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Alan Blum and I were discussing the current state of advertising over lunch the other day, and we both agreed that creative people don't seem to be bound by the old rules anymore.

The trouble is they don't seem to be bound by any rules.

How else to explain the rash of nonsensical advertising that is permeating the airwaves? "The mayhem out there is consistent with the lack of any clear-cut direction," Alan, who runs the up-and-coming Blum/Herbstreith ad agency that did the Air France spot using Bob Dole, theorized. "There used to be a strong sense of how you determine what a brand is and how consumers interacted with the brand. But now all of that has broken down."

But why now? Alan and I think it may be because people are pushing up against the 21st century, and they are having a hard time seeing anything beyond. The end of the century, the end of the millennium, has a certain finality about it.

Since our lunch, Alan has been trying out our theory all over town. Most of his friends agree they can't visualize life on the other side of the 21st century. Things will be new and different, they told Alan, but they didn't know how. Others, he believes, are "in denial," believing that life will go on the same as ever; but, they say, "Why rewrite the rules? We'll wait and see what happens."

Either way, Alan thinks, "there will be a big letdown" on Jan. 1, 2000 (or Jan. 1, 2001, depending on when you think the new millennium officially begins).

So, in the meantime, anything goes. The stock market spirals ever upward because investors, like advertising people, aren't bound by the old rules. They think the market will keep hitting new highs right up until the last day of the century (not to mention the millennium); after that, who knows what will happen? We can't be absolutely certain, after all, that a new day will dawn. And if it does, maybe the next epoch will be governed by entirely new rules, such as the stock market will always go up.

There is definitely something in the air. Alan said he hasn't had a good laugh in a long time. Two of the most popular sitcoms on TV, "Friends" and "Seinfeld," are about characters who do basically inconsequential things with their lives. What are they waiting for? The 21st century?

Here is another observation I've been puzzling over. There is no sense of outrage anymore. The evidence continues to pile up on the Clintons' indiscretions, but nobody seems to care. The economy keeps chugging along, unemployment is down; don't bother me until the 21st century.

We all know there's got to be something on the other side of whatever's on the other side, don't we? There is more than a little ambivalence, however. Robert Frost summed up our dilemma nicely in his poem "Fire & Ice":

Some say the world will end in fire,

some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if I had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

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