The durable American brand
"The business of America is business," said President Calvin Coolidge and every American - even those who have never heard of the 30th president - almost instinctively know that's true. Vast areas of America are set aside for nothing but buying and selling - strip malls they call them, though they are less exciting than they sound. Amongst this orgy of trade, noted by Coolidge but noted as well by almost everyone who has ever had anything to say about America, live the brands that America has made and sold to itself and to the world.
In a nation where trade is so important and so much a part of the psyche the great American brands really do stand as icons: smash them and you play with the mental health of generations who seek stability and meaning in the malls.
So this week has been doubly tough. It began with the news that the company that owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune - two of the great newspapers of record here - is filing for bankruptcy. the Tribune was the one Harry Truman held aloft when it announced - wrongly, but famously - Dewey Defeats Truman, in the 1948 election. The papers are not imminently in danger of closing but young reporters hoping for Woodward/Bernstein-like careers will probably be looking elsewhere. And that of course is what the papers' readers have been doing for sometime - the brands are still big, but the readership isn't.
The same is the case of the car giants. Ford and General Motors and Chrysler signs are everywhere -- you can walk around areas of the outer suburbs of some cities and wonder what would be left if they went - but the readers, as it were, the riders, have been deserting them for years.
This leads some to wonder at the crisis of the American brand. I must say I think such rumination is unnecessary. These are psychologically painful times for America. But who would bet against the brands of tomorrow being just as prominent here and just as homegrown? You don't even have to mention Google or Apple - they're old hat. The whole point of America is that stuff is popularised here - not created often, but crated and sold and branded. I saw a picture this week of a flexible paper like computer display - made entirely of plastic. It's tomorrow's technology and, perhaps, tomorrow's brand. And it's been made at the University of Arizona. American brands are dying this week - and being born .....