If this column is what it is, then why should you read it?

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Randall Rothenberg talks about a "we are what we are" attitude sweeping the marketing community in a quest for authenticity. "In a transparent world, good branding will only happen when companies communicate openly and honestly about themselves and their products," writes Randy.

Either that or total capitulation. Is the lack of pretension by marketers that Randy mentions really just dressed up resignation-"I can't do anything about it anyway"?

At the very least I sense some holding back out there. We're not quite over the bubble burst at the turn of the century or 9/11 (we'll never get over that). Corporations are flush with cash yet they're reluctant to spend it. Tentativeness reigns.

That helps to explain the new all-purpose catchphrase that seems to be so right for the times: It is what it is.

The Web-based magazine Flak was an early spotter of the phrase. `"It is what it is' means what it means depending on context, it can be a statement of resignation or of defiance, but in neither case does it connote the optimistic good humor of `it's all good' [which Buick used so badly a few campaigns ago]. If anything, it expresses the absence of emotion, the abdication of feeling. ... It's not so much that something is neither good or bad, but rather that its quality simply isn't relevant, that it's not worth the energy to make a value judgment."

Sort of like "whatever." But people in the news, like politicians and sports stars, can't confine themselves to one-word answers, especially ones that are so without caring or hope. "It is what it is," on the other hand, sounds vaguely profound, even philosophical, and can apply to almost any circumstance.

Dusty Baker, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, said it about the problems with Sammy Sosa. Al Gore, commenting on the Supreme Court decision affirming the Florida vote in 2000, said: "I strongly disagree. ... But I respect the rule of law, so it is what it is."

IIWII ("Please note the chic symmetry and linear pattern," noted the Orlando Sentinel), also comes in handy when you want to champion staying the course.

For instance, this year marks the 25th anniversary of CRIS Radio in Chicago, a reading service for the blind and "print handicapped," as I put it in a column I wrote on CRIS in 1982. CRIS grew from a tiny studio in the back of stacks on the 11th floor of the Chicago Public Library, broadcasting six hours a day, five days a week. It now is on the air 24 hours a day, all year long.

In the early days of the service I served on the CRIS board of directors, and so I was very glad to spend some time talking about plans to celebrate their milestone. I even suggested having a contest to rename CRIS to more graphically describe what it does (CRIS is an acronym for Chicagoland Radio Information Service). The board concurs, but now I'm not so sure.

CRIS Radio is a known and respected service that puts 400-plus receivers in individual homes, can be heard on Chicago's public access channel and also cable stations in the suburbs.

I'd like to help CRIS Radio and at the same time give IIWII the new sense of vigor and purpose that Randy mentioned. Let's get Dusty Baker, who used the phrase in another context, to say in PSAs: "CRIS Radio, it is what it is-and that's an awful lot of good."

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