Michael Jackson is now one with the ages. MJ’s passage from this earth marks the death of an American hero and the birth of an angel or possibly a saint. MJ now joins Elvis and Princess Di to complete a divine celestial trinity.
First there was Elvis, The King. The American dream and the innocence of an age dies way too young. No worries, Col. Parker transforms it into the tragic legend of an unsullied Americana that refuses to die even as its mummified corpse lying in state at Graceland continues to twitch from all the amphetamines old Elvis consumed during his historic run in Vegas.
Elvis, the everyman saint. Rising from the humble estate of a Mississippi delta dirt farmer. Elvis would conquer the hearts of his countrymen with sweet southern charm, an impish smile and an untamable shock of hair that flipped when his hips rocked. His love me tender silky voice had the power to weaken every woman’s knees. Countless men would also be curiously drawn to emulate his persona by adopting the vain King’s more frilly affectations. It was a curious example of socially acceptable homo eroticism in a don’t ask don’t tell and certainly don’t show society.
Princess Di, The Lady of the Lake, would follow Elvis. Her story genuinely tragic because her violent demise was not her doing. Her story truly the stuff out of a very Grimm fairy tale. A more gorgeous Cinderella could not be found. Yet her unprincely prince yearning to free himself from under the shadow of a perpetual queen would flummox his princess bride. It would doom this marriage and force the affection starved Princess into the arms of another. This fairy tale did not end well for the defrocked Princess. Her loyal subjects refused to let this very contemporary aristocrat descend to the pedestrian status of commoner. Her minions jealously guarded the memory of this royal icon. They sought to affirm personal fantasies that attaining royal status, though remote, is a possibility; and that beautiful benevolent monarchs are real people like them who deeply love and identify with their daily trials. Devoted Britoners make pilgrimages to her final resting place that is worthy of Queen Guenevere. Pricess Di is entombed on an island in an ornamental lake known as The Round Oval. The lake is located in Althorp Park’s gardens the ancestral home of Princess Di’s family. The Round Oval is surrounded by a path with thirty-six oak trees, marking each year of her life. Princess Di’s constant sentinels are four black swans that swim the lake amidst water lilies, which, in addition to white roses, were Diana’s favorite flowers.
MJ’s beatification will proceed abetted by fawning fans, a complicit family and entertainment media moguls eager to do large licensing deals to insure that royalties continue to accrue to the King of Pop estate and its agents. His veneration will address the American peoples deep seated need and unending capacity for hero worship. This need is only exceeded by our driving compulsion for instant gratification through gluttonous consumption. For many, this is the principal freedom promised to any and all Americans; an inalienable right to satiate any whim or whimsy money can buy. Nowhere in recent memory do these character deficiencies coalescence so neatly as they do with MJ.
The voracious consumption of culture knows no bounds. Like every other aspect of American life, culture as a commodity is the only culture we know. Radical capitalism has so thoroughly reified itself into the fabric of our everyday life that we find it increasingly difficult to imagine or experience human relations or interactions outside of a commercial transactional exchange. MJ significant buying power purportedly allowed him to bleach his skin, remove a negroid nose, purchase a triptych of white kids, fiance a voracious prescription drug addition and allegedly engage and cover up pedophilia activities.
MJ’s life was the triumph of consumer capitalism. Marketing changed and created MJ and the idea of MJ. From his very first appearance on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine as a member of the Jackson 5, to the ghastly image of his corpse filled body bag being offloaded from a helicopter on its way to the city morgue; MJ was a commercial vehicle, a marketing juggernaut that enriched a multitude of people, fattened his bank account and tormented and robbed his soul.
Yes MJ could have anything and everything money could buy yet he found no peace. This mythic figure created, manufactured and marketed by immutable corporate institutions seeking to seamlessly bind our mind and soul to an existential dream of material opulence in reality is much more the nightmare. It is more akin to imprisonment in a gulag of Walmarts; then the elusive personal liberation tantalizingly dangled by the broken promises of consumer capitalism. MJ’s death truly signals a hair on fire moment for our culture and no metaphor could be more powerful then his Pepsi commercial shoot gone bad.
Our myths instruct us to hold on to our Valium and amphetamine addicted lifestyles. Its the price we must pay to work and acquire the things that hold the illusory promise of freedom. We need heroes to emulate. It fuels our Viagra driven power surges in a queer transference. Its how we escape our daily pedestrian dread. It is how we live to converse with the God’s if only for a few fleeting infrequent moments allowed by the running meters of consumer rapture.
Here we are led to believe that after a heavy day of fighting the power, misogynistic rappers guzzling Christal and lighting Cuban spliffs with hundred dollar bills are the just rewards for speaking truth to power and taking on the man. Madison Avenue business is the creation of virtual mythology.
MJ’s career trajectory perfectly captured the arch of American culture since the Viet Nam war. The perfect antidote to The Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the cutesy Jackson 5 were acceptable Negroes welcomed in all white American living rooms as they stomped on Ed Sullivan’s TV Show. To the final funereal spectacle complete with a homily by Rev. Al Sharpton offering MJ apologetics and the Afro American Hollywood bourgeoisie rolling up to the Staple Center in a caravan of Black Danalis perfectly captured a peculiar resonance of Barack Obama’s America. MJ always at its epicenter. Placed their by the power of Madison Avenue media mavens and blockbuster Tinsel Town agents.
CNN was crowing how this event was about the common folk. Not the stars or glittering sequined gloves worn by MJ pallbearers. Elvis was a Horatio Alger type story. Princess Di let us fantasize about our royalty as we sat in our personal castles of over mortgaged homes cluttered with Rubbermaid artifacts. MJ was evidence of the triumph of marketing and the divinity of packaged consumer capitalism. Look again at the man in the mirror. Let it reveal how consumer fantasy makes every man King and each day a coronation through the availability of fast and easy credit.
Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero Has a Thousand Faces “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.“
As the world begins its frantic search of Travelocity for deals for a Hajj to the Neverland Ranch, some might recall St. Michael the Arch Angel who cast Lucifer out of heaven. MJ will be St. Michael the Second. It may be an ironic twist of fate that MJ will hold second billing for eternity to an Arch Angel portrayed by John Travolta in the film Micheal. I’m sure his publicists are busy planning a PR campaign to rearrange the celestial order of things.
You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: Madison Avenue
Risk: culture, capitalism, marketing,
As the flood waters in Iowa drain southward to its destination in the Mississippi River, new sites and new cities are threatened by levee systems that cannot cope with the extraordinary scope and power of nature’s wrath.
Insurance companies will give estimates about the extent of the dollar damage the flood has claimed. The number I have seen for Cedar Rapids is $700 million. I don’t know how they derive that number. I believe it to be replacement value of insured property and assets of insurance in force. That’s a big number but it does not account for uninsured property, loss of potential income from jobs and small business revenue, loss of municipal tax revenue and the intangible but very real cost of lost opportunities due to the allocation of time and treasure to rebuild and repair damaged and lost assets.
CNN this morning was reporting that The University of Iowa assembled a rescue party to recover $400 million worth of art from its famous museum located in one of its flood ravaged buildings. For all intents and purposes the Hawkeyes campus is shut down and some believe that a number of buildings cannot be salvaged. How do you put a price on learning? How will this effect the decision of prospective students to choose the University of Iowa for their college education? What impacts will this have on the precarious economics of state funded college institutions?
Though we can easily see how Iowa is burdened with the extraordinary financial cost of this terrible event, all Americans will be impacted as a result of this flood. For example, railroads have scaled back schedules due to flooded lines. This will impact commerce of businesses waiting for deliveries and sellers looking to complete the book to bill cycle.
Something that will become more apparent as the summer progresses is the toll the flood will have on rising corn prices. Due to crop destruction it is estimated that the price of corn will rise by 9%. This is a cost that all American’s will unfortunately share equally and will only exacerbate the problem of rising inflation.
When the levee breaks you got no place to stay and escape the harm of this costly flood.
Risk: agricultural futures, municipal finance, transportation, infrastructure, University of Iowa, inflation, opportunity cost, fine art
Today I woke late and loitered in bed a bit. I was flipping back and forth between Zbigniew Brzezinski on Morning Joe and Buffalo Bob on Good Morning America. Under normal circumstances I would not have flinched from my attention to ZB. He was-as usual- great this morning and spot on concerning the precarious world situation. But I caught wind that GMA was airing a tease for this evening’s 20/20 show. They were interviewing a Millennialist Buffalo Bob from the House of Yahweh Compound in Texas. This prophet was prophesying that nuclear war will break out in 6 days! Now that’s a tease. A must see. Sorry ZB.
After this great news and a quick review of this morning’s local paper, I wanted to rush to my computer to blog on a few news items. But pressing matters of commerce took precedence and I would have to pass on my daily pontification and as the day progressed the economic and political news seemed to deteriorate as the heat and humidity began to rise to uncomfortable levels.
The Record (the paper of record for Northern New Jersey) led with a headline about Continental Airlines rising financial difficulties and it’s need to cutback on flights, fleet and jobs. The slow economy and rising fuel costs are blamed. This is hardly a shock to anyone who follows business news. Ever since I can remember the airline industry has been in perpetual difficulty. It is really incomprehensible to me how a business straining its capacity to accommodate customers has never been able to create an industry that is consistently profitable. Not even close. What’s even more incredible is why investors put their capital at risk in a business that has proven its inability to make a profit. That includes legendary capitalists like Carl Icahn and Julian Robertson. The later the iconic founder of the Tiger Management hedge fund had to close the doors to this storied fund due to his oversize position in US AIR.
Does anyone remember, Braniff, Eastern Airlines, TWA and PAN AM? Great bands all now happily camped at the top of the corporate scrapheap.
Can anyone say sustainability? The airline industry as now constituted is a non-sustainable industry. As its contribution to the global carbon footprint needs to be accounted for as a cost of doing business and remediation funded through carbon credits or cap and trade futures it will become more so.
The next story from this morning’s paper to catch our attention was the reminder that the State of New Jersey’s unfunded pension liability is approximately $25,000,000,000. Though some might consider the sum a rounding error in the federal budget deficit or a small accounting oversight in a procurement over billing for Mr. Bush’s War, the deficit will need to be addressed through some hard measures and demonstrates the absolute fallacy of the wonderful effects of the pandering Republican mantra of tax cuts. Baloney! The bill comes due sooner or later and I suspect that I’ll be getting a dunning message very soon.
Maybe we can sell the NJ Turnpike, Rt. 80 and the Garden State Parkway to a group of Chinese Private Equity Funds. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in our public school system, township libraries and local police forces. I would feel very comfortable having the Red Army police the streets of my community and enforce the law for all ez pass violators.
Next story in today’s Record led the Local section. The Essex Street Bridge that spans Rt. 17 has been closed for some time. It has choked off access to local businesses and they may be forced to close. This is a story about eminent domain, crumbling infrastructure and the pressing need for business people to be mindful of facilities risk and to practice risk management to mitigate the negative effects of these events. Fortunately our firm offers small business managers the Profit | Optimizer which helps to anticipate and plan mitigation initiatives if these events occur.
The Labor Department employment report was released and indicated that unemployment was now 5.25%; the highest in many years. This slowdown is speeding up and I don’t perceive any sector leadership emerging that can begin to lead us out of this recession. This one could get ugly.
I had an appointment with a small manufacturer this afternoon. As I was returning from the call I learned that the DOW sunk 400 points as crude oil futures went limit up at $11 on the remarks of an Israeli transportation minister who hinted that an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by the Israeli Defense Forces may be unavoidable. I shook my head.
Maybe Buffalo Bob knew something that Zbigniew did not. Or maybe the GMA marketing department is really a kick ass organization.
Maybe we are on the eve of destruction?
Do you think we’ll make it to the year 2525?
Risk: airlines, facilities, market, nuclear war, religion, serenity, pension funds, labor
I believe she might have said that she didn’t mean to do it. Or she may have apologized for a misinterpreted Annie Leibovitz artistic shoot of Girls Gone Wild. But clearly her deft handlers, publicists and other spinmeisters have shifted to overdrive to protect and maximize the equity value of Miley Cyrus Incorporated.
This is a classic study of taking a calculated risk and managing its effects. There is no damage control here. Ms. Cyrus and her management team made a calculated assessment and decided it was time to reposition the Miley Cyrus brand.At 15 years of age, Ms. Cyrus had a limited shelf life as the much beloved Hannah Montana. As she grew and matured into young adulthood her ability and believability of portraying a challenged 8th grader was straining credulity and the character was living on borrowed time. So her managers made the decision to begin transitioning the product to parallel the maturation of her target demographic market. Yes her fans will soon be putting away their Hannah Montana lunch boxes and dress up dolls. As they grow and require trainer bras, tampons and Clearasil she might as well continue as chief pitchman for these products as well.
In TV news coverage of this shocking incident, photos of Ms. Cyrus sitting on the lap of her strong protective father Billy Ray preceded the Annie Leibovitz shots. I felt the pain of his achy breaky heart as he symbolically gave his daughter away to an adoring public. Clearly Ms. Cyrus has fully entered the public domain of commoditization and she is now wedded to the fickle fancy of consumer markets. I believe Puff Daddy, Tommy Hilfiger and The Rockstar Formally Known as Prince also sold their names as a consumer market brand and have ever since continue a quest to discover who they truly are.
Unlike Jerry Mathers who was unable to transition his career from childhood star, the management team at Miley Cyrus Incorporated has no intention of mismanaging this valuable corporate brand. They see an opportunity. Ms. Cyrus has established a large brand following within a market demographic of young girls who will be consumers of products for the next 70 years. Miley Cyrus Incorporated (MCI) is moving with her market and her product life cycle is staggering. When MCI goes public, her market cap will be impressive. As Ms. Cyrus’s target market enters retirement she’ll be well positioned to sell them an extensive line of rocking chairs to lull her fan’s to a well deserved sleep.
Risk: Reputational, Market, Demographics, Brand Marketing, Family Values, Art, Product Life Cycle
As the price of gas hits $3.50 a gallon and sure to climb near $4.00 as the summer driving season gets into full swing, Henry Ford’s and Robert Moses’ worst nightmare is coming to life, American’s can’t drive their cars because they can’t afford to pay for gas.
That’s ok, some will say, American’s can cash their economic stimulus check at the local MSB, hop a plane and head to Europe. But the weak dollar even makes a Tijuana taxi ride just out of the reach of most Gringos so travel to exotic far out places just won’t happen.
The rising price of gas and diesel will tend to keep people closer to their home barbecues. People staying home will hurt the nation’s tourism industry and popular destinations may experience sparse attendance. The tourism and entertainment industry is a major component of our economy (we offshored our manufacturing) so if tourism does take a hit this will stoke recessionary pressures in the economy.
With less American’s traveling abroad America’s cultural and psychological isolation will grow. This isolation compounded by a building resentment toward the foreign oil Cartels and the belief that they continue to hold America hostage by manipulating oil markets is a dangerous combination that may spur mobilization sentiments as the summer of 2008 chugs along.
You Tube Video: The Cadillacs, Speedo
Risk: oil, energy, military, tourism; xenophobia
I love Chinese food. And apparently so do many of my fellow Americans. You can’t walk down a main street in this country or roll into a strip mall without spotting a little Chinese takeout joint.
My favorite is Tommy Cheng’s. I probably stop there about once a week to pick up a takeout order to bring home to my family. I’ll spend about 50 bucks for my order and my family and I look forward to being together enjoying our weekly repast.
Being creatures of habit I usually get the same dishes. And I am growing concerned about rising rice prices and how it will boost the cost of my quart of roast pork fried rice? If the price of rice doubles I’ll have to pay almost $12.00 for my fried rice! OUCH!
Come to think of it, I’m wondering if Tommy Cheng will continue to throw in a quart of white rice with my order of General Tso’s Chicken.
We’ll have to consult the tea leaves on this one.
Risk: Inflation, retail, commodities, entertainment, fast food, small business
You Tube Video: Louis Jordan, Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens