Military Contractor Blackwater Changes Its Name

The plagued private military company Blackwater USA renamed itself last week as Xe. What is the psychology behind the name change?

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ALEX COHEN, host:

From NPR News, it's Day to Day. You can't change the past, but you can change your name. Blackwater Worldwide announced it will now be called XE. That's X-E. Blackwater, you may recall, is the private military company recently banned from Iraq for its use of excessive force. Here with his thoughts on the re-branding effort is Brian Unger in today's Unger Report.

BRIAN UNGER: Nothing stands for anything any more. KFC no longer stands for chicken that's deep fried in Kentucky. KFC's a meaningless acronym that renounces flightless birds, the Bluegrass State, and trans fat. IHOP, it's not an International House of Pancakes, not even a national house of pancakes. It's just IHOP, an acronym that throws its pancake heritage on to the ash heap of pancakery just so we can throw down to tilapia hollandaise in a place that's not exclusively a house of carbohydrate gorging of global proportions.

Hojo has all but erased its founder, restaurateur and hotelier Howard Deering Johnson, from its name. I bet no one called old man Johnson Hojo around the office. And now, Blackwater.

The security firm known for using guns to hurt other people with guns and, allegedly, people without guns has gone from ominous murky wetland to colorless, odorless noble gas, Xenon, or Xe, as Blackwater will now call itself. I think it's pronounced Zee. Why are we turning our backs on poultry, pancakes, motor lodges, and mercenaries? Is it most likely to burnish a tire to dirty corporate image? Or to move beyond a specific product offering as to say, hey, we're more than chicken? We're chicken tenders. We're not soldiers for hire. We train soldiers for hire.

Well, in this country, where students trail the rest of the world in reading, math, and science, I worry about words that become acronyms, that become just meaningless letters, or nothingnyms, that try to erase what came before. We are just one step closer to pointing and grunting. And this, the age of the de-evolution of meaning, we're ironically working toward a deeper superficiality, not only to combat the short attention spans of young people, but to hook the wiser.

The CNN-owned news channel headline news is now HLN. But HLN doesn't stand for Headline News, as one HLN executive recently corrected me. I felt stupid and out of touch, like when I call FedEx, Federal Express. Media companies seem to be leading the charge in this de-evolution of meaning in an attempt to evolve and be all things to all people.

Cable TV network A&E, which used to stand for Arts and Entertainment, now stands for A&E. The confiding world of art was too small for "Dog, the Bounty Hunter." AMC, which stood for American Movie Classics, now stands for AMC. TLC, The Learning Channel, has learned it attracts more viewers by just calling itself TLC. And so, drop the learning. It was just too narrow.

Oh, and please don't call this National Public Radio. It's NPR. So we find ourselves in a new era where standing for nothing is standing for something, kind of like the GOP these days. KFC, we know who you are, and Zee, Xenon or XE, whatever, we know where you come from. And we are also resolved, Hojo and HLN. We will not let this new ethos bleed into the lives of individuals, because as Malcolm X said, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. And that is today's you are. I'm B.U.

COHEN: B.U., of course, stands for Brian Unger. He's going to the Academy Awards this weekend. Tune in next Monday for his take on the Oscars.

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