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Back when I first started out as a copywriter for the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago, I had been on the job only a few months when a new copywriter was hired into our creative group. Tom Coleman came to us from a small agency in Washington DC, along with his art director partner Bob Wyatt.

Tom and Bob would go on to create wonderful award-winning work for Dewar’s White Label, among other campaigns. One of my all time favorites from his “oeuvre” was this print ad, convincing young men to try Dewar’s even though research suggested most new drinkers hated the taste of scotch. Freaking genius.

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Tom had a strong personality with a biting wit. He also possessed fashion sense way beyond most young men and, frankly, just about everyone else in Chicago. (Except for maybe our boss, Ted Bell but that’s another story.) Tom regularly came to work in a suit and, if not that, always donning a jacket. Unless he was hung over or ill, he always wore a tie, usually a bow tie, and never a clip on. He cherished his weathered Cordovan loafers from Brooks Brothers. His shirts were monogrammed.

Needless to say, we road him hard for his sartorial streak. But like Dewars, Tom “never varied.” He knew he was ahead of the game and certainly beyond us slobs. Despite our wardrobe differences, Tom and I became good friends. He tried to get me to dress like an adult but unless we were presenting to a client, I dressed for comfort not success. Truth be told, even my “fancy” clothes were pretty lame. Especially compared with Tom’s.

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Tom Coleman, towering over the shallow end…

I’m writing this not to reminisce but because Coleman (as we often called him) has a fabulous and fun new book that just came out, detailing the greatest fashion missteps of otherwise smart and stylish people. It’s called, I Actually Wore This: Clothes We Can’t Believe We Bought. In it a bunch of genuinely cool people (some famous, some not) talk about the single most embarrassing article of clothing in their closet: why and where they acquired the garment and a fun anecdote about it. Each person is marvelously photographed in said item(!) by Jerome Jakubiec. As Tom wrote in his inscription to us: “It won’t change your life but it may liven up your coffee table.”

It’s a hoot, hard to stop reading and gawking at. Obviously, Tom’s “concept” is titillating tapping into our voyeuristic tendencies. But it’s more than that. There’s something intimate and warmly human about the book. With a handful of words and a portrait, you really get to know these people. How they could buy, let alone wear, these things is actually a far bigger question that it first might seem. We discover the ego’s power and the trouble (albeit harmless here) that it can get us into.

Tom once told me he was a “collector of people.” In I Actually Wore This we see the fruits of his labor. Coleman’s book is available on Amazon and likely the chicest coffee tables.

Though my wardrobe is still suspect, I write copy fashionably well: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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A punch line on Comedy Central…

Over the years, I have been criticized –often justifiably- for being tone deaf to politically correct behavior. At times, I go to far with a “witty” observation. I don’t know when to stop a rant, diatribe or whatever best describes these sorts of things. I’m not pleading ignorance, necessarily; rather I just can’t stop playing with nasty, fun thoughts. If something is genuinely funny I have a hard time deeming it genuinely inappropriate. For me, going too far just means passing beyond the mainstream. Too soon means fresh. I could go on but you get the idea.

Regardless of your point of view, the ‘normal’ world is rapidly becoming more open-minded to bawdiness. Ungodly levels of it. Credit transparent yet anonymous social media as well as rampant competition for your entertainment dollars as two of the many reasons for the “ribaldification” of society.

So, are there lines we should never cross? Taboos? Not if you base your opinion on Comedy Central’s insanely over-the-top Roast of Justin Bieber.

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Race. Sex. Age. Politics. Religion. 9/11. Isis. No stone was left unturned in this 2-hour orgy of insults, hurled by a motley crew of rappers, ballers and comedians. Women were sluts and whores. Black men were pimps and gangsters. Latinos were gardeners and valets. The N-word was dropped dozens of times. As was “retard” and other slang even I won’t print. Said of guest, Martha Stewart: “She hasn’t been with so many black people since she was in prison.” Or that her “pussy was 50 shades of grey.” Behemoth ex-Laker, Shaquille O’Neal’s “dick is so big he uses it as a selfie-stick.”

I think these jokes are freaking hilarious. And so did plenty of you. Bieber’s roast, like all the CC Roasts, got tremendous ratings.

Given the immense popularity of such bacchanalia, I can’t help but wonder about political correctness in general. Is there a time and place for such things or is it hypocritical to think so? I get confused sometimes, which is why I’m called tone deaf. Yet, one cannot tell me that saying the “N-word” is okay here but never anywhere else. Or that anal rape jokes are fine directed at Justin Bieber but unacceptable toward anyone else.

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Justin Bieber. Portrait of a young man as douche bag…

The best argument for such ethics compartmentalization is that it’s fine if we have a choice in the matter. Therefore, racial and sexually demeaning jokes are okay on a cable TV show but not in the workplace.

Justify it all you want but this is a double standard.

And the more work and home converge the grayer this all becomes. For example, if I want to re-tell one of the above-mentioned Comedy Central jokes at work the next day does that mean I am crossing a line? Or worse yet make me a racist-misogynist? A short time ago I was asked by someone at work to take down a Facebook post I’d made regarding the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Too sensitive a topic, I was told. People at work might be offended. Yet it was fair game on Comedy Central, a show these same people likely all watched. What gives?

Final note: Advertising tries desperately to ride the bleeding edge. But generally it is found chasing madly after it. Some of you may remember how Madison Avenue loved exploiting characters from SNL almost as fast as the show cranked them out. In terms of truly avant-garde, advertising is still bound by the typically conservative conventions of its many clients as well as antiquated ethics and suitability laws created for TV networks in the 20th century.