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Out of Scope Issue 13: “The,” “Op-Ed,” and “Apologies”
This week’s non-required thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we’ve got some advice: Avoid the Noid, go maskless outdoors (in certain situations), take the blame when it’s right to do it, don’t compare yourself to historical figures without irony, and don’t try to brand essential elements of grammar. All these lessons and more below...
📡 ON OUR RADAR
What happens when someone decides to leave a nasty Yelp-esque review about you? NYT reporter Aaron Krolik took a deep dive into the darker corners of online reputation management. His piece, The Slander Industry, shows us just how far some will go for their reputations.
Artists have been using style changes to mark new eras for a while now. From Picasso to Taylor Swift, fans know that a change means something big is happening. Billie Eilish released her first music video as a blonde after sporting dark hair with neon green roots for the last three years. At this point, keen fans know that this new blonde ‘do is the mark of an exciting new direction in the artist’s music. We all love the power of a good rebranding, and if anyone can pull off a style evolution, it’s Billie.
For anyone who feels SNL has lost its cultural relevance, think again, because the reaction around Elon Musk hosting this Saturday would have you believe that the weekly selection is among our society’s highest honors. Anyone invested in dogecoin is certainly not complaining.
This week’s silliest branding fight: THE.
The New York Times is retiring the term “op-ed” in favor of the term “guest essay” - a step that may result in less confusion in an age with fewer physical newspaper pages. The word’s origin comes from the NYT’s original placement of opinion pieces opposite the editorial page - but with the move to mass news consumption online and context-free, the term “op-ed” has given some writers’ words more weight in the public’s eyes than they might have deserved. By rebranding to “guest essay” terminology, editors might breathe a bit easier hoping that they can avoid any lingering fallout from what many felt was a bungled handling of their firing of former op-ed editor James Bennett.
Legendary race and gender theorist Cornell West throws down in the latest battle of the culture war, advocating (to the surprise of at least one HL staffer) for the Western canon at Howard University.
Basecamp became the second company of late to ban politics chat at work, citing a hindrance to productivity. The policy sparked a tweetstorm of objections and a new severance package for disgruntled employees, which begs the question: where’s the line between talking about what’s going on in the world and politics-driven conversation? To misquote Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “The dividing line of polite and impolite discourse runs through the heart of every company.”
You’ve come a long way, baby….now it's time to stop. Menthols have been a scourge on the youth of America — especially young black Americans — since the late 1950s. As any Thank You for Smoking fan knows, tobacco industry lobbyists have always had a seat of power, until now...maybe. This week, the FDA presented their plan to finally start the ban on menthol cigarettes, buoyed in part by the cultural pressures unleashed in the last 12 months. Menthols will probably be one of the few cancel culture victims we are happy to see go.
Is destigmatizing psychedelic drugs…far out? On the one hand, this biopharma company is looking at a pretty substantial IPO for using psychedelics to treat mental health disorders. On the other hand, a Silicon Valley CEO was just fired for microdosing at work. Will Peter Thiel be the one to normalize (and commercialize) psychedelics?
The oat milk war rages on. This is our third week in a row covering it!
🏆 REPUTATION FAIL OF THE WEEK: Rachel Hollis
Lifestyle author Rachel Hollis, known for her book Girl, Wash Your Face, is facing backlash this month after posting a fairly tone-deaf video where she said, “Literally everything I do in my life is to live a life that most people can’t relate to. Most people won’t work as hard. Most people won’t get up at 4 am… Literally, every woman I admire in history was unrelatable,” topping it off with a caption referring to Harriet Tubman, Oprah Winfrey, and others. Her video seemed to convey the message that people that work hard should have enough money to afford a housekeeper - ignoring the fact that so-called “low-skilled workers” like her housekeeper are likely working just as hard, if not more so, to earn their living. But Hollis didn’t stop there - when prominent black women like Rachel Cargle, Austin Channing Brown, and Luvvie Ajayi commented on the post to offer their critiques, their comments were deleted.
When she finally offered a notes app “apology” post a few days later, she took the time to write “I listened to my team instead of my gut,” passing the buck onto her staff. Our comms takeaway? When there’s a real mishap, taking the blame at the top is the right thing to do and shows a level of integrity that can help mitigate some of the blowback.
💡ON OUR MINDS
It’s official: The CDC says if you’re fully vaccinated and enjoying a pleasant outdoor stroll, masks aren’t necessary.
This idea isn’t new: many experts have called for an end to overzealous mask mandates and other forms of “hygiene theater” when it’s been known that outdoor exposure risk for coronavirus is extremely low. It’s no secret that masks have been a form of virtue signaling in the past year, a way to show your neighbors that you’re paying attention and doing the “right” thing - even if that thing isn’t particularly useful.
Looking back a year ago, when findings from a draft (aka, not yet final or peer-reviewed!) research study were published on Medium, people panicked about the safety of running maskless in pandemic times, worried that risk of contracting the virus would be even higher. Those findings have since been clarified and, for the most part, debunked.
On the other hand, some critics worry that the updated CDC guidance makes it easier for anti-vaxxers to go maskless or confusing for people who now aren’t sure when they should or shouldn’t wear a mask - putting the public at risk.
NOSTALGIA FOR THE NOID
We all remember the beloved 80’s Domino’s trickster mascot, the Noid, right? And by “we all,” we actually mean only the only one of the HL team whose childhood stretches back into the 1980s. Everyone else had to google it.
To save you a few clicks, The Noid is Domino’s bunny-eared antihero mascot destined to try and interrupt the pizza chain’s 30 minutes or less delivery promise. The Noid did everything he could to thwart delivery drivers, from downed power lines to blowing up potholes.
But he’s back! In an unexpected retro-meets-the-future move, Domino’s is reincarnating the Noid so he can try to compete with the new kind of delivery driver—Nuro, a fully autonomous robot vehicle.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print: