Minefield Culture: Dubya’s Re-Election Sparks a Rant

minefieldBlitz Magazine, January 2005

Shhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone what you know. Don’t let anyone know what you think. Keep your opinions to yourself. Smile. Be nice. Don’t upset the apple cart. Your job depends on it. Your career depends on it. Your children’s futures depend on it. Your life depends on it.

This is the environment in which we now live. It’s nothing new in many other parts of the world but, in North America, censorship has moved from a slow creep to a full gallop and it is the responsibility of all of us to do something about it.

We now live in a culture of ignorance. Talk to people you know—see how many bother to read newspapers. It shouldn’t surprise you that a lot of them don’t bother. Why? Too much information, and few of us have the time. More importantly, most of the information is useless pap.

Most importantly, many newspapers can no longer print real stories. They can’t discuss secrets and motivations of public figures and the corporate world. Journalists can’t break a lot of important news stories. Columnists can’t express their opinions. In some cases, newspapers are knowingly printing false information. Because editors and publishers don’t want to get fired. And, if they allowed their papers to return to the days when investigative reporting was an essential service performed by real journalists, they would be fired. By the corporate interests who own their papers and only want certain things revealed, and in a certain way.

Americans are fond of calling their nation ‘The Greatest Democracy in the World’. That statement is now so far from the truth that it wears the cloak of pathos. When the Republicans very much illegitimately made off with the White House in 2000, Americans had an opportunity to fight to have a real democracy (only Colorado has taken baby steps to try to change the system of electoral college-allocated votes). Americans had a chance to force their politicians to take a look at the Canadian system that, with all its faults, is still the best in the Americas. But Americans did nothing.

In November, they had another chance to take back their democracy. Instead, half of them had to suffer the humiliation of hearing the world’s collective gasp at the re-election of a man who is, without a doubt, the worst ‘leader’ their nation has ever had, a dangerous man leading a dangerous charge.

Canadians haplessly watch all of this, with no choice but to care, and worry, because we’re physically, economically and culturally attached. Woe to us. Because now the shredded US democracy is held hostage by a massive block of ‘Evangelicals’, a group of Christians most closely associated with ‘Family Values’. These people talk of this Family Values credo like it’s something new—as if millions of family members over many centuries have not held the same values.

It’s easy to make fun of the ‘born-agains’, with their hokey ‘praise the lords!’, their never-ending fundraising antics and their cult-like obsession with the bible—all conducted while said fundraising is wrought with fraud, their church leaders are involved in sex scandals, their fellow church members run corporations that are some of the biggest tax evaders, employee abusers and environmental offenders on the planet, and their kids spend their allowance on pot, crack and bullets.

Yes, these people are dangerous. Because they choose to lead lives of ignorance, and they want the rest of us to join them. Since the election, everyone in entertainment, broadcasting and journalism openly acknowledges that the Evangelicals have to be appeased. Pleased. Placated. Pandered to.

We all shook our heads at the uproar caused by the revelation that Janet Jackson has breasts. Now it’s not funny. Now it’s ‘No Sex! But, er, Have Babies! And, uh, Up with Marriage! But Don’t Let Yer Wife Find Out About Yer Other Gal! If Yer Gay, Don’t Tell Anyone! And if Yer Gay, uh, Down With Marriage! Up with The NRA! But, uh, No Shootin’ Anything Cuz The Bible Says Thou Shalt Not Kill!’

Yes, the bible-thumpers of America now have their hands firmly around the necks of American culture and it’s going to take one heck of a Democratic candidate to undo the damage in 2008.

Meanwhile, there’s an alarming increase in the number of American schools that, in sex education classes, teach one thing: abstinence. So there’ll be millions of teen-agers battling raging hormones while learning about sex every day, and in every way, from the Internet. With no access to birth control, lots of girls will get pregnant, and they won’t have access to abortion. While gun clubs proliferate and video games become violent to extremes previously unimagined, journalists will not be able to do stories that might offend the sensibilities of local pastors. Television producers will have to stick with stupid, ‘clean’ sit-coms, and movie producers can forget about releasing certain films in certain markets. Everyone involved in any form of media communications now has to wade through a minefield of hypocrisy and political correctness the likes of which no one has seen before.

How refreshing it was to see an American soldier ask Donald Rumsfeld an intelligent, cogent question relating to the fact that American soldiers in Iraq aren’t properly outfitted for combat. Rumsfeld was horrified, and so taken aback that his hands fluttered. Why? Because he had been assured that any media member not toeing the Republican Line had been blacklisted. There’s little doubt that a barred journalist fed that question through that soldier—a hugely sad commentary on the decline of democracy and freedom of the press.

North of the Mason Dixon Line, it’s no secret that an awful lot of Americans don’t hear about US soldiers dying in Iraq, that children are learning history from texts that have been ‘cleaned up’ (read: changed). They famously know little about other countries, other economies, and other civilizations. This means that there are millions of Americans who, unless they’re savvy enough to seek out independent journalism, don’t have all of the information, and truth, they need to be productive citizens.

This is censorship. By a group of people who cling to something that may or may not be real. And who, to satisfy their lust for their beliefs, invest millions in keeping one political party up, and keeping down–way down–anything resembling illumination, revelation and truth.

History has shown us, over and over and over again, that ignorance is dangerous. Rampant ignorance among Americans is bound to have an effect on Canadians. Which means that we must be very sure to protect and support writers, independent journalists, independent producers, independent broadcasters and the increasingly-precious CBC. If we don’t establish a bulwark against this new wave of censorship, we’re going to be in as much trouble as the Americans are now.

 

 

 

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On the Value of Advertising

Blitz Magazine, March 2000

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As soon as the first issue of Blitz came out, back in 1997, I started getting calls asking, “Do you know what the Canadian advertising industry is worth, or do you know anyone who does?” Ever the professional, my response was always “Nope”.

Now we know. The Institute of Canadian Advertising finally had KPMG conduct a study (based on 1997 stats). The results surprised everyone, including industry insiders.

The study reports absolute expenditures of $14.5 billion. This is over 1% of Canada’s GDP and comes from industries and organizations that use advertising, the companies that create it, the media that carry it, and related industries.

As Institute of Canadian Advertising president Rupert Brendon notes: “This is a lot of money circulating through the economy, especially when you add the multiplier effect that kicks in as advertising helps businesses grow.”

The advertising sector accounts for 212,000 jobs, or 1.7% of all jobs in Canada—139,000 in direct employment, 73,000 in related services. The value-added to the Canadian economy is $11.4 billion—$7.5 billion in employment income and $3.9 billion in business income (direct and indirect). This is greater than the financial contribution from such sectors as insurance, real estate, accounting and legal services.

“It also matters where the money goes,” says Brendon. “For a lot of Canadian industry, a high proportion of the money leaks off-shore. In the advertising sector, 80% stays at home. Advertising is a driving force in the economy. This news, from respected and independent sources, shows that advertising is far more significant and positive than some detractors would have us believe.”

Note the qualifier. It’s funny how people in the ad biz are always on the defensive, apologetic for a whiff of shadiness hovering over their industry—the perception that there’s something low-rent about the business.

At a school reunion a few years ago, I asked someone what had become of a classmate. She replied: “Oh, he did really well at Yale, but then he went into advertising.” You tell someone you’re writing an annual report, they say ‘Oh!’. That you’re working on an ad campaign for toilet paper, they say ‘Oh.’ As if you’ve fallen from the rank of Chief Surgeon to that of Hospital Janitor. 

Advertising is essential—businesses can’t compete, or survive, without it. But it is interesting to note that even those in the industry don’t understand how important it is. You would be astonished if I told you who has told my sales staff that they never advertise and that they rely on word of mouth to generate new business and stay ahead of their competition. These are people whose incomes, and those of their employees, are derived solely from creating or selling advertising and related services. It’s inexplicable. A head-shaker.

Perhaps KPMG should study this perception—that advertising is somehow inferior as a career choice, a communications medium and a business practice. Clarity would be helpful.