In today’s Tribune sports section, columnist Fred Mitchell laments that the arrest of Bear receiver Sam Hurd “threatens the brand identity of every institution he has represented”. Mitchell easily translates a criminal activity into commercial parlance. We ‘brand’ just about everything these days. When I was growing up ‘branding’ had to do with cattle and hot irons. With ‘XIT’ or ‘YO’ for a ranch in Texas. This invasion of the commodity body snatchers may have taken off in 1949 when my Webster says the expression ‘brand name’ debuted.
Since then American life has been saturated in salesmanship . To the point that we ourselves are no longer living, breathing people, but brand names. And everything around us has been converted into saleable goods. Those are not political parties any more. They’re marketable brands. A candidate for office must have ‘retail’ skills for electability. Popularity is shelf life. Our whole world has become Mad!
In the Fifties Vance Packard wrote about the “Hidden Persuaders”—how companies manipulate our perceptions to sell their products. It was just a foreshadowing of the machinations of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater who gave us the George Walker Bush brand. And 3 years later we’re still chucking out its remnants.