Is there a top? There has to be if there is an “over the top.” If there is an “over”, what is its definition? The dictionary says “excessive.”
At the risk of abstraction, let me push this inquiry a bit further.
My Dad used the phrase “tall cotton”. He meant better than should be expected, as in “son, you are in tall cotton” when I went to work in New York City. He was right.
New Yorkers are always looking for an experience that exceeds their expectations. But then how do you beat The Sound of Music on Broadway or a jazz set at the Village Vanguard featuring Wynton Marsalis? The truth is you shouldn’t expect it. Great effort, creativity and at least some luck might, just might, draw even.
The ambition to exceed is often debilitating and that is where much of the world finds itself today. In the media, which I know best, exceeding often translates to copying the original but throwing in something outrageous.
Kim Kardashian, the new Marilyn Monroe? Let’s see what iPhone number are we on? Can the Snickers bar get any longer to justify another price increase?
Marketing is awash in “over the top.” As is life; better abs, sex, looks, relationships! The travel Ads write of “unspeakable beauty” and then after hours of unnerving travel you find yourself among the hordes taking selfies to show they have been there. I take no selfies amidst unspeakable beauty or for that matter any time.
Speaking of life, is stability possible? Jobs? Relationships? Family? Books, Ads and Apps are always promising yet more excitement or satisfaction just up the road. Doesn’t seem to be working, as the real growth is about a longing that is often both desperate and elusive?
We certainly know there is growth in new diets for both ourselves and the climate. Both suffer from “over the top.” And we know there is continuing deterioration in civic cohesion and church attendance. What is the cause and effect? Do we spend enough time working toward the answer?
Sometimes when the cotton is tall it is, well, too tall—too much plant, not enough cotton. As the new decade begins, I am looking for understatement and over-delivery. I, we, will have to look hard and not get our hopes up too high. If we find that sublime moment, it is likely to be close to home and with friends and family.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.