Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cynical Illusions

Paul Street:
Before he could be in a position to be sold (brilliantly) on the mass American electoral market, of course, Obama first needed to sell himself to the national political and business elite that controls much of the political action behind the scenes. That sales job did not involve deceptive one- or two-message commercials and slogans. It was about candid, up-close meetings in which the candidate made it clear that he posed no substantive challenge to dominant domestic and imperial structures and doctrines. That earlier marketing project, ably recounted by Ken Silverstein and David Mendell, took place in late 2003 and 2004 and made possible the first great rolling out of Brand Obama during the senator's instantly famous keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in late July of 2004. It has continued behind the scenes ever since, with Obama continually reassuring his many big-money sponsors and corporate media enthusiasts that he is not some sort of starry-eyed idealist about to seriously question the interrelated hierarchies and ideologies of corporate-managed state capitalism, empire, and inequality.

The basic Obama message to the nation's ruling class - NOT advertised to the electorate - is that he is safe to concentrated power centers even if occasional populist-sounding slivers make their way into the construction of "Brand Obama." More than that, the campaign's message to the elite has included the promise that Obama will wrap reigning institutions and dogma in fake-progressive rebel's clothing and help repair the damage done to the United States' global public relations image by the vicious and clumsy post-9/11 excesses of the brazenly imperial Cheney-Bush gang.

Consistent with that hope, Advertising Age hails President-Elect Obama for producing "An Instant Overhaul for Tainted Brand America." The journal quotes David Brain, CEO of the global public relations firm Edelman Europe, Middle East and Africa, on how "the election and nomination process is the brand relaunch of the year. Brand USA. It's just fantastic."

Nick Ragone has an interesting resume. He is both "a presidential historian" and the senior VP of client development at the leading global advertising firm Omnicom Group's Ketchum. "We've put a new face on [America] and that face happens to be African-American," Ragone told Advertising Age. "It takes a lot of the hubris and arrogance of the last eight years and starts to put it in the rearview mirror for us."

Rigone might want to review Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four on the deletion of unpleasant history - sent "down the memory hole" - by totalitarian communication authorities. "Rearview mirror" is code language for Orwellian revisionism.

Then there's the interesting commentary of Harvard Business School professor John Quelch. Quelch is a former "WWP Group" (a global advertising firm) board member and the co-author of a recent book with an oxymoronic title: "Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy."

According to Welch, echoing Orwell, "The election result zero-bases the image of the United States worldwide. We have a clean slate with which to work," Welch told Advertising Age. "Let us hope the opportunity is not squandered the way it was after 9/11."

According to Carolyn Carter, the London-based president and CEO and Grey Group Europe, Middle East and Africa (creator of the popular teeth-rotting "Coke Zero" ad campaign for Northern Europe), "The last eight years broke faith in Brand America, and people want that faith restored."

Enter the openly imperial Obama, who is "almost like Che Guevera, in a good way," according to Foreign Policy magazine's web editor Blake Hounshell. "He has icon status," Hounshell explains, "with the all the art around the world of his face." The difference, of course, is that Che boldly inspired radical challenges to the American Empire but Obama inspires captivation with the corporate-imperial U.S. and its supposed self-reinvention as a land of progressive democracy and endless possibility. According to Scott Kronick, global marketing firm "Ogilvy PR's" Beijing-based president, Obama's triumph "send a strong message to the world that despite what many people believe and feel...America can be very open, democratic, and progressive."

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