January 16, 2017
When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.
On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 87th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
December 29, 2016
Is it just me or did 2016 seem to fall down the stairs like a bag of groceries? Rolling cans, broken bottles and a lot of F bombs. Even Christmas couldn’t save it. In my view, the holidays only added literal and emotional hangovers to an already jittery society. Like kicking a dead horse.
Maybe it was our interminable Presidential election: a bitter race between two people no one really liked, barely won by a nincompoop. The whole thing was a shit show, democracy at its nadir.
Red vs Blue. Cop vs Citizen. Black vs White. The election was but a symptom of a country in turmoil. The European Union fared no better. Britain was torn away from Europe like a scab. A wound that won’t heal soon, as refugees flood into struggling countries, running away from places that are even worse.
Our world has never felt more dangerous and divided than it did in 2016. Here and abroad, animosities festered and boiled over. “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” felt less like a classic movie than a means to obliterate people.
Despite all, I am and always will be an optimist. I believe in renewal and recovery; I have seen it happen every day. It’s always darkest before the dawn and though winter has most definitely come the cold, clear dawn of January might be just what we all need.
If what you need in the new year is glass way full copywriting, content creation or creative leadership look me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/
While our country in mired in racial turmoil, advertising (of all things!) could not be more progressive.
December 13, 2016
Boy meets girl. They become friends. Grow up together. Fall in love. And when they inevitably become a couple Chase Bank is there with financial guidance to help them protect their growing nest egg. Perfectly reasonable fodder for an anthem commercial. And this one mines the territory with aplomb. Beautifully shot. Lovely music. Great cast.
Which brings me to the couple. She’s black. And he’s white.
So what? So that’s my point. For all the animosity in our world regarding race relations (the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights Movement) here’s this white man and black woman starting a life together. A couple. Through thick and thin.
And if our society is as misbegotten in terms of race as everyone thinks it is (the alt right vs #blacklivesmatter) then this couple is in for a lot of thick and thin. Which is why I think it’s remarkable that a notoriously conservative entity like Chase Bank has brought this couple to life. It’s as if the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all.
Not too long ago, when I was churning out commercials for clients like Kellogg’s, McDonald’s and Miller Beer we would not have considered casting a biracial couple as leads in a TV spot. Sure, we dutifully cast ethnic people here and there in a commercial, but certainly not as lovers, man and wife. This was, to use a loaded phrase, “the last taboo.”
Now it’s commonplace to see mixed race couples in advertising. Not just black and white people. Latinos and Asians are becoming ubiquitous in adverts – as if, as I said, the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all. The news gives us protesters and riots. People are going to be deported. A wall built between countries. Yet, despite this turmoil, more and more advertisers are simply moving forward.
Take notice. Because while diversity continues to be a hot button issue in Adland (and elsewhere), the content we produce could not be more progressive. My belief is that the more people see these images the more comfortable they will become with them. On this side of the camera, at least, all is right with the world.
Maybe life will imitate art. And the sooner the better.
( Ready and able to provide content and creative leadership at all levels: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/ )