Posts Tagged ‘sarah palin’

The Joy of Fabulous Nobodies: Naked Whitehall Guy, I Salute You

This afternoon, Twitter has been captivated by a brand new golden balls. We don’t know who he is yet, or why he did it, but he ensured Whitehall was shut down for several hours after he scaled the statue of the first Duke of Cambridge, Prince George, stripped off and performed a number of acrobatic balances atop George’s hat.

I have long been a champion of what I like to call the Fabulous Nobodies: the ordinary people who experience a meteoric ascent to fame- or infamy- in the most unpredictable of circumstances. The rise of the Fabulous Nobodies coincides with the advent of social media. The man in the street is now able to create his own heroes, and it turns out he’s often just as interested in an errant deer chasing dog, or a naked man balancing on a statue, as the latest record-company-groomed, airbrushed pop starlet.

This reveals an important truth about narratives that captivate. We are drawn to stories that resonate with our everyday experiences; the raw materials of real life are easily recognisable to us, and that is why the memes that spread online are so often the ones that strike us as human, rather than those created by committees of marketing folk. It is the inherent, addictive shareability of these stories that assures their dissemination and leads to the creation of legendary figures for the Now Economy. The bad news is you can’t make them up. The good news is they exist in every single organisation that has human beings at its heart. All you have to do is look for them. As the internet becomes an ever more ubiquitous tool in the spreading of information, shifting the focus of communications from broadcast to interaction, those that will survive and thrive are the brands that understand the power of the real stories that drive them.

In honour of the newest, most celebrated ‘member’ of my Official Chart of Fabulous Nobodies, I thought I’d run down a few of my favourites of all time: the good, the bad and the ugly.

1) Guy Goma. Remember the ‘cabbie who was waiting for his fare’ in the BBC reception? He was hauled in front of the cameras by researchers who believed he was an IT expert. Except he wasn’t an IT expert and, once the story got out, it went wild across the web, taking the truth and creating a better story from it, to the extent that Goma, who had in fact come in for a job interview, became a cabbie whisked at random into the studio. And that invented truth is the one that sticks in people’s brains.

2) Jedward. The Irish irritants from the 2009 X Factor continue to carve a semblance of a career for themselves as far removed from music as it is possible to be when one has a record in the shops. The mere fact that they survived, week after week, in the face of booing and staged derision from the shows judges, proves how viral their success had become. Jedward are the pop equivalents of puppets on children’s television – they are there to shout and gurn and be pleasingly annoying. They will last in the nether regions of the collective consciousness for a while yet, thanks to viral, net-based love.

3) Balloon Boy. The insalubrious tale of the family who sought fame with unbecoming desperation and how they exploited the fears of the world to get attention for themselves, by pretending that their six year old son had been carried off by a helium balloon they used to track the weather. The six year old was in the attic all the time that the search and rescue teams were pumping thousands of dollars into trying to rescue him. The parents’ hoax, created out of a desperation for fame after appearing on Wife Swap and Storm Chasers, in the hope that they would get a reality TV contract out of it, ended with short jail sentences for them both.

5) Terry Jones. The pastor of a tiny Pentecostal church in Florida who decided that it would be a good idea to declare 9/11 Koran burning day. Within hours, his lunatic anti-Muslim agenda was getting oxygen from the world’s media, the White House and an enormous number of furious Muslims. Now Jones has been called by the FBI, White House officials and the world’s media. There have been protests about his actions across the Muslim world and intolerance has been amplified. And this before Jones even set match to book – something he never need do at all. The desired effect, making the world a less friendly place, had already been achieved.

6) Star Wars Kid. A chunky 15-year-old Canadian who filmed himself swinging a golf club around as if it were a lightsabre and ended up posted to YouTube by friends, to the hilarity of millions. The video became a cult hit, mimicked and jazzed up with special effects and sliced into footage from films like The Matrix. The film, in all its iterations, sped round and round the globe. The kid in question claimed to want his life back, especially after early mean comments, but then a wave of love came flooding in. Eventually his parents discussed suing the friends who posted the video, but it was too late to stop the viral nature of the video.

7) Mahir Cagri. A Turkish journalist who was looking for a wife, Cagri created a website with a friend to aid him in his search. The website went viral with astonishing rapidity thanks to the broken English he employed (his catchphrase, “I Kiss You” being the most notable example) and the incredibly cheesy photos – posing in red Speedos, playing Ping Pong – that he posted. Instead of finding a wife, he found a harsh mistress by the name of Fame, and ended up releasing a single and a book. He also got a ranking on the Forbes top 100 celebrities list and made appearances on chat show worldwide.

8) Leeroy Jenkins. A World Of Warcraft player charges into a high-level dungeon with a distinctive cry of “Leeeeeeeerooooy… Jeeenkins!”, ruining the meticulous attack plans of his group and getting them all killed. Like Star Wars Kid, the online gameplay footage went global, with jammed versions putting the nerdy battle cry into the mouths of all sorts.

9) Claire Swire. Claire went on a date with a guy and then sent him an email describing in vivid detail how much she liked giving him oral sex. The email went viral to 60 million people after he forwarded it to all his friends and Claire became one of the first big victims of the lack of privacy in the new social media world.

10) JK Wedding Entrance Dance. The wedding procession for Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz of St Paul, Minnesota, choreographed to the song Forever by Chris Brown. Popularized on YouTube with 1.75 million views in less than five days in 2009. The video was later imitated in an episode of the American version of The Office.

11) Steven Slater. From the moment JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater swore at a passenger over the PA, grabbed a beer and descended to the tarmac at JFK airport down the emergency chute, the entire internet lead the response, whilst JetBlue’s corporate arm squashed the company’s previously golden child social networking department’s ability to respond. JetBlue were caught between a rock and a hard place. The brand was powerless, trapped in the headlights of an extreme action, one which captured the global wave and birthed another fabulous internet nobody.

12) Chesley B. Sullenberger III. The splendidly-named Sullenberger became an instant hero when he landed the Airbus he was flying in the Hudson river, just next to Manhattan, after it ran into technical difficulties in January 2009. Within hours of saving the lives of all on board, Facebook groups had sprung up praising him and the web-based cult of Sullenberger flew around the globe.

13) Sarah Palin. What election will be the same in the wake of Barack Obama’s canny use of Twitter to swell support for his 2008 campaign? More astonishing still was Sarah Palin’s rise into the upper echelons of American politics, largely driven by a huge groundswell of interest on the internet, which carried her name, either in all seriousness or in satirical sideswipes. The end result was to transmute a minor, gaffe-prone politician into a national treasure of the American political right.

14) Fenton When Max Findlay took his dog Fenton for a relaxed stroll on Richmond Common, little did he realise he was about to become one of YouTube’s biggest ever hits. With 7.5million views and counting, the enthusiasm for the video of the mayhem that unfolded when Fenton ran into a herd of deer, and his owner’s desperate cries of ‘Jesus Christ…Fenton!’, is the ultimate expression of the British love of life’s eccentric bunglers. Inevitably it has generated a host of commercial spin offs, including T-shirts, mugs, and a Where’s Wally style book where Fenton runs amok at various London landmarks.

The Cliché Awards: Nominations Open

I think it’s time to act. Consider this, my happy followers. We are being submerged by cliché! Need proof? Just see my post from yesterday: Governor Sarah Palin attacked, as a “blood libel”, suggestions that her political rhetoric contributed to last Saturday’s fatal shootings in Arizona. Blood libel? Glory be!

These PR sound bites and political clichés are usually concocted in the cauldron of warped Machiavellian PR spin-meisters. As the global media devours the aftermath of the event, the expression is already spiralling out of control. And I am offering you a chance to name and shame the worst offenders. Read the rest of this entry »

Sarah Palin and the Language of Violence

Reading and hearing about the shootings in Tucson, Arizona I am more and more struck by the awful ironies of this tragic event. That Gabrielle Giffords should be a pro-gun Democrat is strange enough, but the fact that her life has been saved by a trauma surgeon just back from Iraq, whose skills have been learned in the heat of the war, makes it ironic.

Add to that the fact that the 9 year old girl who died was born on September 11 2001 and you have a indictment of the past decade of American politics wrapped up in one neatly symbolic bundle. Read the rest of this entry »

Putin on the Ritz: PR Russian Style

I went to the opening of The Expendables recently, in the mood for a little bit of escapism, and was bowled over by the crowd’s whooping, hollering love for Sly, Lundgren, Arnie, Bruce et al. There seemed to be more love than you could have ever expected for a formula, and a set of stars, who for the most part reached their peak in 1985, at the height of Reagan’s presidency.

Looking at reports on the latest Vladimir Putin photoshoot, however, I realise that perhaps I should not have been so taken aback; this sort of macho posturing has never really gone away. Possibly these sorts of fashions travel the world in a kind of Mexican wave – in Russia right now, the macho image is the sure way to win the love of the electorate, while it looks ludicrous here. For now, at least.

Certainly it is easy to satirise Putin in the UK or America at the moment – when he poses like a hero from Call of Duty 4 or, in a bid to show a softer side, nuzzles up to his horse, he is playing to local tastes that look utterly ludicrous to a more cynical western European and American audience. Read the rest of this entry »

Credit Crunch Meltdown

In only a matter of weeks the political panacea that was Sarah Palin, the untried Governor from Alaska who seemed to be rejuvenating the fortunes of the republican cause, has morphed into a PR nightmare.

Firstly, her unorthodox outburst about the mining initiative in Alaska left many feeling burned. Then came an enquiry into whether Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power to settle a vendetta against her sister’s ex- husband and, most recently, her flabbergasting performance in an interview with Katie Couric last week, an interview in which she gave such rambling, dim-witted responses to predictable questions that “Saturday Night Live” lifted whole chunks of actual transcript verbatim and inserted them into a parody sketch over the weekend.

If this is how the media reacts to Sarah Palin alone, how on earth will the media frenzy over the financial meltdown be judged? It’s not a great time for senior government and city councils, or strong words of wisdom in leaders or editors’ ears. Panic, driven by the 24/7/365 news cycle, exposes the lack of any considered comment.

Last night, I was giving a talk in Leeds for the Leeds Media Group. I was in the company of 50 or so media, PR, business and marketing people who had come to listen. The dominant topic of conversation in the bar after my talk was the credit crunch, and many were scathing about the media hysteria surrounding the subject.

I would suggest that the upheavals, although serious, are not as catastrophic as the media wants us to believe. I smell a PR conspiracy.  A crisis like this is fantastic for sales hits and clicks. The über PR “greys” and consultancies are doing a roaring trade too, clocking up council hours deep into the night, offering an expensive shoulder to cry on.

It’s a blood-spattered hamster wheel and it has us all mesmerised, heads hung low, as fear of a Wall Street crash kicks in and dreadful images of a world on its financial knees are being implanted subliminally into the collective subconscious. If my premise is correct, the general populace is being utterly suckered by the newsroom panic. The next question though, is where will it all lead?

I have a hunch that in a few months we might all be looking back, feeling that what seems to be a maelstrom now was no more than a storm in a mug of grande skinny wet latte extra shot with chocolate to go.

If the mass media continues to heat up daily debate without demonstrating a will to rise above pandemonium, then surely all this sound and fury is merely hammering home another nail in the coffin for the traditional media.

I suppose this may sound a little over-the-top, but surely there is still a place for meaningful and considered comment from a trusted commentator in the broadsheets. The media needs someone or something that can counteract the need for quick, knee-jerk sound bites.

Broadsheets have the ability and time to spend cutting to the heart of the issue, but at the moment, all I see is reactive coverage that takes its lead from TV news. This is a clear opportunity for print to take a stand but I doubt that they have the confidence to buck the sound-bite trend.

Borkowski