Monday, February 9, 2015

On the Psychopathy of Corporate Personhood

Most of the time, reading Gawker (and their brood of child blogs) makes me sad, but every once in a while, somebody knocks it out of the park. Jim Cook is the closest guy they have to a designated hitter. Take a gander at his piece on Coke's fast aborted #MakeitHappy bot.

You read it? Cool.

One of my friends (very reasonably) pointed out that "Brands are not your friend" is an observation on par with "the sky is blue," and we could tune in at eleven for more info. Like I said, he's not wrong. This shit should not require an article. But it does. So welcome to the 11 o'clock news. I am your host, Hank Whitson.

The article is about people who can't see the sky is blue. Apparently there are a lot of them. Obvious truths are often taken for granted and accepted without scrutiny. "Fuck Facebook!" said the guy, on Facebook, missing the punchline to his own joke.

The best line in that article is the observation that "all brands are inherently psychopathic," which is less obvious than "they aren't your friends." If we are to take the notion of collective person hood at its word, the brand, or campaign, or company being personified would usually look like Frank Underwood. Or Walter White. Pick your favorite charismatic, narcissist who has no problem killing as many people as necessary to get his way. Those characters are fascinating. They can be charming and do amazing things despite their heinous flaws. That's why they dominate the current paradigm of storytelling. But do you really want to be friends with them? Does that asshole deserve your defense? Hell no. Yet people took to the soapboxes for Coke.

Social media primes us to do this, more so than earlier forms of advertising. Declare allegiance without consideration. Award favor without anything offered in exchange. We don't have to settle for that. There's no escaping brands or corporations, and even though they are almost unanimously evil, they can produce things of value.

That goes for advertising, too. Give people something of value in exchange for asking them to buy something. A text manipulation bot that was exploited in a matter of hours has very little value. It does nothing to curb meanness or promote affability.

The more your thing actually matters, the more artful and genuine it is, the harder it will be for a smartass or another psychopath (like Gawker) to call you out on being a shill. And should they manage to do that anyway, you need find a way to roll with the punch instead of throwing a tantrum, taking your ball, and going home.

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