jump to navigation

Uffish Thoughts: It’s Branding Time at the Harper Ranch February 14, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Uffish Thoughts.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Uffish Thoughts: It’s Branding Time at the Harper Ranch

By Dan Davidson

January 10, 2012

Star, Jan. 17/12

– 970 words –

Branding used to be just an easy way of marking animals so that their owners knew which ones belonged to them. The iconic branding iron of the American and Canadian west was a must have item in the days when cattle roamed free range.

Sheep roam freely in the highlands of Great Britain and Ireland and, since they are raised there for meat rather than for their wool quality, they are branded with daubs of paint, the colours used to signal both the ownership question and the issue of whether the ewes have been bred.

Branding, as Naomi Klein pointed out in her book No Logo a few years back, has a very different, and yet somewhat related, meaning when it comes to the business world. There, if you’ll pardon a simplified version of her thesis, it is used to create easily recognizable product identification and consumer loyalty.

Applied to politics, branding is a form of what George Orwell called “off the rack” language in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language”. Branded language eliminates the need for conscious thought by presenting readers and listeners with pre-digested cogitation and pushing certain emotional buttons.

One of the most obvious examples of this in recent years has been the whole debate over the long-gun registry. To those in favour of the law, it was about public safety and preventing things like the Montreal Massacre from happening. To those against the law it was a question of individual liberty and personal freedom. Both sides tended to ignore the fact that there is already a host of hoops one has to jump through to legally own a gun of any kind in the first place.

These ideas were branded hearts and minds with “public safety” and “individual liberty” and made sensible discussion pretty much impossible.

A really obvious example of branding came in the attack ads that spent two years or more convincing a large portion of the electorate that Michael Ignatieff  “didn’t come home for you” and actually had some people wondering if the Liberal leader was even a Canadian. Weird. We don’t ask that about William Shatner, Christopher Plummer Dan Aykroyd or Mike Myers, all of whom have spent many years building careers in Britain or the USA. When they come home, we welcome them. But then, they’re not running for office.

Brand thinking (or not thinking) is evident in all sorts of recent government initiatives. The majority of the Canadian electorate who actually voted decided that the Conservatives should have the most seats in Parliament for the next few years, so that is a democratic victory. But when the majority of wheat farmers who actually voted said they wanted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board intact, the government said that wasn’t democracy and abolished the wheat board in the name of the brand of Free Enterprise, a resilient and popular brand.

You remember Free Enterprise? In its unbridled form it caused the financial collapse of 2008 – 2009 and gave our nation the largest debt and deficit it has seen in most of our lifetimes. But that’s okay, because that money is branded Stimulus Funding, and that, as Sellar and Yeatman so memorably summed up events in their classic historical spoof 1066 and All That, is a Good Thing.

Returning to the Long Gun Registry, the government, having scrapped the thing, now proposes to throw away all the data that has been collected over the years, making it a total waste of time and money. At least a couple of provinces have said they’d be happy to take the lists off federal hands, but no, say the feds, that must not be.

“Law and Order” is a popular piece of branding. If you get really American about it the phrase comes out “lawn’n’order” and sounds like it’s a set of rules about landscaping. With 24-hour news channels and the ever-present maxim that “if it bleeds it leads” the public and certain politicians seem to believe that crime is on the increase and evil is rampant in the land. Well, the latter may be true, but it has more to do with the self-serving selling of the “tough on crime” brand that will have us sending increasing numbers of people to prisons we don’t have, in spite of the statistical fact that most sorts of crimes (except lying and pork barreling with G20 funds) seem to be on the decline.

Provinces have awakened to the fact that they will have to build the new prisons (another kind of infrastructure stimulus plan?) and have begun to object, but it’s hard to argue against being “tough on crime”.

The most recent bit of branding occurred just this week, when both Mr. Harper and Mr. Oliver decided to tell the world that anyone who expresses concerns about the environmental hazards associated with a very long pipeline proposed to ship oil from Edmonton to Kitimat is a “radical” with an “ideological agenda”. These are loaded words that ought to be examined closely, but contain the assumption that anyone willing to do so is probably of the same ilk as those who are so described.

Left unexamined, they open the door to discussions about revamping the process of regulatory hearings. Interesting that at least one story on this subject has Mr. Harper calling them “approval hearings”, a most revealing Freudian slip, as if the outcome is certain no matter who says what.

That’s as undemocratic as invoking closure and limiting debate in the House of Commons just because the outcome is already decided by the sheer weight of numbers, so why bother with the discussion. Who would do such a thing? Oh, wait a minute …




No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: