Saturday, April 28, 2007

Must We Do Wrong to Do Right?

Have you noticed that the only way that marketers seem to think that they can get our attention lately is to use sex, violence, or profanity? Risqué has been equated with clever. Pushing the boundaries of public decency is viewed as innovative.

A few months ago, a Canadian television cable station promoted itself with a series of what were meant to be humorous ads that had viewers thanking the station for helping them to break down their inhabitations towards various sexual taboos with its programming. The ads were neither humorous nor apparently very effective, as they disappeared rather quickly.

Earlier this year, a Canadian mainline denomination sought to attract people through the use of humorous ads that deliberately bordered on being blasphemous.

Or watch how often communicators seem to think that the most effective way to really make a point is to revert to profanity. I remember the first time I heard Tony Campolo. He was talking about world hunger and at one point, when referring to the number of people who were starving to death, he suddenly burst out, "And you don't give a damn. Further, more of you care that I just said ‘damn' from the pulpit than about the dying children."

At the time, I thought that this apparently spontaneous outburst of passion was really quite effective in getting the attention of the audience. In the years since, as I have heard Campolo swear repeatedly in message after message, I have come to see it more as a gimmick. Do it once, it's spontaneous. Do it twice and it becomes a publicity stunt. Time to stop swearing, Tony. We're on to you.

Besides, I can care about swearing from the pulpit and care about starving children at the same time. Both are wrong.

Apparently Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is taking a page from the Tony Campolo playbook in defending the "Flick Off" campaign. This is the environment campaign targeting young people with a logo where the word "Flick" is deliberately made to look like the "f" word. Apparently, the Ontario government has been receiving a torrent of complaints. But rather than apologize for this misstep, the premier defended the ad yesterday by saying, ""If people want to take offence at something, don't take offence at the 'flick off' campaign. Take offence at the fact that we are, as a species, raising the temperature on our planet."

Weak.... In other words, if you don't like the campaign, you are a planet killer. I'm sorry, but I can find the ad offensive and care about the environment. It is silly to suggest that I need to make a choice in the matter. In fact, I would like to think that I can raise children to have a respect for others, for God and for decency by not using profanity and a respect for the environment. I don't need the government making the former more difficult as it actively promotes the latter.

I confess that the temptation to resort to questionable means to promote a good cause is one that all of us who are involved in this line of work are prone to. It is harder and harder to get people's attention in our over-commercialized world. The urge to jolt people into paying attention through shocking them is hard to resist. As a Christian communicator, I have to remember that my calling is to tell the truth as effectively and as skillfully as I can. But ultimately, I leave the results with the Holy Spirit. He is the one who will ultimately get and keep people's attention. Not our use of profanity or sexual innuendos.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a well-articalulated note. Such communication methods are on the slippery slope of the Machiavellian approach - that as long as the end goal is right, any method used to accomplish it is justifiable. Absolutley not! Right means are necessary conditions for right endings.