United Breaks Guitars – Dave Carroll

I love the story of a plucky underdog. In the corporate age, I can’t imagine who doesn’t. It’s actually pretty simple, as we regular Johns and Janes can’t help but look at the pretty obvious success of the world’s corporate empires and compare ourselves to them. There’s a McDonalds on every corner, and nothing I do gets that much coverage. If life is a pissing contest, few of us win out against corporations. That’s why we really love those stories where we see them getting their share of humble.

About a decade ago Dave Carroll saw his revenge on United Airlines reach critical mass when the song he wrote, which chronicles his battle against their customer support, went viral. The book and the song share the same name, United Breaks Guitars, but differ in their scope. The song was the blunt instrument of revenge, while the book is more a look into the events and the ever sharpening scalpel that is social media (bear in mind that this happened at a time when cancel culture wasn’t a thing).

This book made me think a lot about my very cynical father, who would always moan whenever there was a scandal that those people involved in the scandal would ultimately write a book telling their side of the story and make even more money. He saw this as some kind of lamentation of capitalism. From everything I’ve understood about the book business, this is likely not true, as books are not a great route to success of any kind. But that sentiment reverberated in my head as I read this, and there were moments while I read it where I asked myself either ‘why does this book exist?’ or ‘why is this book as long as it is?’ It seemed that the story of what happened could certainly be condensed. But to be fair, there was certain a certain value added by reading this book. Small details, like the fact that Carroll nominates a United employee in the song, real name and everything, put a smile n my face (and part of me feels very bad for her, as this remind me just why “you’re going to be internet famous” is a threat). As well, the chapter that detailed just to what extent Carroll was unprepared for going viral (and the consequences therein) was very interesting. I also had no idea that Carroll made a trilogy of songs, and not just the one. But the last chapters of the book spend far too much time talking about how social media is a tool corporations cannot ignore seems a little too obvious, though that might just be my reading of this from the year 2019.

Who knows. Maybe this whole internet thing will fail in the future, and one day historians will be looking to understand what it was and how it worked. In that case, this book will be utterly invaluable to those historians. But for us, that last analysis Carroll makes seems like a lot of old hat.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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