The truth about authority

Whether in his lyrics or in interviews, Joe Strummer always had a wonderful way of cutting through the bullshit and getting to the core of the subject. His passionate street wisdom invariably fused intelligence with insights and never failed to inspire. Joe would spin like a high-speed Black & Decker drill in his grave at the association but his words always reminded me of the succinctly-put McCann-Erickson credo, Truth Well Told. The quote above is a perfect example of his simple but life-changing observations. I wish I’d worked this out for myself at a much earlier age than I eventually did.

“Regard art critics as useless and dangerous.”

The title quote is from The Manifesto Of The Futurists, the radical Italian art movement of the early 20th century. Written with the scent of tumultuous change in the air, it rejected the past and celebrated speed, machinery, violence, youth, industry and the cultural rebirth of Italy. In retrospect, it’s fascinating to reflect on how such avant garde ideas were swallowed up by the Great War, the Russian Revolution and the sinister rise of fascism.

All of that is an aside here, but one thing I do know is that the Futurists would’ve despised – with every fibre of their beings – the idea of reality television talent shows. When they demanded the world “make room for youth, for violence, for daring”, I very much doubt a toe-curling Olly Murrs cover version of Robbie Williams’ She’s The One was what they had in mind. And I reckon, if they’d been around to see the classic X Factor clip above, they might have changed the fifth point of The Manifesto to, Regard critics as useless, dangerous, slimy, patronising arseholes whose smug self-righteousness can never hold a candle to your talent.

“I could call tobacco companies arseholes or monsters or open sores on Satan’s dick…”

This is absolutely brilliant. Great writing, wonderful delivery. And the Don’t Be A Maybe Malboro campaign makes me ashamed to work in advertising. Anyway, if you haven’t already, please watch, share and get stuck in with the #JeffWeCan hashtag. Jeff! Jeff! Jeff!

Be audacious

Young teams sometimes talk to me about getting stuck on the work experience merry-go-round and ask me what it takes to go from being on placement to getting a job. I tell them that the stuff they already know – listening, working harder than anyone else in the building and being polite instead of an arsehole – are all essential…but they’re table stakes. As long as those basics are in place, what I’m looking for is people who are audacious and fearless. As an example, I show them this clip. To set a bit of context, Wayne Rooney was 16 years old and this was one of his first Premiership games. In his debut a couple of months earlier, the Spurs fans had booed him and chanted “Who are ya?” every time he touched the balled. Coming into this game, Arsenal were unbeaten for 30 matches and it was deadlocked at 1-1 when Rooney came on with ten minutes to go. There were just 28 seconds on the clock when he did this…

“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”

What I love about this TED talk by Melanie Joy is her reminder that eating meat isn’t a given but a choice. So many of us sleepwalk into eating meat because that’s how we’re brought up and that’s what we’re used to. A great deal of time, money and effort is spent keeping the reality of the meat industry well hidden from view and stopping us from thinking about it. Conditioning us to think there is no choice but to eat meat, it’s perfectly normal. But one of the great beauties of freedom is the ability to educate ourselves and make informed decisions based on our knowledge and principles. You may not agree with my views on the subject (I’m a passionate vegetarian in case you hadn’t guessed). But I urge you to at least think about why you eat meat, to ask yourself if you actually ever made a conscious decision to be a meat eater and, if so, to examine the motives around that decision. After all, as Descartes famously said, “You should question everything.” (Another thing that he never said but would have done, if he’d been around today or I’d been around in the 17th century, was – “Have you tried Ant Melder’s quinoa and spinach patties? They’re delicious!”)

“The possibility of the miracle is here with us almost every day.”

I love the Charles Bukowski poem, 60 Yard Pass. It’s a raw reflection on the contrast between crapness and excellence. People doing a rubbish job in any field is depressing; watching someone take pride in their task and excel at anything – be it running the 100 metres in the Olympics, giving a best man’s speech at a wedding or making a great drink in the local coffee shop – is inspiring. And whether we’re naturally excellent or have to work our arses off to attain excellence, as long as were breathing, there’s always a chance we can do something extraordinary – in Bukowski’s words,“The possibility of the miracle is here with us almost every day.” 

The optimism buried within Bukowski’s grizzled wisdom reminds me of something an ex-colleague once said to me about why he loved advertising. He had a theory that doing ads is a flat playing field and that with the right  amount of effort, anyone could hit a cracker into the top corner at any time. Every creative at every agency in the world is literally a split second away from having an idea that could change the world, he used to say. Which I’ve always found both sobering and inspiring. And, while I’m searching for that idea, it’s helpful to watch people doing their thing with the passion, intensity and “natural excellence” Bukowski was on about, creating their own miracles – like Kevin Rowland’s goosebump-eliciting, life-affirming performance in the video above. Have a watch and check out the Bukowski poem, below.

60 Yard Pass

most people don’t do very well and I get discouraged with

their existence, it’s such a waste

all those bodies, all those lives malfunctioning:

lousy quarterbacks, bad waitresses,

incompetent carwash boys and presidents,

cowardly goal-keepers inept garage mechanics

bumbling tax accountants 
and so forth

yet

now and then

I see a single performer doing something with a
 natural excellence

it can be
 a waitress in some cheap cafe or a 3rd string 
quarterback

coming off the bench with 24 seconds on the clock

and completing that winning 
60 yard pass

which lets me believe that

the possibility of the miracle is here with us

almost every day

and I’m glad that now and then

some 3rd string quarterback
 shows me the truth of that belief

whether it be in science, art, philosophy,
 medicine, politics, and/or etc.

else I’d shoot all the lights out of
 this fucking city 
right now

– Charles Bukowski

Capitalist Onslaught

Despite my rant yesterday about cynical marketing campaigns based on social issues, I do believe that advertising can be a force for good in society. Even though, when you stop to think about some brands’ motives for more than a millisecond, entire campaigns suddenly seem completely bogus. For example, Dove has been running its Campaign For Real Beauty for years. It’s based on the idea of empowering young girls and women to be happy with their own bodies instead of chasing some fantasy ideal pumped out by the ‘beauty’ industry. As I’m sure you know, Dove is owned by Unilever, the same company that owns Lynx/Axe, the brand that’s been telling young blokes for years to ‘Spray More, Get More’ alongside other irreverent messages that you’d struggle to misconstrue as being about female empowerment. You may also know that Dove products are choc-full of palm oil, the production of which is linked to widespread environmental and social issues in Africa and Asia, including deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses. All of which casts the Campaign For Real Beauty in a different light; when looked at within the wider context, it feels like a hypocritical, cynical smokescreen.

BUT. And here’s where the ethical waters get very muddy. If you take away any of that context and just consider the work on its own merits – which is how many people will view it – this kind of work can be a force for good. The beauty industry is a sinister force that pushes warped ideals onto insecure young girls. And the Onslaught ad above is a brilliantly crafted, extremely powerful piece of communication that I’d argue makes the world a better place. It uses intelligence and creativity to challenge the status quo, pose questions and inspire change. It’s an excellent ad and, perhaps, rather than feeling manipulated by a hypocritical, unethical multinational corporation, parents will feel challenged and inspired to think even more about the way they bring up their daughters. And that has to be a good thing, right?

Well, maybe. And maybe not. Because the whole thing’s a big capitalist conspiracy, isn’t it? Maybe Onslaught made parents like the Dove brand a bit more. Which might’ve made them more likely to buy Dove products. Which would’ve meant more forests torn down to make more palm oil. And more money made by Unilever to spend on more Lynx marketing telling young blokes to spray more and get laid more. Which might’ve lead to those young blokes objectifying girls rather than seeing them as equals worthy of respect. And I don’t really know where I’m going with this because the whole thing is connected in a way that makes my head hurt and makes me feel like a tiny cog in the vast machine of global capitalism. So, I’ll just say “great ad” and leave it there for now before I turn into a pound shop Chomsky.