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Archive for the ‘rant’ Category

Question: What would the social media world be like if I stopped doing what I do?

Answer: It would be exactly the same.

Judging by what I see happening in “the industry,” I am failing. What’s worse is I have been failing for the last 2 years. ROI is still a question-mark for most social media “experts” in spite of the fact that a) it has remained the same since the dawn of commerce, b) every first-year business major can tell you what it is, and c) most social media consultants cost a lot more per day than their expertise in basic business concepts seems to warrant. Social Media measurement as a whole is still a farce. “Social business” and “earned media” are increasingly anything but. The term “content” is becoming a euphemism for mindless link bait. I can count the number of Fortune 500 social media directors who actually know what they are doing on the fingers of one hand. (And yes, since Ford’s Scott Monty is one of them, that only leaves only four lucky question marks.)

This isn’t me being negative. This is me reporting on the state of social media and social business today, and it makes me sad. Genuinely sad. And disappointed that nothing I have done in that time has made a difference. Not one thing.

If I cannot somehow find a way to make a dent in the monuments to bullshit, stupidity and utter ineptitude currently dominating the social media “thought leadership” space in the next year, if I cannot convince digital agencies, big brands and their recruiting firms to favor competence over incompetence and actual results over spin, I will go find something else to do, and watch – from afar – this whole inbred guru-driven experiment burn into the glorious pile of rubble it was destined to be from the start.

That is all.

 

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Black, White, Blue - by Olivier Blanchard 2009

I don’t have to be right.

Maybe everything I have written about on this blog these last few years is completely wrong. Maybe the last 15 years of my professional life have been a complete waste of time. Maybe this brain, these eyes, these ears have gotten everything wrong from Day One.

Maybe sitting here day after day these last few years, figuring out how to dispense the best advice and insight possible has been a monumental waste of my time and yours.

Maybe, just maybe, I am a complete moron who has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

Maybe rigid thinking is better than adaptive thinking.

Maybe Twitter is just another stupid fad after all. A noise channel. A worthless time suck for marketing posers.

Maybe blogs are a waste of time.

Maybe things like innovation, smart design, flawless usability, rich customer engagement and developing truly progressive work environments are completely overrated.

Maybe the reason why Wall Street is failing, why most ad agencies are struggling to stay afloat, why advertising’s ROI is in the gutter, why traditional marketers are loathed the way lawyers used to be, why American auto manufacturers are dying, why our infrastructure is crumbling… maybe none of it has anything to do with greed, stupidity or arrogance. Maybe none of it has anything to do with decision makers holding on to their stale, rigid old ways of doing things.

Stale, rigid old ways of looking at a world they want to believe isn’t changing.

Maybe yesterday’s experts like to pretend that “there are no new experts” because they truly are humble and cool and enlightened. Maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that they see the shadow of their own obsolescence growing about them, and scoffing at anything that threatens them seems like a good way to feel some measure of control over their fates.

It’s a possibility. I am fully prepared to accept that maybe, just maybe, they have been right and I have been dead wrong this whole time: The layoffs. The marketshare erosion. The total lack of strategy. The ridiculous exercises in re-branding and logo redesign and viral marketing stunts. The way WOMM got hijacked by marketing firms and ad agencies to serve them rather than their clients. The fact that crafting expensive campaigns rather than creating lasting cultures still seems to be the MO. Maybe none of these things have anything to do with poor leadership, ineffective methodologies or dysfunctional corporate cultures.

Maybe none of these things have anything to do with companies more concerned with how to nickel-and-dime each other than with creating something of substance for their customers, partners and stakeholder. Something meaningful and relevant and culture-affecting maybe. No… none of it would have anything to to with that. That would be impossible.

It isn’t a stretch to guess that maybe I have been looking at all the wrong case studies as well. Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I am just too much of an amateur to know good from bad, smart from dumb, effective from not. Maybe unlike the “real” pros, I can’t tell correlation from causality. Maybe I am not even smart enough to know how to connect the dots along a chain of events that lead to business successes and/or failures.

Maybe in retrospect, I should have spent more time working for agencies than for clients. Too much focus on actually getting results as opposed to billing and selling may have clouded my judgment all these years. Who knows? Why not.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m just a guy with a soapbox and a bunch of opinions I can’t really back up. Maybe I don’t know what the hell I am talking about.

It’s all very possible.

Maybe Levi’s will never stop being the biggest denim brand in the world. Maybe the world’s biggest banks will never fail. Maybe American manufacturing and farming will always be the greatest in the world. Maybe the US’ oldest newspapers will continue to print and prosper. Maybe the PR industry will continue to thrive on messaging and traditional tactics. Maybe talking companies into signing off on unnecessary rebrandings has nothing to do with ego or self-interest.  Maybe we will even wake up tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and things will be okay again – market bubbles, denial complete lack of accountability and all.

Like I said, I don’t have to be right.

I really don’t.

For real.

So if you think I’ve been wrong about everything, that’s okay. I don’t mind.

Come to think of it, I don’t mind at all.

In spite of my possibly having wasted your time all these years or months, have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

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Excellent little opinion about success (among other things) over at Seen Creative:
“You don’t have the skeleton key. There are no rules, there are no templates, there are no secret ingredients. Everything is unique and everything is dependent on its own circumstance. You can write all the books, magazine articles, or blog posts you want, but someone will always be able to prove the exception. Something will always contradict.
One reason these businesses are successful is probably because their founders didn’t take advice from stupid articles in Wired, or try to ride the latest meme sweeping the blogosphere. They understood that every situation is unique, and they needed to approach it as such. What’s right is what works, not what previously worked.”
Right. In case you didn’t already know it, cookie-cutter solutions don’t generate true success. Companies that stifle innovation, rule-breaking, and re-imagining doom themselves to being indistinguishable from their competitors… or worse yet, barely relevant in increasingly competitive markets.
Don’t ever underestimate the role that visionary leadership plays in a company’s propensity to be a game changer (and by default a culture changer). If a company’s leadership doesn’t have a healthy mix of ambitious, obsessive and a clear vision, what is driving it, exactly? Where is it going? How will it get there?
If you haven’t already added Seen to yout blogroll, now might be a good time to correct that frightening oversight.
Have a great Thursday, everyone. 🙂
photo by Christopher Wray-McCann

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“While one hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.”
– Henry C. Link
Via the yeti, this fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal:
High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7. Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries.
American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.
Finland’s students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland’s combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD’s test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch.
The academic prowess of Finland’s students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country’s secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. “We don’t have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have,” says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.
(…)
Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn’t translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: ” ‘Nah. So what’d you do last night?'” she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely “glue this to the poster for an hour,” she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.
Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.
(…)
Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. (All 15-year-old students took the PISA test.) Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4% — or 10% at vocational schools — compared with roughly 25% in the U.S., according to their respective education departments.
And all we could come up with was “no child left behind.”
The difference is this: Finns take education seriously. Not just teachers and educators, but citizens. People. Parents. Children. Voters. Education is culturally relevant. Ignorance, in Finland, is not a virtue as it can be here in the US.
I recall my own high school courses being infinitely tougher and more enriching than almost every college course I took in the US. I am a product of both the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and the International School of Brussels’ (ISB) incredible roster of professors, so my experience may not be typical of most Europeans, but let me say this: Only four courses I took in college were above the level of any class I took in High School in Europe. The rest of my college courses were on the level of ninth grade courses at ISB, if that.
I watch my kids go through school and wonder what they learn all day. They’re on par with European schools in math, but not particularly in science… and not at all when it comes to history or literature. Not even close, in fact.
I’ve actually been asked by an American close to me if we had toasters in France. Seriously. (I politely responded that yes, once American GI’s brought electricity with them, toasters and televisions made their way to France fairly quickly – although the government allowed only one of each per village.)
*sigh*
No matter how you look at it, when your own Commander in Chief is hardly capable of putting Nepal, Thailand, Afghanistan or Turkey on a map of the world, when he has a tough time pronouncing simple words like “nuclear” and seems to have a very tough time understanding (and funding) scientific research – and the majority of the country feels an affinity to him because of that “hey, he sounds like one of us” kind of affinity, you can’t help but wonder if we’re committed to being a nation of educated citizens or a nation of proud-to-be-ignorant consumers.
It is one thing to talk about being a world leader, and another completely to be a world leader. Unless we are talking about debt, illiteracy, carbon emissions and military spending.
As a superpower, we really ought to at least try to do better. Out of national pride, if anything. Maybe it;s just me, but we’re starting to look and act a lot like the dumb rich kid who likes to make fun of the nerdy kids in the classroom and shove the ethnic foreign kids into lockers when the teacher isn’t looking.
We really need to start raising the bar in this country. It was cool to be the Chuck Norris loving tobacco-chewin’ country neighbor with the really tacky McMansion and a huge fifteen-car garage and the manicured lawns back in the 80’s, but not anymore. We’ve become a cliche – both overseas and inside our own borders – and that’s never good.
What makes this situation even sadder is this: The only difference between Americans and Finns is mindset. We’ve just become lazy and self-indulgent. We take everything – starting with education – for granted, and have absolutely no clue how far behind we are getting. Honestly, education in the US may be one of those endeavors that Americans may have to outsource. Let an International Baccalaureate team come in with the heads of the world’s top ten national education programs, assess our K-12 system for a year or two, and rebuild it from the ground up.
Maybe this is the only way we get ourselves out of this shameful pit of educational mediocrity.
But before this can happen, our leaders need to have the will to make it happen – which starts with their electorate having the will to make it happen.
Sadly, in a multiple-choice culture in which no child is left behind, in which even the losing team gets a trophy, in which chief business leaders get paid tens of millions of dollars in bonuses for running Fortune 500 companies into the ground, and in which intelligence seems to demand little more than guessing the right answer just over 50% of the time, there is little need to waste time on world history, geography, world languages, literature or critical thinking. In other words, edukashion don’t need to be much gooder than this. If you spell something wrong, Spell Check will correct it for you. If you say something wrong, no one will catch it anyway.
When everyone is dumb, no one is dumb.
Except… when Americans start to travel to places other than Mexico, the Bahamas and the Florida Keys.
Perhaps “good enough” is just that: Good enough. America: Home of the okay, land of the good enough. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound hot to me. Yet here we are. Whether you believe it or not, whether your US-made statistics agree or not, the sad reality is that America’s K-12 system is in shambles, and yes, we are getting our asses handed to us by Finland.
(Case in point: I challenge any one of you – American readers – to actually put Finland on a map. Not scandinavia as a whole, but Finland. Before you do, I also want you to write down what major country Finland shares a border with. I also challenge you to describe its flag.)
Make fun of the French and the Finns and all of those faggy tree-hugging pinko Europeans all you want, but when they’re traveling overseas, at least they can find their own asses on a map without having to google-Earth it.
For shame.
As always, leave comments on the main page, NOT on the permalink.

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Someone tried to school me in the difference between verbal/written expression and visual expression today, and I feel like I am a much better man for it. Yes, I have grown today, if not professionally or… physiologiclaly, maybe spiritually. It’s good to know that there are still brilliant, polite, thoughtful people out there who value the power of making positive connections and understand the importance of being cordial, positive, and friendly when reaching out to complete strangers.

Ahem.

So I was asked to remove an image from an earlier post this morning. The request came via an email threatening to take legal action against me. Ha.

Yes, good morning to you too. I am doing great, thank you. Would you like some toast with your tea?

Interesting thing, this blogging business. We’re so used to cutting and pasting people’s opinions that borrowing other people’s intellectual property has become almost a non-event: Find a passage you like or think is relevant, copy it, paste it, write a blog post around it, give the author credit and link back to his/her blog/book/website so readers can go there and find more good stuff, and voila. Finito.

If you’re a true web 2.0 rennaissance man, you even send them a note to ask permission to use their words, but that is seldom done these days. Credit given and a link are usually all that is required. (Still, most of us do this with images even when we don’t with text out of some sense of duty or jurisprudence.)

To date, I have not received an angry email from a blogger or author threatening me with a lawsuit because I quoted them on my blog, and for good reason.

As a photographer, I understand the potential cash value of images. You can take a photograph and sell it. you own copyrights to it – or can share it with others at will. It’s a slippery business, but ultimately, someone owns every image that has ever been printed – very much like every written word can become someone’s property.

The reality of it is that both photographs and prose are modes of expression. Both are protected by copyright provisions. Some people use words while others use images to express themselves, but the only difference is in the medium, not in the level of legal protection. Those of us who write for a living value our written work the way a photographer values their visual work. The medium may change, but the principle is the same.

Yet here we are: Someone actually threatened to take legal action against me for having quoted them visually on the Brandbuilder. How sad.

I promptly removed the image (which wasn’t that great to begin with) along with all associated credits and hyperlinks – and will replace it with another when I get a chance. Not because I am afraid of getting dragged into court, but because I have no want to give someone so stupid and arrogant any kind of exposure whatsoever. You don’t want to be featured on this blog, I won’t argue with you. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

What is funny about this whole little tangent is that a simple email politely asking me to remove the image would have sufficed. It would have still been silly, but whatever. At least the author wouldn’t have acted like a rude little child. My email asking for permission to use her image was not rude at all, as I recall.

I have to wonder… would being polite really have killed her?

So anyway, to the young lady who sent me that threatening email this morning, I have this to say: If you don’t want exposure, if you want people to discover your work, fine. Stick to submitting your stuff to any of the dozens of stock photo outfits that might be interested in buying it for mere pennies. (Not that they have, incidentally, since the email didn’t come from them.) Knock yourself out. But then don’t post your images on flickr and make them public. Jackass. And when someone asks for your permission to use an image, reply with a simple “no” if you don’t want them to.

That being said, it is indeed your image, and you have every right to control how it is used and by whom. If you don’t want me to borrow it for a post and direct people to more of your work, that is your right. I won’t stand here and argue with you. It’s your life. Have at it.

One thing you probably should know before I close this little monologue is this: Not only are you a crappy photographer who got lucky with one image, you’re also rude, and a complete moron.

End of post.

As always, go to the home page to leave comments.

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… And there’s the rub.

From the Cornwallseo blog (via orange yeti):

“It’s not that people are stupid, they chose to be stupid. We chose to be stupid, I chose to be stupid. So when a blogger wants to make some money and be a bit of a success online he writes for the stupid crowd, the morons, the lazy, multi level marketing bullshit crowd. Who like bite sized, easy to swallow pre-digested pieces of information that they don’t really have to think about and can soon forget as there will be another zero nutritional morsel coming buy seconds later.

“And guess what? Marketing to the quick fix crowd is going to make you richer than marketing to any other group.”

Well, I guess that explains why I am not driving a Porsche Boxter.

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Whether we like it or not, the good old US of A is a brand. Our mark is the Stars & Stripes. Yep, that’s right. The United States of America, like France, like Switzerland, like Canada is a brand.

If you were to show an American flag to most people around the world in 1950 (except maybe Japan and Communist countries), you would probably get a very different reaction than you would now.

The US was basically the political equivalent of Superman or Captain America back then. The US had defeated the original axis of evil. The US, through NATO was protecting Western Europe from Soviet invasion. The US was dumping mucho dinero internationally to try and help rebuild Europe and other parts of the world that had been shattered during WWII. The US made the coolest cars. Had the coolest cigarettes, the strongest economy, the best commercial airliners, the most glamorous musicians and movie stars. The US was the bright shining light of 20th century civilization. It was the land of milk and honey.

Kinduv. But you get the drift.

Jump to 2007. Go around the world and show people an American flag and see what happens. The reaction won’t be the same as it was just two generations ago.

Now, the brandbuilder blog is not a political vehicle. I keep political topics and viewpoints out of the discussions we have here. So don’t assume that I am either pro-Bush or anti-Bush. My political views are irrelevant to this discussion. The point I am trying to make is that in sixty-some years, the image of the United States of America has not improved. Quite the contrary.

If you don’t agree with this statement, you live in La-La land. (And by that, maybe I mean Los Angeles. And by Los Angeles, maybe I mean the Los Angeles Sheriff’s office. More on that in a sec.)

I think it’s safe to say that the US has lost some traction when it comes to being a bright shining example for the world. Aside from the current administration’s lack of popularity, and the ill-fated war in Iraq, the US’s image isn’t being helped by the rampant alledged corruption surrounding companies like Enron, Halliburton, Tyco, etc. Golden parachutes, mass firings, and bankruptcies don’t help anyone feel all that great about the US either. The gap between the super-wealthy and the poor keeps growing.

Our obsession with wealth and materialism is reaching Roman proportions: While the super-rich become more and more irresponsibly extravagant, hundreds of thousands of middle-class Americans are slipping into poverty, thanks to the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, energy products, and interest rates.

None of this is healthy.

When people talk about the fall of the Roman Empire, one of the terms they invariably use is decadence. Perhaps a more relevant term may be inequity. Decadence, in and of itself, doesn’t destroy empires. Inequity does. When a) the have-nots outnumber the haves, b) the haves start acting like complete jackasses, and c) the haves start to appear to be above the law, bad things start to happen.

This is what starts revolutions in most countries.

The last thing the US needs is another Enron. Another Katrina. Another Rodney King case. Another golden parachute.

And another Paris Hilton get-out-of-jail-free card.

The word of the day, remember, is inequity.

What happened today in Los Angeles – and by that, I mean Paris Hilton’s release from jail, may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but this is precisely the sort of thing that a nation with an image problem doesn’t need.

I can guarantee that if I were pulled over by a traffic cop and failed a DUI test, my car would be towed and impounded, and I would be immediately booked. My second offense would not result in a warning or probation. My third would see my driving privileges permanently revoked, and I would be serving hard time. In a real jail. With real criminals.

And that would be fair.

Now… I don’t think that I would enjoy prison very much, so I make a point not to drink and drive. But more than my aversion for the prospect of forced prison sex with dudes named Ralph or Red Bone, the reason I don’t drive drunk is because I value human life. Not just my own, but other lives as well. The last thing I want to do is sideswipe a schoolbus, or get in a head-on collision with a family of six. I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone with my car and my bad judgment.

Let me say this again:

I don’t want to kill somebody’s mom.

I don’t want to kill or paralyze someone’s little girl.

I don’t even want to send Scruffy the family cat to the pet hospital.

So I don’t drink and drive.

Paris Hilton doesn’t seem to be on the same wavelength.

Which is why we have DUI laws – to make sure that people too dumb and selfish to understand that partying behind the wheel can destroy lives have an incentive not to kill innocent people.

Unfortunately, our strange fascination with self-destructive celebrities and the super wealthy seems to be affecting the good judgment of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, which should have been a lot more diligent about doing their job when it comes to the chronically DUI Paris Hilton: After way too many DUI traffic stops than necessary to finally force her to face jail time, those jackasses allowed her to leave her jail cell today and go home.

Don’t even get me started on the house arrest thing, and the ankle bracelet. She’s Paris Hilton. There’s no such thing as House Arrest for someone like her. She lives in a mansion!!!!!! Come on!!!!

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t care what Paris Hilton does with herself. I really couldn’t give a flip. She can attend all the parties she wants, drink and snort coke as much as she wants, make as many accidental sex tapes as she wants, date rock stars and billionaire sons of trillionaires, and spend her endless fortune as she sees fit. Her decadence is completely irrelevant. To each his own. I sure as hell won’t judge her for wanting to have fun and live the life that she has chosen for herself.

But when Paris gets behind the wheel of her car after having one too many drinks, she becomes a criminal, and law enforcement agencies who cross paths with her have a responsibility to fulfill.

It was bad enough that it took as many traffic stops to finally have Paris face jail time. Already, the stench of inequity was in the air. But today, her release from jail after less than a week behind bars was like a giant kick to the huevos of the American Justice System.

It is very difficult to keep a society healthy when justice stops being blind. When the super-rich or the well-connected don’t have to answer to the same laws as the rest of the populace.

Believe it or not, the entire world is watching this moronic fiasco. This next step down a dangerous road towards self-destruction. They are watching the United States turn into a second-rate nation whose institutions now seem irreparably corrupt. (When an organization as powerful as the LAPD or the Los Angeles Sheriff’s office starts to cater to the whims of a washed-out billionaire party-girl who wanted to get out of jail, you know you’ve pretty-much hit rock bottom.)

What happened here? Did poor little Paris cry for her mommy? Did her shrink insist that she might have a anorexic relapse because of the stress? Was she losing too much weight eating prison food? Did her family’s lawyers threaten to sue?

I’m glad that we’ve officially entered an era of “if you’re rich enough, you don’t actually have to go to jail anymore.” At least we know where we all stand.

Paris Hilton’s case, however insignificant to important world events like wars and elections and famines and pandemics as it may be, is sadly symptomatic of the larger problems facing the United States in the coming years. As insignificant and ridiculous as it is, it is nonetheless a turning point in this country’s history – and in the way that the United States is seen by the other 6 billion people around the world.

Thanks for turning “The Land of Opportunity” into “The Land of Corruption.” That was sweet. Well done, everybody. We used to think that the corruption was mostly at very high corporate levels like… the Enrons of the world. Now we know it has made its way to the LA County Jail as well.

Good job. Really. I raise my glass to you, whomever you are.

In a very real way, Paris Hilton is a (pop) cultural icon specifically because she embodies so many elements of American culture today, both good and bad. She is rich. She is glamorous. She does whatever she pleases. And at the same time, she is a trainwreck of self-indulgence, ego, and immaturity.

Our fascination with Paris may very well be as narcissistic as she is. That’s kind of scary, when you think of it this way: Paris Hilton isn’t just selling fashion and burgers and magazines. She is also selling the downfall of the American brand to everyone with access to a TV or a newspaper or an internet terminal.

Paris Hilton is the poster girl for what is probably the end for Brand USA. She is Inequity’s Typhoid Mary. She is what’s left of Lady Liberty once you strip her of the dusty robes once threaded with the abandoned dreams of the Founding Fathers. She has replaced Superman and Captain America as the vessel for the new American identity. And that is scary as hell.

As a friend emailed me today:

“Paris Hilton is the charicature of American success — unbelievably rich, amazingly ignorant, moderately attractive after several surgeries, slutty, and self-destructive.”

I get goosebumps just reading that. Brand USA needs some serious help. What the hell happened?!

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