Toby Young Toby Young

Status Anxiety | 14 February 2009

I refuse to reinvent myself just because there is a new President and a recession

I had quite a sobering lunch this week. It was with Bill Griffin, the former CEO of Kiss FM and now the strategy director of a big London ad agency. The main topic of conversation was the cultural impact of the recession and Barack Obama’s election. Would brands that are closely associated with the boom era, such as Gucci and Prada, need to reinvent themselves in order to survive? This, in turn, led to a discussion of journalists and which ones are likely to go to the wall over the next 12 months. He took the view that the cynical, hard-bitten, wise-cracking style of many veteran hacks is out of step with the new, sombre mood of the times.

‘Are you saying I need to get a new act?’

‘You might want to think about tweaking your brand,’ he said. ‘Just standing on the sidelines and sniping may not win you many friends at the moment.’

I wonder if he is right. As a cynical, hard-bitten, wise-cracking journalist, I was quick to point out that plenty of pundits have come a cropper in the past by overestimating the significance of things like the credit crunch and the Obama effect. For instance, when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, one commentator predicted that people would ‘never laugh again’ and, more recently, 9/11 produced a series of announcements about the rebirth of serious journalism. ‘There’s going to be a seismic change,’ said Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair. ‘I think it’s the end of the age of irony.’

In fact, neither event had much impact on the overall tone of the culture. If anything, the public’s appetite for celebrity tittle-tattle increased after 9/11, as witnessed by the success of magazines like US Weekly and Heat.

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