There have always been bedrock institutions I could count on. "When it rains, it pours" from Morton Salt; "When you care enough to send the very best" from Hallmark Cards; "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't" from Hershey Foods Corp.'s Peter Paul Almond Joy and Mounds candy bars; "Double your pleasure, double your fun" from Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.'s Doublemint gum; "You can be SURE . . . if it's Westinghouse" from Westinghouse Electric Corp.
Scratch that last one. The only thing we can be sure of is that Westinghouse, after 111 years, is no longer with us. Gone are the industrial turbines and steam generators, not to mention the refrigerators and other consumer appli- ances. In their place are TV and radio stations, cable systems and the CBS Television Network. The new name for Westinghouse is CBS Inc. and the new home for the old Westinghouse will be New York, no longer Pittsburgh, where inventor George Westinghouse founded the company in 1886.
It would be comforting if I could regain my equilibrium by accepting the promise that "You can be sure if it's CBS," but I'm not at all sure I can do that. After all, I'm not even to the point where I feel good enough about their new programs to take them up on their "Welcome home" invitation.
This whole Westinghouse thing is happening at a bad time, what with the coming of the millennium disrupting people's view of the future.
Gas turbines and the like are forever kinds of things ... things we can be sure of. So if we can't be sure about Westinghouse, how can we be sure about whatever lies on the other side of the millennium?
If no longer Westinghouse, and not yet CBS (although the network did win the latest sweeps by the narrowest of margins), what can we be sure of? Precious little, I'm afraid is the answer.
There's a lot of silliness out there. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to block a New York magazine bus ad because he claimed it invaded his privacy. This from the man who appeared in drag on "Saturday Night Live" and who couldn't do enough public service spots for New York City during the mayoral campaign.
The greatest silliness is that advertising creative people are beginning to think they have a greater calling than the mundane job of selling merchandise.
And, indeed, why shouldn't they? Our society reveres the trivial and inane. There are college studies devoted to the popular TV shows of the past, like "Mr. Ed" and "Gilligan's Island." It won't be long before you can get your Ph.D. in dissecting the rise of cynicism among our alienated youth as seen in the Miller Lite "Dick" ads.
For advertising, God help us, has become "our cultural literacy," Professor James Twitchell, author of a book called "Adcult USA," told The New York Times Sunday Magazine. His students, he said, share no common culture of books or history. When he recites a commercialized jingle, however, the students "instantaneously know it, and they're exultant. They actually think Benneton ads are profound. To them, advertising is high culture."
Clients are unsure how to stop this madness. Who are they, mere peddlers of goods, to stop the pursuit of a greater cultural calling?
We have gone from "You can be sure . . . if it's Westinghouse" to "You can be