Stay F---! | 10 August

Carrie McLaren carrie at
Mon Aug 9 21:21:18 EDT 2004

Posted at:

Anyone remember how, after September 11, everyone in the news media 
seemed to be touting the line that irony is dead?

Ok, well, maybe you don't, and maybe you also don't remember the 
series of Advertising Council public service announcements (PSAs) 
that launched just before Independence Day, in July 2002. So I'll 
refresh your memory.

The PSAs portrayed short vignettes all geared to inspire pride in 
America, with the theme: "Freedom. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Protect 
it." One spot, called "Library," 
featured a young man who goes up to a library info desk and inquires 
about books that appear to be missing. "Those are no longer 
available," the librarian replies, then plies him for his name. When 
he declines to give it and turns to leave, scary secret-service types 
mysteriously appear, and we fade in to the 1984-ish clincher: "What 
if America Wasn't America?"

I was reminded of the America That Wasn't when I came across a press 
release by the American Library Association last week, via

>  Ashcroft orders public libraries to destroy law books
>  The Justice Department is ordering public libraries to destroy certain
>  books it has deemed not "appropriate for external use."
>  The Department of Justice has called for these five public documents,
>  two of which are texts of federal statutes, to be removed from depository
>  libraries and destroyed, making their content available only to those
>  with access to a law office or law library.
>  The topics addressed in the named documents include information on how
>  citizens can retrieve items that may have been confiscated by the
>  government during an investigation. The documents to be removed and
>  destroyed include: Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure; Select Criminal
>  Forfeiture Forms; Select Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes; Asset forfeiture
>  and money laundering resource directory; and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform
>  Act of 2000 (CAFRA).

This is just more evidence that Ad Council's embarrassing attempt to 
promote patriotism praised the government for NOT doing exactly what 
it WAS and still is doing -- restricting citizens' basic civil 
rights. In fact, looking back at the other spots in the "Freedom" 
campaign, it is all but impossible to deny that the fictional "Big 
Brother" portrayed in the spots is precisely the America we've 
inherited under Bush.

  :::::: AD COUNCIL SPOT, "LIBRARY" ::::::
The key fiction: The American government doesn't monitor libraries 
and arrest people based on what they read.

The reality: San Francisco Chronicle: Santa Cruz libraries warn 
patrons that the government may monitor borrowing practices.
CBS News: Statistics on how many libraries the FBI has contacted 
since the Patriot Act went into effect.

  :::::: AD COUNCIL SPOT, "CHURCH" ::::::
The key fiction: America isn't a place where people have to hold 
their religious services in secret.

The reality: Working for Change: After a Saudi man creates a website 
for the Islamic Assembly of North America and links to other Muslim 
sites, he is arrested by the FBI and charged with "three counts of 
terrorism, four counts of making false statements, and seven counts 
of visa fraud."

Associated Press: Americans attack Muslims, post-9/11.

  :::::: AD COUNCIL SPOT, "DINER"  ::::::

The key fiction: In America, people don't have to worry about 
criticizing the government

The reality: San Francisco Chronicle: The FBI investigates a man 
after fellow gym members report him for critizing Bush and the U.S. 

Popular Mechanics: The U.S. Government is developing new technolgies 
to spy on its citizens

  :::::: AD COUNCIL SPOT, "ARREST"  ::::::

The key fiction: American are free to read whatever they like, 
without government interference

The reality: Army officials question the mother of 
a peace activist, who was seen wearing a t-shirt that read: 'Unfuck 
the world' on the front, and 'Dethrone the Bushes' on the back.

City Paper: Security at Philadelphia International Airport refuse to 
let a man fly after he is spotted carrying the book Hayduke Lives! by 
the radical environmental activist Edward Abbey.

The irony here is so sharp, it's painful. You can almost imagine the 
ACLU producing the very same spots to CRITICIZE our government... so 
it's no wonder that this first round of "Freedom" PSAs wasn't around 
for long. The Ad Council continues to promote its Campaign for 
Freedom ( ), to be 
sure, but these days the PSAs have take a decidedly different 
approach. Gone are the scary portraits of an over-reaching 
government, which must have too closely resembled the real-life 
scenarios made possible by the PATRIOT ACT. Now, instead of 
portraying the threat of a sinister government, the Ad Council 
characterizes the threat as one of clueless, couch-potato Americans.

"Youth," "Ummmm," and "Deaf Ears" are all pretty much the same: 
faux-documentary-style clips of Americans naming issues they care 
about -- segregation, racism, homelessness -- while saying they are 
"not really doing anything." Or "I get angry about it, but in my own 

The one actor who does hint at a real social critique -- a woman who 
says, "I don't vote. I refuse to vote..." -- is cut off before she 
finishes the sentence.

The spots, one could argue, contain more than a germ of truth. (I'm 
often frustrated by the political apathies of friends or family.) But 
it is difficult to take homilies like "The first step toward making a 
difference is believing that we can," from the Advertising Council, 
which is essentially a front group for the mutual interests of 
multinational advertising agencies and the US government. The 
glossing-over of the public's legitimate frustrations with our 
government makes me want to punch someone. Hard.

It gets worse. A radio ad, "The Biggest Threat," features an 
African-American man informing us of the following:

The biggest threat to freedom isn't the next corporation involved in 
a scandal. It's not covert government operations, or even 
politicians. The most immediate, persistent, avoidable threat to your 
freedom is you.

The only good thing about these PSAs is that they're so badly 
executed, it's hard to imagine them having much of an impact. While 
they may inspire some of us to swear and throw things, many people 
will simply find them pointless.

If you are politically active at all, you know what happens when 
real, everyday, concerned people try to do good in America: they are 
silenced, harassed, spied on, and portrayed by the media as 
window-breaking, SUV-exploding lunatics. Michael Moore did a fine job 
portraying what happens when an honest, anti-war group tries to 
organize in Fahrenheit 9/11, but I've seen this happen to people I 
know personally.

After September 11, the FBI listed Reclaim the Streets (RTS), an 
activist group here in New York, on its website as an example of a 
"left-wing terrorist" organization--a ludicrous claim.

That the Advertising Council and its in-house Bushies dare to point 
the finger at us -- us! -- is but another sign of the unbearable, 
reality-defying hypocrisy that makes citizens feel defeated and 
powerless in the first place. With it's grossly misleading rhetoric, 
the Ad Council is itself the Big Brother it portrayed two years ago.

And to think that September 11 was once thought to be the death of 
irony -- now THAT's ironic!

-- Carrie McLaren
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