The Illustrated History of Stealth Marketing

Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit.

 (“Let a purchaser beware, for he ought not to be ignorant

of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”)

Oxford Reference

Prologue

Let’s start with two questions.

Question #1: Should you have the right to know when you’re being advertised to?

Question #2: Should you have the right to know who is advertising to you?

Both questions lie, so to speak, at the heart of stealth marketing, which takes the form of product placement, custom content, native advertising, brand journalism, your euphemism goes here. They are all, in the end, ads in sheep’s clothing.

The answer to Question #1 has traditionally been yes, with audiences expecting clear distinctions between advertising and editorial content.

But as we know, tradition is generally out of style nowadays. So myriad media publications have lured myriad marketers (and their myriad marketing dollars) with the promise of ads tricked out as something other than advertising.

The deception is the point for stealth marketers: The less apparent the selling is, the less it triggers the average consumer’s natural resistance to being sold. Rule of thumb: the more opaque the sales pitch, the better.

The interests of reputable publishers, by contrast, run counter to those of stealth marketers: The more that readers/listeners/viewers find themselves duped into mistaking advertising for editorial content, the more a publisher’s integrity and credibility could be eroded.

That tension was neatly captured by legendary media critic A.J. Liebling, who wrote in the 1960s, “The function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money.”

In the 21st century, stealth marketing has come to represent a major source of that money. In 2019, U.S. product placement rang up over $11 billion in spending, while native advertising expenditures in the U.S. approached $53 billion in 2020.

That’s real money for fake content.

As for Question #2, it’s instructive to examine the work of lawyer/lobbyist Rick Berman, who – as CBS’s 60 Minutes reported in 2007 – relishes the nickname “Dr. Evil.”

Berman is in the business of establishing fog-machine front groups to promote corporate interests ranging from the fast food industry to soft drink manufacturers to Big Tobacco to any corporation fighting minimum-wage increases.

Here’s a partial portfolio of Rick Berman’s Potemkin Non-Profits.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch characterized Berman’s grift this way.

Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman, represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Berman & Co. has lobbied for companies such as Cracker Barrel, Hooters, International House of Pancakes, Olive GardenOutback SteakhouseRed Lobster, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday’s, Uno’s Restaurants, and Wendy’s.

Berman & Co. operates a network of dozens of front groups, attack-dog web sites, and alleged think tanks that work to counteract minimum wage campaigns, keep wages low for restaurant workers, and to block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, and drunk driving and more. 

In 2013-14, Berman and his Employment Policy Institute “think tank,” have led a national fight against campaigns to raise the minimum wage and to provide paid sick leave for workers with renewed attacks on proponents (including the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of Sourcewatch), misleading reports, op-eds, TV and radio ads and more.

Source Watch has tons more dirt on Berman if you’re so inclined. You can also review some of Berman’s handiwork elsewhere on this blog, as well as at Sneak Adtack and It’s Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town. Also instructive: Berman’s 2009 tango with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow here and here.

This, however, has to be the quintessential Rick Berman story.

The roll call of Berman’s front groups featured above came from the website BermanExposed.org, which was dedicated to tracking the corporate gunsel’s endless smoke-screen campaigns.

But somehow, somewhere along the line, Berman co-opted/acquired the BermanExposed URL so that when you go there now, you get this.

To recap: Changing the Debate means not only that Berman is reframing public-policy issues to serve the corporate interests of his clients, but also that he’s turned BermanExposed into BermanSuperimposed.

That’s not even evil. That’s just brilliant.

Then again, let’s step back and play devil’s advocate for a moment.

Take the issue of what Berman’s ads call the Food Police, those government agencies and officials who want to regulate the consumption of trans fats, sugar, salt – anything the public health community deems potentially harmful to the well-being of the average American.

Question #3: Is the role of government regulation regarding individual choices a legitimate issue for debate?

If so, Question #4: How does that debate happen?

Let’s say McDonald’s runs a nationwide advertising campaign that opposes federal restrictions on trans fats. Would the fast-food chain’s argument be taken seriously by the American public, or would it be dismissed as a naked attempt to promote McDonald’s financial interests?

If the issue of government regulation of trans fats is indeed a legitimate subject of debate, wouldn’t the American public be better served if those regulations were opposed by what seemed to be a neutral party – even if, in reality, it wasn’t neutral?

In other words, does Rick Berman’s duplicity actually foster a more worthwhile public debate?

We know: It hurts to say that maybe it does.

But maybe it does.

The Sneak in Review

There has been stealth marketing in American media since the beginning of American media.

As Juliann Sivulka noted in her book Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising, the first known ad in America was embedded in the 1704 Boston News-Letter.

It’s also the first example of native advertising – an ad fashioned to look like the editorial content surrounding it . . .

Find the rest of the hidden war on American consumers at Sneak Adtack.

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Massachusetts to Unemployment Recipients: Pay It Backward

Bay State officials have embarked on the Great Covid Clawback of 2022, as Boston Globe columnist Larry Edelman reports today.

Mass. seeks to claw back at least $2.7 billion in jobless benefits it says were incorrectly paid

The Department of Unemployment Assistance made overpayments on about 719,000 claims in 2020-2021. It’s going after recipients even if they weren’t at fault.

In the early months of the pandemic, when nearly 700,000 local jobs disappeared in a flash, the Baker administration was caught in a bind: There was a massive backlog of unemployment claims, but laid-off workers needed money fast or a bad economic crisis would only get worse.

The Department of Unemployment Assistance rushed to get benefit checks out the door ASAP, even as vetting applicants was made more complicated by the sheer volume of work and confusing eligibility rules for new federal relief programs. While delays persisted, the DUA says it ultimately delivered $33 billion in state and federal jobless payments in 2020 and 2021 to almost 4 million people.

Problem is, according to Edelman, “[at] least $2.7 billion in benefits went to claimants who, the DUA later determined, received too much money or weren’t eligible for unemployment in the first place.”

And now the DUA wants its money back in sums ranging from several thousand dollars to $80,000 or more, Edelman writes.

The DUA issued what are called overpayments on 719,000 jobless claims from March 2020 through September 2021 . . . The department says that the number of claims still unresolved stood at 383,000 last month and that individuals may have more than one claim.

To be clear, we’re not talking about the gangs of scammers who took Massachusetts — and other states — for billions of dollars by filing fraudulent claims with stolen personal information. That’s an entirely different problem.

No, these folks run the gamut from minimum-wage workers to white-collar professionals, and most applied for relief in good faith. They never dreamed the state might come back months later and say, “Sorry, we made a mistake. Pay up.”

I was involved in a similar clawback in the mid-’70s when I worked at the Social Security Administration as a claims representative in the Supplemental Security Income program.

As I chronicled in The Redemption Unit, a memoir of my misadventures in the SSI trenches, when SSA launched the SSI program in 1974, it took aged, disabled and blind people off the state welfare rolls and put them on the federal dole.  Problem was, it pretty much paid everyone top dollar in their category, so after the transfer was complete, every claimant needed to be “redetermined.”

That’s where I – and a cadre of other recent college grads, civil service exams being the last refuge of the liberal arts major – came into the picture. We did the redetermining. And when that was done, the overpayment notices went out.

I’ll let The Redemption Unit take it from here.

When the last claimant’s benefits had been redetermined and the government added up its losses, it immediately decided to recoup them by initiating the Overpayment Recovery Program. Letters went out – on green paper instead of redetermination red – telling claimants they had to come in to the District Office. And the whole kabuki dance started all over again.

   Claimant plunks green letter down on desk.  File comes out. Conversation begins.

   “Mrs. Patterson, our records show that you were overpaid during the past two years by a total of $2162.”

   “I never got no check for $2162.”

   Conversation effectively ends.

In essence the Overpayment Recovery Program took people who’d just had their welfare checks cut, and cut them some more. One day my next-desk neighbor, Tricia McDermott, flipped a file across her desk and leaned back in her chair. Tricia was too compassionate for the job but too strait-laced not to do it by the book. She stared toward the windows and said to no one in particular, “What we need here is an overpayment recovery incentive. Do you think they’d ever consider giving us a cut of the take?”

“In this lifetime?”

“No, really – 10% off the top of any money we recover. We could limit it to refunds and exclude adjustments or returned checks.”

“Uh-huh.”

That there were three different ways to achieve a single result was pure SSA. Back then the Social Security system was virtually all exceptions and no rules . . . SSI wasn’t quite as bad, but it was still a contraption only Rube Goldberg could love. To make matters worse, the claims reps received a steady stream of what were called “claims transmittals” – memos that were supposed to clarify, but more often complicated, SSI’s crazy-quilt regulations.

Representative sample: “Transmit payment status code of WO4, WO5, or WO9. However, because of systems limitations do not input these PSCs. Use force pay to pay correct amount.” (SSIH, 13515-2)

So nobody read the transmittals. Except me. I figured I needed something on the plus side of the ledger to offset being chronically late and generally out of step. Consequently I read every transmittal, which probably was why I got the computer to do things no one else could.

In the course of my reading I also discovered that two obscure SSI regulations, when combined, essentially allowed a claims rep to waive any overpayment.

So that’s what I did.

A claimant would come in, sit down at my desk and wearily hand over his green letter.

“Yes. Mr. Randolph. Our records show – let’s see here – that during the past two years you were overpaid by $846.”

“I never got no check for $846.”

“That’s right, Mr. Randolph. This is really just a bookkeeping thing. I need you to sign a couple of forms and you’ll be all set.”

I had decided to hand-write the two forms each time; if I had a stack of copies around, they might accuse me of premeditated overpayment waiving. Better to have a sort of eureka element involved. I’d scribble out the forms, turn them toward the claimant, and spend a good five minutes convincing him to sign them. The claimant would walk away looking slightly puzzled. Then someone else would come to my desk with a green letter.

For a while my waive-‘em-all policy stayed under the radar. But I ran into problems when people began asking for me by name. Apparently word had gotten around the claimant community that I was the guy to see with your overpayment letter. So they would come into the DO and – completely disregarding SSI’s sophisticated system of assigning claimants alphabetically – say they wanted to be interviewed by me. Suddenly I was very much on the radar screen.

It got crazy bureaucratic from there. If you’re a glutton for punishment, the climactic conclusion is here.

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Two-Way Tie in New York Times ‘Year in Pictures 2021’ Bakeoff

As some of you splendid readers might recall, the end of December is the most photoful time of the year around the Global Worldwide Headquarters, thanks in no small part to the annual Dance of the Shutterbugs in the New York Times.

The Year in Pictures 2021 appeared in Sunday’s edition, so we dutifully embarked upon our traditional bakeoff to see which photographers scored the most shots in the special section.

Previous bakeoff winner Doug Mills racked up three entries in the first half of the year, including these Joe Biden moments in the Capital.

Newcomer Jim Huylebroek filed not from the Capital, but from Kabul.

Jim Huylebroeck had lived in Kabul for seven years. The takeover by the Taliban was the story of a lifetime. There was no way he was leaving.

“There were rumors that Kabul would fall. The police and military started laying down their weapons. The president had fled. We went to the west of Kabul where the Taliban were pushing in, and when we arrived there were crowds of people lining the streets, cheering them on. Seeing that kind of support in the capital was just really something. We jumped back in the car with our driver and then we saw this Humvee, which is an icon of the war. It is America. And there is the Taliban sitting on top. I’m like, “Stop the car, I need to get this frame.” I jump in front of this Humvee, which is stuck in traffic like everyone else. I shoot a photo. By this time, I had gotten the confidence that it was OK, that the Taliban wanted Western journalists to continue doing their jobs.”

Huylebroek had two other photos in the Times review, so he gets props along with Mills.

The double-shot roll includes Ashley Gilbertson, Meredith Kohut, Erin Springer, Victor J. Blue, and Max Whittaker.

Beyond that, the section features 41 one-hit wonders.

Altogether, a photorific year for the Grey Lady.

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Remembering Anne Rice (Biting Tom Cruise’s Neck Edition)

Popular and prolific author Anne Rice died last week at the age of 80, as noted in this New York Times obituary.

Anne Rice, Who Spun Gothic Tales of Vampires, Dies at 80

She wrote more than 30 novels, including the best seller “Interview With the Vampire,” which became a hit movie starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Anne Rice, the Gothic novelist best known for “Interview With the Vampire,” the 1976 book that in 1994 became a popular film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, died on Saturday at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 80 . . .

Ms. Rice was a largely unknown writer when she turned a short story she had written in the late 1960s into “Interview With the Vampire,” her first published novel. It features a solitary vampire named Louis who is telling his life story to a reporter, but Ms. Rice said the tale was her story as well.

Full disclosure: The hardworking staff has never read any of Anne Rice’s novels, but we did write about her in one of our 1994 Boston Globe Ad Hoc columns, which introduced the term I-vertising – individuals running full-page ads about themselves in major daily newspapers.

Rest in peace, Anne Rice. Your work is undead for the ages.

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Peggy Noodnik Writes Again (Kamala Harris ‘Veep’ Edition)

Latest in our long-running series

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan opened up the family-size can of worms with yesterday’s piece about the various and sundry deficiencies of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Kamala Harris Needs to Get Serious

Her shaky standing is a danger to the country given the position she could be called on to fill.

President Biden’s poll numbers are bad and Vice President Kamala Harris’s are worse. A survey this week from conservative-leaning Rasmussen had her at 39% favorable, 57% unfavorable.The number that stuck in the public’s mind came last month, from a USAToday/Suffolk poll that put her approval at 28%, disapproval at 51%.

The past few weeks she’s been hammered by bad news. There’s been an exodus of high-level staffers. The Washington Post had a sweeping, searing piece that described a “dysfunctional” and chaotic office full of bitter enmities. A consistent problem: Ms. Harris refuses “to wade into briefing materials prepared by staff members” and would “then berate employees when she appeared unprepared” . . .

All this leaves people uneasy. The president is old and his judgment questionable; she seems out of her depth. We will have another three years of this? It is also dangerous: We don’t want their weakness to become America’s weakness.

(Note, please, Exhibit Umpteen of a publication’s choosing the most unflattering image it can find of someone from the opposing team.)

Fear not for the republic, though: Ms. Noodnik had “some thoughts on how [Harris] might improve her situation,” such as a) come to terms with her job, b) become more useful, and c) decide to become serious.

The hardwincing staff will leave the broader critiques of Noonan’s piece to others, such as Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison . . .

or The Atlantic contributing writer Jemele Hill . . .

or investigative journalist Victoria Brownworth . . .

or TV writer Bryan Behar . . .

or random disgruntled folks.

Here’s our beef. In addressing the possibility that Harris “could become president at any moment the next three years,” Noonan writes that “[we] face grave challenges—China, Russia, the endurance of the American economy. Who leads us matters.”

What also matters is that anyone who looks at the challenges facing this country and ignores the challenge to the endurance of American democracy – the most serious since the Civil War – is not an honest broker of information.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Check out Barton Gellman’s chilling piece in the current issue of The Atlantic.

Trumps Next Coup Has Already Begun

January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election.

Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.

The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.

And the anti-democratic forces on the right are making serious progress, as Charles Homans reports in today’s New York Times. He notes that a May Reuters/Ipsos poll   found that over 60% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen. The bigger problem, Homans writes, is that they’re acting on it.

This belief has informed a wave of mobilization at both grass-roots and elite levels in the party with an eye to future elections. In races for state and county-level offices with direct oversight of elections, Republican candidates coming out of the Stop the Steal movement are running competitive campaigns, in which they enjoy a first-mover advantage in electoral contests that few partisans from either party thought much about before last November.

To Peggy Noonan, though, that’s all less of an issue than the U.S. economy. She’s worse than a noodnik. She’s a schnook.

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Everything Currently Wrong in America Is Hillary Clinton’s Fault

Well the hardworking staff was wending its way through the New York Times yesterday when we come across this full-page MasterClass ad on A13.

Say, that’s some 1992-2016 Murderers’ Row (not to be confused with the 1927 New York Yankees).

But the real killer in that MasterClass sextet is Hillary Rodham Clinton, quite possibly the worst presidential candidate in American political history. She was literally the only Democrat the monumentally moronic Donald Trump could possibly have defeated in 2016.

And yet, here she is in 2021 blithely offering to teach The Power of Resilience (available only with a $180 annual membership). The trailer for Clinton’s MasterClass has her reading part of the 2016 victory speech she never got to deliver because she was absolutely THE WORST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY.

 

Let’s give New York magazine’s Sarah Jones first crack at this new gig for HRC, a.k.a. Her Royal Catastrophe.

[My] firm conviction that this country is a horror probably bars me from any kind of public office. Nevertheless, I maintain that Clinton’s inability to account for America’s basic nastiness is partly what cost her the presidency. What is she going to do now, teach a MasterClass in losing?

To the contrary, Clinton flatters herself that she can help Americans “build a life of meaning and purpose.” That is – in the Clinton family tradition – breathtakingly tin-eared.

If only Hillary Clinton would teach a master class in disappearing. I’d pay 180 bucks for that right quick.

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Twitter to Campaign Outsider: No Blue Check For You!

No man with a good car needs to be justified.

– Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood

So the other night the hardhoping staff tried to get our Twitter account verified.

According to Twitter’s Help Center, an account must be “notable and active” to qualify for verification.

The six types of notable accounts we currently verify are:

  1. Government
  2. Companies, brands and non-profit organizations
  3. News organizations and journalists
  4. Entertainment
  5. Sports and esports
  6. Activists, organizers, and other influential individual

The hardworking staff thought we would qualify as a journalist, given our standing as media analyst for NPR’s Here & Now and senior news analyst for Boston’s WBUR. So we submitted our request for verification, which included an appearance on WBUR’s Radio Boston, a BBC News interview, and extensive digital bylines.

Twitter said it could take up to 14 days to authenticate our request.

It actually took 14 hours.

Our guess? The Twits took a look at our 1200 followers, algorithmically decided we weren’t big enough for a blue check, and never bothered with the rest.

Luckily, we have a good car.

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Shadenfreude Alert: Ex-Boston Celtics Bomb in the Big Town

This past year in the NBA, there was a lot of shipping down from Boston – to New York.

In June the Celtics shipped point guard Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who promptly waived him, allowing Walker to sign with the New York Knicks.

After that, the Celtics signed-and-traded Evan Fournier to the Knickleheads.

Yesterday, New York Times scribe Hoopan – sorry, Sopan – Deb detailed how all that’s been working out.

The Knicks’ Struggles Go Deeper Than Kemba Walker

A surprising reconsideration of the lineup that pushed Walker out of the rotation could help with some of the team’s issues, but not all of them.

Knicks Coach Tom Thibodeau has long been known as resistant to change, particularly in the way he uses his starters. He’s often been criticized for playing them for too many minutes, rain or shine, whether or not they are performing well.

So it was surprising this week, a quarter of a way through the season, when Thibodeau said that he was pulling the plug on Kemba Walker as the starting point guard in favor of Alec Burks, a reserve for most of his career and not a traditional point guard. And it wasn’t just that Walker, a four-time All-Star who signed with the Knicks in the summer, was being yanked from the lineup. Thibodeau told reporters that Walker would be out of the rotation entirely.

The news wasn’t any better for Celtics expatriate Evan Fournier.

Fournier’s stats dipped in November like Walker’s did, causing Thibodeau to barely use him in key moments late in games. Thibodeau did call his number on Tuesday night against the Nets, and Fournier rewarded him by hitting a game-tying 3-pointer with 18 seconds left. But overall, Fournier shot 5 for 12 for 13 points in 22 minutes, with no rebounds or assists. Like with Walker, if Fournier isn’t consistently a 3-point threat, there’s little reason for him to be on the floor.

Bottom line: There might be life after the Celtics, but it’s not a slam dunk.

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Revisiting Boston Garden, ‘The Old Barn on Causeway Street’

The building was forty-one years old [in 1969]. Hard years. In a cramped and shopworn corner of the city, one flight up from the train station, surrounded by elevated subway tracks and an elevated highway that kept sunshine and clean air at a distance, the place was sports’ version of an Edward Hopper painting . . .

If the Fabulous Forum was time travel into a Tomorrowland kind of Disney future, the Garden was a walk down the stairs into a cluttered carnival past. Or up the stairs. Up a bunch of stairs . . .

Leigh Montville, Tall Men, Short Shorts

Especially the Stairway to Nowhere, which went from the balcony level to, well, nowhere. That was the place my pal Rob and I went to split a joint at halftime of the Boston Celtics games we frequented in the late ’70s, at which time we witnessed up close and personal The Great Sidney Wicks/Curtis (Skid) Rowe Dumpster Fire of 1977-78.  As best I can recall, in that 32-50 regular season, the only thing the Celtics led the league in was getting hit in the back of the head with the ball.

Rob and I were up close and personal only because of the anemic attendance at the Garden back then. We’d buy the cheapest balcony tickets available – two or three dollars – then gradually work our way down to the good seats that were largely unoccupied.

Sometimes we’d sit right behind Celtics legend Red Auerbach in his customary seat in Loge 12, Row 7, Seat 1. We’d be pretty quiet then.

Other times we’d migrate elsewhere in the pricey seats and be more raucous.

Back then, believe it or not, fans could walk around the perimeter of the Garden parquet during halftime, which Rob and I would do on a regular basis. I would also approach the totally cute Garden Gal distributing mimeographed stat sheets to the press corps and ask her for a copy.

Our conversations would go something like this.

How’s it going – can I get one of those?

No. These are for press.

Hey, I’m press – I’m a correspondent for Nightfall.

What’s that?

Only New England’s leading entertainment, arts, and culture magazine.

Seriously?

Seriously. I’m legit – I interviewed Red about his book last year.

Fine, here. Just take it someplace else.

Back in April of 1976, Auerbach was flacking a new book – Basketball for the Player, the Fan and the Coach – so he would pretty much talk to anybody, which happened to include even me.

About 15 minutes into the interview, Auerbach let me know it was over by starting to go through his mail.

Death by letter opener.

Postscript: The Wicks/Rowe debacle didn’t turn out to be a total loss: After the ’78 season, Wicks got shipped to the San Diego Clippers in return for Nate Archibald, Marvin Barnes, Billy Knight, and two second-round draft picks.

One of those draft picks turned into Danny Ainge, who would become a fixture at the Boston Garden in the coming years (as would Tiny Archibald).

• • • • • • •

In the fall of 1979, Larry Joe Bird swooped into Boston, the Hick From French Lick in the Hub of the Universe.

 

 

Not long after Bird’s arrival, I became Senior VP/Creative Director at a Boston advertising agency and decided that one of my fringe benefits should be an unlimited supply of Celtics tickets. Luckily, for reasons I’m still too discreet to divulge, one of the agency’s partners was wired like Con Ed, so he became the ticket master.

I subsequently found myself quite often sitting in Loge 20 at the Garden (see chart above), which was conveniently located behind the visiting team’s bench so that I could yell at Hubie Brown, the preternaturally unlikable coach of the New York Knicks at the time, for hours on end.

It got even better from there.

The Missus and I were at the Garden on May 23, 1982 for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which promised to be a repeat of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals when the Celtics came back from a 3-1 deficit to win Game 7 by one point.

 

 

In ’82 the Celtics also came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series. But Game 7 was not a repeat – the Sixers cruised to a 120-106 win that cemented Andrew Toney’s status as The Boston Strangler.

 

 

The Missus and I ruefully, but lustily, joined in the Garden-wide chant of “Beat LA.”

Two years later we were at the Garden for Game 5 of the 1984 NBA Finals, the legendary Heat Game between the Celtics and the Lakers.

Here’s the redoubtable Bob Ryan in a Boston Globe retrospective.

There were some hot nights in that old building over the years, but there was never one like the evening of June 8, 1984. The male fans wore shorts and short-sleeved shirts. The women wore, well, as little as possible. Halter tops proliferated. There was never a day or evening in the long history of that building when there was so much exposed skin.

CBS announced a game-time temperature of 97 degrees.

The Lakers did not like it, and Kareem disliked it most of all. He was 37, and fairly cranky to begin with, and playing a Finals game in 97-degree heat was not his idea of fun. He would shoot 7 for 25 and wind up sucking on oxygen (honest).

Meanwhile, a lobster-red Larry Bird racked up 34 points (on 15 0f 20 shooting) and 17 rebounds, Robert Parish had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Kevin McHale notched 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Talk about your Big Three.

Magic Johnson? Ten points and five rebounds, although he did have 13 assists, as the boxscore notes.

By the second half, Garden concessionaires had run out of ice and the entire place had run out of paper products. No doubt Red had also cranked up the heat in the visitors locker room.

The Missus said, “I can’t believe they’re actually playing in this heat.”

But they totally did.

 

 

Back to Bob Ryan: “I play in this stuff all the time back home,” sneered Larry Bird. “It’s like this all summer.”

Excellent!

• • • • • • •

As the ’80s wore on, my fringe benefits at the ad agency started to depreciate, with Garden seats shifting from loge to mezzanine to the balcony, which afforded views like this one.

 

 

Eventually I began leaving the nosebleed section at halftime and cruising the walkway behind the loge seats for the rest of the game. Sometimes I’d be moving with the action, sometimes against it, but the walking provided a nice rhythm – and a better view.

On May 22, 1988, though, I was in the balcony with my brother Bob for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which turned into a classic shootout between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks.

Via NBA.com:

“It was like two gunfighters waiting to blink,” recalled Celtics forward Kevin McHale. “There was one stretch that was as pure a form of basketball as you’re ever going to see.”

The game was tied 86-86 with 10:26 to play when the teams’ respective stars took over. “They each put their team on their back and said, ‘Let’s go,’” said Hawks coach Mike Fratello.

Bird fired the first shot, a jumper with 10:03 to play, and went on to score nine points in a span of 1:58. But Atlanta stayed close and drew even again at 99-99 on a basket by Wilkins with 5:57 left.

Bird scored 11 points after that, including the go-ahead basket with 3:34 to play and a stunning three-pointer over Wilkins with 1:43 left. Wilkins matched Bird’s 11 points during that stretch, but it was not enough.

The whole thing was breathtaking.

 

 

And, for once, I was nailed to my seat in the nosebleed section.

• • • • • • •

I left the ad agency the following year and set up a one-man creative shop that, unfortunately, could not afford fringe benefits (not to mention I was wired like a space heater). So I never did get back to the Garden.

I did, however, have as one of my new clients Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, an engineering firm that oversaw the Garden’s replacement (then called the Shawmut Center, later called the FleetCenter, now TD Garden).

The project was decades in the making, given the complexities of doing anything significant in Boston. There were dozens of surface rights, scores of air rights, and even more underground rights to buy out, not to mention the endless succession of politicians that also needed to be bought out.

But eventually, it got done.

Construction began on April 29, 1993. Plans for the new arena stated that it would be slightly north of the old facility. The term “slightly north” ended up meaning that there were only nine inches (23 cm) of space between the two buildings when construction was completed. The site for the new arena occupied 3.2 acres (13,000 m2). It eventually cost $160 million. The ground was broken on April 29, 1993. In 27 months, quick by today’s standards, the arena was built. That included seven weeks of delay caused by heavy snowfall. The Shawmut Center opened on September 30, 1995.

Sometime after that, my VHB client took me, as a sort of bonus, to the new arena for a Celtics game. It was quite different from the old Garden (Leigh Montville: “Rats as big as rabbits could be spotted, bold as paying customers. The smell of the circus would linger for a good month.”)

I hated the new place.

But he was my (paying) client, so I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “It’s so clean. And look at all the cupholders.”

I never went back for another game.

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Dead Blogging ‘Valkyrie Mumbet’ at MassArt Art Museum

Well the Missus and I trundled over to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design yesterday to catch Joana Vasconcelos Valkyrie Mumbet (through 2021; reservations required) in the recently renovated Stephen D. Paine Gallery and, say, it was swellbinding.

Renowned Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos premieres a new monumental site-specific installation. Known for her unprecedented multimedia works, Vasconcelos, in her first U.S. solo show, honors Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, an enslaved woman whose court battle for her freedom in 1781 helped make slavery illegal in Massachusetts. The large-scale installation entitled Valkyrie Mumbet, is the newest in her Valkyries series, named after Norse female war goddesses, which pays homage to inspiring women.

(The National Women’s History Museum has a deep dive into the amazing story of Elizabeth Freeman.)

According to the website Lisboa Cool, Atelier Joana Vasconcelos features a team of 45 people “composed of artisans, seamstresses, electricians, carpenters, painters, architects, photographers to record Joana’s work, press officers to handle communication, the entire financial part of a company, and they also welcome trainees from various countries, whom Joana insists on paying.”

Here’s MAAM Executive Director Lisa Tung’s eye-popping curator tour of “Valkyrie Mumbet.”

 

 

Here’s a 3d tour that highlights all the spectacular details. But you really should see this monumental artwork in person. It’s a corker.

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