Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Problems, Progress & Progressive Edition
Harsh Your Mellow Monday has been on hiatus because with the current crisis facing most of the world it didn’t feel like something so negative, sarcastic and…well harsh, was needed. However, in the last few days more than a few things have come up that we should talk about. Let’s get into it:
Analogies, Corollaries, and Instances Of “Good Hell What is Wrong with You?”
Let’s go through this slowly, using small words, so that we teach it to the lowest level:
Don’t compare, analogize, or joke about your current circumstance being like the holocaust.
Even if you have a point, why delude that point by bringing up the holocaust? The only honest answer is for the shock and awe of it, and that is insufficient a reason to cross and burn that bridge unless you just really like the attention such things bring. Which makes you, while possibly funny, definitely a jackass. You have the right to say incredibly stupid stuff about the holocaust and make it into some kind of effort to elevate your current life travails into something more epic than they probably are, and we have the right to inform you that it’s bad, and you are bad for doing it, and you should feel bad about it while you contemplate your badness.
Take, for example, The Babylon Bee.
Normally, I rather enjoy the Bee’s brand of satire and mocking. Previously they had been an outfit that seemed fine turning their sarcastic prowess in any and all directions, which I appreciated. Satire, like all comedy, is in the eye of the beholder and is very much a matter of taste, but the Bee found the line that most folks would think is too far, then jumped it without sticking the landing.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has ordered all Christian churchgoers to wear a yellow cross to warn others they attended a religious gathering against the unilateral decree of the state.
Law enforcement officials took down license plate numbers of churchgoers so their family could be given a set of the yellow cross patches to sew on their clothing.
“We must identify those undesirables who would dare attend church services in defiance of the state,” the governor said. “Therefore, anyone who goes to church will be sent this fashionable yellow cross. They must wear it at all times so others will know to stay away from them, ostracize them from society, and report their suspicious activity to the police.”
The state ordered all medical mask production facilities to begin shifting production to the yellow crosses instead in order to meet demand. “This is priority one,” said Beshear.
Should the religious gatherings continue, the governor says anyone with a yellow patch will be subject to isolation in government-run “Quarantine Camps.”
If you are someone who needs it explained to them why this is problematic, go Google “Yellow Badge” right quick. There, even hot linked it for you. We will wait…
Everyone caught up? Good. Let’s continue…
Also taking a swing with the holocaust metaphor bat, this time to mock protesters demanding a lifting of the stay-at-home orders and business closures, came Patton Oswalt:
Anne Frank spent 2 years hiding in an attic and we’ve been home for just over a month with Netflix, food delivery & video games and there are people risking viral death by storming state capital buildings & screaming, “Open Fuddruckers!”
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 18, 2020
If you are someone who needs it explained to them why this is problematic, go Google “Anne Frank” right quick. There, even hot linked it for you. We will wait…
Everyone caught up? Good. Let’s continue…
To reiterate, yes both have a right to make a holocaust joke/reference/analogy. No, they shouldn’t be “cancelled” — the interwebs currents preferred method of digital pillory for those the mob deems unfit — over it. Call it out if you, like me, think it’s weak sauce purposefully used by folks who know better for the shock value of it. Patton Oswalt is a talented comedian and writer, and if you’ve watched him do improv or live anything his mind for cultural references is vast and quick. Frankly, the worst part of Oswalt’s tweet — if you get past the Nazi-murdered Dutch girl who kept a diary of her short life — is the privilege of a well-off celebrity flippantly using the employees of the 150-odd Fuddruckers as fodder when they are scared to death for their jobs at the moment. They are not watching Netflix and video games and having a grand ole’ time of it, thank you very much. If you want to take a swipe at the protesters, there are a million ways to do it; going with a murdered Jewish girl as the lead off comparison was gratuitous. Folks who agree with his point on the protesters were perfectly fine splitting that hair in the name of bashing those they thought deserved it. Examples are legion of folks forced to stay in their homes that don’t include being hunted by Nazis. Which Patton knows, being the expert in mass communication he is.
Far less defensible is the Bee’s example. Like Oswalt, the reference is used for the shock value, and while they will no doubt claim “satire” and “comedy” it is also clearly aimed at a specific audience. It’s sad that one of the things the Babylon Bee did so well, and I enjoyed the most, was mocking popular evangelical Christianity from an insider’s knowledge. That habit was set aside here for stoking the current darker versions of American Evangelicals — the most privileged of religious folks on Earth in post-WW2 America, as victims of oppression. While there is a conversation to be had about the legalities of some of the stay-at-home orders, which will no doubt be litigated by some, others are milking the sometimes overreach to scream persecution for their own benefit. Religious freedom should be zealously protected. Having the same restrictions as the local McDonald’s is not throwing Christians to the lions in the Colosseum. When a government authority oversteps, call it out and let’s have it aired, but slow your roll on making every restriction and minor inconvenience into the Diocletian Persecutions part two.
The questions of freedoms, religious and otherwise, in a state of emergency are tough enough without giving in to the bad faith actors furthering their agenda by riding the chaos wave into otherwise reasonable folks’ lives. Busting out the holocaust jokes/references/analogies doesn’t necessarily make you anti-Semitic, or a holocaust denier, or worthy of cancelling, othering, or whatever the interwebz punishment du jour is.
But it does tell you something about the person thinking that’s a good vehicle for their message, and should rightfully make you question their motives and their lack of imagination to come up with something better than one of the darker moments in human history. For that matter, don’t use Holodomor, The Great Leap Forward, The Armenian Genocide, or assassinated political and social figures either while you are at it.
Using the holocaust doesn’t make the user wicked or evil, but at a minimum it makes them a jackass who should know better, regardless of motives.
The Magical, Mythical Mass Turn On
The drumbeat to “reopen” the country is growing louder by the day, and with it the argument over what restrictions are and are not necessary. The opinions range from the sensible and measured (X number of steps to do Y and achieve Z) to the hyperbolic and insane (LIBERATE INSERT SWING STATE HERE). For his part, the president seems to have the former down on paper, but keeps veering into the latter on Twitter and when ad libbing:
U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday the coronavirus sweeping across the United States has peaked.
— The Voice of America (@VOANews) April 19, 2020
Folks already have been, and will continue to, have the discussion over what is/isn’t necessary at the moment to address the pandemic. What shouldn’t be lost in that discussion is there is no such thing as flipping a switch and everything going back to the way it was.
To be fair to the president, he can’t go to the microphone in the Brady Briefing Room and say, “Yep, 20M (or whatever the number is come Monday morning) folks newly out of work is something that’s going to take a long time to recover from,” since that would have negative repercussions. Projecting hope is part of the gig when you have the big chair, something the 45th president has tried to deliver with varying degrees of success.
But the US economy is not nimble, is not wholly controlled by the president, and is in unknown territory at the moment. The president doesn’t have a magic switch to throw here, no matter how many times he uses that imagery. Getting folks back to work will take time, and some of those folks won’t have jobs to go back to and need to find a new way forward. Plus, though no one seems to care at the moment, there is the matter of the cost, as in money, of the pandemic to both state and federal coffers. While the US government just put another $6T and counting in debt on the pile, the hardest hit states like New York are already howling about lost revenue, and are going to want to make it up somewhere. Local municipalities will also be looking at making up lost revenue. “Revenue” for those from Logan, is government speak for taxes, which you can bet folks will be looking at to raise “revenue” again.
As for private businesses and companies, no one really knows how this shakes out. Some sectors will see a surge once the lockdowns are lifted, but for some businesses it might be too late by then. Other employers might use the shutdowns as a good excuse to restructure their already idled or diminished work forces. How all that back and forth slushes out for the record number of unemployed Americans is anyone’s guess. Anyone telling you they know, is selling you something.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Hope the president is right and the country comes roaring back in short order, but be prepared for the pain to be long lasting in some areas.
One Size Really Doesn’t Fit All
Over at CNN Business, the headline reads “Experts say it may be time for grocery stores to ban customers from coming inside because of Covid-19.”
Yeah, that ain’t happening.
By the time you get past the opening article about union leaders and a co-op few have heard of, you get to paragraphs 13 & 14 that let you know the runway for this article was longer than the trip to nowhere it went to:
Online pickup and delivery requires a much larger staff than grocery stores are currently equipped with. That could fill supermarkets to capacity with workers, defeating the purpose of removing the public from stores.
Paying that many workers would also cost grocers a lot more money, and many smaller chains don’t have the resources. They have already hired more workers during the pandemic to meet demand, and they’re raising pay for existing employees to convince them to stay on the job. Grocers operate on razor-thin margins, and for many, the recent increase in sales because of coronavirus has been wiped out by the increases they’ve needed to make in payroll.
Anecdotal as it may be, my usual grocery is one of the few places I’ve been in the last few weeks. It’s been a fascinating mini-lab to observe the world in. Watching folks go from the no worries phase, to the strip-the-shelves panic, to the mostly deserted, and now the slowly getting busier but with folks in masks and taking precautions has been illuminating. This store has done online ordering for curbside pickup since it opened 5 years ago, and they do it really well. The entryway of the store is lined with locked cabinets and reefers holding orders for curbside. The store was built with it in mind, with a pull-in area complete with call box and traffic lane feeding into it. I asked one of the managers the other day just out of curiosity how much curbside business had picked up. “I’m past what I can handle now, and I have over half my staff focused on it.” Current wait time to pick up your groceries curbside right now, from phone call to putting it in your car, with all that focus on it?
Over two hours.
That’s pretty good, considering, but lots of folks don’t have that kind of time. And according to Em Carpenter, that’s lightning fast; she reports wait times of 5-7 days at her local grocery
One problem is the technology is outrunning the practical application. While clicking in the order online and waiting in your car for someone to set the bags in it for you seems more efficient, and for you it is, it’s an outlay of manpower for the store. A large order might take more than one employee to fill out, as in physically going around the store and pulling the items just like the shopper would. The logistics of picking, storing, and loading the orders is another process that requires time and manpower. Then there is the issue that to do online ordering you have to make an online account and pay online, something that would preclude cash only and EBT shoppers.
The list of challenges goes on, most of which are not insurmountable, but the concept that all grocery stores can magically flip to carry outs is fantasy. To fully staff such things would be to have as many employees in the store as the general public, as the article correctly points out, only with so much overhead in salary as to no longer be profitable. Folks can rant and scream about profits all they want, but if grocery stores close that is even fewer food options for the public. Major chains going down would take the term “food deserts” to another level of meaning, especially in more rural areas where only one or two real grocery stores may be.
Like most of the challenges in this pandemic, there are no easy answers, and very few good ones. The supply chain has, for the most part, caught back up to shortages in the grocery stores. Folks, especially the “experts” should think long and hard before advocating another massive shock to a system that is not only under pressure, but cannot fail for many American’s needing to feed their families.
What Did Flo Ever Do to You?
I thought I would have a little fun on the Twitter dot com and participate in the ongoing “You can get rid of/keep only one” type games. Basically you post 4 pictures of whatever and folks have to either keep/get rid of one of them, and hilarity and consternation ensue. Movies, music, celebrities, politicians; practically anything can be subbed into the format.
Looking for something relatable and lighthearted, I went with some TV ad spots, and more to the point the pitch characters in them:
You can only Ad Block one…the rest you have to live with. Who get’s sent to Nielsen Pergatory? pic.twitter.com/gYZoMt8dhJ
— Andrew Donaldson (@four4thefire) April 19, 2020
Holy cow, do some of you folks not like Flo from Progressive.
I don’t get it; even twelve years into the ad campaign they seem to have kept it fresh, and branding is about recognition and boy, can you recognize Flo with the Progressive Brand.
Now, full disclosure I have Progressive for auto insurance, but not because of Flo; it is because of a running disagreement with my longtime insurer USAA that I won’t bore you with the details here.
In the beginning, there was a brand. And the brand was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of Ad Revenue moved upon the face of the waters. And said: “Let there be a new campaign…”
It all started with five unscripted words.
Back in 2007, Progressive Insurance’s brand recognition was somewhere between zero and being mistaken for Progresso soup. The company needed an identity and, working with its ad agency Arnold Worldwide, came up with the concept of the superstore. If most people thought shopping for insurance was hell, the superstore–all gleaming white, neatly ordered shelves–represented heaven. Not only that, but its rows of boxes labeled for car, home, and other types of insurance made tangible a product and sales process many found confusing.
In the campaign’s first-ever ad, aired on January 14, 2008, a customer says, “Wow,” impressed with all the extras that come with his savings of more than $350. A cashier named Flo echoes his enthusiasm and says, “Wow! I say it louder…” And that was it.
“When she said that, we realized she really had something special, she was a character with real character,” says Progressive CMO Jeff Charney. “That character was completely unplanned, but we saw it and we jumped on it. She became the center of this ad sitcom. It took us a couple of spots, but we started to move the focus on her.”
And what do my normally genteel Twitter friends make of all that?
“Flo must go”
“Easy call, the Progressive commercials are painfully unfunny.”
“Flo. Flo. Flo. Flo. Flo.”
“I want to make Flo very uncomfortable in a work setting but not actually do anything about it.”
“Flo was slightly tolerable when she first showed up. That was many, many, many years ago. She’s a carton of milk that expired in 2015.”
“Flo’s got to go. She’s more insufferable than the Energizer bunny.”
“Flo is off-putting. Has always been off-putting. I would pay money to never see her in a commercial again. ”
One remarked “So the general public seems to want to eliminate literally the only female option,” but interestingly enough, in our highly unscientific method, it is women who have the strongest takes against Flo.
On the plus side, at least folks know who she is, and the brand she reps, which is the point.
In terms of Flo’s longevity, Charney says the key has been the brand’s constant attention to the data, and balancing Flo with a collection of side characters strong enough to not overload the brand’s star. Right now the brand is shooting its 40th round of spots, and each round has four or five different ads.
“I’ve got the No. 1 brand icon now and we want to stay there,” says Charney. “If you think about Q scores, if you see Flo 15 to 20 times a month, multiply that by 10 years–I don’t care if you’re Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Ellen DeGeneres–whoever it is, if they’re trying to sell you something, you’d probably get tired of that person. The data is showing us the opposite about Flo. That’s a very difficult thing to achieve.”
Whatever social media thinks, analytics rule the day in the business world, and the numbers say y’all love Flo more than you are letting on.
Score one for Big Insurance for Harshing the Mellow of the Flo Haters, who they can’t hear over all that cash coming in.