Volume 2, No. 2: February 9, 2005

Begin With Love

By Michael Bouman

I think my mother has had a lifelong love/hate relationship with advertising.   My late father, at some point after I began my career, developed a habit of hitting the Mute button every time a TV commercial came on, so my memories of visits to my parents include the swiss-cheese sound effects of inaudible (and therefore attention-riveting) television punctuated by audible, usually forgettable, "real" television. Although my mother once wrote a term paper on "Opportunities for Women in Advertising," it's her loathing for the pitch-man that has informed my adult life. Ever since college, when I took a course in advertising and absorbed David Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man, I have deduced the demographic of each program's audience by seeing who the commercials are talking to.

In recent years I have noticed that certain high-profile evening news programs have blurred the distinction between news content and the interests of commercial sponsors. One in particular seems to have as its secret motto, "You'd better watch out! You'd better be scared!" and its commercial content appears to aim at the worries and fears of retirees. These targets were in their prime in 1964 and probably considered the following Paul McCartney verse to be drivel rather than prophecy:

Please lock me away
And don't allow the day
Here inside, where I hide with my loneliness
I don't care what they say, I won't stay
In a world without love

"World without love, Amen" goes the imaginary evening vesper at the news networks. The Weather Channel, which is a 24/7 variant on evening news, pummels the anxieties of my parents' generation. I am filled with my mother's loathing for the pitch-man who is "proud to be the paid spokesman!" of a funeral insurance company.  I'm glad that my mother never got into advertising to be used, as I saw Mickey Rooney used this morning, to endorse supplemental life insurance.

Rather than supplement life, we should just have it. Once, while trying to write an advertisement for a family reading program, I came up with a line that changed my outlook on the work I do: The love of reading begins with love. I had not known I was going to go there until my pen moved across the face of the paper. What my pen told me has informed my work for the past eighteen years. That line takes me back to Mom reading to my sister and me, every day, in a small New Jersey town named New Egypt.

A reading program is not about the book, though a good book helps a great deal. It is about the investment we make in each other. Love and the failures of love are the bedrock of the humanities. To Kill a Mockingbird is a love story.  Homer's Iliad is concerned with the way unresolved anger fractures a community of soldiers.  One translation begins, Anger be your song, immortal one. Homer's lines pull no punches.  The listener is thrust immediately into a scene of corpses on a battlefield picked at by dogs and birds.  It is a horrifying prospect to imagine, and it is right there in less than ten seconds' reading time from the opening word, "anger."  The scriptures that frame the lives of so many people of the world have much to say about relationships here on earth.  Taking these things into account, I don't think there is a more profound human question than "who are you to me?"

Only three years ago I realized that a historical society is necessarily engaged in stewardship for the story, the place, and the human population. In stewardship, probably nothing is more important than the desire to be a friend, to take due care.  In reading to someone, or in telling them a story within your museum, you are performing the sacraments of friendship.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom.