Fading into the soft, warm comfortable glow of nostalgia are the cowboys of a simpler time. Featured in movies from the ’30s to the ’50s, then taking up aural residence in our living room radio consoles, and finally riding across the screens of television sets, these denizens of an Old West who never really existed were easily identified by the color of their hats that told us whether they were heroes or villains. The good guys wore white hats; the bad guys wore black hats. On the “good guy” side of the ledger was Tom Mix. He always wore a white ten-gallon hat, and was often shown astride his steed known as (don’t laugh) Tony the Wonder Horse. Mix appeared in more than 300 Western films and subsequently spent 20 years riding the radio range. The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, John Wayne all the authentic ersatz movie cowboys wore white up top. In the famous photograph of the real Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and their partners in crime known as the Hole in the Wall Gang, every one of them was photographed wearing a black hat. White hats good; black hats bad that’s how we’d like life to be in our 21st century world, including in Our Valley. Some of our “white hats” are Rickey Gelb, Mel Kohn, Gary Thomas, and everyone who works at one of our many non-profit organizations for sub-prime salaries in return for above-prime fulfillment. This column bestowed a Lifetime Black Hat Award on Angelo Mozilo long before his company, Countrywide Financial, hit the skids and skidded over many of us. The media help us identify who wears white hats and black hats. Chesley B. Sullenberger III what an unlikely name for a hero! Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who landed US Airways Flight 1549 safely smack dab in the middle of New York’s Hudson River wears, and deservedly so, a major white hat. Nadya Suleman, who now can boast of more than a football team’s worth of children, and the doctor who gave her in vitro fertilization despite the fact that she already had six children, definitely wear black hats. Bernie Madoff, whose last name should have warned us that he’d “made off” with the savings of tens of thousands of trusting folks, including numerous Jewish charities, is in a special category he gets to wear not a black hat, but a black yarmulke. And there are collective black hats worn by almost everyone who worked for the tainted, tattered talents of Wall Street, taking the last morsels of food from America’s widows and orphans while dining sumptuously at Masa, Le Bernadin, Le Cirque, and Per Se. Why the tendency to categorize everyone with a black hat or a white one? Because we crave simplicity in a complex world. By retreating into a place where the good guys and bad guys are easily identifiable, we don’t have to deal with our real and often scary environment. Many Valley businesspeople know that business is bad: consumers are buying less (visit any near-empty mall in Glendale, Sherman Oaks, or Woodland Hills for verification); real estate is unreal; construction has dropped faster than a ball peen hammer; and reservations at Bizou Caf & #233;, Roy’s, Asanebo, and Pinot Bistro are easy to come by. Over breakfast at Cici’s Caf & #233; in Tarzana, California United Bank President David Rainer tried to explain to me the complexities of the current banking situation and its impact on financial markets around the world. And while I sport at least an average IQ, my eyes soon glazed over trying to understand the complexities of it all. Derivatives, structured investment vehicles, collateralized bond obligations, master liquidity enhancement conduits these are the terms being thrown around by Wall Street’s wicked wizards. But, as we also discovered, they’re more like the Wizard of Oz, who was not really a great and powerful wizard with a green face, but merely a trembling Frank Morgan at a microphone behind a curtain, spewing smoke. We look for financial salvation from our elected gurus in Washington, D.C., while all the time fearing that they don’t really understand what they’re voting for or against. They talk about investing millions, billions, and even trillions of dollars, as if they could just take the New York Subway down to the Federal Reserve Bank on Wall Street and melt down a few more gold bars. How did we get here? How do we get out of it? What will it cost? Who has the answers? How will all this money being thrown at the recession benefit me? It’s all too confusing to most of us. A lot of people are hoping that a black man named Barack Obama will wind up wearing a white hat. “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.” Everett Dirksen, Former Illinois Republican Senator Martin Cooper is President of Cooper Communications, Inc. He is President of the Los Angeles Quality and Productivity Commission, Founding President of The Executives, Vice Chairman-Marketing of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley, and a member of the Boards of the Valley Economic Alliance and of the LAPD’s West Valley Jeopardy Program. He is a Past Chairman of VICA, Past President of the Public Relations Society of America-Los Angeles Chapter, and Past President of the Encino Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at mcooper@cooper comm.net .
White Hats and Black Hats