Culture vulture

Photo Illustration by C. Owsley Rain

Blue jeans and Moonbeam
Last weekend’s Association of Alternative Newspapers conference in San Francisco was quite an event—a gathering of writers, editors, art directors, advertising sales people and advertising graphic designers all working for papers that are aligned under the somewhat ambiguous, self-defined classification of “alternative.” Despite two days spent enjoying the company of our fellow toilers in the field of alternative-newspaper production, Culture Vulture never figured out exactly what the term meant. So in a burst of typically solipsistic linguistic interpolation we decided it meant, “Newspapers that allow their employees to wear blue jeans and T-shirts to work.”

Sure, that sounds flippant, but it’s not, we swear. If anything, our respect for business management of all types is predicated on the amount of freedom allowed the employees in regard to personal appearance. Take for example a fellow employee of ours, a young woman who we had never met except through e-mail and telephone exchanges to the home office in Sacramento. In our mind’s eye we had always conjured an image of this person as a sort of middle-aged librarian, probably with her medium-brown hair in a bun held up with a barrette with a pencil thrust through it and wearing a sensible plaid frock over a simple white blouse with a collar. And probably a pair of not very ornate glasses.

So you can imagine our surprise at sitting down at our informal peer critique seminar and being greeted by name by a neo-hipster young lady with dyed jet black hair, a tiny diamond nose ornament, and a tattoo or two peering out from the gap between her blue jeans and black sweater. We responded with a perhaps too blunt, “Who are you?” (Styled after Alice’s caterpillar, but you can’t expect everyone to get the reference on the fly.)

It turned out of course to be the miracle worker of our Operations Department, who had been consigned to the librarian bin and was now reassigned to the equally superficial “hipster” category. All with no change in the underlying assessment of “extremely efficient co-worker.” The small if not fine point of this line of blather being that the way people look has nearly nothing to do with the way they work, and it’s a wise business organization that recognizes that fact.

The workshops and seminars were informative and worthwhile, but the big luncheon with its guest speaker, Oakland Mayor and former Governor Jerry Brown, was an event on a different level of social interaction. Brown is a brilliant speaker who can discourse from experiences at every level of American government. One of his main points was that being unmemorable and boring is the new path to success in politics. Those who rock the boat are liable to get chucked over the side and then have disparaging jokes made about them, no matter how cogent their political or economic arguments.

He also pointed out that though many alternatives exist to help correct the sorry condition of the national and state economies, until we as citizens exercise our right to choose leaders who are brave enough to implement major social changes, we will continue to be governed by those who believe things are just fine as is. Pretty illuminating for a Moonbeam.