Quick: What’s the #1 movie for the last 2 weekends? Breaking Dawn Part 1.

The Top 3 Billboard songs?  Rihanna’s “We found love.”, LMFAO’s “Sexy and I know it.” and Adele’s “Someone like you.” (With these insightful lyrics: “Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”)

Top TV shows: Football and Dancing with the Stars.

Escapism everywhere

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. While I’m writing this, economists and pundits warn that the breakup of the Eurozone is upon us, the Arab spring turns into an apocalyptic event and even NBA players had to cave in to avert economic distress. All that on top of jobless levels stuck at 9% – in reality much, much higher – and almost 50 million Americans living in poverty.

We long for the certainties of the 50s and 60s when good jobs were everywhere, men were still men, and our world consisted of white-picket fences. (Conveniently forgetting the rampant racism and sexism. Oh well.) It started with Mad Men and extended to Pan Am and other shows glorifying good old times. TV storytellers and screenwriters instinctually feel the need of people to be removed from the grim reality. It’s everywhere: TMZ, movies, books (fantasy, vampires, zombies). Our whole culture seems to be focused on escaping.

Occupy Wall Street is the ultimate escapist movement

Just look at the grievances of the Occupy Los Angeles assembly:

“1. A moratorium on all foreclosures in the City of Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles to divest from all major banks, and money to be removed from politics.

4. Los Angeles to be declared a sanctuary city for the undocumented, deportations to be discontinued and cooperation with immigration authorities to be ended – including the turning in of arrestees’ names to immigration authorities.

9. No cutbacks in city services or attacks on the wages, work conditions and pensions of city employees.”

Anybody with any fiscal responsibility bone in his body has to laugh at these demands. Changing the world and transforming society requires more than just enduring the hardship of occupying a small strip of land, living in a tent on a cold surface. It requires hard work, tough decisions and getting hands really, really dirty. Just demanding things and hoping for the rest is the answer of an escapist mindset. Alluring to some, ineffective for the rest of the world.

Brands have bought into the escapist mindset

As Albert Einstein famously said: “Insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Resulting in the advent of coupons, Groupon, extension of Black Friday hours and moving the yearly holiday sale for automobiles from December to November. More access, more hours, more opportunities, more consumerism.

The bitter reality is that customer behavior and mindset has changed for good. But brands still believe they live in 2005 when credit was easy, no real unemployment littered the country and we felt like we had the key to the world. People have changed. They are scared. Fearful. Anxious. And they long for real leadership.

From escapism to activism

40 years ago, the punk rock movement began in Britain when economic depression trapped the working-class youth into believing they had nothing to gain in life. Stranded, this group began a subculture of protest, the musical style typically consisting of hard fast rock, with lyrical messages varying from the political to the nihilistic. Grand Master Flash published one of the most influential Hip Hop songs (“The Message”) in 1982, at the peak of that recession.

While the Depression featured a lot of escapist culture (explosion of the exuberant jazz culture and the emergence of Superman in 1938), Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” explored the hard times of the poor and out of work. Bing Crosby’s “Brother, can you spare a dime” was a huge hit in the 30’s and people reverted back to simpler times, like The Lone Ranger, when problems could be solved with guns and a strong whisky.

We are entering the age of strife. As I wrote before:

“We’ve entered an intermediate period of civil strife, cultism, ineffective leadership and a bureaucratic apparatus that’s only beholden to itself, funding itself despite the labor of the working. We have a bureaucracy that is removed from the people and ineffective in leading. We also a have a de facto dynasty with all these massive corporations that essentially own the government because they can buy it. That creates the basis for much of the social strife we’re going to see because we’re facing a structural problem, imminent shocks and shifts in the world system, and the nature of the global economy itself. Inherent and self-reinforcing inequalities and concentration of wealth in a society that was based on an egalitarian principle will lead to massive dislocations.”

It will never be 2005 again. This is not a recession, this is not a pothole. The current crisis, this is a fundamental dislocation. Our current institutions will not provide real solutions. They are good for band-aids, not for solving the problem ahead of us. All of us need to change the world through innovative ideas and a transformative mindset.

What brands should do

Brands need to take their head out of the escapist sand. It might work short-term, it will lead to failure in the long-term. Our future will not look like the past. The past was based on the model of industrial production; the new model will be based on a globalized, collaborative information model. It can’t be about more stuff and pure growth. It has to be about being better, kinder, lovelier and inspiring. It can’t be about targeting consumers, it has to be about collaborating with all of our stakeholders. Brands have to stop asking what this society can do for them, how they can get even better breaks. Brands have to ask what they can do for society. How they can help Contribute. Be part of a bigger cause.

Brands have to become collaboration hubs of passion, enthusiasm and openness to see the world with different eyes and change it through their collaborative ideas.

Just like the Eurozone, brands have to make a tough decision: Either adjust. Or perish.