,” featured the Noid in a variety of plots to ruin pizza orders for hungry patrons. The gambit worked, with the Noid putting Domino’s Pizza on the map nationally. Soon, Noid merchandise was made available through Domino’s franchises, some of which is still available on Ebay.
Despite being what Fastco Design described as one of “the most inexplicably popular mascots in corporate history,” the Noid himself could not defeat real-life foolishness, and Domino’s retired the mascot after a mentally-ill Kenneth Lamar Noid robbed a Dominos’ Pizza in Atlanta, Georgia. While in prison, the real live Mr. Noid stated his belief that the company created the mascot to “persecute” him.
Izzy-is or Izzy-aint?
Few mascots flamed out faster – pardon the pun – than the one devised for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, named “Izzy.” Critics branded the mascot “Dizzy,” for its Olympic Rings-themed design, which left both opponents and enthusiasts dazed and confused. According to officials for the Atlanta Olympic Committee, Izzy was actually devised to help promote the games to kids and tourists coming to Georgia from outside the United States. The little blue bugger appeared at a variety of promotional events and groundbreaking ceremonies, and made an appearance at the Opening Ceremonies in Atlanta.
Sadly, Izzy never really gained traction as a viable advertising mascot. Unlike its cousin from the 1992 Barcelona Games, which resembled a cartoon cat (but really wasn’t), Izzy’s fortunes were doomed by poor design, as well as some religious fanatics who actually claimed the mascot, whose powder blue color scheme closely resembled the United Nations flag, was the “Mark of the Beast” of the biblical antichrist. On a humorous note, when a college newspaper in Georgia did a poll of what students thought the mascot looked like, one international student called it “a big hairy monster.” It quietly vanished after the opening ceremonies and was never heard from again.
The mid-1980s were famous for advertising mascots, and the beer industry did its part when Anheuser Busch brought out a bull terrier named “Spuds.” Dubbed “The Original Party Animal,” the pooch was featured in countless advertisements for the Budweiser and Bud Light, often alongside scantily clad college aged women. While the Spuds campaign was short-lived, his impact on beer advertising and American culture could not be understated. Two decades later, Target rolled out “Target Dog,” another canine mascot bearing a very suspicious resemblance to the beer pitchcanine.
An direct joking reference was made about Spuds in the Futurama episode “Fry and Slurm Factory.” A spoof of Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory, this episode features Philip Fry, the main character, getting to spend an entire day on the planet Wormulon with Slurms McKenzie, the “Original Party Worm,” and pitch slug for the futuristic, and highly addictive soft drink Slurm.
The Bud Bowl/Budweiser Frogs
Anheuser Busch again jumped on the silly advertising bandwagon in the late 1980s with the Bud Bowl concept, featuring animated beer bottles duking it out on a fictional gridiron. Team Budweiser and Team Bud Light annually battled it out for title of America’s Favorite Beer. The brewer put a Super Bowl III style twist on the ad spectacle during Super Bowl XXV when it rolled out the character of “Bud Dry,” a “franchise quarterback beer,” along with a series of advertisement jokes including extending of a short-neck bottle to a longneck to catch a ball, and the “Freezer,” an oversized can of beer designed to play off the nickname of William “The Refrigerator” Perry. The ads were a hit for several years but, as usual, the brewer rolled another gimmick, the Frogs.
In the mid 1990s, Anheuser Busch debuted a trio of bullfrogs blurting out the now-immortal “Bud”, “Wiiise”, “Eeeerrr.” The frogs were a hit for a year or two, then the beer giant added two vindictive ignuanas and dopey ferret to try to dethrone the frogs from their pads. Creators of the ads reveled at how, in one episode of The Simpsons, the frogs were eaten by an alligator which groaned “Cooooooors.” After several years, the shtick wore off, and Budweiser abandoned the swamp characters in favor of the more traditional advertising featuring their signature Clydesdale horses.
Metlife’s decision to move on from the Peanuts is not necessarily a slap in the face of customers, but an acknowledge of corporate advertising realities. As the insurance giant departs the retail life insurance arena, the need for its signature branding is greatly reduced. The Peanuts gang’s primary role was that of selling life insurance products to prospective and current customers. Rather being faced with litigation or public relations gaffes, Metlife simply did was Anheuser Busch did with its advertising; it recognized a changing market, adjusted accordingly, and will now roll out new branding. It is highly unlikely this is the last we’ve seen on the Peanuts gang in advertising; their timeless, cross-cultural appeal will make them the most valuable free-agent advertising property in the world.
Thanks for entering my head…walk around at your own risk