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Mother’s bleeding her dead children
single-celled, invertebrate
born in the water of her womb
after the Word, below the light
amniotic deaths, sand and silt shrouds
mass graves of viscous black rot

Mother’s bleeding, her dead children
finned, feathered, furred
still in the water where life began
anointed by the exhumed hemorrhage
innocent sacrifice of awakening
your sleeping terrestrial siblings

Mother’s bleeding her, dead, children
thin-skinned, thick-headed
water and oil have never mixed
excuses confuse a simple choice
eat, drink, breathe where if her wounds drain dry?
return to her—or return to her
She will welcome you, either way

So what makes this the Age of Persuasion, and why write about it?

Advertising — like it or not — is the mightiest, most pervasive culture force of the 21st Century. It’s infused in every aspect of life today. Ads are on condoms, in space, in churches, and stamped on the sand at public beaches. Ads are written into books (not ours!) movies, even stage plays. I think we need to start a meaningful dialogue about how all that affects our culture.

 

You and co-author Terry O’Reilly are both functioning ad men- doesn’t that make you biased when you write about advertising?

We love what we do. Make no mistake there. That said: we think a majority of the ads people see and hear on a given day fail. Speaking for myself, I believe 95% of ad creation is garbage, strewn carelessly across the culture landscape. 4% might actually earn people’s time and attention.

 

Okay, ad-guy: are there places you believe ads should not go?

I wish newspapers and news broadcasts were not ad-driven. It forces editors and reporters to look over their shoulders. Imagine reporting on the Gulf spill when you know BP is a sponsor. Or any other oil giant? Trouble is, I can’t think of another economic model that works for delivering news.

Personally- again I speak for myself here- I also believe there’s no place for ads in public schools, no matter how cash-strapped they are. It crosses a line from serving kids to using them- literally selling their time and attention to advertisers.

 

Yikes. So what good is there in advertising?

More than people give it credit for. It underwrites the cost of so much of our media- TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and yes, websites. It helps pay for our public transit. And every now and then- maybe once in every umpteen thousand ads- there’s are ads that actually inspire: rare gems that leave the cultural campsite better than they found it.

 

Name three.

Terry put me onto the magnificent Volkswagen ads of the early 1960s, by Doyle Dane Bernbach of New York, including print ads headlined “Think Small” and “Lemon,” and sensational TV ads such as “Funeral” and “Snow Plough,” which live on today on YouTube.

More recently, the fantastic TV ad for Old Spice, and the “World’s Most Interesting Man” campaign for Dos Equis are better entertainment, to me, than much of the broadcast content they sponsor. There are always a few great ads out there; ask anyone who goes to a revue cinema to watch award-winning ads from Cannes or the London International Ad Awards or the New York Festivals.

 

Gusty day, isn’t it?

Yeah. But then, these are gusty times.

 


No one likes alligators, really. Most people appreciate them fried or turned into boots, but when they are real, alive, and sidling up to your fishing boat, they are less enjoyable. When you see an alligator in the water, you keep your distance. You don’t entice or antagonize it. You sure as hell don’t cast your fishing line thatway. In Louisiana, you grow up with a healthy respect for your toothy reptilian cousins. I fear no human being, but an alligator is one force I will not test.


This is where I grew up. I know it doesn’t mean anything to you. It matters to me, though, and all the reasons I can think of for you to care are insufficient. There’s seafood, alligators, oil, and the economy. But then there’s my home.  That blue-brown swirl spilling out of a little wet crack in the earth? Yes, that. That’s where I’m from.

It’s not really a spill. It’s more like a gusher. A deep wound. It’s like being stabbed in the belly while wearing your Sunday best, something your grandmother made for you, something irreplaceable.

It’s like hearing your first love got hit by a train and seeing photos of his mangled body on the news while the broadcasters banter about how this is going to be some awful PR for the railroad business, and there you are at home, sitting in the glow of your TV, screaming inside and unable to act. There you are – watching part of your life die on the evening news while everyone feels sorry for the killer. The murderer. Sick.

Sulphur is the dot where I lived for my first 18 years. From where I grew up, the gulf is about an hour’s drive. You put your boat in the water at Cameron, the grey stone jetties guide you out, until the floor of the Gulf drops off and finally it’s just you and that fine line of a horizon, bobbing along together. Only you don’t really get that kind of intimacy with the sky because it’s interrupted by oil rigs unless you go out pretty far.


When fishing, you may find the rigs useful, as you can tie your boat up to one — they keep you from drifting off aimlessly. And at the end of the day, a pod of porpoises may join you on your way back to shore. They’d swim right at the bow of your boat, just riding along, jumping, escorting you. They’re in the dolphin family, but they’re not the same as the widely loved bottlenose dolphin. Maybe they’re not as cute or as open to being domesticated. Maybe they’re too damn Cajun for that showbiz nonsense. But they, like everything else that makes its home in the Gulf, are threatened by this oil spill.

Every dark dot in the water is an oil rig.  You can see how close they are to the mainland. Close enough that if any one of them sprung a leak, the nearby shoreline would be destroyed.


The rig that actually collapsed was 50 miles from shore, near
Venice, LAThe oil has been drifting away from my hometown and toward Florida instead, and for that we feel lucky. Lucky, but far from thrilled. It’s like feeling grateful when a hurricane turns the other way or when the flood waters rise in someone else’s neighborhood. We can always say that wasn’t our fault. We can call it a natural disaster and say prayers and collect canned food to donate to those whose homes were destroyed in one of nature’s mood swings. This is the kind of thing you’re used to if you grew up on the Gulf Coast.

An oil rig, on the other hand? That’s our fault. That’s straight up, undeniable, human stupidity.

Even the canal in the woods, where my best friend and I used to trek on summer afternoons to feel like explorers, is connected to the oil-vulnerable Calcasieu River. There are so many waterways in Louisiana that some of them don’t even have names. They’re just “the canal” or “that little inlet,” but they are all connected. Every last one of them. Every little blue line on the map goes somewhere.

We human beings have become too sure of ourselves, and we need alligators. We need some animals left that scare the daylights out of us. Do you know what happens when an alligator gets its teeth around you? In Louisiana, we call it a death roll. When an alligator has you in a death roll, there is no escape unless something juicier strolls by. But I’m afraid an alligator has no defense against oil spills.

*Please note: I had help editing this essay from my amazing editor friend Ellie Di. She can be found on Twitter @Ellie_Di. She’s also the founder of The Wholestyle Network.