Friday, December 5, 2008

What's the Worst Industry in America?

A totally subjective list only loosely grounded on dispassionate observation:
1.) The Airline Industry
I would rather travel in a rickshaw from Detroit to O'Hare -- nay, I would rather operate a rickshaw with passengers that consisted entirely of a family of morbidly obese manatees in the dead of winter wearing naught but my socks than get aboard a plane these days.

Airport security should be the very definition of clinical insanity. Every flight is oversold and I swear I've seen knife fights break out in terminals between travelers trying to just get the hell out of Memphis. (How did they get knives past the TSA? They didn't need to. They fashioned shivs from the trash bin at the Sbarro in the terminal. Modern airline passengers are either a.) goddamn resourceful when they are thrust into the Hobbesian States of Nature which are airport terminals, or b.) also know how to make pruno) If you are lucky enough to get on board the experience is simply miserable -- every archetypal fear on the emotional spectrum is pushed to the breaking point continuously over the course of the flight. Airlines used to serve food and drinks to help sooth passengers fears of heights and the rapid decent in a flaming aluminum tube there from. The food sucked, but it wasn't meant to be good -- just comfort food. Now that's gone and replaced with the stifling feeling of claustrophobia that comes with airlines trying to pack each plane with as many poor schumcks as possible.

By the way, I'm a very low maintenance traveler with a high threshold for transportational bullshit. I don't mind being inconvenienced from time to time. But every time I travel it's the same thing: stressed out employees at the gate and on the plane who think that their airport ID badge makes them a second Lieutenant in the army of Fuck You, long lines to check in the luggage/go through security, and fewer flights to choose from.

Yet despite these fewer flights, and presumably fewer planes cluttering the runways, I feel like I'm spending more time taxiing on the tarmac and can't remember that last time a flight I was on arrived on time.

It sucks. I hate it. Maybe flying is better in Korea, where apparently ejaculating champagne bottles are served gratis. I don't want to hear 9/11 excuses anymore. Every time I fly these days I'm resigned to the fact that traveling days will be miserable and there won't be anything I can do about it. I'd rather be slapped in the face as I board the plane rather than greeted cheerily. It would be at least a token shred of honesty in an otherwise miserable business transaction.
2.) Financial Services Industry
Thanks guys.

(Editor's note: If this were an objective list, the financial services industry would be number one with a bullet, as the kids once said, but the vast and ubiquitous damage this industry has done to the economy pales in comparison to my personal contempt for the airline industry.)
3.) Newspaper Industry
If you ever get a chance to read Editor and Publisher magazine -- the trade rag of record for the dead tree press -- these days, then you must know how it felt to read the published names of dead soldiers during the Civil War. See exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P and Q.

And that's just in the last five days.

Many papers have finally gotten wise to the fact that they need to shift their platform from hard copy to online, but they haven't figured out that the proliferation of news on the internet actually places a larger burden on them to report more local stories. I'd be so bold as to suggest that most papers ditch the AP services they subscribe to and focus entirely on local issues or come up with original content on national/world issues through a local lens. That requires more (or better) reporters, not fewer. Instead, they're shedding staffs and thinning their products. That's when the death spiral begins, eventually giving us this bleak future:
"Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010," the Chicago-based credit ratings firm said in a report on the outlook for U.S. media and entertainment.
Could the Oshkosh blogosphere pick up the slack if the NW went under? Not at first -- where's the local high school sports blog? Then again, I'd imagine that sooner or later part-time bloggers would eventually find a way to do what the pros did.

[MORE: Jesus, it's even worse than I thought...]
4.) The Music Industry
I have a theory -- explained over numerous pints of beer at watering holes across the country to various friends -- that the artistic health of pop music is directly proportional the health of the recording business. The RIAA dicked around for over a decade trying to fight internet piracy and it got them nowhere. Instead of working with the internet, the RIAA clung desperately to the CD model that made them very rich in the '80s. The problem with this model is that it requires brick and morter retail outlets. Sure, you had soulless places like Wal-mart that sold a ton of records for a while, or product-specific chains like Tower in the malls of America, but then you had regional chains like the Exclusive Co. or stores like Atomic Records in Milwaukee or Fifth Element in Minneapolis.

Go into the Exclusive Co. today and it's mostly DVDs and audio hardware ... and Atomic is closing down in February. No one buys records any more. It's all iTunes or file-sharing now, but even that doesn't seem to compensate for the dip in sales.

And there's every reason to believe that it's only going to get worse.

I thought that a friend who works for a record label (this used to be a sexy job, one she worked all of her life for, but she can barely bring herself to admit it to strangers these days) was joking when she said that the only way labels make money these days is from ringtones. She wasn't (though that might not even be true anymore). That's simply not a sustainable business or artistic model.

Pop music is not going anywhere, but like all arts it needs to be cultivated. When an industry is in decline and denial, it simply doesn't have the capacity or patience to
develop talent. That's when the High School Musical Soundtrack becomes the best-selling album of the year -- and it would take a lot of sex and drugs to convince musicians that it's worth being that lame.
5.) The Auto Industry
Here's a story that I think illustrates the ills of the American auto industry quite well:

A family I know has not owned an American car since the early '90s when the Buick they owned started on fire. When the fire department completed the investigation they determined the official cause of the fire was -- and I'm not kidding about this -- "spontaneous combustion." Those words are actually on the official report. Apparently the insurance company, obviously thinking there was some kind of fraud afoot, needed numerous additional paperwork explaining the cause further.

This was the last American car this family ever bothered looking at.

Detroit is really up shit's creek. Three weeks ago I would have thought they were a lock to get their bailout cash, but now I don't think Congress would trust them to make change for a dollar. They screwed this up in almost the same way they screwed up their businesses: take a whole bunch of shit for granted (cheap gas/money from Congress) and aggressively ignore strategic thinking (I didn't hear any of the three CEOs talk about business plans after 2010). Bailout or no -- and let's face it, any bailout the auto companies get is likely to be just a stop-gap measure that prevents at least one of them from going under for x number of months -- Detroit is going to be a much smaller place in a few years.

There. I'm sure there are many more. Drop your suggestions for additional industries that suck in the comments below.

1 comment:

capper said...

Social Services.

Every time there is talk of a spending cut, social services is the first to go. It can't be anything like stopping from paving the entire state or giving tax breaks to big companies. Instead, it's got to be screw the poor, elderly and disabled and lay off their workers.