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".    


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