The purpose of this column is not to make people feel good but to tell the truth. At times, people tell me I’m great while others who read the same exact words tell me I’m the worst person who ever lived. This perception can change from month to month depending on whether the facts I present are favorable to their self interest, or if it threatens their self delusion.
This is not an easy business, but it feeds our children, and it puts a roof over our heads. We endure long, hard hours followed by extended periods with no income. Thousands of experienced workers have made a commitment to this industry, but have paid the price through missed birthdays and a disrupted family life.
Recently, the Illinois legislature instituted extreme changes to the tradeshow industry during a period of unprecedented national economic turmoil. While they were made with the best of intentions, they were formulated with a limited understanding of the industry. As a result, the flood gates opened up and opportunists saw this as their chance to radically restructure our business in a way they had wanted to do for a long time. It seemed more punitive than productive.
Americans in general are prone to overreaction in crisis situations, as the events of the past 10 years vividly demonstrates. We demand simplistic solutions to often intractable problems, and these “solutions” often turn out to be much worse than doing nothing at all. Unfortunately those who’ve been affected by this undertaking are the least powerful players, the whipping boys of the industry, the people who do the dirty work.
The phrase “Whipping Boy” originated in 17th century Europe. Whenever a prince would misbehave or produce an inadequate effort in his studies, a young man would be assigned to be punished for the misdeeds of this prince. The divine right of kings dictated that no one was worthy of punishing royalty for their transgressions, but someone had to be punished, and therefore the whipping boy served this purpose.
This was a suitable compromise, somebody was beaten and royalty remained untouched. Everybody was happy, except the whipping boy who endured a miserable life of pain and suffering for misdeeds he had nothing to with. Furthermore, royalty never felt the consequences of their behavior because as long as someone else pays the price, there was no motivation to change their behavior.
Much like the whipping boys of the past, the tradeshow workers have suffered while the aristocracy remains unscathed. These workers are stuck with the task of dealing with the downturn in the economy while they watch the most powerful people divvy up the spoils of the industry and systematically dismantle their way of life. It’s a cruel irony that relative newcomers to the industry claim to have all of the answers while those who have spent decades in the business are viewed as collateral damage.
I can weather this fundamental shift in the way things are done. I have only a couple years to go before I can collect my pension and move on, but just because I’ll survive doesn’t mean I have to keep my mouth shut.
Reports in the media speak glowingly about how these changes will resurrect the tradeshow business in Chicago, although many of these authorities have never stepped foot in McCormick Place let alone tried to put in a tradeshow in sub zero weather.
To the general public they see a clear villain and an obvious solution which has fixed everything, but this is in direct contrast to the way life actually is. It’s an elitist perspective for those happy in their own ignorance and too lazy to dig deep enough to see the gray areas in this crisis.
The powers that be are congratulating themselves that they saved the industry and declaring the crisis over … It’s easy to unilaterally declare a crisis to be over when you were the one responsible for creating the illusion of its existence in the first place.