Friday, September 03, 2004

Friday in America

It's Friday in America. There are a lot of things to talk about -- the President's speech last night, which was so filled with falsities and innuendo that it has been debunked by that rampaging group of liberal pundits The AP -- but I think we all know that there' s something more important. The "war" on "terror"? The war in Iraq?

No, I'm thinking about our economy. There have been a lot of bellwether reports lately that there are problems with the economy, like today's jobs report that gets played by some as "144,000 new jobs created" and by others as "economy fails to break even on jobs this month; net loss of over 6,000 jobs." Businesses are failing, apparently because of those damn trial lawyers and their "frivolous" lawsuits against companies that "kill" people without "giving a damn about the consequences."

But I have been greatly moved by a development yesterday that has powerful repercussions for the rest of the economy.

"Successories" no longer advertises in the "Sky Mall" catalog.

You can imagine my shock on the flight to Dallas yesterday. I was feeling a little blue, a little unfocused. I knew I wasn't bringing my "A game," I wasn't "playing on the varsity," I wasn't "giving 110%." I wasn't "shaking hands with Patton." So I naturally turned to the #1 source for inspiration and success: Successories. In times of trouble, I have found comfort in the four-page Successories portion of the Sky Mall catalog, squinting to read the motivational slogans in the photos of the products.

Who can forget classics like:

DREAM. A sunny beach. "Resolve to succeed. The greatest discovery one can make is that nothing is impossible."

DARE TO SOAR. A soaring American eagle. "Your attitude, almost always determines your altitude in life."

POTENTIAL. Photo of french fries. "Not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up."

When I was looking to buy a house in Austin in 1998, I toured a small house north of town that was currently owned by an MBA student. I know that he was an MBA student because he had Successories posters on every vertical surface -- a total of about eight or nine. Not one of the best decorating themes I've ever seen, from a taste point of view, but one thing was for certain: this guy was a success. He was on his way to the top. And his schlong was long and thick.

I didn't buy the house. I knew that real winners -- the guys who have "excellence" deep in their souls -- owned the print of Vince Lombardi with his "lies exhausted on the field of battle" speech. I chose not to bid on his house, and then I shorted his stock.

What happened to Successories? How could this reflection of the American dream suddenly slip off the radar? Have we lost our excellence somewhere? Did someone start spelling "t-e-a-m" with an "I" in it?

Sure, Successories had been doing dismally during this hangover from the go-go '90s. They went public in 1990, and went private in 2003 to avoid reporting yet another crippling loss. Shares went for 30 cents. But I don't think any of us expected that Successories would ever abandon the critical centerpiece of their marketing strategy: a cheaply-produced catalog shilling overpriced crap to a captive audience of beleaguered middle managers. It was the perfect marriage of product and marketplace.

What does this mean for our country? What does this mean for our economy? It means that it's Friday in America. The weekend is coming, and we frankly don't want to work that hard. Time to go to Applebee's for a long lunch. Time to go talk to Donna in Accounting instead of making those extra cold-calls. Time to ignore the boss's mandatory "motivational" meetings because actions speak louder than words, and health care costs just went up again.

It means that there is just not the same market for shiny posters of shallow words, meant to spur shallow people to work themselves into a lather.

If shiny, happy sloganeering doesn't motivate Americans like it used to, then...

...well, then somebody had better tell George W. Bush, because he's in a world of trouble.

GEORGE W. BUSH. Resolute photo. "I can't think of any mistakes that I have made while president. That's why I can get teary-eyed talking about the sacrifices of military families."

 9:39 AM

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