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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Forty second film review

They Live - Jon Carpenter

I'm a JC fan, but this film is not one of his best. Not sure if the disengaged acting, ropy characterization and lazy plot line are intentional, I suppose they could be, given the film's vision of an anomic consumer society enslaved 'behind its own back' by aliens.
And that's the problem with this film: the aliens. Why blame extraterrestrials for inequality, injustice, over consumption, police repression and the like? We do a pretty good job of that by ourselves thank you very much.
The film's premise reminds me of  this research paper which, among other things, argues that an advanced alien civilization might have the solution for many earthly problems.... you know, world poverty, inequality, sustainability, global warming... stuff like that.
Far be it for humans to be able to solve these problems ourselves.
Of course, the film could just be an ironic joke, in which case... you certainly got me there.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

'Fuzzy Filches Fuzz's Funder'

I was going to write a blog about how companies like News International adopt the PR tactic of ‘stealing thunder’ to limit bad news and sell more things.
But before I could finish, as if to ram home the point, former news international CEO Rebekah Brooks gave a quite brilliant show of how [not] to do it.
Rather than wait for the Crown Prosecution Service to announce that it was bringing charges against her and five others relating to perverting the course of justice, she announced the bad news herself:
In a statement, Brooks and her husband castigated the CPS:

"We deplore this weak and unjust decision after the further unprecedented posturing of the CPS..." 
Later in the day (just in time for the prime time evening news slots) she and her husband followed-up with a statement to for TV News cameras:

For a journalist, like Brooks, it probably seems common sense to go for the ‘stealing thunder’ approach, to get the bad news out there on your own terms, before your enemies.
The immediate response on Twitter was interesting. The Mail’s Political Editor, James Chapman, with a hint of irony, hailed it as ‘classy’.
BBC correspondent Daniel Sandford called it ‘cheap’ (which I think means basically the same thing).
I don’t know what Brooks’ lawyer thought. Nor have I seen any PR heads giving their view.
For what it’s worth, I think Brooks’ act could only be considered ‘tactically’ sound, if staying on top of the 24-7 media agenda was important to some other aim within the context of the impending criminal trial. By pre-empting the CPS and announcing that she had been charged she won a couple of decent headlines and signalled an important message to her supporters in the media and elsewhere.The problem is, this isn’t the end of it and it’s difficult to see how she will be able to keep ahead of the discourse for long. Surely her lawyers will be trying to get her to keep schtum. Or will they?
An organisation has several options when releasing information about a crisis. Perhaps the most common, intuitive position is to say nothing, or deny everything. In the early days of the phone hacking scandal that’s what News International seemed to do. They stuck to the ‘one rogue reporter’ line until a mounting set of allegations, culminating in the details surrounding the court case concerning Milly Dowler, left them with no credibility left. At some point during the summer of 2011 News International must have realised that it needed to start fessing up about a few things. That’s when rumours started about ‘draining the swamp’ in and around Wapping. It was met with a backlash by senior News International journalists.

I understand that the tactic of ‘stealing thunder’ originates in the arena of courtroom rhetoric (happy to be told I'm wrong on this). Lawyers in jury trials have, apparently for a long time, adopted the tactic, particularly when defending dubious clients. So much the better to tell the jury early doors that there’s a stain on your client’s character, rather than leave it to the prosecution, juries don’t like that.
Outisde the courtroom, if you’ve got bad news, the tactic implies it’s better to adopt a journalistic mindset, and look to scoop the hacks. In PR parlance this is known politely as ‘initiating a crisis communication scenario.’ And there’s actually some evidence the tactic works by enhancing the credibility of the person/organisation who fesses up. A study byArpan and Roskos-Ewoldsen concluded that organisations that ‘steal thunder’ are perceived as more credible than those that do not.
According to PR theory the more credible an organisation is perceived to be, the more palatable its messages become, the more palatable its messages the higher the likelihood that customers will continue to buy its product.
By way of illustration (not I stress correlation or causation) latest circulation figures show that 2.4 million people per week buy the Sun on Sunday, just 200,000 less than bought the News of the World before it was closed last year. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Southpaw Soundbite Review


There’s a basic misunderstanding at the root of this PR Week editorial about ethics in the communications industry.
Editor-in-Chief, Danny Rogers, cites the 2012 Sunday TimesRich List as evidence of the failure of what he terms free market trickle down economics. It followed the surprise expressed by some commentators that the already wealthy became even wealthier in 2012.
This is worrying, opined Danny, because: 
‘if wealth is not ‘trickling down’… then the whole value of business to our society comes under scrutiny.’
But why under 'trickle down' would one expect the wealth of the richest to leak to the poorest?
‘Trickle down’ as soundbite is a spin doctor’s dream. A two word phrase that neatly packages up what we think we know about the prevailing social relations of the last 40 years or so.
A small technical feature of soundbites (second to its overall ideological role), is its tendency to strip away theoretical meaning. I’m no expert, but I think it fairly certain that trickle down is no exception from this rule.
But in principle it is possible for anyone to invest even a modicum of attention to what ‘wealth’ might mean (or what it certainly does not mean) before  worrying that the ‘value’ of business to society is eroded if it appears the reality of mega wealth is in contradiction to economic propaganda.
I doubt there’s any contradiction in theory or practice between increasing wealth and trickle down economics. Danny is confusing trickle down with progressive redistribution, which has a completely different dynamic. True, it's the redistributive dynamic that proponents of 'trickle down' like to allude to, hence its use as a soundbite, but it's an illusion. The following piece by Ed Shultz provides a great performative reposte to such thinking. 

'Trickle down' might refer, not to wealth, but to the wider dissemination of goods and services to greater numbers of people (mobile phones among the Masai for example) over time. It does not necessarily imply that the depositories of wealth accumulated by the rich will inevitably leak down to those who are less well off. As a soundbite, it's nice to imagine that such a trickle down does occur though.

Now for the depressing bit:
‘What has this got to do with PR?’ asks Danny, ‘Well, corporate comms strategy is often predicated on shareholder value. But if this value – quite apart from social justice – is failing to be delivered, then comms professionals must look at where else their organisation is creating value.
‘This creates an impetus for ‘values-based’ businesses; organisations that can genuinely contribute to the broader society.’
As an example of alienation, this passage is outstanding. There’s an obvious conflation of value with wealth and a vacuous allusion to ethical value (a capitalist content to substitute ethical value for shareholder wealth would not be a capitalist for long). I suppose some capitalists have succeeded in mobilizing shared ethical conceptions to help prop up their profits and I suppose this is the point Danny is making.
But what depresses me about this statement is the assumption that value is only created by business. The passage demonstrates what happens when one is alienated from the product of labour. Under such conditions ‘value’ becomes solely about profit or shareholder value. We, the alienated, have no idea what lies beneath this ‘value’, and we end up picking through the entrails of lost profitability like zombies looking for a substitute value to feast upon, never contemplating what exists prior to the extraction of surplus value: the value of human labour itself.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Wilful Blindness

Eight officers 'see' man drag mounted policeman from horse.
Eight officers do not 'see' same mounted policeman lift man from the ground by his hair.

Jurors acquit man.