Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The little town where I spend part of my time is home to only about 1300 people. But today, for reasons best known to the mandarins of the organizing committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Olympic torch paid a visit. If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see it, held bravely aloft by 79 year-old Gertie Gowan, who walked it half the length of our main street grinning like a schoolgirl. It was a curiously reassuring end to a long, strange year.
By any rational measure, 2009 has been a tough year for anybody who depends on the belief of others to sustain themselves, and brands surely answer to that description. 2009 was the Year of the Lie, perhaps even the final year of the decade of the same name. From Balloon Boy to Tiger to Berlusconi’s assault to Al Gore’s investment portfolio to General Motors’ house of cards, things in which we’d invested some faith of one kind or another inevitably seemed to dissolve before our eyes, in ceaseless succession, into sordid, embarrassing vessels for our naïveté. It was just a little bit depressing, especially for someone who sustains himself preaching the power of authenticity to corporations like I do. If we all become conditioned to believe that nothing is ever as it seems, then I don’t know how anybody is going to build a brand anymore, much less lead a nation, say.
Like a lot of people, I’m not really a fan of the Olympic circus, even as I am one of the Olympic ideal. My wife dragged me into the village kicking and screaming to see this spectacle. But standing there on Mill Street, I surprised myself. All around me, hundreds of bundled and be-toqued people were shaking hands and hugging, cops were smiling, the village’s resident clown was making balloon animals and playing arena rock anthems on her boom box while local kids played shinny on a side street, and the village’s poet laureate and official bagpiper stood bare-legged in his kilt in the crackling -12 cold, belting out The Maple Leaf Forever. And I realized (in a moment that was altogether too reminiscent of the climactic scene from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, if I’m honest) that there is still one more thing to believe in: us. We’re tough little mammals. We’re not stupid, and yet we hope. We’ve got stamina, and yet we have a sense of humor. And we invite spectacle into our lives now and then not because we’re weak, but because we like sharing a good story and an excuse to get together. This is still our town, this world, and not even an army of philandering golfers and conniving attention whores can change that.
Thanks for dragging me along, Sweetie. And Happy New Year, everybody.