Saturday, May 20

Make Up Your Own Caption For This Bizarre Pic From Trump's Traveling Circus Overseas

Something about Saudi men whispering about contrasting cultures and putting women in veils and abayas versus large, constricting gold belts.

Thursday, May 18

Trump Insists This Kremlin Takeover of the White House Would Absolutely Never Be Allowed to Happen—Not Tacky Enough


'Hey, It's Not As Hot Down Here As I Had Expected!' Ailes, In Memoriam (Sort Of)


How to honor a man who built a television empire—even if he did it by exploiting the worst instincts and aggressively proud ignorance of everyday Americans? How to report straightforwardly on his impressive career achievements, without pointing out that his greatest creation paved the way for the current, awful inhabitant of the White House and the national disaster we now wake up to every morning? How does one take a moment, upon the news of his death, to pay homage to the man and his accomplishments—without writing about the fact that, despite his vision and ambition, he was privately a horrible monster who preyed on and abused the women he supervised and ended up being driven from his lofty perch? Back there somewhere, I was a magazine editor and once signed off on the choice of Ailes (they were always a group decision of the staff, these choices—I was but one voice) as "TV Executive of the Year"—about six months before details of his disgusting behavior were revealed. (Happily, an angel on my shoulder told me to stop short of putting him on the cover—something that was seriously discussed and considered.) Still, once the bombshell news of his horribleness broke, I argued for rescinding the award after the fact, which did not happen. (The reasoning was that it was his professional accomplishments that had been celebrated, not his personal life, a distinction I certainly appreciate. After all, if everyone in the media or ad business or any business—especially the people who run those businesses—who got a trophy had to give it back once details of their personal lives were exposed, there would be no awards. Yet, in the case of Ailes, my thinking was that what the guy was accused of and eventually lost his job over amounted to much more than an extramarital affair or borrowing the Girl Scout Cookie money from his kid's Hello Kitty purse.) So, how are media outlets treating the delicate balance this morning of singing Ailes' praises while reminding the public of his indiscretions and crimes? The Times' obit, unsurprisingly, has "ousted" as the fourth word, only to be followed in the same sentence by "pushed out." USA Today, likewise, mentions the dark side of Ailes in its lede. CNN makes no mention of Ailes' troubles till the sixth paragraph in. Predictably, the Fox News homepage sports a giant portrait of Ailes at the top, followed by a story that, just as predictably (since the network got publicly shamed and ended up many millions poorer for Ailes' behavior), makes no mention of the details of its godfather's troubled history, limited to the vague line, buried deep, that he'd left Fox in "a cloud of controversy" over allegations he "strongly denied." As usual, the pithiest, most searing commentary is offered via Twitter, where not only is #RogerAiles a trending topic but so is #RogerAilesIsDeadParty. Marc Lamont Hill, Temple University professor and BET and CNN personality, wrote: "Roger Ailes has died. Wow. Sending deep and heartfelt condolences to everyone who was abused, harassed, exploited, and unjustly fired by him." Jeet Heer, senior editor of The New Republic, offered that "Death demands a humane response. Our thoughts & prayers should be with the countless women Roger Ailes sexually assaulted and humiliated." But it is the tweet by "Diane N. Sevenay," the fictional Funny or Die character, that is most on the nose:


Wednesday, May 17

Welcome to Hudson Yards, a Dark, Hulking Icon of a Dystopian, Suburban Manhattan


If this week's issue of New York seems a little thicker than usual, it's because it boasts that truly unusual thing nowadays, for any magazine but especially a weekly or biweekly—a big, fat gatefold cover followed by a multipage advertising promotion for the forthcoming atrocity that is Hudson Yards, the pointless, soulless development on the far, far west side that has made traversing Tenth Avenue a nightmare for drivers, automobile passengers, pedestrians and winos for the better part of the last five years and that promises, when completed, to have Manhattanites who don't live or work in far, far west midtown or far, far west Chelsea making the far, far schlepp over to shop at, eat at and otherwise experience what is basically an overblown, depressing suburban shopping mall—one that will also, as it happens, house the headquarters of corporations like Time Warner, L'Oréal and Coach, thus making it equally a depressing suburban office park. The insert features pithy quotes from the likes of David Chang ("We need to have bigger, bolder visions") and Thomas Keller ("Higher expectation is standard for us"), both among the restaurateurs and shop-keeps banking on the multigazillion-dollar reimagining of the Hudson riverfront. We've all known for some time now about well-heeled department store Neiman Marcus making its New York City debut there, but as the ad details, we can look forward to outposts from other exciting retailers as well. There's Banana Republic, The Body Shop, Kiehl's, Sephora and Zara, just to name a few—in other words, no brands so exotic as to be unknown to your garden-variety, mid-range American mini-mall. And speaking of things that are iconic-slash-suicide-inspiring, what would this new real estate destination be without an overwrought, miserable-looking architectural centerpiece? Here's a sneak peek, from the advertisement, of the multilevel balcony/staircase thingy that will dominate the main courtyard of Hudson Yards:


I'm thinking the inspiration was a honeycomb, mated with an alien ship, mashed up with a sort of DNA double helix and a dash of wig from Pricilla, Queen of the Desert. In other words, a hopeless mess that is not only yet another in the long, long line of exhibits supporting my sincere belief that all architects should be hanged but also a fitting focal point for such a monstrous pile of industrial awful.

Wednesday, May 10

You Were Wrong, Colbert: Fox Reasserts Its Position as the REAL Trump Cockholster


Note the link to the very important related story about Anderson Cooper rolling his eyes during an interview with Kellyanne Conway—the subject of a four-minute panel discussion among an assemblage of outraged Fox News airheads who concurred that Cooper was being "disrespectful." Yes, because some TV newsman reacting to the White House's chief bullshit peddler by rolling his eyes is the real scandal here. #DistractDistractDistract

Tuesday, May 9

Oh Dear, I Believe I Have the Wrong Number!


You may have heard of the award-winning British ad agency called Adam & Eve—but as a Google search reveals, that's not the only type of business to appropriate the names of the original sinners. Now excuse me while I go and look up Balzac. (Thank you, New York—I'll be here all week!)

Saturday, May 6

Paul Ryan Joins List of Most Punchable Faces


For those who don't read or who get their information only from media properties run by Rupert Murdoch, here's why. 

Tuesday, May 2

Never Wear Your Husband: The Times Demonstrates Why Punctuation Matters


I felt somewhat bewildered going through the Times's Met Gala slideshow this morning. Who are these people? I kept asking myself. (The question What the fuck are they wearing? is, meanwhile, a given.) Except for Catherine Deneuve, Madonna, the hostess Anna Wintour herself and a couple of others, I caught myself wondering whether I was looking at A-listers from a fashion event or a bunch of juvenile delinquents who'd gotten into their mothers' makeup. The theme of the so-called Oscars of the East Coast this year was "edgy and asymmetrical." Which to me just seems to be an excuse to wear your pants without having them tailored. While the hottest runway models, actresses and musicians were natural choices for Anna's invitation list, others were a little more curious. Katie Holmes, really? Are we actually still pretending she's famous? Just check out her imperious, austere pose—I think she's played Jackie O so many times now that she thinks she is her. Then there are those obviously invited not so much for their pop culture or fashion cred but rather for their genetic provenance. Like Frances Cobain. The Southern expression "Bless her heart" springs to mind. Luckily, Nick Jonas showed up, which always makes everything, no matter how awful, somehow better, regardless of what he's wearing. Or even if he isn't wearing anything at all. Ever see photos of some big, fancy party and wish you'd been a part of it? In this case, it was more like thanking God you were nowhere near it. And as someone whose own sartorial choices run the gamut from J. Crew (high) to Fruit of the Loom (low), there was no shot of that happening anyway. 

Thursday, April 27

Ivanka Joins SCOTUS, Marge Runs Out of Xanax: The Simpsons on Trump's First 100


OK, so we're all pretty sick of being reminded several times a day that Trump is closing in on his first 100 days in office, but The Simpsons, as usual, nails it. Favorite line, via Homer: "Marge, give the President of the United States some time. He's only 70 years old!" Depressingly, the bit reminds us that we're only 6.8 percent of the way through this shit. Remember when life was simple and we didn't have to wake up every morning terrified of what was going to happen at the White House that day?

Friday, April 21

'Bait-dance': News Orgs Remember Dead Prince With Purple Flood of Cheap Clicks

CNN gives whole new meaning to stealing the pennies off the eyes of a dead man
Call it, "Bait-dance." Or maybe, "Controversy"? "Thieves in the Temple"? How about "Sign o' the Times"? Is there any more suitable way these days to honor a beloved, deceased icon on the one-year anniversary of his death than with a load of cheap content concocted for the sole purpose of making you click? Or if you're Morris Day, is there any more obvious opportunity to make people remember you your dear friend? Prince died a year ago today and every "news" organization is swooping in to take advantage commemorate his life and career—CNN, NBC, Fox, The New York Times, NPR, Variety, Billboard, People, the AP, The Guardian, TMZ, and on ... and on ... and on. No actual news, mind you. It all pretty much boils down to: Prince Is Still Dead, But We All Remember How Great He Was, So Here's to Driving Web Traffic and Pushing a Shit-Ton of Ads. Something tells me that somewhere, Prince is laughing his ass off over all this. Some of the best/worst piss-on-your-grave headlines today:

















Thursday, April 20

A Cover Shot on an iPhone Is Not Clever—It's What's Helping Kill the Magazine Business


So, the cover of the new Bon Appétit was shot on an iPhone. Yeah, that was completely new and different—when Billboard and Condé Nast Traveler did it. It's not that it's a bad picture, and I realize publishers need to do all they can to generate buzz and make magazines cool, but not only is this idea not novel or creative, it also happens to be terrible for the business of magazines. Why would you embrace something that's anathema to your very being? As Bon App's creative director explained: "We wanted to create something our readers could relate to. This is technology completely changing how the publishing and design industries are moving forward." Well, that's a depressing thought for those of us whose life's work is creating content that strives to be more special than what you'd find on a 14-year-old's Instagram feed. Really, this idea that something great can be done not just by talented, experienced professionals with the right training and equipment but by any random person with a phone and a social media account? (The current occupant of the White House comes to mind.) Yes, I understand this was just a "gimmick" and that the picture, while taken with an iPhone, was also done by professionals. But it's the principle. One of the things that print (or at least those magazines that still understand what their strengths are and execute on them) has going for it are the highest quality photographs, produced by phenomenally talented photographers, wardrobe and prop stylists, set decorators, lighting people, makeup artists, retouchers, photo editors, art directors and creative directors, many of whom I have been fortunate to work with over the years. Working with them and watching them do what they do so well has given me tremendous respect for them—and made me appreciate how exceptional their talents are, and how indispensable those talents are to the media ecosystem. It takes a small village and a lot of coin to make a great (and sometimes, a really terrible) photo. Maybe it's not such a surprise that magazines are using pictures taken with a phone when one considers how generally awful looking so many of them have become. Anybody who's read or advertised in a magazine lately can see that certain publishers are aggressively shaving expenses by way of cheaper paper stock, trim sizes that give them all the stature of a pamphlet, and dramatically scaled back photo shoots, which, admittedly, are not an inconsequential investment. It's just that, as a lover of print, I think they need to continue to be an investment. If you're going to do something, do it right, as the old line goes, and if you're going to publish a magazine, then do whatever you must to produce a good magazine or just give it up and start trading Bitcoin or go into pharmaceutical marketing or something. With some exceptions—like Time Inc.'s People, which slashed its cover price by a buck last fall to stop gushing newsstand sales—publishers have discovered that readers will actually pay more if you keep putting out a product that makes it worth the money (note that Condé now charges a steep $8.99 for a copy of The New Yorker—a magazine that, incidentally, has virtually no photos), while nothing will keep the public and advertisers away like gutting yourself in some vain quest for profitability. One more thing: What may be even worse than cheap visuals are the magazines that still pay for ambitious shoots—like a recent issue of Time Inc.'s Entertainment Weekly that featured Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in fun set-ups on the cover and inside spread—but then slap those pictures on paper so appallingly thin and cheap that they needn't have even bothered. (They're called "glossies" for a reason, Mr. Battista.) I realize publishers are running a business that is in decline—but giving consumers and advertisers a substandard product can only hasten the descent. To paraphrase a certain someone near and dear to us all: MAKE MAGAZINES GREAT AGAIN!!

Wednesday, April 19

Gladiators, Crucifixions, the Ice Capades and Tyler Oakley: Why LIVE Is Still Where It's At


It's hardly a stretch to imagine that YouTubers like Tyler Oakley and Lilly Singh, with their multimillions of devoted groupies online, would also be a massive draw live.

But Mike Mills thought of it and you didn't. 

And now, the 40-year-old guy from upstate New York who once ran a magic store and whose big break came when he bet that the sketch comedy series Who's Line Is It Anyway? would translate to the stage—ultimately generating more than 500 shows and $30 million in revenue—has become the king of cross-media programming, working with social media stars and TV celebs like Dog Whisperer's Cesar Milan and Cake Boss's Buddy Valastro to transform their acts into live theater, as Forbes reports in a new profile of Mills.

We all know live is where it's at. Madonna's latest album was a notorious bomb, failing to produce even one charting single—a first in the 30-year-plus career of the pop tartare—and yet Billboard named her Woman of the Year for 2016. Why? Because even though her music sucks and her music sales suck harder, her Rebel Heart tour sold more than 1 million tickets worldwide, generating $170 million and cementing her standing as rock's most profitable live performer and her partner Live Nation's own personal ATM. As PricewaterhouseCoopers noted in its annual report on entertainment and media industry trends, "Touring and festivals are now the lifeblood of the music industry."

It's not just music, as Mike Mills understands so well. Comedian Kathy Griffin could make a perfectly comfortable living doing her top-rated TV specials and writing best-selling books—but she's hitting 50 cities this year, and selling out damn near every one of them. Meanwhile, traditional and digital media companies from Pandora to Vanity Fair, Fast Company to CNBC are expanding their events footprint. 

Some were way ahead of the curve—like Food & Wine magazine, whose Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (which I reported on while gorging myself about town last summer) has been bringing foodies together for three decades. And brand marketers like Kitchen-Aid, Lexus, Patron Spirits and Celebrity Cruises are now lining up to get out in front of all those fans. 

Ain't it fascinating that with all our eyeballs glued to mobile screens and society's generally antisocial leanings, getting thousands of people together in one space for shared joy—an experience as old as the gladiators, crucifixions and the Ice Capades—has become so trendy, and enormously bankable. 

As Mills told Forbes: "What you see on a screen will never compete with seeing someone perform live. When kids see someone onstage, it's like magic."

Monday, April 10

Move Over Pepsi: United Does a Nosedive

Another satisfied United Airlines customer
Don't worry—I'm not going to get all Jerry Seinfeld from the 90s and start ranting about the airlines. At this point, unfortunately, we've all become quite accustomed to the domestic carriers' crappy treatment of their passengers. Even JetBlue—the brand that, when it launched at the millennium, promised it would be different and which was, for a brief, blissful moment, as close to a pleasurable experience as one can get on an airplane these days—has gone the way of its more feeble brothers, squeezing rows in coach to within an inch of their life to make way for premium-class seating and nickel and diming us for checked bags and such.

But this business with United Airlines over the weekend—could it do anything more brazen toward murdering its own reputation and that of the whole industry?

You probably know the story by now—a doctor was forced to give up his seat to make way for a United employee, and when he (correctly) refused was pummeled and dragged off the plane, his fellow outraged passengers videoing the whole, shocking affair. If there's a god up there in those friendly skies, United will suffer a massive financial hit for this by way of a lawsuit.

But United should suffer even more—by losing the brand equity it has so carefully tried to build and the customers it's wooed with its slick marketing campaigns. (You'll recall that just a couple of weeks ago, United had already enraged everybody by kicking two girls off a plane for wearing leggings.)

The other airlines would do well to take note and correct their ways. But of course, they won't. Has any industry worked as hard or as arrogantly—even as it's spent billions on advertising—to damage its own standing in the eyes of the consumer?

The problem is not only United but all the commercial carriers. We all have stories about getting mistreated at the hands of some officious gate agent or flight attendant—probably in the past week alone. (And forget about the clowns who constitute the dreaded TSA.) Aside from the occasional early-morning fragile package handling of a badge-wielding, government-employed "security" moron, we have all routinely suffered as the airlines have overbooked us and packed us into airplanes like so many sardines and talked to us like we're children. It was bound to happen. Post-9/11, a record number of U.S. citizens are flying—to the tune of a mind-boggling 1.73 million each day, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Ah, the wonderful world of deregulation. We all know when air travel truly started sucking—back in 1978, when President Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act, which effectively gave the airlines carte blanche. Soon, grand old carriers like Pan Am and Eastern bit the dust, while the way was paved for the likes of ValiumJet (er, ValuJet), the now-defunct discount airline that in the 90s infamously sent a few hundred passengers plummeting into the gator-infested Everglades after it mishandled cargo and set a plane on fire. Oh, well—a small price to pay for a $49 plane ticket I guess.

The public has paid and continues to pay the price of deregulation—but one group that's greatly benefitted from it are those who make ads for a living. More unfettered carriers means more fliers and more competition and more fare wars, all of which means more marketing. United, American, Southwest, JetBlue, Delta—all spend multimillions of dollars every single year on ad campaigns aimed at convincing you how different they are and how you should entrust them with your travel needs.

The only problem with this is, the public has actually flown, and enough at this point to know that these ads are short on anything resembling the actual customer experience and long on bullshit.

Some airlines don't even seem to be trying anymore—take American's infamous campaign last year, which seemed to blame you, the customer, for that awful flying experience. American was rightly ridiculed for that ad—but hey, at least give them credit for not attempting to paint air travel as a glamorous experience. If chances are you'll be seated beside someone wearing flip-flops and scarfing down chicken wings, it's not glamorous.

On occasion, airline ads can still be creative—those for foreign carriers anyway. There was Royal Jordanian Airlines' clever tweak of Trump prior to the election:


And after his Muslim travel ban blew up:


Earlier, there was this one for Norwegian Airlines right after Brad and Angelina split:


Back here in good old Murica, meanwhile, the United story will eventually fade from the headlines and our collective memory, and the airlines will keep on telling you how wonderful they are, and playing us, the flying public, for a bunch of dupes. But neither advertising nor brand marketers insulting the intelligence of their customers are the issue—the lack of governmental control over an industry on which so many citizens have come to rely is. That's not likely to change with a president who is the greatest advocate of deregulation in the history of the republic now holding the keys to the 737.

Friday, April 7

What a Week! Ad Bosses Hit L.A., Pepsi's Belly Flop, Shaming Schumer, And More!


Tryin' to keep this content fresh, people, really I am. But sometimes a boy's gotta pay the rent.

Traveled to L.A. this week for the annual convention of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (known to all of you as the 4A's, with apostrophe), where I ran into a lot of people I've known awhile (IPG's Michael Roth, 72andSunny's Matt Jarvis, Fast Company's Bob Safian, every ad reporter on Earth) and enjoyed meeting and listening to talks by a few others (Pinterest's Ben Silbermann, Facebook's Andrew Bosworth and MEC's Marla Kaplowitz, incoming CEO of the 4A's).

One of the hot topics was the advertiser boycott of YouTube over ads that pop up alongside objectionable content—Roth addressed it from the stage (contending that marketers, including IPG clients Coke and J&J, were right to take the stand, contrasting with more skeptical execs like WPP chief Martin Sorrell), while Google reps showed up to reassure the crowd it was working overtime to manage the issue, announcing that it had hired multiple third-party firms to monitor videos posted to the site. A lot of people still question how much of an impact that will have considering that 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

One of the better panels had to be "The Agency of the Future" —good stuff from heavy hitters like JWT's Tamara Ingram. Some of the funniest moments from the entire three-day program came by way of that session and Periscope's Liz Ross, who reminded 4A's attendees that numbers are not everything. "We are so in love with data as the answer," she said, "but algorithms don't understand love. If everything were based on an algorithm, we would all be perfectly matched with people and there would be no dating apps." Expect the entertaining, no-b.s. Ross to get invited to do more of these talks.

The most emotional moment was outgoing 4A's CEO Nancy Hill's tearful goodbye after nine-and-a-half years. Hill talked about progress made on issues like technology, measurement, ad blocking, and gender equality and diversity, while not shying away from the ad industry's darker moments, saying she was not "naive enough to believe that some of the alleged bad behavior we read about in the headlines isn't happening"—sexual harassment, racism and sexism among the behaviors she called out. But she stressed that, as an industry, "We are better than that."

The badvertising debacle that is that tone-deaf Pepsi spot with Kendall Jenner had people buzzing this week, not just in L.A. and the industry but everywhere. As with so many marketing flops, the big question was how something so awful could ever have ever snaked its way through the long creative process to make it to air in the first place. Sometimes advertisers boycott vendors to keep their distance from objectionable content—and sometimes advertisers are the objectionable content. It's going to be a long time before Pepsi lives this one down. There's no doubt that if there were an equivalent of the "Razzies" for advertising, Pepsi would sweep. (I was thinking up names for such a prize: "Badvertiser of the Year"? "The Badison Avenue Awards"? Someone on Facebook suggested my favorite, though: "The Garbage Cannes.")

A little busy since I returned on the redeye yesterday morning, I hadn't had a minute to catch up on other media and marketing news—till this evening, when I happened across this ridiculous  "controversy" over Amy Schumer's InStyle cover. Some designer nobody's ever heard of fat-shamed the comedian for wearing a white bathing suit. Really? Scads of magazines, including even the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, have featured women who aren't a size 2 on the cover. Some of the best ad campaigns around, from the likes of Ralph Lauren, MAC Cosmetics and Lane Bryant (whose marketing boss gave a terrific talk at 4A's), happen to feature models who think something more than a bag of airplane pretzels and a Diet Coke constitutes a square meal.

But considering the current climate—where you're nobody till you've attacked somebody in the most public, vicious way, preferably somebody in a less powerful position who never did anything to you, where women's rights are more under siege than they've been in decades and where, almost three months since the inauguration, Hillary continues to get the blame for everything—we no doubt haven't seen the last of this woman-hating crap.

To quote Harvey Fierstein's character in Torch Song Trilogy after learning his kid got sent home from school because of a fist fight, "How 50s."

Tuesday, March 28

It Seems Like Only Yesterday, Doesn't It? Page Six's "Oral History" Marks the 10th Anniversary of Kim Kardashian Sex Tape


I wonder if we will live to see a time when this milestone, this solemn moment in our shared history is properly remembered every year like other important, world-changing events—Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the last public sighting of Richard Simmons? You know, with a towel sale at Macy's? (Via New York Post)

Sunday, March 26

You Deserve a Vacation—LOTS of Vacation


How many weeks of vacation do you get at your job? Two? Three? (And let's not even get into whether you actually take all the time off that's coming to you—or how much you feel compelled to check your email or hop on a conference call during that precious "leisure" time.)

Now, just imagine getting all the time off you need—with pay.

It's no fantasy—it's policy at a marketing company in Indiana.

Colin Receveur, founder and CEO of SmartBox Web Marketing in New Albany, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky., says it's just smart business—two words we don't have the occasion to use together much lately. It certainly makes him among the most forward-thinking business leaders (again, "business" and "leader" concepts that are more or less polar opposites) and makes SmartBox a true oddity in this country, famous for squeezing every ounce of productivity (and as a result, spirit) out of its workers.

"We look at ourselves as a progressive company," explains the exec. "We have a lot of remote time for everybody who works here, and unlimited paid time off "just seemed like the next logical step."

While SmartBox is resolved to give its employees better lives, most of corporate America seems to be headed in the other direction.

More of us than ever are stressed out to the max because of our crappy jobs and brainless and/or boorish bosses and turning to drugs and alcohol, costing companies more than $500 billion a year. All the while, lawmakers are working furiously to strip us of our privacy protections. The vaunted (among cost-slashing employers anyway) "open workspace," where workers are shoved together like so many cars in a Manhattan parking garage, is a trend we have had about enough of. (Who would figure it doesn't promote productivity to have your coworker sneeze on you.) Meanwhile, we keep hearing about companies cutting insurance benefits, retirement contributions—and at the same time, demanding longer hours and more product from a thinner workforce. Is it really such a mystery why so many Americans are bailing from their oppressive corporate jobs?

Those who haven't parachuted out stand a growing chance of getting shoved. This month alone, General Electric, Boeing and Liberty Mutual are among the U.S. corporations to announce widespread furloughs. In the media world, ESPN, American Media, Univision and The Guardian are the latest lining up to lob off heads. And the retail sector, as we all know, is in freefall. JC Penney, Sears, Macy's, Abercrombie & Fitch and GameStop are a just few of the chains to announce this year that they're shutting hundreds of stores, tossing aside thousands of employees in the process.

(Think your company is not only a sinking ship but one that's on fire? Check out these 10 signs that it might be time to elbow your way onto that inflatable raft.)

No wonder the American worker is nervous as hell about his prospects—and our collective ones.

"This truly is the age of uncertainty," one noted economist said recently. No shit. Seriously, who among us doesn't fully expect the stock market to crash any day now? And who knows—maybe even a presidential impeachment along the way?

Sounds like we could all use a nice vacation.

Friday, March 24

Heroine Chic: Classy, Ballsy Chelsea Clinton


From Fran Lebowitz to Stevie Nicks, y'all know by now that all my heroes happen to be heroines. Add another one as of today. I never really had an opinion about Chelsea Clinton one way or another (even though I did vote for her mother and father a number of times, and I didn't much care for that ridiculous, nepotistic stint at NBC News, even though I think that reflected badly on the network, not her). But I love her—and started following her on Twitter—after reading this Times story. It takes deftness and intelligence to respond forcefully, even angrily to things most people with a conscience are bothered by (stuff like, oh I don't know, a congressman saying "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies") but in a way that does not subscribe to the nastiness and pettiness that has come to define political discourse in the age of the reality show president. And as this story points out, if you don't like what she (or I, for that matter) have to say, it's easy—just unfollow.

Thursday, March 23

The Death of 'Taco Bot': A Cautionary Tale for AT&T, YouTube and the Advertising Business


The news that megabrands AT&T and Johnson & Johnson are the latest in a crush of global giants pulling out from YouTube over concerns about their ads appearing next to offensive content has, naturally, focused largely on the site's owner, Google. On the defensive, Google has promised an "extensive review."

But how do you control a robot?

The actions of one advertiser or vendor are the least of this, and its getting resolved seems about as likely as our making Bill Gates un-rich or Kim Kardashian un-famous. The larger issue around this mess is that it's yet one more defeat for the inexorable automation of business. And in particular, it is another black eye for programmatic advertising.

The Times puts it pretty succinctly:

"The issue highlights the continuing risks companies face with programmatic advertising, which sends advertisers' money through a complex web of agencies and third-party networks that resemble a stock exchange before ads appear. As advertisers target people based on their browser history—the reason a pair of jeans in an online shopping cart may follow a person around the web for weeks—and extend their reach to all manner of websites and videos based on how many people are tuning in, they are growing more reliant on technology companies to prevent them from showing up in the wrong places."

"Growing more reliant on technology companies" is the key phrase there.

We all are, of course. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. That would explain that smirk on our faces whenever the end all and be all of technology fails us. Which it always does. But more on that later.

The future has arrived, we keep being told (sold). Virtually every other headline nowadays has to do with bots or A.I. or self-driving cars or automated/artificial/self-cleaning/self-flushing whatever. Are you as sick of it as I am? Granted, I am a person who still considers the Kindle a sign of the downfall of civilization. Not to get on a rant straight out of "Network" or anything, but we're not just "becoming one of Howard's humanoids"—we're there. Any of us could be forgiven for feeling this close to getting replaced by a machine any minute.

(Wait, there's a knock at the door now—is it the Terminator?)

And like the whole of mankind in those movies, we've all pretty much accepted the fact that none of this is good news for us regular old humans. Self-driving cars alone could end up costing as many as 3 million workers their jobs in the U.S., according to one alarming projection. Earlier this month, that annual techie circle jerk down in Texas known as SXSW Interactive featured more than two dozen discussions on stage concerning bots—panels with irresistible titles like "Artificial Improvisation" and "Ready or Not, the Bots Have Risen!" (now if only they could program one to kill me).

It was somewhat reassuring to come across this weird little story this week about the utter debacle that was Taco Bell's magnificent, state-of-the-art taco-making robot, which was tested in a few of its stores in the U.S. back in the early 90s. As the story goes, these nifty devices could make a perfectly beautiful little artery clogger—and that was precisely the problem. They were, well, too perfect somehow. And that, somehow, managed to affect the taste. Bottom line: they stunk. People bitched, as people (especially Americans) will do when their fast food (or anything) isn't to their liking. So the terrific taco bot got the boot.

Of course, technology is far, far beyond where it was all those years ago. Or is it?

For every depressing article or blog post or magazine cover or conference panel about how a robot is gearing up to take my job and burn down my village before murdering me in my sleep, there's another, more comforting tale about how technology is going horribly, horribly wrong—phones (and even washing machines) exploding, self-driving cars running red lights and even killing people, and of course who could forget those algorithm-armed political pollsters last fall not knowing what the fuck was going on? Now, the latest: Google, YouTube and an army of mysterious technological gatekeepers screwing over the very advertisers who keep the whole world afloat.

It's probably too much to hope that, like those Taco Bell executives way back when, we will wake up and realize some things are simply better done by actual human beings. (I can practically hear every millennial media exec howling at the very suggestion.)

So, worry not. There's bound to be road bumps—this stuff's hard! All the visionary men and women now struggling with the noble work of replacing men with machines need only hang in theredo not give up on your dystopian dreams!

(Poor schmucks. Maybe they'd feel better if they had a taco.)

Wednesday, March 22

God Doesn't Want to Have Dinner With You


"My idea of a great literary dinner party is Fran, eating alone, reading a book." -Fran Lebowitz (via The New York Times)

Tuesday, March 21

Rachel Maddow vs. Jim Carrey vs. ... Whoops

Ever notice how chunky glasses make everybody look the same? 
You know, pretentious?

(Oh, never mind.)