Only Yesterday

April 1, 2009 8:20 p.m.

Do you remember this ad?

It’s been knocking around my head for years as a symbol of an era in our recent history. And I just found it on Youtube. It’s an ad for Enron — entitled “Metalman” — that ran not long before the company’s implosion — probably some time in 2000. As you’ll see, it’s a man encased in a confining suit of metal, hobbling his way across tableaus of 90s go-go capitalism, mostly set in Asia. As pure ad making, it’s good stuff. But I always remembered it because it so boldly and expressively captured the ethos of that moment — old, slow, regulation, limits giving way to new, unbounded, deregulated, liberated. ‘Metalman’ is the old sclerotic, regulated past falling behind in the deregulated, faster, freer, richer, better world.

Knowing, as we soon would, that Enron was a colossal scam adds some zing to the morality tale. But this sort of deregulatory chic wasn’t confined to Enron. And it played a sizable role in bringing us where we are today. To understand just where that is and where we may be heading, we need think back and remember that different world …

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