Memes are cute but we need facts.
There’s a picture in this article which you’ve no doubt seen already, as it seems there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle regarding it. It’s not here so I can be glib and cute, and so everybody who agrees with it can ‘like’ it and feel righteously self-satisfied; I’m only including it to provide some context for what I feel I ought to say since AltDaily has kind of started an online slap fight, in which I – as one of the site’s section editors – feel implicated by virtue of association. I am thus compelled to throw in my two cents.
So let’s talk about advertising for a moment. Ads fascinate me. At their best, they succinctly communicate complex issues and inform their audience as to how they should feel and act. Here’s a really good one:
That’s a Clio award-winning ad for Perrier made by the French firm Ogilvy & Mather. It communicates without any words at all that the product is so cool and refreshing that it will save you when the summer heat gets so extreme that your car begins to literally melt around you. (It also assumes you’re a hip, hunky dude accompanied by his faithful and uber-masculine English bulldog, and that said automobile is a tricked-out classic muscle car, because if you would prioritize the product featured in this ad under the conditions depicted in this ad, you’re at least as cool and attractive as Monsieur Rock and Roll here.)
This is a really good example of setting a perception of the product; if it hasn’t occurred to you that sexy rock-and-roll tough guys drink Perrier, well then you were mistaken. And if it has occurred to you, congrats on being with it! You must be a sexy rock-and-roll tough guy yourself. It also happens to be an interesting image that catches the eye and is fun to look at.
Here’s another bold image:
That’s an ad by McCann Erickson (creators of the game-changing “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” jingle) for the Clio awards themselves, which makes the point that considering all the time, energy, and money advertisers put into their work, the intended audience (of slack-jawed couch potatoes) aren’t ultimately the most qualified to judge the merits of their highly nuanced art form. Hyperbolic? Absolutely. Both of the above – and in fact most good ads – are. Hyperbole is a great way to communicate an idea and influence someone’s opinion about that idea in a very short span of time. Somewhat insulting to the general public? Sure, but then again, this ad isn’t for them. It was made by Don Draper-types for Don Draper-types, and in that regard does a terrific job of making its target audience feel special and uniquely possessed of a superior breadth of knowledge. In fact, both of these ads do a great job of appealing to and subtly flattering their target audience, albeit in different ways. Bring on the endorphins!
So who then is the target audience for this one?
That’s the ad, paid for by a group called No Light Rail in Virginia Beach, which stunk up the room on our local interwebs recently. So let’s take a good look at it. Ostensibly, this ad addresses people who do or might use the light rail if it is extended into VB. And the point it’s making is that people who do or might use the light rail suck. Swing and a miss, guys.
There are many questions to be asked about light rail expansion. Will it help mobilize the working population? Will the costs be manageable? Will it be sustainable? (After all, what would be the point of laying more tracks if they’re all going to be underwater in forty years or less?) No Light Rail in VB did not put any of these questions in front of me; I had to come up with them on my own, or my friends (the majority of whom, incidentally, favor light rail expansion) have brought them up. If thinking people who oppose your stance on the issue are doing a better job of making your point than you are, you’re overpaid, even if you’re getting paid in Groupons.
No Light Rail in VB’s leader, John T. Atkinson, serves as VB City Treasurer. It can therefore be assumed his position makes him uniquely qualified to explain the nuts and bolts of the potential economic benefits and risks of light rail expansion, and that he’d be open to the idea of sharing that info with the firm or individual he’s hired to create these images. Why then have they chosen not to capitalize on their client’s presumable wealth of knowledge and opted instead for a series of glibly hostile abasements?
Even the No Light Rail in VB website is frustratingly short on persuasive detail. Have a look. Let me know if you find something on there that actually backs up the handful of broad generalizations offered on the homepage. Considering Mr. Atkinson’s checkered public image – including a DUI arrest last year (which is ironically something many experienced drinkers such as myself frequently use public transit to avoid risking), and his off-the-cuff remark that if millennials like public transportation so much they should feel free to stay out of his town – he might do better at swaying public sentiment by thoroughly explaining the reasoning behind his position. (Actually, what the Pilot quoted Mr. Atkinson as having said was essentially that people who can’t afford to live in or commute to VB as is can just as well fuck off. Mr. Atkinson’s statement did not overtly disparage millennials in particular – millennials just took it especially hard because they’re a little raw from having had such sentiments directed at them from positions of established power on a routine basis for, oh, the last decade or so.) And that, I suppose, is why AltDaily Ed-in-Chief Jesse Scaccia decided to weigh in by sharing this:
Alright everybody, let’s just calm down for a second, shall we? I mean sure, Mr. Atkinson’s Facebook page is prominently linked to this one, and in running his campaign he seems to have otherwise taken several pages from The Donald’s playbook, including a plethora of confrontationally smug memes and self-aggrandizing social media such as these videos, aimed entirely (and sloppily, one might add) at mobilizing existing supporters of his cause, and not at all at changing anyone’s mind.
But my research has turned up no convincing indications that Mr. Atkinson is a racist, and AltDaily hurts their side of the argument by implying that he is. This past week, AltDaily ran a very well-written op-ed by Ashley Barnett that concisely crystalizes millennials’ feelings about this issue, but alas, it also was short on information that might actually influence anyone’s decision this November. In fact, in her concluding paragraph, Ms. Barnett retreats into the persistent reactionary factional mindset that to date has kept our seven cities from truly uniting as a metropolitan area, and in so doing aligns herself with the same municipal tribalism for which she scolds Mr. Atkinson. This is what a generation’s worth of the simultaneous dumbing-down and amping-up of our political discourse results in: two sides of a nuanced issue eschewing facts in favor of pointing out who’s stoopider.
I wrote a thing a couple months ago about a show by Tidewater Stage that threw this very state of affairs into stark relief, but I guess not enough people saw that show. I’m disappointed both in Mr. Atkinson and in my own compatriots at AltDaily for falling under the influence of our increasingly puerile political discourse and treating this important and predictably divisive issue like a game of the dozens. I’m tired of this, and I am therefore calling both No Light Rail in VB and AltDaily out, and asserting that the party who truly has the interests of the area at heart in this contest is going to be the one who treats us like we have functioning prefrontal cortices, and actually puts some facts in front of the voters.
However, since the cynic in me considers it likely that both parties will just keep snapping at each other to no useful end (because let’s face it, that’s way easier), I’d like to submit the following as my application to whichever side wants to save a little money on their PR campaign:
Seriously, hit me up on Facebook. I could do a million of these, and I guarantee I’ll undercut the competition by 15% or better. (Be advised however, both of the above images are my intellectual property, and y’all had best not let me see them on anybody’s page or site before the check clears.)
Or you know, someone could decide to be the adult here.