"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Better selling through anthropology
By: Thomas Frank

Advertising is a means of contributing meaning and values that are necessary and useful to people in structuring their lives, their social relationships and their rituals.

--from a British pamphlet
introducing Account Planning

It is an easy thing, I admit, even in this high noon of the bull market, to scoff at the dot corns, the hedge funds, the silicon millionaires, the day traders, and all the other ephemera of prosperity. But beneath all the prodigious bubbling, counsel the wise, stands an institution as solid and reliable as U.S. Steel: the Brand. But the Brand is a complex thing, not easily understood by the earthbound and the pessimistic. Its power is not a matter of simple force, of the workery brawn celebrated in WPA murals; nor does our faith in the Brand resemble the naive patriotism of the early Cold War. The brand, correctly understood, is a relationship, a thing of nuance and complexity, of irony and coy evasiveness. We are at once skeptical of consumer culture and more ravenous consumers than ever, easily seeing through the clumsy sales pitches that convinced our parents and grandparents, and yet continuing to hum the Lite-Brite jingle to ourselves more than fifteen years after it ceased appearing on TV. Brands are special things to us Americans, interactive myths that earn our loyalty through endless repetition and constant adjustment by people of learning and subtlety.

I have spent some time in the company of those people, the individuals charged with overseeing the brand relationship. They call themselves "Account Planners," and although their field is a relatively new addition to the organizational flowcharts of Madison Avenue, Account Planning has already captured the imagination of "New Economy" enthusiasts everywhere. Its Stalinist-sounding name notwithstanding, Planning is insurrectionary stuff. Not only is it identified with the sort of places where future-envisioning "change agents" are always making heroic revolution on the old rules but its every advance hastens the achievement of full consumer democracy, that imagined free-market utopia wherein each empowered customer can make his or her voice heard in the great public agoras of Onshopping mall or Internet.

One of the first things I learned after arriving last July at Boston's Westin Hotel was that one did not come to gatherings of Account Planners dressed in a gray flannel suit. I had hoped to make myself inconspicuous by wearing the stereotypical adman's costume of the 1950s; I accomplished exactly the opposite. Not only were a majority of the Planners female and a good number of them British, but I appeared to be the lone square in an auditorium full of high-budget hipsters. They had arrived at the Westin in white synthetic T-shirts stretched tightly over black brassiere, in those oblong spectacles favored by European intellectuals, in hair that had been bleached, bobbed, and barretted after the Riot Grrl style. The men, for their part, wore four- and five-button leisure suits and sported corporate goatees and pierced noses. One group of Planners periodically donned bright red fezzes; another set wandered around in camouflage. The sight of so much visible extremeness did what it no doubt was intended to do: it threw me, in my obsolete garb, into instant and compound self-doubt.

There were fully 750 people at the Account Planning Conference, a number that seemed to startle everyone. The previous year's gathering was said to have been more "radical" but drew only around 500; a year before that it was an intimate affair of only 300. Planning has about it the air of a youth subculture that is on the cusp of going mainstream: It began in Britain in the corporate-revolutionary days of the 1960s and until quite recently had attracted only a handful of American initiates. But now, as talk of revolution once again blazes through the nation's office blocks, even the less tuned-in agencies are setting up Planning Departments, a fact that seemed vaguely to annoy several of the younger Planners I spoke to. One of these actually warned me against "Fake Planners," agency opportunists who know no more about the mystery and the mission of Planning than they do about Altaic verb conjugation. No one actually came right out and complained that Planning's newfound popularity in the American hinterland meant that it had lost its edge or sold out to The Man, but the feeling was difficult to miss.

What has permitted Planning to infiltrate the world of American business with so little notice, I suspect, is its name. The term "Account Planning" seems almost designed to disguise the profession as just another unremarkable component of the "Fordist" order (a term that was actually used in one Planner's pre sentation). But we live in an age of public skepticism and heightened sensitivity to every subtle shading of the advertising form, and it is not enough simply to dream up a pleasant-sounding jingle and a sleek-looking logo back at corporate headquarters. In a time when markets are routinely understood as the ultimate democratic form, as an almost perfectly transparent medium connecting The People with their corporations, Planners function, or believe they function, as interpreters of and advocates for the popular will. Planning thus turns out to be virtually the opposite of what its name implies. I would hear again and again over the course of the weekend how advertising people must change their ways to acknowledge the fact of market democracy, how they must abandon their various fixed ideas, how they must "talk to consumers" and initiate an "agenda-free discussion" and "let consumers direct your plan." And to assist them in "uncovering the rational and emotional components of a product's Brand Essence," as one Planner's job description read (yes, with caps in the original), Planners enlist any number of audience-research techniques. I would hear about getting at the Essence of the Brand with the help of techniques such as "beeper studies," "fixed-camera analysis," "shadowing," "visual stories," brainstorming sessions with celebrities, and, of course, focus groups, which some Planners seem to invest with an almost holy significance.

Account Planning is postmodern cultural democracy come home to Madison Avenue complete with all its usual militancy against master narratives and hierarchical authority, its cheerleading for the marginalized, its breathless reverence for the wisdom of everyday people, and its claim to hear the revolutionary voice of the subaltern behind virtually any bit of mass-cultural detritus. Only one thing seems to be wrong: these enthusiastic, self-proclaimed vicars of the vox populi are also, almost to a person, paid Tagents of the Fortune 500.

The Planners were addressed on the first day of their conference by Gerry Laybourne, the former head of Nickelodeon and occupant of the no. 20 spot in Fortune's list of the "Fifty Most Powerful Women in American Business," who was introduced as someone "known for creating incredibly profitable media brands by always putting the consumer first." A woman who confessed to having "epiphanies" during focus-group sessions and who referred to target demographics as "constituents" for whom she aimed to "make life better," Laybourne embodied Account Planning's combination of corporate power and effusive, hyperdemocratic populism. Perched on a tall stool and gently prompted by the solicitous questions of a Planner associate, she described for us the bleak world of TV programming before the dawn of Laybourne, a time when her former employer "believed you should shout down a pipe" to reach your audience. At this the audience murmured scornfully: they knew it was all about listening, respect, dialogue, interactivity--and they knew what was coming next. Laybourne described the Nickelodeon focus group in which the revelation had come:

[W]e asked kids a very innocuous question: "What do you like about being kids?" And in four different rooms, with these kids who were ten years old, we got a barrage of stuff back. "We're afraid of teenage suicide, we've heard about teenage drunk driving, we've heard about teenage pregnancy, we're terrified about growing up, our parents have us programmed, we're being hurried, we don't have a childhood."

So I stopped the re search and I said, "Just go in and ask them what Nickelodeon can do for them." And in all four groups: "Just give us back our childhood."... And that became our battle cry. That became our platform.

Now, with childhood back in the hands of its rightful owners, with access to Rugrats and Bewitched assured in perpetuity, the demographic battle lines had been drawn and fortified.

"We were clearly on the side of kids," Laybourne continued, "clearly their advocate, and we were never going to turn our backs on them."

But the work of empowerment-through-listening went on. There were other demographics to liberate, and Laybourne told the Planners how she and her new organization, Oxygen Media, were preparing to launch a new "entertainment brand" for women, a segment of the population that sounded just as lovable in Laybourne's telling--as misunderstood, as monolithic, and as desperate for accurate media representation-as the kids themselves. Although the exact nature of the programming to which Laybourne's new brand was to be affixed remained mysterious throughout her talk, she did let drop that the ideal medium for it would be the Internet, which she described as a living embodiment of her notion of democracy through dialogue. Growing audibly indignant, Laybourne switched into protest mode, railing against the arrogance of those who

think that they can put a structure on this thing. But the Internet is an organism, and they are trying to put mechanisms on top of an organism. It won't work. It's too powerful. Once people taste freedom--this is the United States of America, we've got that in our blood. This is a revolution that will be led by kids.., and I hope women as well.

No revolution is complete without reactionaries, real or imagined, and so Laybourne let us know where she and her new brand drew the line, stopped listening, and started excluding-namely at Southern Baptism, which had recently made the subjection of women an official element of its credo. "I don't think that our brand is going to appeal to those Southern Baptist men," she remarked tartly. The ad execs erupted in laughter and applause.

But in the revolution against institutional hierarchy that continues to embroil the republic of business, Laybourne was a moderate and slow-moving Girondin compared with the Jacobins of the British St. Luke's agency, which had dispatched Planner Phil Teer to inspire his American comrades with tales of upheaval and progress at "the agency of the future." St. Luke's was nothing less than a syndicalist agency, its ownership shared uniformly by each employee. Teer was said to have come to advertising only after working as a critic of the tobacco industry, which bestowed upon him a credibility that not even Laybourne's focus-group epiphanies could match. His irreverent, self-effacing way of talking won the instant enthusiasm of the audience. He showed us slides that contained the word "fuckin'." He spoke in a working-class Scottish accent, which, he acknowledged, made him difficult for Americans to understand but which also demonstrated the progress of the revolution: "It used to be, a year ago, we always sent nice, middle-class, Oxfordeducated, public school boys to talk at conferences for St. Luke's." Surely this was the real thing at last.

Teer did not disappoint. He passed the next hour alternately extolling the artistic idealism that burned at his agency and tersely proclaiming the slogans of the business revolution. "If we stop exploring, we'll die," he said. "Work is leisure," read one of his slides. "Transform people," insisted another, flashing on the screen while Teer told of the liberation of the admen: the story of the security guard who now "dances to jazz funk as he does his rounds," the former suit-wearing executive who is now "a shaven-headed DJ." Not only had St. Luke's freed its employees to participate in the subculture of their choice but it had also invented such boons to productivity as "hot desking," a system in which people worked wherever they wanted in the company's unstructured office. "Abolish private space, and you abolish ego," Teer proclaimed. Even agency performance reviews had been revolutionized (the chairman was reviewed by a receptionist), apparently along the lines of the criticism/self-criticism sessions once fashionable on the Maoist left. But the people of St. Luke's were less interested in smashing the state than in "killing cynicism."

Not surprisingly, the ads produced by syndicalist admen turned out to imagine the brands in question as the contested terrain of social conflict. For Ikea, St. Luke's had imagined a cultural revolution in which the women of England rise up against chintz, a symbol of the old order as loathsome as cold desks or middle-class public school boys. "Chuck out that chintz. Come on, do it today," ran the jingle, sung to acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Planners boisterously endorsed the call for People's War on chintz with waves of enthusiastic cheering.

After the Planners had talked enough chaos and revolution for one day, they descended on gleaming, polished escalators past the Palm steak restaurant, the elite pen shop, and the indoor waterfall, and were ferried by buses disguised as trolleys to the Massachusetts State House, where they were welcomed by a platoon of men dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms and ushered up to one of four or five open bars dispensing microbrews and Maker's Mark.

"Anyone can make an identical product," one adman told me as we relaxed in a gallery of patriotic artifacts from Boston s heroic period. Why do we choose one over another?" I listened to assorted rumors about Red Spider, the mysterious Scottish Planning consultancy whose representatives had conducted an extremely exclusive all-day training session at the conference. I was told by one Planner that your company's check must clear the bank before Red Spider will even leave Scotland; by another, that Red Spider never distributes anything that has been written down; by a third, that their instruction is done in a mystical master-to-acolyte approach; by a fourth, that their instruction takes a simple fiction-writing-seminar approach; and by a fifth, that in fact Red Spider will distribute things that are written down, it's just that the guy who was supposed to bring the written materials got sick.

Many Planners are former graduate students from the social sciences, a woman from a Chicago-area agency told me. It's "Margaret Mead meets the Marlboro Man." A man in two--one glasses from one of the more creative New York agencies informed me that Planners are outsiders in a Peyton Place industry, both ethnically and institutionally.

"That's the mystique of the Swiss Army Knife," came an earnest voice from a nearby table. "Now, when you put that on a sweatshirt..."

For me, the most telling fact about Account Planning is that its practitioners do not speak of it as a job or a workaday division of agency labor. Planners refer to what they do--and almost universally, it seems--as "the discipline." The academic pretensions that the word carries are intentional: even casual talk at the conference, although not academic jargon per se, was often phrased so as to imply familiarity with academia, with other "disciplines," with realms of learning and expertise that lay far beyond the usual narrow purviews of Madison Avenue.

A number of senior Planners, I was told, hold advanced degrees in various very sophisticated fields. One Planner related to me how "my insight on the meaning of [a brand] came from evolutionary psychology." Another compared the goings-on at his agency to the intellectual freedom and self-questioning that takes place at universities. Gerry Laybourne had told us that "this whole planning process" she was undertaking prior to launching Oxygen made her "feel like I've been in graduate school." And again and again I came across the word "ethnography," used sometimes to describe what is normally called "market research" and on other occasions as a handy, compact definition of the discipline itself.

The only bona fide Ph.D. I came across at the conference, however, was Rick Robinson, a social psychologist whose speech had introduced the Planners to E-Lab, the Chicago-based consultancy he headed. Robinson littered his talk promiscuously with juicy bits of academese. He repeatedly reminded the assembled admen of his postgraduate credentials, implied that he spoke both German and ancient Greek, read a quote from anthropologist Clifford Geertz (in which Geertz himself quotes Max Weber), and asked us not to confuse a book he wrote with a similarly titled one by Aldous Huxley. He told us about "theories of narrative behavior" and prefaced one story by remarking, "If this is Perception 101, I apologize."

In some hotel ballroom in some distant city, perhaps, Babbittesque businessmen were still inspiring one another with exhortations to think positively and with crude pep talks evolved only slightly from the halftime originals. Maybe they were still cursing the "tenured radicals" who had distracted our youth from their rightful concerns with leaders and forward passes. Here, though, the arcana of cultural studies and anthropology were exactly what the Planners had come to absorb. It was helpful to think of the brand as a myth, Robinson said, a primal tale of hero and archetype. Unfortunately, though, most brands were related to consumers haphazardly: "disparate" and "distributed" were the terms Robinson actually used, meaning that a company's 30-second commercials didn't always dovetail with consumers' actual experiences of the product in question. And so Planners, whose job it was to transform these bits and pieces into what Robinson called "a mythic whole," were sometimes forced to call in the heavy intellect to put things right.

Enter E-Lab, which, as its promotional literature puts it, "specializes in providing a deep understanding of everyday experience through a variety of innovative, ethnographic methods." Robinson described some of them for us: questioning people about products while they're actually using them, mounting cameras in stores or homes so that the ethnographers can observe exactly how we go about buying coffee or watching TV. As Robinson showed us slides from the latter operation, distorted and grainy like surveillance-camera views of convenience-store holdups, his language of benign academic understanding morphed into a language of imperial control. A brand's myth is everyday experience for consumers, he noted, and "if you can understand experience, you can own it."

This rather startling remark was the closest anyone at the conference would come to the sort of sales-through-domination language that was once such a standard part of advertising-industry discourse. It had now been fully forty years since Vance Packard used a bookful of such manipulative talk to send the industry into the public-relations tailspin from which it has never really recovered. In those days, advertising executives were in the habit of comparing themselves to scientists: they were "engineers of consent," as one famous title had it, masters of applied psychology who were as certain of which sales pitches worked and which didn't as the lab-coated Authorities who peopled their works. In the Sixties, and partially in response to the tidal wave of doubt whipped up by Packard's accusations, admen changed their minds: now they were artists, temperamental geniuses whose intolerance for order and hierarchy was shared by the insurgent consumers they imagined clamoring to purchase all those cars, cigarettes, and air conditioners. These days, with the media world grown as fragmented as the American demographic map, the sales fantasy du jour is anthropology.

It is important to distinguish this professional fiction of the Planners from more standard corporate anthropology: all those practical efforts to increase productivity by studying shop-floor behavior, or to avoid "insensitivity" when building a new factory in some distant clime. Those varieties of corporate anthropology require real anthropologists, formally trained scholars who, the literature on the subject warns, tend to bring all sorts of troublesome "values" to the job with them. The admen here were as much anthropologists as their forebears were scientists when they donned white lab coats and sat for the cameras before a bookcase full of Encyclopaedia Britannicas. What they had taken from anthropology was attitude alone.

And for good reason. Anthropology allows advertising to do what it does in the democratic language of sensitivity and empowerment. To understand production and consumption as "rituals" is to remove them entirely from the great sweep of history and enlightenment, to place them beyond criticism. To understand demographic groups as "tribes," and admen as sympathetic observers, is both to celebrate the relationship and to ensure that any resulting exchange takes place in a rigorously circumscribed context. The business writer Tom Peters coined the phrase "the brand called you" to describe techniques for career building; applied to advertising, the phrase acquires a much creepier significance. What the Planners are planning is, quite literally, you.

"Chaos had been last year's planning buzzword, and this year it seemed to boast two discrete schools of elaboration. Adepts of a happy chaos foresaw opportunity everywhere, whereas those theorizing a pessimistic chaos believed that extinction lurked around every corner. Either way, Account Planning was being touted as a crucial navigating tool, a compass without which clients would either fail to profit from chaos or fail to avoid chaos's pitfalls.

Ted Nelson of the Mullen agency cleaved to the happy chaos camp. With a series of slides depicting fractals, the growth of musical genres, and a tangled landscape of strip-mall signs, he impressed upon a small audience in a hotel conference room the notion that "life is getting complicated." Clearly brands "based on consistency" were, like the master narratives invented by all those dead white males, in for some pretty rough debunkings; meanwhile, brands that dared to acknowledge and accept chaos could prosper. As Nelson got carried away with his subject, "chaos" began to sound less like an unavoidable state of affairs and more like a rosy and ultra-democratic utopia that Planners needed to work desperately to bring about. Until the day that Planning was practiced as he had counseled, Nelson warned, "the existing paradigm will not be subverted."

Others understood "chaos" differently, as something closer to "evasion" or, simply, the "cynicism" denounced by so many of the conference's dominant paradigm subverters. And confronting that evasiveness, that cynicism, that towering doubt was, ultimately, what Planners were charged with doing.

No brand had enjoyed more success over the years than Nike, with its ubiquitous swoosh and its creepy soft-totalitarian NikeTown shops in the big cities. At the same time, no brand had suffered as much for its accomplishments. In the wake of revelations about its labor practices and its unpleasant encounters with Michael Moore and Doonesbury, Nike had gone from signifying athletic excellence to symbolizing everything that was wrong with global capitalism: multi-millionaire athletes and starvation wages in Indonesia. So it was inevitable, perhaps, that as the Account Planning Conference drew to a close, we should all have been brought together into one room to hear two dramatic accounts of Nike's recent travails and of the heroic work of the Planners to whom the company had turned.

One day, Nike had decided to sell special shoes to skateboarders. But there was a problem. Not the obvious problem of whether or not skateboarders actually required special shoes but the problem of skater resistance. As Kelly Evans-Pfeifer of the Goodby, Silverstein agency spun the tale, the problem when Nike "decided to get into the skateboarding market" was that "skateboarders did not want them there." Skateboarding, it turned out, was "an alternative culture" populated with difficult people who "don't really like this attention they're getting from mainstream companies." The cultural task the Planners faced was not to decide whether this hostility was deserved or warranted but to liquidate it:

[T]he objective for the advertising was not to reach a certain sales goal but rather it had a more basic, grass-roots task, which was that it needed to begin to start a relationship between Nike and skateboarders, and make skateboarders think that it wasn't such a bad thing that Nike was going to get involved.

Nike had wanted the agency to run commercials featuring superstar skaters doing tricks at skating arenas, but the Planners at Goodby saw through that in an instant: the thing to do was to talk to "real" skaters, who do their tricks on the outdoor walkways, planters, and banisters of corporate America. And what the Planners found was that skaters believe that they are the victims of a culture war all their own, that they are persecuted unjustly by intolerant cops and suburban city councils. The key to bringing skaters into the brand's fold, then, was to transform Nike from an enemy into a sympathizer, "to acknowledge and harness all those feelings of persecution." The ads that resulted asked, amusingly, what it would look like if other athletes were harassed and fined the way skaters so routinely are. In focus groups done to test the commercials, Evans-Pfeifer told us, skaters "came in completely hostile to Nike: 'Nike's the man, they don't know anything.'" But, post-viewing, "they said, 'God, man, that's totally coming from a skater's view. That's awesome that that's going to be out there.'" This was a campaign with "grass-roots objectives," she reminded us, and it garnered "grass-roots results." The Nike 800 number, ordinarily a conduit for complaints, she said, began to receive a shower of congratulations: skaters asked for a copy of the commercials to show during their court dates. Then she displayed the cover of the May 1998 issue of Big Brother, a skateboarding magazine, and proudly related to us the campaign's crowning victory: in an issue denouncing "corporate infiltration" of the subculture, the publication had singled Nike out for praise.

Pamela Scott and Diana Kapp, another team of Planners from the same agency, began their presentation by reminding us how "Nike has been stewing in a bit of negativity for the last couple of years." "We realized that there was a distance and certainly a disconnect that [young people] were experiencing with the brand," the Planners told us. Again that dread cynicism was tearing people and their brands apart! The Planners rolled up their sleeves and prepared to "address this negativity by re-injecting authenticity and credibility back into the brand." To make their advertisements effective, Scott and Kapp needed to find a sport as distant as possible from Nike's traditional advertising approach, discredited now with its excesses of money and celebrity. So they set about studying high school girls' basketball and packaging it into an elaborate pitch for the Nike brand. The two ad women told us how they embarked on an ethnographic fact-finding tour throughout the South, "inner-city Philly," and other regions where authenticity can be mined cheaply and plentifully. They narrated with the enthusiasm of a post-vacation slide show how they had encountered all manner of curious "rituals" among the girl athletes they found and how they had come across "the most unselfconscious laughter you've ever heard"; they played a recording of an exotic-sounding high school cheer and showed us black-and-white photos of serious-looking teenagers staring past the camera like Dust Bowl farmers in a Dorothea Lange picture. And then they told us how they went about putting that authenticity to work for Nike.

NCAA rules forbade the agency to film an actual high school team, so the agency invented a replica team to reenact the unsullied love of sport that the Planners had witnessed on their tour. A group of high school-age girls was duly recruited and dispatched to basketball camp, where they were assigned to "build their own relationship, their own sisterhood, that we could reflect with great authenticity on film." The squad was dubbed the Charlestown Cougars and made the subject of intentionally low-budget-looking commercials that document the team's arduous, unsung road to a fictitious state championship. The commercials stretched to push all of our authenticity buttons: the timeless black-and-white imagery, the heroic slow motion at crucial points, the unpolished voice-overs, the women's voices humming church spirituals in the background. Consumers, the duo assured us, found the authenticity convincing. We heard of Web-site hits and plaintive messages from real-life high school girls. But the campaign wasn't to be judged in terms of Nike sales alone, the adwomen insisted, for the ads were about "raising consciousness" as well. They worked not merely commercially but "to build role models for young girls." The audience of Planners erupted once more.

When I was in graduate school, it was a pedagogical given that the turn from studying the makers of culture to examining the way culture was received and experienced was a liberating development. Liberating not merely in the sense of scholarly opportunity, in that it was now permissible to study subjects that had formerly been considered unworthy; this stuff was politically liberating as well. Certainly the new pedagogies had all the right enemies: Southern Baptists, undersecretaries from the Reagan Administration infuriated by textbooks' failure to pay homage to national heroes, newspaper columnists angered to derangement by the parade of sin at the MLA. As the culture wars got loudly under way, what was less frequently remarked upon were the sundry ways in which the rhetoric of cultural studies mirrored the new language of market research.

Today, though, it is impossible to overlook. What we are wandering into at this fin de siecle is not "culture war" but a strange cultural consensus between business and its putative opponents, a consensus in which both sides agree on the obsolescence of social class and heavy industry and in which both sides shamelessly abuse the language of popular consent. It is a consensus in which even the most stridently radical of disciplines feed ever more directly into the culture industry, in which it no longer surprises anyone when Ogilvy & Mather trawl for anthropology Ph.Ds who have "no ideological or moral objections to consumption/materialism." As is the way with all such things, it is a consensus that seems impossible to resist.

Prizes distributed, conference adjourned, and several hours still before my plane back to the Midwest, I walked out of the Westin Hotel and down Newbury Street. It was eighty degrees and sunny, a great day for being seen in a public place with a Penguin Classic. I wandered past the Boston Public Library and on into the magic landscape of sunglass boutiques, Au Bon Pains, record stores and vegetarian restaurants, and the slow chum of Lexuses and BMWs. Before me lay that gorgeous parade of commerce where anthropology grad students mingled comfortably and understandingly with less enlightened shoppers, where the old conflicts were as meaningless as the heavy, oxidizing statues of abolitionists on the next avenue over.

Even the Tufts-educated barman smiled. In fact, he was ecstatic at my presence. Next year he would be moving on to the State Department, maybe, or Morgan Stanley. But this year was good enough for him. He complimented my choice of Famous Grouse over Dewar's. He meant to see to it that my Scotch-drinking experience was a peak one. Three times did the goateed counter guy at the Burger King (Boston University) inquire whether I had been provided sufficient salt. I floated down the street in my new green tie, past the Armani Exchange where the Planners in fezzes were dining at a sidewalk cafe, giggling and gesturing, rocking backward and upward in crescendoing paroxysms. I could feel my journalistic cynicism fall from me like the unsubtle enthusiasms of my youth, and we were all of us as one under the empowering gaze of Ronaldo, exotic of the moment, who looked hopefully down on us from the windows of NikeTown.

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