Your daily emetic: Try to make it through this load of pap–a “manifesto” for “Generation M”—without bringing your lunch back up. A tiny sample:
My generation would like to break up with you.
Everyday, I see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. I think we have irreconcilable differences.
You wanted big, fat, lazy “business.” We want small, responsive, micro-scale commerce.
You wanted financial fundamentalism. We want an economics that makes sense for people — not just banks.
You wanted shareholder value — built by tough-guy CEOs. We want real value, built by people with character, dignity, and courage.
You wanted EVIL, we want GOOD! You wanted A SHARP STICK IN THE EYE, we want HUGS. You wanted ALLIGATORS, we want PUPPIES! Nowhere in this protracted wankfest will you find a single idea—to the extent these shallow platitudes count as “ideas”—that couldn’t have been cribbed from a random issue of Utne Reader 15 years ago. Have you heard microfinance is really neat? No fooling! But wait, there’s more: Sometimes, companies try to sell you crap that won’t really make you happy. Also, for God’s sake, when you’re a 30-something MBA, adopting the pose of a spokesman for a new generation telling the “old people” how it is positively reeks of mid-life crisis.
So one more tedious collection of cliches trying to pass as some kind of generational insight; big deal. Browse over to author Umair Haque’s Havas Media Lab and you’ll find quite a lot more of the same: Breathless announcements that the Past is Behind Us and we can Break the Tired Old Rules to create a future where Rising Tides Lift All Boats, if only we repeat the word “authentic” enough times. Pages upon pages of it, all utterly insubstantial—there’s no there there. It’s easy to make fun of, but why bother? Well, Havas Media Lab is a spinoff of the global communications firm Havas, the world’s sixth largest (or, if you prefer, “big, fat, laziest”) ad agency. You’ll find Havas clients like Nike and Wal-Mart occasionally name-checked on lists of good-guy innovators alongside more obviously community-centric businesses like Etsy. So if you notice that Haque’s “manifesto” sounds more like a marketing spiel than any sort of genuine reform program or statement of substantive principles—that’s because it is.
In fact, it’s a perfect example of one of the more pernicious products of the Bad Old Capitalism it pretends to supersede—Debordian spectacle for the entrepreneurial class. A handful of genuinely innovative business practices—for certain purposes, at any rate—are planted in horseshit, watered with marketing jargon, and voila, Capitalism 2.0 springs forth and blossoms. There are vague hints that this will somehow produce well-functioning capital markets that aren’t as susceptible to bubbles and crashes, but if there’s an actual model for enterprises above the scale of the village fruit stand, I’m missing it. But of course, that’s not Havas’ wheelhouse—their job is to bundle and peddle those elements of true novelty as a kind of meta lifestyle brand, with which to sell their clients to you, and themselves to new clients. And it’s a hell of a pitch: Why settle for making consumers crave the self-image you’re selling when you can make them dependent on you for Authentic Community?
Bonus points for chutzpah: If you point out that they’re not actually, you know, saying anything, these shameless con artists will accuse you of cynicism. I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything more cynical than gussying up the 21st century equivalent of the Burger King Kids Club as a “movement,” but I’m funny like that.
Addendum: Jesus, the guy’s a serial offender: I don’t remember the last time I read something quite as brazenly disconnected from reality as this column—and I read The Weekly Standard. Apparently the formula is to say something hilariously wrong, pepper it with seven or eight instances of the word “radical” and some handwaving about “tired old ways of thinking,” and hope that some CEO with a consulting budget to burn confuses the transparent falsehood of your thesis for “out of the box” thinking. The central claims are that Apple (Apple!) is a model of openness—sorry “radical” openness—and that the “closed” nature of Facebook is a liability. He’s either an utter fraud or a brilliant performance artist.