No, this is not about the 1965 western series starring Chuck Connors whose theme song began,
All but one man died
There at Bitter Creek
And they say he ran away
Marked with a coward’s shame
What do you do when you’re branded?
Will you fight for your name?
Though it could be. I remember that show very well. (By the way, when I went to the website offering the Branded theme song video – to double-check the lyrics; I was letter perfect, by the way. Not bad for forty-six years – I learned that over three hundred and fifty thousand people had accessed that website before me.
Over three hundred and fifty thousand “hits! For a marginally successful – it ran for two seasons – cowboy show! And I still can’t get publishers to believe that a book about westerns can be popular. Grumble, grumble, grumble.)
All right. I am moving my vitriol in a different direction. I looked up “branded” in the dictionary, but I didn’t like any of the definitions, meaning, they didn’t fit what I’m talking about. They’re more about burning somebody’s skin with some identifying signifier. My concern does not involve skin mutilation. The branding is more of a subliminal nature.
A personal example:
About five years ago, I was hired by my friend, John Markus, to serve as the warm-up man for a barbecue contest, which was being shot in front of a live audience. My assignment was to fill in the gaps, keeping the folks in the bleachers entertained while the meat was cooking. It was no easy task.
“The pork shoulder will be finished in four-and-a half hours. So we have a little time to talk.”
A participant on one of the barbecue teams – they cooked in teams, though I could not tell you why; most of the activity seemed to involve standing around the cooker, waiting for the timer to go off. Anyway, a contestant who interested me – I had received printed “bios” on all the participants – was an amateur barbecuer, whose real job was being a tenured professor at Dartmouth, whose area of expertise was something called, “Public Policy.” I had no idea of the distinction?
“What’s ‘Private Policy’?”
“We are not permitted to say.”
I wanted to talk to the guy, learn something about “Public Policy”, and maybe share some of my political ideas, especially my long-time favorite:
“Every time a candidate disparages the other side, or exaggerates their own side’s virtues, they come off sounding like a typical politician, driving away not only the people who disagree with them, but also those vitally important independent voters, sensitive to the telltale signals of “business as usual.”
Hardly a wackadoodle concept, is it? I have wondered why no one in politics seemed to take that into consideration, and I was hoping, as a “Public Policy” expert, the Dartmouth professor might informatively weigh in on the matter. I imagined a stimulating and illuminating conversation with the man.
So, during a lull in the action – I believe they had temporarily run out of charcoal – I went over and introduced myself. The professor was neither cordial nor gruff. His mind was, understandably, on his barbecuing, but unlike other contestants – like “Bad Byron” Chism, who hawks “Bad Byron’s Butt Rub” on the Internet – he made minimal effort to be friendly.
After some preliminary “buttering up” – “I hear Dartmouth is a pretty good school.” “You must have to be pretty smart to teach there.” – I segued into my primary thesis about campaigning strategies that seem, to me, to drive potential voters away, rather than attracting them with a reasoned and respectful treatment of the issues.
Pretending to be busy, the professor totally blew my off, treating my words as if they were an annoying buzzing in his ears that he wished would, hopefully sooner than later, fly away and torture somebody else.
What was the reason for such treatment? Easy. The man was a distinguished professor at an Ivy League university, and I was a warm-up man at a barbecue contest. The professor had thus branded me:
“Not Worthy of his Valuable Time”,
Turning my considered opinions into an irritating hum.
Getting the neon-bright “Get away from me, Boy” signals, I cut short the conversation, and walked away. If I’d had a tail, it would definitely have been between my legs.
Twenty minutes later,
The professor bounds up to me. All smiles and excitement.
“I know who you are. I Googled your name. You’ve got quite a reputation.”
Everything had suddenly changed. I was no longer an easily dismissible Person of the Periphery. The professor’s research had led to my “re-branding.” I was now,
“Somebody Worth Talking To.”
Do you see what I’m gettin’ at here? Objectively, I was the same person. A person whose ideas merit consideration, or they don’t. But “Professor Barbecue” wasn’t working on that level. He was responding, on both occasions, to the branding, which, in my case, was
“ A ‘nobody’.”
Then twenty minutes later,
Nothing had changed. Except for the brand.
You can’t do that. At least, not to me.
I tried to be polite. But "affable" and "generous with my time" were no longer on the menu.
Which is, perhaps, understandable, but ultimately just as stupid. I never got to talk to the guy. My opinions were never tested. I might easily have learned something. If only I’d have been able to see past his brand, at least the one I nailed him with:
“Intellectually Snobby Asshole!”
It’s been five years, and the incident still pisses me off.
I wonder what that brands me now.