When I sit here thinking over my many years as a worker with words, one of the most surprising things to me is that it is not the many pages-long investigative pieces that stick in my mind so much as the throw-away sidebars that foundered at the editorial stage – by which I mean, pieces that were rejected for publication for various idiotic reasons.
I remember, for example, many years ago covering a luncheon speech given by a salesman --- perhaps I should call him a sales expert --- who analysed the perfect sales pitch for the delectation of his business audience. He expressed himself in terms that, to me, constituted a revolutionary recasting of the purposes of the English language. Moving smoothly through the initial need for a salesman to make contact with his victim --- sorry, proposed customer --- our man (let’s call him George, that’s a matey sort of name), recalled the salesman’s initial need to outline what he called “the needs creation” area of his sales call. In other words, he had to set out to persuade his interlocutor that he needed something that until that moment he had never known he needed. This, I guess, is the golden rule of all advertising, and it is probably why many serious dissenting analysts of our current economic status quo nominate advertising as the first thing to go in their proposed creation of a better- ordered economy. But call me naive, I had never heard it expressed in such stark terms before.
From that peak moment, George, putting two and two together, moved seamlessly into what he called the “needs satisfaction area” of the call, namely that part of his spiel in which he could persuade his victim that, his hitherto unknown need having been created, the means for its satisfaction lay at hand, right there in the speaker’s suitcase.
There were many other refinements in this amazing address, items that have escaped my mind with the intervening years, but I hastened back to the office to write an amusing, and to my mind irresistibly informative piece, about the thought processes of the door-to-door salesman, so brutally expressed in words such as I had never heard before.. I was perfectly confident that my piece would receive a warm welcome from the editorial poobahs.
In a pig’s eye with that. The piece made its way to the desk of the Editor-in-chief who chuckled over it, spiked it firmly, then took the trouble to call me in and inform me that this was not the sort of thing that any newspaper that depended on advertising should think for one moment of printing.
Ah, well, wot the hell, as I tend to say nowadays.
A similar fate met a piece I wrote, only a few days after I returned from my eight years of relative freedom as the correspondent in London, where I could write almost anything that came to mind (within reason, of course, as all reporters know, although many of them seem to think, mistakenly, that they are free actors). I was asked to cover the opening of a super-market in one of Montreal’s northern suburbs. Unaccustomed to the grandiose aspirations of Canadian mercantilism after my years in well-mannered London, I waxed eloquent over the new structure’s cathedral-like dimensions, marvelled at the amount of money devoted to its construction, and commented that this was exactly what Fidel Castro only a few days before had meant when he talked about the mindless extravagance of North American capitalism.
This time there was no warm chuckle of amusement when the Big Poobah lifted my piece from his desk and let it fall as if it were utterly worthless. “This,” he said, “….this….we cannot be seen to be critical of the very people who provide us with our income. That would be an act of extremely bad taste.” It wasn’t very long thereafter that he began to find things for me to write about elsewhere, in Alaska, where they were building oil wells, or northern Alberta, wandering the native communities, anywhere except at home, where it seemed I might be expected to come up with an embarrassing piece at any time.
I can’t exactly say what is the connection, but all these reminiscences were brought on by my recent astonishment at hearing so many politicians and commentators straining themselves to the limit to make rational argument for the impulsive and implausible actions of their new President, who is so intent on making America great again. I even heard one enthusiast outline how the president had already proven the commentariat wrong by taking actions which have resulted in higher black employment figures than America has ever before experienced. That Latin Americans should be worshipping at his feet because his enforced reduction of illegal immigrants has solidified the labour market for authentic legal, Latin workers, who are already beginning their elevation into the middle-class. (I have no idea where he came up with these figures, mind you.)
I even read a piece somewhere by Yanis Varoufakis, the failed wunderkind finance minister of the Greek government, who analysed Trump’s onslaught on the global economic order as a matter of the highest significance, and presented it as if Trump, the greatest stumblebum ever elected in North America, had thought it all out as if he were some professor of economics.
This brought me back to something I mentioned in my recent piece about the bumbling Doug Ford, now in charge of Ontario’s economy and well-being, which is that if some half-baked leader comes up with a lunatic idea, there is never any shortage of people who will get right behind him, and propagate his loony ideas as if they were handed down from heaven. I guess the connection mentioned heretofore is that these leaders who have been foisted upon us by the rigged electoral system, are nothing but door-to-door salesmen, peddling their wares to the ultimate disadvantage of a gullible public.