Friday, October 12, 2012

Campaigns I Wish Existed

I am always coming up with ideas for campaigns that I think should exist, to protect many of the precious and fragile things of life. Here are just a few:

1) The Campaign for the Sanctity of Lunch-Hour

Say No, No, No! to the various worthy and energetic activities that are scheduled for lunch-time. I have just seen, on my own university's website, an advertisement for a lunch-time "Kettlebells" class. (A kettlebell, the advertisement tells us, is a centuries-old Russian exercise tool that looks like "a cannon ball with a handle".) "Push yourself at lunch-time!" the advertisement chirpily invites us.

But why on earth would anyone want to push themselves at lunch-time? Don't we spend enough time pushing ourselves (or, more likely, being pushed) before and after lunch-time?

Lunch-time is for the serious business of eating and drinking. Nothing else about it should be serious. I am strongly of the opinion that even lunch-time reading should be light and undemanding.

No more lunch-time meetings, seminars, classes, jogs, lessons or anything else even in the remotest sense strenuous or self-improving! Schedule a time when nothing, absolutely nothing, is to be scheduled!

2) The Campaign against Movie Sequels

The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2, Aliens...yes, there are some good sequels out there. But they are so rare that the same titles are mentioned over and over again whenever anyone raises this topic. And they are as nothing compared to the endless, putrid stream of cynical, overblown, thrown-together, dutifully-made, bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping sequels that everybody hates but that everybody still goes to see. Hey, who knows, it might be another Empire Strikes Back!

Sequels are like the weather-- everybody complains about them but nobody does anything about them. And what we should do is to make a firm resolution not to support them. The gain would far outstrip the loss-- and more original movies would be made, too.

3) The Campaign Against Acronyms

Once there was just the BBC and the RAF and a few other modest names formed of letters. Then the thing exploded, as society became more technological and bureaucratic. Today you can drive your SUV to the office guided by your GPS, switch on your PC, LOL (or not) at the funny email your colleague has forwarded you, have a BLT for lunch, drop a coin in the collection box of the IRSPCA or the ISPCC, complain about SIPTU or IBEC, and read in your newspaper about NATO's dealings with FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) or a march for LGBT rights.

It has to stop. Acronyms are ugly, confusing and dehumanising. They make us sound like a race of robots.

Of course, smart-alecks would inevitably refer to the Campaign Against Acronyms as the CAA, but there's not much that can be done about that.

4) The Campaign Against Technological Metaphors and Similes

"I really want to reboot this discussion because I think we're all having trouble processing the amount of information being thrown at us right now. Ultimately it's the interface with our end-user that's most important. And maybe we're getting into a bit of a feedback loop right now."

Yuck, yuck, yuck. Please stop. Nothing will ever persuade me that figures of speech drawn from technology and computers are just as good as a homely, pastoral phrase like "wait till the cows come home" or "plough ahead".

But what's this? I hear the fellow at the back, in rather high-pitched and nasal tones, informing me that language has always changed and that every effort to "preserve it in a glass case" has failed. Yes, yes, yes. I know, Sonny Jim, I know. But that doesn't mean we have to be passive spectators of language change, any more than a gardener can't prune or pollard his flowers and trees.

5) The Campaign Against Convenience

It is my passionate conviction that convenience is the enemy of civilisation. No machine has caused as much damage to the fabric of social life as the motor car. People thought it would give them freedom and independence, but instead it made them commuting drones in dormitory towns, victims of road rage, and statistics in an obesity epidemic.

But instead of learning from this, we rush to embrace mobile-phones, online shopping, self-service machines, music downloads and e-books.

Learn to love standing in a queue. Practice taking pleasure in not being able to remember that niggling quotation, and force yourself not to look it up on the internet. Rejoice in being cold, uncomfortable, cramped and having to interact with people who you never would have sought out if left to your own devices (no pun intended).

It's only when inconveniences disappear that you realise how much pleasure and drama they brought into your life.

6) The Campaign Against Tacky Advertising

There is a magazine called Adbusters which helped to launch the Occupy movement and seems to oppose all advertising whatsoever. Since I myself worry about the corrosive effect of commercialism, I borrowed some issues of the magazine off a colleague. The content, with its strident and ultra-politically-correct opposition to nearly all the healthy and careless instincts of humanity, horrified me so much that I felt like tatooing "ENJOY COCA COLA" on my face.

There is nothing wrong with advertising in itself. Some advertising is highly artistic, tasteful and ingenious. As well as this, advertising usually has a more or less life-affirming message since happiness (or even simply the promise of happiness) sells. The faces on billboards are usually smiling faces. Advertisers are in the business of evoking idylls, whether it's for a holiday destination or a family boardgame, and idylls nourish the imagination and seek to bring out the good in everything.

No, my gripe is not with advertising so much as with the banality and crassness of much advertising. This is difficult to describe but in general I think that, the more bizarre or specific or incongruous a sales tack becomes, the more offensive I find the advertisement. An advertisement for butter that shows, through a golden nostalgic filter, an old-fashioned milkmaid churning butter is unobjectionable and even (I think) admirable, if done with style and taste. An advertisement for butter that creates a cartoon character called Captain Butter who jumps out of a fridge is banal and tawdry.

In general, I think the principle should be that the advertisement should have some instrinsic artistic merit.

7) The Campaign for Christmas at Christmas

Once again, everybody complains about it but nobody does anything about it. We should have a concerted effort to boycott shops and companies who start revving up the Christmas money-making machine in September or October.

We should sign a solemn compact to not even mention Christmas, insofar as possible, until December.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas. I LOVE CHRISTMAS. But we all know the consequences of starting it off too early. Instead of the anticipation of Advent climaxing in a twelve-day feast of merrymaking, everybody is exhausted and worn-out by lunch-time on December 25th.

Thus we get the irritating phenomenon of people wishing us a Happy New Year on St. Stephen's Day, as though Christmas was already over.

I think I could list a whole bucketful more campaigns I wish existed, and I might do so at another time, but I'm sure that's enough for now.

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