, ,

Social Networking & the Corporate Agenda

Naomi Klein No LogoI periodically check out the website for the PBS series “Frontline” for political exposes because they have produced some fantastic stories over the years. The story I just watched is titled “Generation Like” which caught my eye because I’ve spent so much time on FB over the past year or so. The focus was on the younger generation of teenagers & college age students but I feel it’s still somewhat reflective of many of us who aren’t so young.

What was eye-opening & somewhat depressing about this documentary was just how pervasively the corporate cockroaches have taken over what we laughingly refer to as our “Social Networks.” In my view, the term social networks is becoming more & more of an oxymoron because instead of bringing people closer together, these networks are de facto driving more of a wedge between people.

By a “wedge” I mean that the competition to be more “liked” or more popular than others is the driving force behind these “social networks.” Why? I believe it’s because we have become such a fragmented society that most of us feel a profound sense of alienation & the larger the number of likes, views, subscribers, fans, etc. we can chalk-up on our personal tally sheets, we get a false feeling of empowerment which reveals our “Cult of Personality” worship in this country & most of the “Developed” world.

Celebrity is the end-all and the be-all of so many people’s lives, especially the young who are naturally seeking to establish their own identities, separate from their parents & siblings. And because of this unhealthy obsession with Celebrity & being “liked,” such values or principles as honesty, integrity, compassion, empathy, respect for true knowledge and/or wisdom, etc. have been largely dismissed or rejected as old fashioned and of no or little worth. It was depressing to learn from this video how the corporate cockroaches by monitoring our communications on these social networks, have developed a powerful tool which they can then capitalize on by designing their ads to appeal to our particular personalities. And by tempting young people with “contests,” etc. ad nauseam, they manipulate the young into being the marketers of their products. It’s a parasitic relationship which harms us as individuals and as a society.

By dangling that carrot of the ever elusive “popularity,” & “celebrity” in front of young, impressionable people, all concerns about the ethics of many corporations whose products are pushed, goes right out the window. It’s clearly quantity over quality at all costs. Bottom-line, this is indoctrinating many of us with the business ethic which really means little to no ethics or morals.

As I was watching this documentary, I kept thinking of Naomi Klein’s great book called “No Logo,” which was published back around 2000, I believe? Some have gone so far as to compare/equate Naomi with Noam Chomsky & while I do believe that she’s a brilliant, young lady, this is going too far in my estimation. I did a search of articles by Naomi Klein on the subject of “Branding,” which is what “No Logo” is all about. And “Branding” was the key point in the Frontline story I mentioned. Basically what those who are so obsessed with celebrity/popularity are doing is seeking to create their own “brand” which they can then get out in the world to as many as is humanly possible. By personal “brand,” they are talking about becoming so well known that you become in effect, a brand not unlike Coke or the countless other products we are inundated with in T.V. advertisements, etc.

Here are some of the more troubling things that I either learned or were reminded of while I was reading Ms. Klein’s excellent article today, the title of the article in The Guardian on Jan. 15, 2010 is “Naomi Klein on how corporate branding has taken over America.”

“As a child and teenager I was almost obsessively drawn to brands. But writing No Logo required four years of total immersion in ad culture – four years of watching and rewatching Super Bowl ads, scouring Advertising Age for the latest innovations in corporate synergy, reading soul-destroying business books on how to get in touch with your personal brand values, making excursions to Niketowns, to monster malls, to branded towns.”

“The aversion extended even to the brand that I had accidentally created: No Logo. From studying Nike and Starbucks, I was well acquainted with the basic tenet of brand management: find your message, trademark and protect it and repeat yourself ad nauseam through as many synergised platforms as possible.”  corporate logos

Now here is where it gets scary and reveals how powerful this seemingly harmless concept of “branding” really is.

“In recent years, however, I have found myself doing something I swore I had finished with: rereading the branding gurus quoted in the book. This time, however, it wasn’t to try to understand what was happening at the mall but rather at the White House – first under the presidency of George W Bush and now under Barack Obama, the first US president who is also a ­superbrand.”

Now those of you who are familiar with my writing on Facebook are familiar with my often harsh criticism of President Obama so this shouldn’t come as any surprise to you but for those of you who don’t know me, I am definitely not a Republican and I criticize them equally and just as harshly if not even more so.

the Obama brand “I used to think that, but I may have been wrong. When Obama was sworn in as president, the American brand could scarcely have been more battered – Bush was to his country what New Coke was to Coca-Cola, what cyanide in the bottles had been to Tylenol. Yet Obama, in what was perhaps the most successful rebranding campaign of all time, managed to turn things around. Kevin Roberts, global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, set out to depict visually what the new president represented. In a full-page graphic commissioned by the stylish Paper Magazine, he showed the Statue of Liberty with her legs spread, giving birth to Barack Obama. America, reborn.”

To spell it out because sometimes I take it for granted that people know what I mean about something but come to find out that they misunderstood me, Obama’s campaign mantra on his first bid for the presidency was narrowed down to a single word, “Change.” And this is the central lie of his presidency and of him as a person. The people who voted for Obama, including myself, and millions, if not billions of people around the globe who were so joyous upon his winning the presidency were deceived. Ms. Klein goes on to illustrate this sorry state of affairs or the behind the scene revelations concerning how Obama was packaged & sold to the U.S. public via one of the best PR (Public Relations) firms in the world and a powerful advertising agency.Obama on magazine cover

“The nation found that in Obama, a man who clearly has a natural feel for branding and who has surrounded himself with a team of top-flight marketers. His social networking guru, for instance, is Chris Hughes, one of the young founders of Facebook. His social secretary is Desirée Rogers, a glamorous Harvard MBA and former marketing executive. And David Axelrod, Obama’s top adviser, was formerly a partner in ASK Public Strategies, a PR firm which, according to Business Week, “has quarterbacked campaigns” for everyone from Cable­vision to AT&T. Together, the team has marshalled every tool in the modem marketing arsenal to create and sustain the Obama brand: the perfectly calibrated logo (sunrise over stars and stripes); expert viral marketing (Obama ringtones); product placement (Obama ads in sports video games); a 30-minute infomercial (which could have been cheesy but was universally heralded as “authentic”); and the choice of strategic brand alliances (Oprah for maximum reach, the Kennedy family for gravitas, and no end of hip-hop stars for street cred).”Obama pic on Rolling Stone mag

What an amazing coincidence that one of the young founders of Facebook played a significant part in the selling of Obama to the U.S. public & what a great job they all did in duping us into actually believing and getting our hopes up that at last we had a president who was one of us and could relate to our personal struggles in this corporate cockroach infested world.

“The first time I saw the “Yes We Can” video, the one produced by Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am, featuring celebrities speaking and singing over a Martin Luther Kingesque Obama speech, I thought: finally, a politician with ads as cool as Nike. The ad industry agreed. A few weeks before he won the presidential elections, Obama beat Nike, Apple, Coors and Zappos to win the Association of National Advertisers’ top annual award – Marketer of the Year. It was certainly a shift. In the 1990s, brands upstaged politics completely. Now corporate brands were rushing to piggyback on Obama’s caché (Pepsi’s “Choose Change” campaign, Ikea’s “Embrace Change ’09” and Southwest Airlines’ offer of “Yes You Can” tickets).”

Are you beginning to connect the dots my friend? Do you see that in a nutshell, we are being so blatantly manipulated by not only the politicians but also by the very websites that we find some comfort in because we feel a sense of connection in this atomized world of alienation and isolation that engulfs us and drains/damages our sense of self-worth? How can we relax and enjoy ourselves on these “social networks” if we realize that we’re being monitored, surveilled, and blatantly exploited while communicating with “friends?” I know this probably doesn’t come as any great revelation to most of you in the know but it is still of critical importance in the big picture i.e. our struggle against the corporate cockroach forces that are poisoning our environment, our food, our air, our water. That are denying climate change. That are forcing us into a never-ending series of wars, police actions, etc. Should we just shrug our shoulders and say, Oh well, there’s nothing we can do about it & that’s just the way it is? Isn’t this helping in our own self-destruction? Too melodramatic? Really?

“The problem is that, as with so many other lifestyle brands before him, his actions do not come close to living up to the hopes he has raised.

“Though it’s too soon to issue a verdict on the Obama presidency, we do know this: he favours the grand symbolic gesture over deep structural change every time. So he will make a dramatic announcement about closing the notorious Guantánamo Bay prison – while going ahead with an expansion of the lower profile but frighteningly lawless Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and opposing accountability for Bush officials who authorised torture. He will boldly appoint the first Latina to the Supreme Court, while intensifying Bush-era enforcement measures in a new immigration crackdown. He will make investments in green energy, while championing the fantasy of “clean coal” and refusing to tax emissions, the only sure way to substantially reduce the burning of fossil fuels. Most importantly, he will claim to be ending the war in Iraq, and will retire the ugly “war on terror” phrase – even as the conflicts guided by that fatal logic escalate in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”quote by Naomi Klein

I’m not just singling out Obama, presidents from both parties are equally guilty of this grand charade paid for by the corporate cockroaches to give us the illusion of participating in the selection of our presidents. And the key point in this facade is that it is the multi-national corporations who are truly ruling this world & it makes their job so much easier if they can keep us believing that we actually have a voice in how our government is run.

“This preference for symbols over substance, and this unwillingness to stick to a morally clear if unpopular course, is where Obama decisively parts ways with the transformative political movements from which he has borrowed so much (the pop-art posters from Che, his cadence from King, his “Yes We Can!” slogan from the migrant farmworkers – si se puede). These movements made unequivocal demands of existing power structures: for land distribution, higher wages, ambitious social programmes. Because of those high-cost demands, these movements had not only committed followers but serious enemies. Obama, in sharp contrast not just to social movements but to transformative presidents such as FDR, follows the logic of marketing: create an appealing canvas on which all are invited to project their deepest desires but stay vague enough not to lose anyone but the committed wing nuts (which, granted, constitute a not inconsequential demographic in the United States).”

“Symbols over substance,” and quantity over quality as in our number of “friends,” fans, followers, viewers, subscribers, etc. Can you blame me for being cynical & sarcastic when so much of what I’ve pointed out over the years has come true? This is not to say that I’m a genius or anything, no, I’ve simply been paying attention for over three decades and connecting the dots more & more with each new bit of information. It seems overwhelmingly clear to me that the American public in general is apathetic & illiterate and could care less that they are so. And they obviously don’t give a damn about the reality that America has been taken over by the corporate cockroaches who are truly psychopaths. It becomes clearer & clearer the older that I get that I no longer, if in fact, I ever did, fit in this shallow society especially as evidenced by the younger generation’s infatuation with celebrity and dismissal of anything resembling intellectualism or respect & compassion for people, etc. People like myself who have such an abiding & deep respect for great books & deep thinkers are anachronisms relegated to the history museums. Returning to Ms. Klein’s article;

“Another way of putting it is that Obama played the anti-war, anti-Wall Street party crasher to his grassroots base, which imagined itself leading an insurgency against the two-party ­monopoly through dogged organisation and donations gathered from lemonade stands and loose change found in the crevices of the couch. Meanwhile, he took more money from Wall Street than any other presidential candidate, swallowed the Democratic party establishment in one gulp after defeating Hillary Clinton, then pursued “bipartisanship” with crazed Republicans once in the White House.”

In brief, Obama is playing both sides of the street or pretending to be for us, the 99% while gladly taking the money from the corporate cockroaches responsible for most of our misery. I don’t know about you but this makes me as Mad as Hell because I knew the other politicians/presidents were in the corporate pockets but again, Obama’s PR frontmen/handlers “branded” him & packaged him so well that he fooled even those of us who thought we were politically sophisticated, like myself. And the fact that there are so many knee-jerk Democrats who will vote democrat no matter what, is truly depressing because how in the Hell are we ever going to change this corrupt to the core political system of ours while the Democrats play along & urge us to not rock the boat like in the case of Ralph Nader’s running for the presidency? We must not only “rock the boat,” we need to turn it over completely if we are to ever find a way out of this morass!

“Obama’s election and the world’s corresponding love affair with his rebranded America came at a crucial time. In the two months before the election, the financial crisis rocking world markets was being rightly blamed not just on the contagion of Wall Street’s bad bets but on the entire economic model of deregulation and privatisation that had been preached from US-dominated institutions such as the IMF and the WTO. If the United States were led by someone who didn’t happen to be a global superstar, US prestige would have continued to plummet and the rage at the economic model at the heart of the global meltdown would likely have turned into sustained demands for new rules to rein in (and seriously tax) speculative finance. Those rules were supposed to have been on the agenda when G20 leaders met at the height of the economic crisis in London in April 2009. Instead, the press focused on excited sightings of the fashionable Obama couple, while world leaders agreed to revive the ailing IMF – a chief culprit in this mess – with up to a trillion dollars in new financing. In short, Obama didn’t just rebrand America, he resuscitated the neoliberal economic project when it was at death’s door. No one but Obama, wrongly perceived as a new FDR, could have pulled it off.”

Do you see what a vital role Obama played in this game of world domination created by the corporate cockroaches? By putting the face & facade of a compassionate crusader for we, the people out there for our consumption, digestion, & sleeping pill, we have been deluded into putting up with another eight years of a phony. As in “The Wizard of Oz,” we have been hoodwinked into believing Obama was going to be our great protector but the true wizards are those behind the curtain pulling the strings of the presidents & the politicians. We must rip those curtains of illusion apart and dare to face the ugly realities behind those blinds if we give a shit about our lives & the lives of our children.

“But what will happen when the throngs of Obama faithful realise that they gave their hearts not to a movement that shared their deepest values but to a devoutly corporatist political party, one that puts the profits of drug companies before the need for affordable health care, and Wall Street’s addiction to financial bubbles before the needs of millions of people whose homes and jobs could have been saved with a better bailout? The risk – and it is real – is that the response will be waves of bitter cynicism, particularly among the young people for whom the Obama campaign was their first taste of politics. Most won’t switch parties, they’ll just do what young people used to do during elections: stay home, tune out.”

So, the question begging to be answered is what do we do? Do we just join the apathetic and the New Age Neanderthals who chant, “Don’t worry, be happy!” Do we just continue voting for the lesser of two evils come Election Day? You tell me what you think is necessary to break this stalemate or this prison of corruption. Personally, I believe our greatest hope for real change can only come about with a concerted and well-focused campaign against the corporate cockroaches e.g. boycotts, protests, teach-ins, letter writing campaigns, communicating with one another & supporting one another morally because I know what a lonely place it is out here by myself howling at the moon. Ms. Klein ends her essay with a revelation that I was a bit surprised by & also saddened by but her last statement offers the possibility of a bright light at the end of this dark tunnel?

“If there was ever a time to remember the lessons we learned at the turn of the millennium, it is now. One benefit of the international failure to regulate the financial sector, even after its catastrophic collapse, is that the economic model that dominates around the world has revealed itself not as “free market” but “crony capitalist” – politicians handing over public wealth to private players in exchange for political support.”

“As Studs Terkel, the great oral historian, used to say: ‘Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.’”

I think it’s a lyric from a Bob Dylan song but which one, I can’t recall right now, “It’s always darkest right before the dawn.” And it dawned on me as I was writing the last part of this essay that part of the reason why I prefer writing blog essays is that I can go much deeper than in a necessary, short comment on Facebook. So, you see, I am a person who chooses quality over quantity and I hope my words have been informative and perhaps even a bit inspiring? Persevere! naomi klein

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Your comments Make My Day!