Camille Reyes

Posts Tagged ‘NYU’

Falling for It

In Culture, Education, PR on April 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I am exceptionally good at what I do.  I know you won’t click away now.  My arrogance has grabbed you.  I work in public relations.  They should do those Leno-style “man-on-the-street” interviews to ask people what PR people actually do.  That would be entertaining; although I’m going to tell you what we do right now.

We persuade.  We influence.  We whisper.  Like so many wizards behind curtains, we change narratives. The hidden quality is not accidental.  I’m probably pissing off a few colleagues right now by giving this away.  Many would prefer to be called “storytellers.”  Like Mr. Rogers, only not.  It is true, I have told stories in my career.  I’ve committed acts of journalism.  I’ve perpetrated information sharing that you later read in the New York Times under someone else’s by-line.  I’m not suggesting I actually write the stories you read (well, most of them at any rate).  I would, but I get paid more behind the curtain.  In this neighborhood, perception is reality, and perception-changers are kings¹.

Some may wonder how I can do what I do with any sort of conscience.  I’ve wondered the same.  I will tell you that I’ve never willingly promoted big oil or pharmaceuticals or God-forbid Monsanto.

I’m a PR person, not the Anti-Christ.

The more astute among you may have noticed I used the word “willingly” to modify the past-tense verb “promoted.”  That’s the tough part of living in the global society, of kicking it new school in America circa 2011.  You can never be exactly sure what you’re promoting, or buying, expelling or ingesting.  Everything is interconnected.  For example, you may have read about the astounding ways that General Electric legally gets away with not paying taxes.  This missing tax revenue might have been put to good use.

Just try not using a GE product sometime though.  You’d probably have to throw out an appliance or two, forget turning on a light bulb, hell, the energy itself is probably connected in some way to a GE subsidiary.  Just look at the astounding array of product groups (that’s groups, not individual products) for which they account.  GE is just the best at tax evasion.  All the other multi-nationals do it, too.  I know for a fact I’ve committed a lot of public relations for at least one of those corporations.  I won’t name them here.  I like to eat.

Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men told a group of NYU students at a workshop on Friday that there are 19,000 corporations registered in a single office building in the Cayman Islands.  There is not enough physical space on one of the islands to house that many operations, let alone one building.  It is a giant scam, a ruse, and they sip blended cocktails at our expense.  Or maybe just your expense, because I inadvertently promoted one of those 19k, and I will intentionally do it again soon because I like eating, and remember, I am exceptionally good at what I do.  This is bad news for you.

icarus|henri matisse|1947|1983.1009(8)

Image: Icarus by Henri Matisse from MetMuseum.org

Since I feel pity for you, I will share my secret, and it is, as I recently discovered, similar to the philosophy of Dave Bernbach, a titan of the advertising business.  I learn all the rules so that I can strategically break them.  I became an expert in “client expectations” and product marketing.  Then, I did the opposite of the norm.  I deliberately bent “best practices.”  I crushed the playbook.  I occasionally wrote decent messaging (that’s PR-speak for words that persuade you to buy stuff or ideas) by not reading my email every five minutes (I was literally marked down for the latter by clients).  As a result, I had the best relationships with “the influentials.”  My words were in the background of more “news.”  My special projects were more often approved to go “direct-to-consumers.”  In the end, I did and do these things not for personal glory (remember, what we do is hidden).  I did it to sell more <product>.  And you all fell for it.  I fell for it, too.  There is perhaps nothing more post-modern than defying convention in a way that reinforces conformity.

I’m trying to get out, and I say that with the twitch of an addict.  I’m slowly climbing the credentialed steps of academia.  I want to become a professor someday, and yes, I plan to teach public relations among other subjects.  The first thing I will say to my PR class is that public relations is quite possibly the worst subject in which a student could major… if the point of a college education is to develop critical thinking skills².  Of course, this is no longer the point.  The university is a corporation, too. College is vocational school.  There is nothing wrong with that except false advertising, and really poor placement rates.  Humanities programs are getting violently cut from institutions across the country.  This outcome is many years in the making.  Even <muffled noises so you can’t hear> years ago, my undergraduate major, English, prompted responses like, “That’s nice, but what are you going to do with it?”  (Btw, that do was dripping with upper-crust derision like Thurston Howell.)  Thankfully, I found my first job the old-fashioned way: nepotism.  Ah, from the depths of exploitation rise great capitalists.  Well, I’m actually an Icarus capitalist.  Hopefully, I won’t go splat on you.  I got the wings on sale.

I am, at thirtysomething, an anachronism for subscribing to a life of the mind, for genuinely believing that a single course might be worth $5,000.  Perhaps I’m a chump.

Perhaps I am the victim of some professorial cabal, working behind a clump of trees, conjuring ways to persuade me into massive debt.

All I can say is, the government can’t repossess my education… at least not until they come up with the technology for this purpose.  (One could argue advertising is one such technology, and I would listen.)

I choose this path not because of some higher moral ground.  The fact is I’m only good at writing and singing—communicating, if you will³.  Since Disney didn’t hire me out of college to play Ariel at a theme park, I figured the QWERTY was mightier than my vocal cords.  I tread here to someday make a difference, to write something or say something inspirational.  I chose higher education because, pound-for-pound, professors are my intellectual heroes (including my mother-an adjunct in, wait for it, Communication!) I’ve managed to find individuals within the university system who buck the corporatization effect, sometimes even without tenure, and the latter chumps deserve extra admiration because they are truly breaking the rules†.

¹For those of you who know me personally, this is a terrible pun on my last name.  My sincere apologies.

²Don’t get your knickers in a twist, PR grads.  I’m trying to make a larger point.  I know some PR majors capable of critically thinking my ass into next year.  Besides, do you think I’d want to teach PR if I didn’t respect it on some level? <pfft>

³My ex would add “schmoozing” to my short-list of skills.  As in, “Wow, babe, you really worked that room.”  This has a vaguely prostitution-y ring to it.  Thus the omission.

†Additional applause is also due to the PR people who continue to hire me for freelance work.  Despite my ornery views, I think there is such a thing as good propaganda.  My mentors and financiers will find it first.

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Steak is Overrated. A Prose Ode to Thomas Benton.

In Education on February 18, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Although I’m certain about finishing my MA, I’m not sure about getting my PhD.  If you read accounts like this one from Thomas H. Benton in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I would be one graham cracker short of a Smore for enlisting.  The comment trail to the article is equally interesting.  Benton has hit a nerve.  I’m one of those gals who actually likes to do a lot of research on prospective opportunities/fields.    My independent studies confirm the bleak conditions Benton describes.  Finding a tenure track position in the Humanities post graduation has only slightly better odds than becoming an astronaut.  Yet, I chuckle at a number of descriptions offered in the piece, including the idea that teaching and research assistants are some sort of cogs in the machine, an exploited labor force with the evil tenured bosses spitting on them from on high.

In the private sector, this form of “exploitation” is known as internships or junior staff.  There are many junior staffers who think they are above such menial tasks as teaching freshmen or making copies.  Those elitist jerks miss loads of opportunities.  Perhaps I watched The Secret of My Success with Michael J. Fox one too many times, but delivering those copies to the CEO and having a conversation in the process embodies an entrepreneurial spirit, not some laughable masochistic grad student behavior.  Same with teaching freshmen.  News flash for Benton: at some universities (read NYU) competition for even these teaching jobs is fierce, as it should be.

Does NYU have more delusional hordes than most schools?  Perhaps.

Is NYU a different animal because it is private and absurdly expensive?  Perhaps.  And this question of expense leads me to another point.

Benton derides the “life of the mind” as some fantasy world.  Is it any more of a fantasia than the working class HVAC brother he touts in the essay?  When I completed my undergraduate degree in English, well over a decade ago, my dream was to become financially independent.  There were many who forecasted doom simply because I chose to major in what I loved.  I owe Professor Robert “Rocky” Rockabrand for dispelling such myths.

To be fair, there were plenty of thunder heads; starting my career was extremely hard–right up there with divorce, home foreclosure, losing a job, pregnancy–or so I hear.  Would it have been any easier if I had majored in Business? No, partially because I’m less talented/interested in determining break-evens or traditional ROI.  I did my research then, as now.  I began in marketing/public relations at a theater, and for a time I really wanted to be a journalist.  I worked connections and landed a fancy freelance gig with a wildly respected daily newspaper, working at night while I slaved away  at Arthur Andersen (Benton should’ve been there!  Hello disillusionment. ) during the day.  There was a hiring freeze at the paper.  Even in the late 90s the media had a chronic cough.  They couldn’t hire me full-time, and I am so grateful because I would’ve been miserable.

After limited experience and observation, I came to the conclusion that journalists had it really, really bad–PhD holding bad.

I stuck with public relations so I could work with my journalist friends, yet eat filet mignon on Tuesdays.

This “strategy” or life plan worked much to my satisfaction for many years over the course of many companies, none greater than my last, the venerable PR agency, Waggener Edstrom.  I was living Benton’s private sector fantasy, driving around in my dream car fueled on healthy paychecks, benefits and only a B.A. in, gasp, English.  Had I a family to enjoy and help support, I probably would not have left.  I did not radically change my life because I was a bitter bunny either; I took a giant risk because I wanted something more.  Divine providence, hard work and many mentors brought me to NYU, not some brainwashing professorial cabal.  Grad students are, by my estimation, better than your average exploited worker at making informed choices.  Benton is kind to write with such truth, and he will no doubt help many students.  Yet, this is his truth, not mine.

I admit the mounting debt from student loans looms large.  I miss the Caesar salad at El Gaucho, and my sweet Mini Cooper S.  Double for my Portland friends or my adorable dog, now happily retired with his grandparents in Florida while I read Heidegger in Brooklyn.  The other side of my ledger is looking plump though too, filled with big ideas about the fate of the media in this country, critical theory, even I Love Lucy.  I’m learning kaleidoscopes from brilliant faculty and fellow students; I’m happy… for now.  Keeping my fantastic life of the mind going will come with continued sacrifice, yet it also will come with value–a value determined by me-the little worker, dear Benton.  I will weigh my choices once more, as soon as I finish reading The Death and Life of American Journalism with relish.

For a lovely retort to Benton check out Matt Feeny’s essay:

http://theamericanscene.com/2010/02/16/is-the-phd-trap-a-trap-ii

To Joy, with love

In Philosophy on December 10, 2009 at 4:49 pm

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I’ve been stressed lately.  The last time I was genuinely stressed involved a software company in Washington and a overdeveloped sense of responsibility.  The culprit this time is academia and a overdeveloped sense of politics.  I’ve been playing the “what should I get my PhD in” game, and losing.  A friend helped me realize today, through one of her web sites, that I was putting the strategy before the horse.

Before I pick mad gifted doctoral program #1 (of 6-10), I need to stop, collaborate and listen.  Who knew Vanilla Ice was a philosopher?  Me, that’s who.  What do I WANT to do?  I chose NYU and grad school even though it meant some pretty large professional sacrifices, not the least of which was working for the best PR agency in the universe.  This choice has proven to be a magical one–exactly what I was destined to do.

My dad and I talk about destiny a lot.  He believes that we already know what we know, we just have to uncover it.  Sounds a bit like Heidegger, Plato and a lot like my dad–my Cuban American poet/anarchist. I toss a certain spiritual, God directed element into that mix thanks to my mother and her mother before her.  Walk on down the line.  I wish more people could look at life in this manner.  It might not be the most productive system, but it sure feels good. Kudos to mom and pops.

I want to perform, period.  I love sharing, be it through writing or singing in particular. A doctorate would work wonders for my writing, no matter the Humanities field.  I relish the scholarly discipline and the incredible feedback of the academic process.  Yet, I also want to share broadly (hello, blog; next stop world) and the academy holds very few open houses.  Then there is the music. 

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The New Me?

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2009 at 6:43 am

I just received a typed page of notes on my paper, my first in 14 years, from a professor at NYU.  She opens, “Well you can truly tell you are a writer.”  How strange, and wonderful, that in my first college paper at Principia, I received a similar note, although not one nearly so affirming.  Dr. Campbell told the little freshman me, “You could be a writer if you wanted to be, but you’d have to give up family, fame and fortune to do it.”

I have been haunted by that sentence for nearly two decades.  I have even avoided the use of the word “writer” in any sort of meaningful identity sense, opting instead to see it as a skill I enjoy.  Better to be a publicist, because I won’t lead a life of misery, as described by my former prof.  To be fair, he was an excellent teacher, making me a far better writer by insisting on “a sparkle in every paragraph.”  You see, I remember the good stuff he said, too.  I’m not sure professors know the full extent of their influence, at least on me, at any rate.

So now, I am told I am a writer without the nasty, arguable baggage.  I have achieved that state of being, and in her eyes, the sentence ends there.  Period.  Ah, glorious punctuation!  Praise aside, my current professor also gave me valid and ample constructive criticism.  Frankly, I suspected I need to be more precise and get “closer to the texts.”  I’ve always leaned on the lyrical quality she praises, and used it to “get away” with stuff.

This was not born of a lazy attitude, but rather a warped sense of time.  For 14 years, I excelled in promoting ideas at an extremely rapid pace.  Breadth over depth was richly rewarded.

The well-fed writer I accidentally became viewed time in terms of billable hours and “client delight.”

Now, not only do I have the luxury of time, I must demand myself to use that time to go deep into the texts.  This is my new job.  The writer aspires to be the scholar.  I have a lot of unfamiliar work to do.

Fire, Brimstone, and Academia

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 3:37 am

At age 35, I’m about to chuck a rocketing PR career well over a decade in the making in order to go to grad school.  I’m leaving the best company I’ve ever worked for (Waggener Edstrom) and moving across the country (that seems to be the only way I move) to enroll in New York University’s Media, Culture and Communication program.  I think I might even want to drink the tequila worm and get my PhD.  We shall see.  Some might call my choice ill advised, especially in these (cue announcer voice) “uncertain economic times.”  I call it liberating–a big fat present to me that I will be paying off until I have tennis balls on a walker.

I intend to update this blog with my new adventures in media.  I pledged to cover miscellany too, and for tonight’s installment, I want to share what a co-worker told me in the hall yesterday.  Upon learning that I was moving to NY, she said, “Oh, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get mugged or worse while you’re there, so be safe.”  First of all, have you no filter, woman?!  I’m single, five feet tall, with no meaningful right hook.  Don’t you think I’m already scared out of my mind without you, a former New Yorker, feeding me lines like that?  Listening to a sermon from Revelation would be more comforting.  

Aside from my certain doom, I think I’m going to love NYU.