Why is This Man Laughing?
‘Are Americans, Like, Stupid?’
“The genius & menace of ‘Glorious Leader’
By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2016 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
“Tommy, would you like to know how come I’m so goddamn rich?” asked the boss. Said I, of course, “Yes, Jack—“
Smack in the middle of nerve-jangling days at his bustling Madison Avenue agency, the late great John G. “Jack” Avrett would call me into his baronial sanctum sanctorum: a mahogany-paneled corner office with full bar, maroon leather club chairs, protective humidors for his Cuban stash, an impressive view of midtown Manhattan. Wunderkind of the New York advertising dodge from the 1950s until his death in 1997, Jack enjoyed creating interludes of philosophic calm while those beyond his closed door—save for lucky me, an apprentice of sorts—scurried about under neurotic convictions that whizbang products invented to combat bodily imperfections were as vital to humanity as polio vaccine and therefore worthy of expensive hullabaloo.
One day, Jack fired up the VCR (how I date myself) to run his favorite clip from “The Hucksters,” a 1947 motion picture spoof of the ad biz. The scene: Whippersnapper ad-man (Clark Gable) meets blustery Tycoon (Sydney Greenstreet), the owner of client firm Beautee Soap Company. At the head of a long table full of corporate sycophants, Tycoon pounds hammy fists and bellows, “Soap is just soap!” Tycoon then demands something fresh, grabby, and searingly memorable from his ad-man: a hard-sell campaign to hammer into consumers’ tiny heads the indelible notion of Beautee Soap as greater than anything God ever created in the cause of clean living. Tycoon proceeds to demonstrate what he means by memorable: he first upends a pitcher of ice water, sending the contents dribbling down the length of the table; next, he removes a set upper and lower dentures and slides them clear through the river he’s made; finally, he educates Whippersnapper with, “You have just seen me do a disgusting thing. You will never forget it.”
“—There are two kinds of people in the world,” Jack explained. “Smart people who know what smart people want, and geniuses who know what stupid people want.”
He added, “Tommy boy, do you have any idea how easy it is to sell Americans anything?”
Indeed, as the iconoclastic newspaperman and social critic H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) told us, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. No one has ever lost public office thereby.”
In this rambustious campaign season, I cannot help being reminded of the sensibilities of my old boss and friend Jack Avrett.
He would be horrified to see Donald J. Trump on the November ballot as the presidential nominee of his old-school Republican Party. Nevertheless, Jack would marvel at the salesmanship of a vacuous vulgarian—a faux billionaire, huckster of cheesy TV merchandise and snake-oil elixirs, and chancellor of a sham “university” currently defending itself in state and federal courts against charges of fraud. And: a man with absurd yellow hair enhanced with gold-leaf spray and micro-cylinder extensions who commandeered a once respectable political institution of mainstream conservatism—a man who would, at best, transform multicultural American democracy into a herrenvolk social order.
ADDITIONAL PHOTO CREDITS
Clark Gable and Sydney Greenstreet – MGM Pictures
Donald Trump – NBC Television