Polo Ads, Imperial CEOs and Their Logical Leader|
By Kent Southard
I think it really all goes back to those Polo ads from the 80's, I really, really do. Remember those ads? All those lean people, genetically lean; like race horses. Dressed in so many layers that suggested they had a permanent household staff to iron all the items and set them out in the morning. Long, lean faces, the faces of the landed gentry, the aristocracy, the idle rich. Faces that looked the camera directly in the eye with a smarmy smile that said, 'I just screwed your sister. And you're next.'
I think that's where it started. Pretty soon every formerly plain-vanilla, middle-management, white-on-white white bread guy was wearing a Polo Pony on khaki's, button-down shirts, ties and socks all at once. And he started having this attitude, this air too. As if he was entitled to a substantial position in this life and that affluence should properly be effortless and that work was, how shall we say, 'for the little people?'
The business press right now have tons of articles examining what they term the 'Imperial CEO,' and their style of business that is now coming to such sharp grief. (WorldCom's original name was LDDS, for Long Distance Discount Service. An old girlfriend was head of sales at a long distance start-up that was an early acquisition of LDDS. She said the company was known internally as 'Let's Do it Doggy Style,' and I guess you'd have to say a lot of people did end up getting screwed.) A lot of the press commentary seems to wonder why the daily litany of fresh corporate outrages hasn't ignited a firestorm of public reaction.
Well, I think it's because white male culture years ago bought into this identity of the entitled leisure class. The conventional narrative is that the American economy had become moribund, unimaginative and inefficient by the end of the 70's, and was saved by the 'Reagan revolution' and its attendant conservative business values. I do have a memory of the later 70's as seeming to be the beginning of a crisis in American business - Japanese televisions were taking over the market, American car makers were losing serious market-share. I remember, very clearly the national Dairy Queen organization suing some of its franchisee's for selling a higher quality product than headquarters allowed. I had the strong sense that this was the problem with the American business model - that it was devoted to lowering quality to the lowest levels that an advertising-inculcated public could be induced to sustain.
The American working man was in a state of malaise because the conditions of his employment no longer allowed him the identity granted him previously - that of partaking in honest work to produce an honest product. There was an undeniable corrosion of the spirit; a vacuum waiting to be filled. And so along came those Polo ads, and they just perfectly fit the Reagan years with their message of 'private' power and privilege.
And, after a almost a decade of deficit paying in the 90s, we are back to the the 80s again but with nothing to back up the wealth, no sense of caring for those on the lower rungs and nothing but foxes in the hen houses.
What else is a towering SUV but a corner office on wheels, with every driver an imperial CEO, if only in their own mind? How to take offense at the crimes caused by the shameless egotism of criminal CEO's, when shameless egotism has at times during these past two decades been the fashion for everyone who could afford it?
It might be a good time to note that few, if any, of those 70's problems have been addressed - American made televisions only found in museums; American car companies have largely given up making actual cars, instead selling cheaply engineered SUV's with large markup's. General Electric was re-made by Jack Welch to be a company where the majority of its business now relies on its financial arm and where accounting slights of hand are more easily accomplished. In the country that invented commercial aviation and used to boast of several makers of commercial airliners, sole survivor Boeing has moved its headquarters to Chicago with the aim of, yes, trying to make 50% of its business from flipping numbers in the financial district. The whole economy of the country has been trashed and replaced with companies that do little more than blow smoke rings that disappear into thin air.
And the present resident of the White House, George W. Bush - you know that little smirk he's known by? Compare it to that in the Polo ads. Yeah, same one isn't it? Saying the same thing, isn't he? Yup, pretty much.