Friday, May 4, 2012

"Branding" is not governing, nor is re-writing history

By Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail, May 4, 2012
In the last budget, for example, funding was reduced for Library and Archives Canada, the CBC, Telefilm Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Parks Canada by a government that had already scrapped plans for a National Portrait Gallery. (The government also is eliminating support for scholars in other countries who study Canada.)

The government spared the National Gallery, the national museums in Ottawa and the Canada Council, but the net effect on the ability to explain history in an unfiltered way through people and projects funded by public institutions was reduced by the cuts.
By contrast, the government found money in a “restraint” budget for projects that will allow it to highlight those scattered and fading (or faded) remnants of our history that suit the government’s political agenda: recreations of the War of 1812 (a political civil war on each side and a cross-border military conflict), medals commemorating the Queen, and yet another royal visit, this one offering Canadians (or at least the handful of them who will care) the emotional surge of seeing their future king and queen: Charles and Camilla.
"Branding" is a contemporary word for marketing your wares (services, goods, policies and images) to your various niche markets. The exercise sees, for example, three generations of men in Florida learning to grow oranges, to demonstrate that Tropicana is a family-oriented company producing a "family-oriented" and healthy product, orange juice. Coca-cola, the owner of the Tropicana brand knows that this message will appeal to those needing to restore their sense of confidence in the centrality of history, especially family history, currently undergoing a revival through such websites as "Ancestry.ca (.com)". Branding, however, is a very short-term expression of the creative genius that dwells in the major advertising agencies, where these "ideas" are conceived, incubated, gestated and eventually "delivered" at the moment believed to be the one likely to produce the maximum benefit to the client, by spiking sales and making records, thereby increasing stock prices, executive bonuses, hiring need and capacity and rich contracts and contract extensions for those "artists" at the centre of the process. Branding is another word for gyrating into a reputation that evokes warm fuzzies and open wallets from the buying public. And it is, like fashion, one of its prime clients, forever twisting up and down, inside out, right-side-up and upside down, to find the right formula for the business equivalent of the Roman candle so popular at fireworks shows. Sometimes, even a trickle of objective truth emerges from the campaigns to "brand" a service, a product or a company's identity. Maybe there is a real piece of technology in the Ford Focus, for example, that helps drivers park their Focus without using their hands.
However, to apply this modus operandi, that of the advertising/marketing/public relations guru's to the operation of a national government, responsible for spending public dollars "in the public interest" and not specifically or generally in the "self-interest" of the people in office, is makes less than a mockery of the centuries of public debate, personal duals, fields of soldiers fighting for beliefs, principles and values far larger and more important than any of the individuals whose names appear on the plaques, or on the treaties, or in the history books. History is the cumulative, and the summative record of how a country came to be, and how its people have defined themselves through the plethora of incidents, speeches, debates, books, including both fiction and non-fiction, newspapers and electronic communication of the public discourse. And, yes, that story includes the formation and the policies and promises, both kept and dropped, of political parties. However, make no mistake: political parties are not synonymous with, or identical to, nor should or can they be, with or to a national identity. And never should they attempt to square that circle!
And what's more, the hubris that attempts to generate a presumption of identity of a political party with a nation, and then even more pseudo-herocially to foist that scam on a generally forgiving, generous and unsuspecting public is, in a word, unforgiveable.
And the reason it is unforgiveable is that is leads on to attempting brain-washing, the re-writing of history and the gathering of the instruments of power into the hands of an oligarchy, the party that sees itself as "the state"....Individual political leaders have even been heard using the heinous phrase, "L'etat, c'est moi!" to depict this belief and addiction to power.
Louis XIV began his personal rule of France in 1661 after the death of his chief minister, the Italian Cardinal Mazarin.[3] An adherent of the theory of the divine right of kings, which advocates the divine origin and lack of temporal restraint of monarchical rule, Louis continued his predecessors' work of creating a centralized state governed from the capital. He sought to eliminate the remnants of feudalism persisting in parts of France and, by compelling the noble elite to inhabit his lavish Palace of Versailles, succeeded in pacifying the aristocracy, many members of which had participated in the Fronde rebellion during Louis' minority. By these means he consolidated a system of absolute monarchical rule in France that endured until the French Revolution. (from Wikipedia)
We all know that the current Prime Minister is neither a reader, nor a student of the wide landscape of history, preferring as his tribe of scribes says, to "cherry-pick" from its vineyards; however, in that blind and selective application of memory could lie his own petard...on which history may impale him and his government.
Mr. Harper, just a brief sketch of the difference between "branding" and "governing"....
  • those selling a product have few if any restrictions on the limit of their rhetoric, including the stretching of, ignoring of and even denying the truth, whereas government is expected to tell the truth
  • those selling a product have a history of requiring regulations, watchdogs and consumer protections which healthy governments have built, for their own safety, which your government seems intent on dismantling
  • those selling a product/service studiously research the contributions of their competitors, knowing that in those offerings lie many of the best of that industry's history, and much to be emulated, whereas your government's contempt for the opposition, as you see them, is tantamount to an undeclared war
  • those selling a product need sales and a public reputation that builds trust in the brand, and that trust must be earned, and not bought, even though their exercise in corporate profit-seeking is measured in dollars of sales and investment, whereas your government's list of preferential donors is based exclusively on the self-interest of their ambitions and your government's co-dependence in delivering to them what they demand
  • finally, those engaged in private business engage in mergers, acquisitions, stock purchases and business expansions that seek to evade and avoid all government regulations, including taxation and national responsibility whereas your government is and must be committed to the national interest, an abstraction with which you meddle at your peril, because our national heritage is, and will remain, much larger and more enduring than your political ambition, notwithstanding the epic magnitude of that ambition...
As the letter writer in today's Globe and Mail put it, in summarizing the first year of the Harper government:

It may have been a good year for Prime Minister Stephen Harper (One Year Of More Ups Than Downs – editorial, May 2), but it wasn't a good year for truth, fairness, kindness, social justice or honest government. Or don't you care about any of that?

Steven Moore, Tamworth, Ont.

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