Trader Monthly's closure a sign of the times

The economic collapse of the past months has wreaked hardship on millions of people, but, let’s admit it — some guilty pleasures are emerging from the mess.

Once-haughty headwaiters at pricey restaurants are suddenly downright obsequious. The same hotels that jacked up rates a year ago now are emailing bargain offers. The plastic surgeon who had a four-month waiting list now is making cold calls.

A year ago, I was constantly bumping into self-professed billionaires who knew the answer to every question, financial or political. They were willing to invest in every “hot” idea and seemed to be auditioning the world from their pinnacles of wealth and power.

I don’t see these guys around any more, and I don’t miss them. Gone also is the ultimate symbol of their culture, the magazine Trader Monthly, which ceased publication recently.

Trader Monthly was the symbol of the billionaire lifestyle, carrying reviews on new private planes, Lamborghinis, and $20,000 bottles of scotch and heralding its mantra, “see it, make it, spend it.”

Writing in the Wall St. Journal, Thomas Frank reminded me that Trader Monthly once profiled an inductee into its hall of fame by praising him as “a conqueror, physically imposing and at times verbally abusive.” These were admirable traits to readers of Trader Monthly.

A few years ago, Frank recalls, Trader Monthly “depicted John Thain as something of a piker,” belittling him for taking only $6 million as CEO of the New York Stock Exchange. “Did somebody forget a zero?” the publication asked scornfully. Thain, of course, was just tossed out of Merrill Lynch for spending a million bucks on his office remodel. Merrill Lynch lost $27 billion last year, but still paid 700 employees $1 million or more

Trader Monthly is not around any more. A lot of its readers have gone away, too. I feel sorry for victims of the economic upheaval. But I won’t miss the billionaires.

* * *

One year after the writers’ strike, a pervasive nastiness still surrounds the activities of both the writers and actors guilds.

SAG says it will resume negotiations with the companies even as its paranoid president, Alan Rosenberg, promises to derail any deal.

Meanwhile, one year after the writers went out, WGA leaders still resist the obvious fact that the strike was a disaster for the community. Indeed, the Guild is still pursuing “disciplinary proceedings” against Jay Leno, who had been a vocal supporter of the WGA.

All this serves as a reminder that the power struggles within the guilds are even nastier than those in corporate management. The drone of the corporate bean counters has been met by the shrill ideological rants of the guilds.

As a result, the guilds have fallen victim to management’s “divide and conquer strategy,” in the words of John McLean, former exec director of the WGA.

Bob Daly, the former CEO of Warner Bros. and a shrewd negotiator, reminded me not long ago that relations between labor and management involve a measure of diplomacy as well as hard bargaining. In years gone by, the key players knew each other and were ready and able to employ back-channel conversations to resolve issues.

Today, both the guilds and management seem to model their tactics after George Bush’s foreign policy — the clenched fist is the pervasive symbol. Here’s what this will assure: More muscle for the Alan Rosenbergs, who are more interested in power than policy.

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