The Pump-Up PR!

A sign like this stands by the side of the highway betwee Atlanta and Athens, Georgia. For most of the time I lived in the area, I was confused about its purpose – I figured that any serious secular/evolution-friendly driver would not be swayed by such a silly appeal, and most folks don’t even take account of roadside distractions. Now, I’m not saying this is exactly a brilliant piece of political propaganda, but a good friend of mine pointed out what it really means, and why it works.

It’s a pat on the back to the fundies – a pump up to the folks on their daily drive, to tell them they’re under assault, but at the same time that they aren’t alone.

I like it. It’s pithy. And probably effective. More effective than a lot of protests you’ll see at the conventions, for example.

When I was reading Edward Bernays‘ book Propaganda, I came across this quote, which I think remains applicable to left-organizing today:

“The old-fashioned propagandist, using almost exclusively the appeal of the printed word, tried to persuade the individual reader to buy a definite article, immediately. This approach is exemplified in a type of advertisement which used to be considered ideal from the point of view of directness and effectiveness:

‘YOU (perhaps with a finger pointed at the reader) buy O’Leary’s rubber heels– NOW.’

The advertiser sought by means of reiteration and emphasis, to break down or penetrate sales resistance.”

Ahem: “What do we want? O’Leary’s rubber heels! When do we want it? NOW!”

I’ve gone over my beefs with the ‘shame! shame!’ tactics previously, but I want to reiterate, perhaps with a little bit of positivity.

The visible conflicts seen on the daily news are only a snippet of the real work of activism, we already know that. Making a press conference, or a protest happen takes many times over the time length of the actual event. It would be foolish to organize an event on short notice, without arming yourself with the days of neccesary prep time.

Which does not mean that public relations strategies should be reduced to those public confrontations – lest you be the folks still trying to sell shoes by the force of will alone. PR should include strategies that pump-up and inspire, as well as confront and shame. Thus, via a good friend – The Super Happy Anarcho Fun Pages! Some of the best shit on earth!

I love SHAFP because it doesn’t have to be all about the struggle – that tends towards exhaustion, or just as bad, towards cliche. Sometimes you just want to feel like someone else is on the right side, and the comics do that, brilliantly. This is in contrast to the more blatant ‘comics as propaganda’ you also see from the Christian right – instead of pretending that people like comics for comics sake, and will be more susceptible to a message because it’s in comic form, SHAFP embraces the levity and easy-going feel of a comic book to inspire love (and rage).

So, the point: use multiple media forms for multiple messages. But don’t pretend that does the trick – embrace each one for it’s unique tools, and make a message that fits each one.


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