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“it would be wonderful if we became part of a socialist chain”

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Last night, the wife and I were watching Mad Men S3E10 when, at a certain point, she turned to me and whispered: I think you missed your calling. Of course she’s right, in a sense. Or lots of senses – what she was referring to in particular, given the scene at hand, was the fact that the boys at Sterling Cooper drink their way through their “creative” work all day… And, um, let’s not go into that now.

But it is true that I have long harbored a very real fantasy of working in advertising. Mad Men isn’t helping, nor is the fact that people think it’s quite funny / apt to compare me to Don Draper (Americano-effect over here in part…), but the fantasy extends way back before this program first aired. (Check the title of this blog, just for instance….) I doubt that I could ever leave the soul-protecting fortress of public sector work, and advertising is awful, right? To try to get into the business in an ethical and politically-useful way would probably be as successful as all of those friends of mine who went to law school,  you know, in order to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and now defend white collar criminals in Washington.

So forget the career change, I guess… Definitely going to write a book about advertising, one way or another, once I’m done with the Monster. Advertising and socialism. But then again….

In the third season of Mad Men, one of the major subplots involves Don Draper meeting, befriending, and then getting a contract to work for Conrad Hilton, the eccentric founder of the Hilton Hotels chain. (It hadn’t occurred to me until just this minute that Conrad Hilton is Paris Hilton’s great-grandfather. Hmmm… Nice touch, Mad Men writers…) Hilton has messianic hopes for the chain, believing that it is in itself an materialized advertisement for the virtues of American capitalism vs. the austerity of the godless Communist menace. Don does his damnedest to deal with his increasingly weird client, but eventually just stops trying under the pressure and instead turns his attentions to an affair with a clingy local school teacher instead.

Well and good. But today I read in this in the Guardian:

What used to be the Caracas Hilton today soars over Venezuela’s capital as a bold symbol of Hugo Chávez’s leftist revolution, a 36-storey, state-run declaration of intent.

The government took it over from the US hotel chain two years ago as part of a sweep towards greater state economic control. Renamed Alba – “dawn” in Spanish and also the acronym of Chávez’s regional alliance, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas – the hotel hosts summits which condemn US imperialism and chart a brighter, leftist future.

“We are the first socialist hotel but hopefully not the last,” said Katiuska Camaripano, its general manager.

Last week it acquired a sister: the government seized the Hilton on Margarita island, Venezuela’s tourist playground. It had angered Chávez during a meeting of African leaders he hosted at the hotel. “The owners tried to impose conditions on the revolutionary government. No way. So I said, ‘Let’s expropriate it.’ And now it’s been expropriated.”

A presidential decree transferred its assets, including 280 rooms, 210 suites, shops, restaurants and a casino to the tourism ministry. A Hilton spokeswoman said the chain was “evaluating” the government’s action.

Now that’s the spirit! Chavez does have a knack of fulfilling fantasies of mine.   And check it out: red branding!

The state’s Margarita acquisition may also be renamed Alba, consolidating the brand name. Venezuela has also partly funded a small Alba hotel in Managua, capital of its leftist ally Nicaragua, said Camaripano. “It would be wonderful if we became part of a socialist chain.”

It only gets better from here:

There are some striking changes. Gone are the American and European managers and well-heeled foreign guests who used to snap up jewellery and cosmetics in the shops. Red-clad government officials and Cuban delegations have largely taken their place. “Business is dead. All we’ll sell is chewing gum and antibiotics,” lamented one store owner.

The Italian restaurant now serves more Caribbean fare such as chicken in coconut sauce and cachapa, a corn-based pancake. The gift shop offers a range of ceramic Chávez mugs and sculptures ranging from $20 to $240.

The bookshop which sold glossy magazines and Dan Brown novels has been replaced by a culture ministry outlet offering political tracts such as Transition Towards Socialism and Venezuela: a Revolution Sui Generis.

The titles are all subsidised, with some costing the equivalent of just 50p. “The problem is people buy the books and sell them on for profit,” said Nicola Castilla, the bookshop clerk. “It’s not easy instilling a socialist conscience.”

Jesus! I’m now wondering if Chavez would consider taking over some of those dingy Bloomsbury hotels, which already have a certain circa-1983 Bucharest about them. I’d stop by for cachapas and 50p books every day if he did!

Anyway, on a night when the BBC is hosting fascists on Question Time, nice to have an alternate fantasy – of Alba Hotels everywhere, of ad campaigns in a yet-to-come workers’ paradise – to fall asleep to….

Written by adswithoutproducts

October 22, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Posted in ads, socialism, teevee

20 Responses

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  1. Advertising. To you it’s Don Draper and drinking all day, to me it’s Marcello Marchesi, the eternal middle-aged man, a doyen of Italian advertising who operated at the same time as Draper, and who described these mornings spent in meetings tasting different brands of toothpaste. He later wrote a book called Il malloppo (the load perhaps? something at the pit of your stomach) about this sad old man trapped into reflexive quipping and sloganeering, samlping life in 30-second segments. It really is very good, and bloody funny too, but in English you’d have to fall back on Ennio Flaiano.

    Lovely post.


    October 22, 2009 at 11:44 pm

  2. May have to look at the Marchesi… I’ve actually got enough Italian to read something like that, I think.

    il malloppo = the load is an interesting title / concept.

    sad old man trapped into reflexive quipping and sloganeering, samlping life in 30-second segments

    ha! Sounds not unfamiliar!


    October 22, 2009 at 11:48 pm

  3. well, if you have enough Italian, here’s one of my favourite lines of his

    Super Supergnomo lava così bianco, ma così bianco, che la neve si vergogna e il giglio va a cagare.

    (He also reckoned that “una granità di caffè con panna” was the best hendecasyllabic line in Italian literature. Ah, and he’s responsible for the translations of the first Asterix books, works of absolute genius.)


    October 22, 2009 at 11:52 pm

  4. “It’s not easy instilling a socialist conscience.”

    They could start by taking a crowbar to those $240 sculptures.


    October 22, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    • Frankly, I don’t see any improvement at all, of course, David, and do not see that $240 Chavez sculptures are any worse than $12 ones.

      ‘a culture ministry outlet offering political tracts such as Transition Towards Socialism and Venezuela: a Revolution Sui Generis.’

      God, that’s HOT, as Paris Hilton would say. And she is not only Conrad Hilton’s great-granddaughter, she is also Elizabeth Taylor’s grand-niece by marriage.

      Ads, I wish I had time to spend with you, so as to help you make the one transition you need, and which longing alone redeems this ever-so-slightly subpar post: I could help you realize that you would be GREAT in an ad agency, and I can tell you about it from personal experience, because I have worked at J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mathe and McCann Erickson. I could help you learn to defend white collar criminals, even though I would never do that myself, it would be, like just a kind of an exercise.

      Actually, is very good post in a somewhat diseased way–choosing between fantasies of ad agencies, where you’d have to behave as they decree, or ‘socialist fantasies’ of ‘leftist brightness’. Love it.


      October 23, 2009 at 12:21 am

      • very good post in a somewhat diseased way</I.

        But this is just what a go for! air-conditioned fleurs du mal! credentialed decadent tension!


        October 23, 2009 at 12:48 am

  5. I’m uncomfortable with expropriation as a disciplinary measure. Shouldn’t expropriation be more… structurally motivated or something? Then again what do I know.

    Peli Grietzer

    October 23, 2009 at 5:44 am

  6. Peli,

    The funny thing is, while I’m accused constantly of all sorts of centrist deviation, with only a few exceptions expropriation of corporate property simply doesn’t bother me. Go figure. The other side’s grabbed so much and for so many bad reasons, that I have a hard time worrying about Chavez swiping Hiltons, even if for stupid reasons.


    October 23, 2009 at 7:24 am

    • Oh, that’s not what’s making me uncomfortable. It’s rather that expropriating for non-systematic reasons is unsettling to me because it (weakly) suggests a lack of systematic vision in the reorganization of the economy. But maybe it’s unrealistic to expect a systematic vision in this context — god knows economic dogmas right and left don’t always do so well.

      Peli Grietzer

      October 23, 2009 at 8:35 am

      • No but given the worldwide reflex to privatise, I’d take some spiteful reflexive nationalisation.

        But sure, I know what you mean.


        October 23, 2009 at 10:40 am

  7. Oi! I saw that! No tropical-socialist vacation for you! Back to the book!

    And I think I agree with Peli on the expropriation. It doesn’t seem … useful … in either a material or a symbolic way. But I could be convinced.


    October 23, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    • The first thing I’m going to do when I get done with this book is pitch a certain high-end style and culture magazine whose London office is conveniently located a few blocks from my office a piece on said hotel chain. Will do for expenses – no need for anything beyond the fare to Caracas and the room for a few nights. Oh and a Chavez coffee cup…

      Not kidding, by the way.


      October 23, 2009 at 10:41 pm

  8. I’m sorry, and by all means call me old fashioned, but shouldn’t it be more a case of one needing reasons *not* to expropriate a Hilton?


    October 23, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    • Agree with Giovanni. The case contra yanking the hotels is sort water running uphill, methinks.


      October 23, 2009 at 10:46 pm

      • Especially when you see the sublime improvments.


        October 23, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    • Probably in Venezuela, I don’t see *not* expropriating a Hilton needing reasons just anywhere. Although it would be interesting to see somebody try it in, say, the British Virgin Islands.


      October 23, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    • That’s exactly the problem tho: that expropriating *or* not expropriating should each have better reasons than this. The issue is not expropriation, the issue is that this sounds like a bad way to make economic policy decisions.

      peli grietzer

      October 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    • I mean, it would be the same issue if Chavez lowered a company’s taxes because the owner saved a cat from a fire, or raised a company’s taxes because the owner ran over somebody’s dog. You just don’t want taxation policy, nationalization/privatization policy and so to be so indeterminate as to be sensitive to such occasions.

      peli grietzer

      October 24, 2009 at 12:31 pm

  9. I must be running in the wrong circles. Whenever I talk positively about expropriation, people bug their eyes at me.

    Chris L

    October 24, 2009 at 1:13 am

  10. When I worked at a large midtown public relations firm in the mid-1980s, I learned that IT staff also maintained the martinis-for-lunch and bottle-in-the-desk-drawer workstyle. Not mandatory, as it was for other staff, but certainly encouraged. That was the job’s only selling point, though — cut-throat politicking turned out to be another corporate more that crossed disciplinary boundaries — and I soon moved to the less morally ambiguous world of consulting.

    Oddly, the most memorable drunken gossip I heard there didn’t involve B-M’s clients, but instead a co-worker’s previous job on night-shift at Bank of America headquarters, where, at the stroke of midnight before Reagan’s first inauguration day, hundreds of millions of dollars of overseas transfers flash-flooded the wires….

    Ray Davis

    October 24, 2009 at 3:05 pm

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