Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Green is the Color of Jade

Breakout: A montage of visuals portraying an important historic event, scientific breakthrough or amazing story of overcoming adversity, set to instrumental music; meant to inspire or otherwise manipulate an audience.

There's a reason beyond stubbornness that I don't take standard knowledge in the form of platitude or cliche to heart. It's because I wrote them for a living for over a third of my life.

I used to call it the "breakout collective". It was a group of names that my friend and scriptwriter Leo would use over and over, effectively goading people to think of themselves in the same light as Galileo, Copernicus, Erikson, Columbus, Franklin, Ford and a hundred others who kicked mediocrity's ass throughout the age of man.

It was multi image propaganda, or a programmed slide show as they were once called back in the days before cell phones and dvds and youtube; and while the techno devices changed over the years, the message was always the same.

We were in the incentive business. Our objective in life was to get a large group of disconnected people to band together by a common cause more powerful than having paychecks written on the same stationary; so they would be spurred to sell more widgets, or cars, or chocolate bars if that was the thing.

There's only two ways to do that really; one is to trade stuff for performance, say a cruise to the Bahamas for two with every 50 new model cars sold. The better way, and obviously cheaper as well, is to rouse killer instinct, to increase self esteem, to make the words "can do" flow like honey from the lips of everyone in the room. Now that takes skill.

I won't bore you with a hundred pages of details; let's just say we did our jobs well. And while no one in the business would call it such as the very thought denotes a negative and these are some of the most positive beings on the planet, what we were really doing was behavior modification using loud sound, pretty pictures, bright lights and hours of speeches on end to manipulate people into believing what they were doing was tantamount to conquering Mount Everest, or winning the Indy 500 or flying solo around the globe; something that actually contributed to civilization as opposed to something that just sucked more of the planet's and its residents' resources dry for individual gain.

We used the "breakout collective" to set the stage; a goal to shoot for. Who wouldn't want to think of themselves as a genius scientist, a superhuman warrior or a psychologically superior astronaut. Then we told winner's anecdotes in first person; a James Earl Jonesish disembodied voice calling the hundreds in the room to action like an NFL coach in a super bowl locker room without the vulgarity and the ass scratching.
Be-All that you can be...BE.....Like Mike!!!!!
If the client had the cash the show would build to a fever pitch before breaking into song; a song written by your's truly, lyrics penned around a title given to me by some early 20's marketing whiz. Titles like "Better your Best, Capture Tomorrow, Take the Lead, A Giant Leap, Reach for the Sky" and so on and so on.

It might be followed by a motivational speaker like Tom Landry, Neil Armstrong or a business wunderkind like Tom Peters. As the audio engineer it was my job to follow everything the speaker said as they would generally roam the audience shouting positive vibes directly into the faces of the doubters, and I'd be chasing away feedback for their entire hour.

The meeting participants might separate into groups for individual instruction and listen to corporate division heads pump more happy talk about little engines that could, rotating every half hour so as to hear the same metaphor in four styles from four different voices; and in case anyone forgot the material, I was there recording and later transcribing so each player would have a tape and workbook of meaningful homily to suckle if ever they felt incapable of closing a sale.

I sometimes worked on 3 shows a week, each similar in tempo and purpose, but each custom tailored for the demographic of the client's staff. You can't have the exact same speech given to both Mary Kay fanatics and Promise Keepers for example; But I can assure you it's absolutely the same material worded differently for each specific audience. Power of Positive Thinking kids, long live Norman Vincent Peale!

You might think it can't work, but then tell me where the name "Sales Associate" came from, and how many people you think would consider that job a giant step up from ordinary cashier. If it's one in ten, it's one more dedicated ordinary cashier by any other name that the company didn't have yesterday; and my bet is that it's way beyond one in ten.

Think about all the word changes in the last few decades; jobs have become "opportunities", employees that happen to be in the same department became "workgroups" first, and are now "Team members", as if some dynamic suddenly changed between employers and the employed.

Nothing changed beyond the way workers are being played, it's the same old stuff in a different box for you, but for them it's increased productivity meaning more work in the same time, and better collective self esteem, meaning warm fuzzies in place of pay raises. You probably can't count on your coworker an iota more than I could have on mine 30 years ago, but you think you can because that's what a team is all about.

In about 20 years I wrote a few hundred songs on commission, 76 of which ended up being produced for maximum propaganda purposes, each one a hymn to the men and women who conquer all, who rise from the ashes, who have it all together, who know a smile is just a frown turned upside down. They were reeking of folk wisdom, pouring out platitude after righteous cliche, filled to the brim with positivity and happiness everlasting.

At one time or another I have likely seen, edited for grammar and punctuation, corrected for colloquial accent and had narrated as I recorded, a better portion of the collected advisory works of every philosopher who ever walked the earth; I've seen photographs, line drawings and sketches of every captain of industry, heard the fascinating and always winning tales of every general, khan and shogun to have ever won a battle by sheer force of will, mind over matter, overcoming all adversity to come out...a winner, baby; because winning. is. everything.

Ok, enough. As you can probably see, I know perception is reality. Think happy-is happy. I've had 500 people standing and singing along with words I've written that professed a deep understanding that there aint no mountain high enough to keep me from the winner's circle.....and I took my check and went home without ever cracking my voice because everybody's gotta do something in order to have food to eat, and to me, it's all a game; an illusion bought by advance commerce.

I've listened to the Dali Lama speak in person. He's got it nailed. I could be him, but only if it were my job. Maybe I'm jaded past the point of no return, because there's a disconnect for me that turns even the most innocently offered anecdotal triumph, into a pill much too large to swallow.

It's not that I don't appreciate the sentiment behind offering me a way to think positively. I am moved anyone would care enough to suggest anything to a grumpy old bear like me. It's only that it sometimes annoys me to hear a blast from the past; as good as those old songs were once, they don't mean anything to me anymore.


  1. Holy crap! You're Nickolas Ashford! Or possibly Valerie Simpson. I never knew!

    You are a very talented person, dear friend.

    1. If anything I ever wrote could be considered popular music I'd agree lol. But thanks for the compliment in any case love:)