Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Public Diplomacy as a Circle Jerk

Nation Branding?

Who should do it?

Conventional wisdom is that the government should do it.  In which case it’s called Public Diplomacy,  After all, our lords and masters have  money and they can hire shameless media whores like me!
 Really?  FAIL!a

Governments clearly suck at this kind of thing.   And hiring me would make no difference.  Because they wouldn’t listen to me.  
 “Public Diplomacy” is a circle jerk.   

But sometimes a country does manage to change the world’s perception of it.   Almost always without the kind of massive direct governmental – or corporate involvement -- that we saw with Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” and presently “Cool Japan”.    

In fact, real “nation branding” usually takes place despite governmental or corporate meddling!  This is because "nation branding" is all about change and creativity -- things out there on the edge

“Cool Britannia” was the result of real social change in the 70s –  a consensus among young people that life should be fun, creative, full of opportunity and zest – in a word “cool”.   This movement was bottom-up.  

 Part of the fun was the resistance to the “Establishment’, which, of course, pushed back.  In other words, “Cool Britannia” was subversive – as all real social change is. 

Ironically, one of the products of the original "Cool Britannia" was Jeremy Corbyn, who has managed to prove Jethro Tull’s axiom that you are never too old to rock and roll if you are too young to die.

No, luv' he is not a centrist -- he's an outlier.   Nothing is happening in the Center -- just the same-old corruption and incompetence. Change is some other place -- which is why so many  people who felt disenfranchised by political movements are flocking to Corbyn's banner.
The way families are supposed to look

Back in the 70s, British rock and an assortment of artists and entrepreneurs did cool stuff.  The young people had a good time, then had children, got married, and looked for “stable jobs” -- and elected Margaret Thatcher, and later Tony Blair, Maggie's bastard son.  

Japan had moved into the international spotlight in the 70s too.    This too had nothing to do with the efforts of government – or even corporations–  even Sony's Morita -- it had more to do with smart young engineers making cool stuff, which sold itself – despite white collar elites.  It was the Age of the Walkman.  And cars whose carbs did not need cleaning every 10 kilometers like my old TR4.  

Sony’s famous slogan, “It’s a Sony” said it all.  Pride.  Quality. Style.

 And …um… utility

Which was Japan too.  The Japanese seemed to have something then.    

So everyone wanted to learn about Japanese methods and copy them.   Of course, they focused on the wrong things – mostly Japanese management practices, which are often as not an impediment to both efficiency and creativity.   

Japan was peaceful, safe, harmonious and -- -most important of all -- egalitarian.  But these were not things that the rest of the world paid much attention to, as they looked for a magic bullet, nemawashi, the just in time manufacturing system, quality control, kaizen, and so on.

Bubbles burst.  Japan’s did, soon enough.   And the world noticed that nemawashi, the ringi system, and kaizen -- were about how the system was supposed to work rather than how it actually did.  

Tony Blair, who as a youth had wanted to be Mick Jagger, tried to resurrect Cool Britannia – and failed.    He had never been cool as a kid.  And, as an adult, he was still a wannabe.  

Japan had long-haired Prime Minister Koizumi, who no doubt also wanted to be a rock star as a kid—but didn’t rock either.  He tried to bring back whatever Japan had had in the 70s. 

Today, in Japan, we have Abe who, I think, is a kind of 21st Century Meiji man – trying to resurrect the Empire with  Hello Kitty, violence porn, pedophilia and fetishism.   

You want to brand your nation?    National identity cannot be imposed – it emerges. And it emerges from the periphery towards the Center, never from the middle ground, the  status quo, governed by bourgeois conventions and conformity.  

As I have indicated "Cool" is creative.  And all creativity is inherently subversive.  It cannot be "taught" -- only learned through experiment.   It looks to the past for rules, which it seeks to break --in its struggle against "normalcy".    


Monday, January 18, 2016

Cool Japan-- Fucked Japan

Dr. Cool or Dr. Hot?
The esteemed Dr. Nancy Snow, one of the world’s authorities on Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding gave a talk recently called "Branding Japan: 2020 and Beyond".
Me (of course)...thinking
 Now, I don’t know the contents of the talk – I didn’t  attend because I was too busy staring into space thinking about the title.  Yup...the Future, which (like most people) I want to be cool.
The Future?
 “Nation Branding” is:
a.)    Almost always aimed at promoting tourism
b.)    Almost always retrogressive
c.)    Almost created by people detached from reality

d.)    Almost always created by people what to be cool but are wankers.

Much is made of Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” program – which is the model for “Cool Japan”.  But “Cool Britannia” – as I have indicated in other blog posts was a creation   70’s Youth Culture in the UK, and effectively over by the time New Labour took over the government.  

The Rolling Stones -- then

And “Cool Japan” of course looks backwards to Tony’s time – lame, as if it had been invented by NHK, that lamest of  broadcasting companies where “news” is"dasai" (lame, uncool)
NHK has no shame

As I have also said, everything we do  is based on what we learned in high school – which is of course when we actually became adults and learned what fun mental masturbation is.

Tony the Teenager

 So in the UK Tony thought back to when he was a 16 year old wanker, failing to notice that times had changed.   But -- hey – keep on wankin’.

And the Cool Japan guys look back to Tony looking back, failing to not only notice that things are different now – and also that Japan is not the UK, nor is ever likely to be.   Wank, wank.   Who needs sex?  No wonder the birthrate is declining.  But I digress. 

Returning to Dr. Snow, whose writings I encourage you to read. And whose talks you should attend.  

Dr. Snow’s talk was about looking ahead --which is a fairly revolutionary idea in this business, which, as mentioned, tends to look backwards. 

When you look forward in nation branding you have to consider the not only the direction you want your society to take – but the direction it will take -- no matter what you do!  Which is why most of the movers and shakers – ie wankers – in the Cool Japan program don’t think about the future. 

The distinction between what you want and what can achieve is huge.

It is the basis of all great wanking.

For example, Abe and his Gang have ideas about the kind of Japan they want to see in the future – sort of an upgraded version of the prewar Hakko Ichiu – the Eight Corners of the World Under One Roof.  Except that this would be Futatsu, Hitotsu.  Two poles, one earth. The two poles being Japan and the US. 
The Candies Contained Anthrax

For the time being, however, public diplomacy focuses on getting people to the Olympics – hence, “Cool Japan”.

Now nation branding is most effectively when it honestly represents:

•    Ideals and values
•    Goals, which must be consistent with those ideals
•    Situational Trends

Abe’s ideals and values – right wing, neoliberal, and nationalistic – uphold  Japan’s ‘ right’ to dominate the Asian community. 
His goals include changing the constitution, re-militarization, nuclearization, corporatism and strengthening the alliance with US to confront China.

But --  no matter what Abe does he will lose.

With Japan’s population on schedule to decrease by about half over the next half century – and increasing inequality which will undermine the social contract which has delivered amazing social harmony since 1945, Japan will simply lack the resources to confront China – much less the two Koreas or Russia.   It will be hard put to keep Okinawa Japanese.   

Ryukyu Independence Movement

Think ahead – an archipelago with just 50 million or so, its industry and infrastructure in ruins, its peoples divided.  There is a very good possibility of this.
Cool Japan (later)

The chances of a major seismic disaster in the Kanto or Kansai areas – home to half the Japanese population is large.  Add to that the possibility of volcanic catastrophe, flooding, and the like.  Expect a tsunami and rising seas to wipe out the multi-billion dollar Tokyo Bay Development project by 2060.  Oh, and let’s not downplay pandemics and the rise of antibiotic bacterial diseases.
Re-nuclearizing energy almost certainly means another nuclear disaster.  

Such disasters could be overcome – but only with high levels of altruism and egalitarianism – not things high on Abe’s agenda – or the agenda of any “neoliberal” government

2030?  Not “Cool Japan”.  Fucked Japan. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

You: The Naked Emperor

I am a liar.

My job is not so much to persuade the public to do believe certain things or do things – rather it is to persuade my clients that I can do these things, which is, at best, doubtful.

PR?  Advertising?  “Public Diplomacy”?  Con games.   "Big" doesn't equal "smart".  I get paid well.   Even if I charge a fraction what a large ad agency would -- delivering some real value, con game or not.

People like me are sell the Emperor new clothes.  I would rather sell the real thing -- but the Big Guys take their cues from others.  I am always hoping there will be a  kid in the crowd who will tell the King he is naked.   

The series Madmen comes close to this "reality – but even it pretends that propagandists have more power than they do.  We are cogs in a machine.

Frankly, the whole public persuasion shtick is mostly hit and miss.  There is no “method” – only madness.  

Don Draper was a lie.  Stolen Identity.  And yet that identity is as real as any other in this series -- or in real life.

Who you are is what other people think you are. Ultimately, that crowd looking at you, includes several versions of you. 

 And that is the central truth that most people would rather not believe

 Outside is inside.  And inside, outside.  The “Self” is a product. Its essence is in its marque and its slogan.  And its perceived usefulness to others.

We are all Don Draper. Manufactured people.  We are all Apple.  Brands.  We are all naked emperors.  Oblivious.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Political Labels: Corbyn Tales

    Imagine if you bought a bottle of aspirin and found it wasn’t aspirin at all, but, say, Vitamin C.

    At the very least, you would want a refund.  Irritating, yeah.  But it doesn't happen all the time.

    But what if the labels were always wrong?

    Worried that one time the “aspirin” will be rat poison?

    Labels matter.

    So why do we accept mislabeling from the Media?

    It happens all the time.  

    Take the labels:  “moderate”, “leftist”, “extreme lefts”, “hard left”.    By and large, “moderate” translates to “right of center” and usually “conservative”.  “Conservative” often as not means loony-tunes fascist.

    Is Bernie Sanders a "socialist"?  Nope."Liberal" on some things; "conservative" on others.

    And the Hillary?   Nope.  Not a "liberal democratic". Her positions range from right of center to left-of- fascist.  A sort of pink, hippy Hitler.

     Let's not even get started on Donald Trump!

    Is there a rule of thumb on deciphering media levels.

    Yes -- they are always wrong!

   A good example is the Corbyn "revenge" shuffle.

   A new kind of rave dance?

   But the Brit media has been calling Corbyn's reshuffle of his "shadow cabinet' a kind of malevolent, bad-spirited blowback.  Their articles come complete with anti-Corbyn MPs tweets, warning of the impending collapse of the UK.

   You would think that the Queen had been caught shagging the royal butler.

    Or the PM had put his dick in a pig's mouth.
    (Oh, he did?  Never mind)

    Now, keep in mind that Corbyn's is a just "shadow" cabinet, not the real thing.  A thing of the imagination.

     Also keep in mind that cabinet reshuffles are routine, pedestrian things that party leaders do to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Like cleaning the litter box. Although in this case, there were more lumps of dried shit than usual.

     Also keep in mind that such reshuffles are expected when a new party leader inherits holdovers from previous "shadow" cabinets.  Did I mention dried shit?

   Corbyn is now accused of being a "hard leftist", a Stalinist, intolerant of dissent -- despite having bent over backwards to accommodate the backbiting Blairites on his front bench.    His policy has been unfailing moderate in his management of differences of opinion.  But clearly that masks an authoritarian intention of creating a gulag someplace, like a dom club in Liverpool for Hillary Benn.

There WILL be discipline
   The same sneaky moderation cannot be said for the Blairites,who are get sore throats from calling Corbyn names. 

    Naturally, the  media refer to the Blairites as "moderates" and Corbyn as an "extremist"

    The Blairites are in favor of wasting billions on a nuclear system they cannot use without approval from the US -- and which they patently do not need -- certainly not at a time of fiscal distress, when the army can hardly afford body armor for its troops.  Since the Scottish are forced to host Trident despite not wanting it -- the issue is also nationally divisive. Moderation?  No.  Stupidity.  
London: the road to gentrification

    The Blairites favor more privatization -- "Tory -lite " policies which cost them the last election.  "Centrism"?  No-- Conservatism.  Of course, "centrism", an unwillingness to take sides is inherently conservative.  So that when you have Tory-right versus Tory-left, voters will go for the real stuff.  

    The Blairites are political morons.

    The Blairites favor a continuation of Blair-ish policies in the Middle East -- unwinnable wars-- which accomplish nothing other than depleting the exchequer and killing British soldiers.   Is a taste for bloodshed "moderation"?  

     Jeremy Corbyn just wants to get the economy back on line, reduce inequality and create a better standard of life.  Yes, he wants affordable education and better transportation systems, and if that means more funding for public education and public transport, fine. He wants government to be more responsive to ordinary people and communities.  And he wants to avoid foreign entanglements and violence.  Clearly a dangerous man.

      A"Stalinist" according to the Daily Mail, the Telegraph , the Times, the Guardian and the Independent. 

     Labels, labels, labels.  But one thing about mislabeling.  Eventually, you do get rat poison --- or a Tony Blair -- or, in the US,  a Hillary Clinton.  And people will die.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Think Straight - Think Long: Corbyn at the Gates

      Why is Jeremy Corbyn so important?
      Oh…you didn’t know he mattered?

     Well, he does.
     Why should I think this of this modest 66-year-old man?  After all, he became ahead of Britain’s Labour Party almost by accident and the UK media seem to have nothing good to say about him.  The established leaders of his own party, such as Hillary Benn, sneer at him.
     Surely, he will be replaced soon by a real politician.Yet, if Jeremy Corbyn fails then so do we all.

      First and foremost, because he stands for an idearepresentative democracy, the kind of system where people’s opinions and votes actually matter. 
      For this system to work, you need two things.  You need a public that  thinks and discusses, votes, and gets involved.  You need people to represent that public and its diversity, honestly and unselfishly.
      If the public is complacent or just doesn’t care -- you are in trouble.   

     If the public doesn’t want to think you are in trouble.   
     If the public doesn’t vote you are in trouble.

     If you are  "led" politicians are like Barak Obama or David Cameron or Tony Blair – self-servicing narcissists, you are also in trouble.  We do not need "leaders" -- we need representatives.
Representatives of the Many, not the Few.

     Corbyn is important because he is a man of principle.  He never sought power -not in many years in politics --content to speak truth to power from the backbenches.
     Now, thrust into into the public limelight, he speaks for the public backbenchers  – that’s most of us.   Originally he was nominated as a kind of subtle joke -- the Brahmins of the Labour Party assuming he would never be elected.  A Joke?  Just like the notion of an "election" (as opposed to "selection").

     In some important sense, we are all Jeremy Corbyn. But suddenly the joke is on our leaders.
      Yes, if Corbyn fails, so does democracy.

      Then, there would be, as Russel Brand, was criticized for saying, no point in voting -- the only thing left, anarchist activism.
      So far Corbyn has done well, considering the opposition to him, within and without his own party, and in the media -- sound and fury signifying corruption and the terror of losing power. 

        He has played the Long Game.  Which if it continues, allows the truth to come out naturally.  
       The fact is he is not extremist -- but a pragmatic moderate.  The extremists are only too clearly the ones snarling and bearing their teeth and biting at the wind.
     If he wins, so do we all,

      And there is a message there for people in other countries, struggling against the Neo Liberal monster. 
      Think straight, think long.