Coming alive in the Age of Influencers and other Friends of The Brand. CNY speech.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We live our lives in search of the things and experiences that make it meaningful.
Just so we’re on the same page, I’d like to make it clear from the get-go that I don’t think Esquire holds the keys to the meaning of life.
But if you’d like to fasten your seatbelts and ride with us, we can disable the electronic driving aids and explore the limits of where the rubber meets the road.
Please, allow me to explain:
Like you, the custodians of the brands you represent,
Esquire is a storyteller.
People understand the world by the stories they tell; stories about ourselves and the lifestyles we’d like to have, and the brands we identify with. Stories are the compass we use to navigate our reality.
Right now, reality is a US president who tweets six impossible things before breakfast, and plays chicken with Kim Jong-un with a couple of nuclear missiles.
Closer to home, we’ve averaged one high-profile assassination every other year, while Rodrigo Duterte, Jho Low, Paris Hilton, Xavier Justo and MH370 have all fallen off the radar of trending stories.
Esquire is the gentleman’s user guide to a world going ballistic.
It tells the backstories of our time, and identifies the people moving the markets and surfing the trends. Here’s what you should know about your world today, why, and how you can use it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Luxury is the fruit of success. It can be of the low-hanging, easily plucked variety, and also of the harder to reach kind. Many Esquire readers already avail themselves of the rarer variety. They can have it all. What happens then?
Luxury is the fruit, but not the root of success.
Esquire is a deep dive into the roots, the culture from which our ideas of life and luxury spring; the literature, film, music and arts -- and business and politics -- that give birth to the fashion, watches, cars, drinks, food, travels, tech, Uber, Grab…
As you can imagine, culture has implications for an appreciation of life and luxury. For example, the trend for sustainable lifestyles now sweeping the developed world is a naked question of survival and not aspiration towards an enlightened life. Save the planet, or your kids get it.
Take KL Car Free Day, for example. It's been ongoing on Sunday mornings for several years, and a growing success. However, more and more cyclists are angry motorists on bicycles who bully pedestrians lower on the food chain. So, you can take the Malaysian out of the car, but you can't take the car out of the Malaysian.
Such is the pervasiveness of culture. I mention this with regret, because I am a car enthusiast, but there is a need to reclaim the car as a slice of luxury, and to redirect the human ingenuity that goes into making one towards living gracefully.
So, Esquire’s deep dive into the culture is an exploration of lifestyle and luxury. You could say it swims in the primordial soup of creation or at least dips a big toe into it to test the waters. Sometimes we even spot the monsters that we most resemble.
In fact, Esquire has a creation myth that is the envy of the Western world. It was born at a time of social and economic ferment in 1933. You think we’ve got it bad, but back then, they had the Great Depression, a Prohibition on alcohol manufacture, sale and consumption, organised crime, the ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl, and then there was Hitler.
Ours is a time of plenty and unprecedented ease. By comparison, we work and live in the lap of luxury, of must-haves, rather than nice-to-haves.
There’s a book titled, People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. It weighs 2.4lbs and was put together by the Pulitzer prize-winning historian and radio host Studs Terkel in the early Seventies, when the idea of a lifestyle was taking root:
‘It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor. In short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.’
Of course, you could also come alive by looting, sacking and plundering as if it’s the most normal thing in the world, and some people still do just that! And you can bet their stories, once told, will be epic literature of great pathos in the hands of the right authors.
Esquire has since published the works of more than 20 Nobel laureates. They were the influencers of their time, men whose involvement in life was intense and total and their writing moved you in the same direction.
Here are some excerpts:
"I was trying to write then, and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt rather than what you were supposed to feel, was to put down what really happened in action, what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.
"The real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to try to get it."
"His brain told him this was a terrible and important affair, but his eyes and his feelings didn’t agree."
John Steinbeck, The Lonesome Vigilante, October, 1936
"She tore loose from him, lifted the ridingwhip, and gave him a resounding crack across the face."
Knut Hamsun, The Conquerer, March, 1934
"He took off the last rags I had on, rolled me up in some barbed wire, rubbed rock salt on the sores, put me in brine from my own waters, and hung me by the ankles for the sun to flay me, and he kept on shouting that all that mortification wasn’t enough to pacify his persecutors."
Gabriel García Márquez, Blacamán the Good, Vendor of Miracles, January, 1972
"It was not her fault that when he went to her he was already over."
Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, August, 1936
To quote one bearded man who was probably the hipster of his time, the unexamined lifestyle is not worth living.
Speech made on the occasion of the Esquire Meet the Editor session, Stripes Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, April 25, 2017.