S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 

 
S Stands for Sell

 

[TED]

"...10010011001100010101111011"

 

The wildly enthusiastic laughter

and applause tells me I've

walked in on the tail-end of a

joke - a joke with the most

depressing punchline ever. Then

again, Peter Bergman knows his

crowd, loves his crowd, and like

most of the speakers at TEDSell

in Monterey, is playing to his

crowd. As with any stand-up

comic, the Firesign Theater

co-founder is attempting to

resolve some sort of anxiety,

with TEDSell's most distinctive

anxieties being those engendered

by 15-hour days worth of

half-hour lectures by the people

who consider themselves the

"media elite" (and have the

financial reports to prove it.)

Bergman's corny lines about

karaoke being the pioneer form

of interactive entertainment and

about Bill Gates as the Kubla Khan

of the Nerds, combined with his

audacity to engage in a long

middle-age variant on rap,

replete with lines rhyming

"Orange County Inspector" with

"pocket protector" leave the

crowd in stitches. By the time

he explains how he's royalty in

cyberspace ("they call me the

duke, duke, duke, duke of URL,

URL, URL..."), I'm envisioning

myself being amused if I survive

with my integrity, or at least my

pseudonym, intact.

 

Deductible or not, few of us could

afford to hobnob with the cabal whose

media elimination surrounds our lives.

Rather than waiting for the assorted

speakers to hold court in glossy

entertainment rags, a series of 7 Suck

snapshots may help reassure the notion

that loopy distraction is as pervasive

in conglomerate boardrooms as it is

in your smoke-filled flat. Alternatively,

you could always scrub the mess and

catch a late showing of Happy

Gilmore. Your choice.

 

[With the Gray of the Beard Comes Wisdowm]

At times it seemed that the only

clouds visible on TEDSell's

horizons were snowy cumulus, a

shade not unreflected in the

immaculately groomed white

beards of many of the attendee

statesmen. Though they may have

been aiming at some kind of

benevolent Santa Claus-like

statement, they seemed closer in

spirit and flesh to such

esteemed visionaries as L. Ron

Hubbard or late-night crackpot

Dr. Gene Scott.

 

[TEDSell]

Of course, TEDSell is just an

offshoot of an entire line (also

in the family is M, for TED Medical).

Witt each show's attendance fees

hovering over $2K a head,

TEDSell founder Richard Wurman

can probably more than afford

the dues at the yacht club. In turn,

these fees are likely dwarfed by the

pervasive sponsorship revenues -

everything from the Samsung

breaks and Intel receptions to

the Adobe and AT&T dinners. One

would hardly guess that Wurman

actually has a list of

credentials as long as his

receipts are wide, working in

the intriguingly vague field of

"information architecture" as

creator of the Smart Yellow

Pages and U.S. Atlas.

Many people love this man,

including himself.

 

[I Consider Seniors The Digital Homeless.]

Nicholas Negroponte is the

epitome of something - his back

page placement in Wired points

in the direction of what.

Nicholas's son Dimitri, who more

than gets by as some variety of

consultant for Europe's answer

to AOL, Video Online, shares

neither his father's myoptimism,

his sparsely-punctuated depth,

nor his bewildering placement on

the NY Times Bestseller List.

Even so, just as Goofy's hipster

son Max occasionally reminds one

of his father's still-mysterious

genes, Dimitri was able to

elegantly summarize his relative

disappointment with this year's

TED: "The future just doesn't

seem as far away as it used to

be. Everything we talked about

five years ago has happened, and

nothing new is taking its

place."

 

[Goof Troop]

For his part, Nicholas used his

onstage time to polish a few

carelessly-buffed pearls on the

almost universal digital

literacy of the

sixteen-and-under set, the

"Machiavellian" self-subverting

wording of the CDA, and revenues

made vs. holdings spent on the

Web (catalog sales, he notes, is

a $60 billion industry even if

the production and marketing

costs are steep). So what if his

quasi-crackpot vagaries on

wearable computing enabling data

exchange with a physical

handshake doesn't jibe with his

quizzical protests that

cyberspace is actually safer

than the real world ("the

physical world is a mess") -

consistency is a character flaw

in the propheteer industry. Upon

return I fired off an email to

the Suck Ad Sales staff, quoting

Negroponte's conveniently snotty

dismissal of buying ads on

search engines, which is like

"posting billboards in the

tunnels between train stations."

 

[Tunnel]

As he touched on security and

privacy, one soundbite screamed

loudest: his observation that

the $200 trillion a year banking

industry is exempt from

encryption export laws. Later in

the conference, attorneys

Frankfurt and Spiegal wryly note

that copyright law is the trickiest

exception to the 1st Amendment.

 

[Computers Are Cool For Girls.]

In ye times olden, the audience's

clapping of hands didn't signal

praise, but disapproval. As

Karin Lippert, ex-marketer for

Ms. and principal of PC/Girls

finished her presentation, one

could argue she was treated to just

such a cruel display of retrofuturistic

frustration. The high point for the

TEDSell crowd was the rolling of

the girl-focused Nike "If you

let me play" spot. Otherwise,

Lippert's run-on monologue about

including girls in the new media

worldview met with a soft chorus

of seat-shuffling, leg-crossing,

foot-tapping, and exaggerated

yawning. "I could go on or I

could stop," she was heard to

wonder out loud before the

thunder of palms rendered

continuation unthinkable.

 

[We Share A Friend In Barbie.]

Mattel Development VP Doug Glen's

exposition on his company's

stabs at progressive gender

politics may not have struck

home for the attendees but

everyone was at least amused.

His recounting of Barbie's

radical history reaped the kind

of deep laughter Peter Bergman

would've died for, as the crowd

showed itself to be acutely

tickled by spots which

illustrated how world-wide

girlhood "shares a friend in

Barbie." Equally mirthful were

the demonstrations of Barbie

fashion software (Virtua Barbie)

encouraging the dormant cyber

tendencies in budding

seamstresses. Lest you think

Glen out-of-touch, a montage of

Barbie commercials showed the

unnaturally svelte plaything

recording the achievements of

the women's movement - she had

an American express card in the

60's, was an astronaut in the

70's and a doctor and lawyer in

the 80's. Might as well have

been a documentary.

 

[Barbie]

It's apt that Glen's discussion

on children at TEDSell would

begin not with a statement on

the future of youth being the

most tangible legacy of our

present, but with the

observation that they have the

combined purchasing power in the

ballpark of US $17 bil. The

worldwide kid culture is

overriding ethnic culture, Glen

claims, adding that Mattel is

the biggest seller of girl's

toys in the world. Their secret?

Selling the dream of

transformation. Let's get

vicarious with Barbie!

 

[I Have No Idea What You're Talking About.]

"I have no idea what you're

talking about, and I wonder if

you do." With this barb,

literary agent John Brockman

pinches a nerve and grabs laffs

at the expense of

chart-flaunting Doblin Group

principal Larry Keeley during a

rare TEDSell Q&A. Later that

night, he offers me

congratulations - for what, I

don't know. On meeting Gary

Wolf, he announces that Wolf's

Wired feature on Marshall

McLuhan was "very interesting -

but wrong." Then he commenced to

hold court with personal

recollections of McLuhan,

legendary adman Howard Gossage

and provocative media turncoat

Jerry Mander. He fits in the

mold of the classic long-winded

but compelling raconteur,

punctuating his soliloquies with

a flurry of nervous tics and

involuntary jerks that are oddly

cool. After soliciting my ideas

about publishing, he responds by

rapidly (and perhaps wisely)

dismissing both website and my

interest in pamphleteering:

"Won't make a dime."

 

[S]

Still, before we part, he makes a

point of congratulating me

again. (It is, however, hard to

glean satisfaction - neither of

us understands what precisely

I'm being congratulated for.)

Days later, studying Brockman's

career through interviews found

on the Web, it becomes clear

that his apparent dismissal of

Keeley was more likely a coded

invitation for Keeley to take

advantage of Brockman's

not-insignificant skills. His

list of clients includes decades

worth of both tangential and

inscrutable thinkers.

Someday,with the help of this

man, I will sell bridges and

swamps.

 

[Retailing Is In Trouble.]

Bourgeoisified rebellion was never

mapped more succinctly than by

Shaheen Sadeghi, founder and

president of The Lab's

Anti-Mall, an Orange County

experiment in Urban Outfitter

scaled mall-size. Check it out,

dude: the couches and granite

tables in the "living room"

(where one can sip lattés from

Gypsy Den, the "alternative"

Starbucks) are actually floor

models for the mall's punk rawk

variant of JC Penney's. Shaheen

notes that we've come a long way

from the mall's status in the

70s as "the new coliseum" to

today's culture clash between

the identity of the customer

and that of the mall. A quick

slide show of storefronts for

the Body Shop. Express, the Gap,

Victoria's Secret and Banana

Republic (ubiquitous mall

fixtures) proves his point on

the numbing homogenization of

mall culture.

 

[Mediocrity]

Sadeghi deserves a special Riot

Grrl Barbie Oscarette for not

only tying the success of

private label fashion to

self-selective consumerist

individualization but also for

presenting position strategy

graphs with "mediocrity"

featured in their centers. One

chart detailed how the market

could be broken into segments of

industry leaders, value leaders,

cost leaders and next leaders.

Still, since flavor-of-the-month,

transient hipness anchor his

long-term strategy, one wonders

about the conscious (?) omission

of loss leader.

 

[I'm Getting Older, But I'm Not Getting Old...]

While I'm not superduper clear on

the precise definition of

"Second Wave," it seems more

likely than not that Stanley

Marcus must be its embodiment.

Given Neiman-Marcus's successful

hawking of shitloads of

gratuitously overpriced coats

and Stanley's charming

nonagenarian poise, would anyone

dare predict anything less than

a Roman orgy of goodwill?

Remember, this is TEDSell.

 

Before launching into itineraria

anecdota, he explained how his

father indulged his objections

against entering the family

business ("I knew retailers to

be notorious for not becoming

involved in controversy - their

tongues tied to their

pocketbooks") by promising him

freedom to publicly speak his

mind. I doubt I'm the only one

with plans on bastardizing this

shrewd tale someday.

 

[$1200 Dress]

Marcus' most fondly-received chestnut

recalls his days as a floorman

of the women's apparel department,

amateurishly dealing with a

woman seeking to return a torn

silk gown she'd recently

purchased. "It looks like you've

been wrestling rather than

dancing in it." "Just as

suggestion," his father, who'd

been observing from the

back room, told him, "it's cost

us hundreds of dollars to build

trust with this customer, and

now you'd ruin this relationship

over a $1200 dress?" Wouldn't

you know it? After Marcus

acquiesced (with a smile), the

store went on to sell, over the

course of years, more than $5

mil worth of merchandise

(handbags?) to her alone.

 

[Fruitopia]

$5 million. Marcus rules, the

audience says with a standing O.

Even in the age of bugs bounty

and a decidedly Fruitopian

freebie economy, the "customer

is always right" message is a

crowd-pleaser.

 

[Bergman]

I take pleasure in the fact that

it was already days after the

conference 'til I finally

succumbed to curiosity and asked

what the intro to Bergman's joke

actually was: "I'm a digital

storyteller, let me demonstrate:

1001001010011..." They don't call

him "the Duke" for nuthin'.




courtesy of the other Duke