Since I might as well be hung for a horse as a lamb, and I’m clearly intent on making myself unpopular just in time for Christmas, I decided to clarify a couple of things relating to my last post.
I did not mean to imply that wild places should be left unvisited by humankind so that people such as myself can go and ‘twiddle our thumbs in mighty solitude’ and not be bothered by awkward facts of life such as climate change.
I’m saying that using images of wild places as part of a branding campaign for individuals or companies sends the wrong message. It implies that nature has a price on its head and that only the cool people are allowed in.
There is a growing body of evidence that proves conservation efforts are much more likely to be successful if intrinsic values (community, compassion, empathy) are engaged, rather than extrinsic values (money, status, image). In fact, studies show that exercising extrinsic values with the aim of protecting the environment is counter-productive, as WWF’s Tom Crompton explains in a back issue of Resurgance Magazine.
To my eyes, stamping a logo on a wild place that actually belongs to everybody is the virtual equivalent of putting a fence around common land.
I have chosen this image not because this company is particularly bad, but because it is on my radar and cold water surfing is close to my heart. They represent the tip of an iceberg. The problem is precisely that this kind of assault on psychological space is accepted as ordinary and aped on social media.
Advertising works on the subconscious, often without either our awareness or our permission. This is not a new observation. The negative cultural effects of mass corporate branding are discussed at length by Naomi Klein in No Logo.
But No Logo was written before social media made it possible for individuals to behave like corporations. The territory just got a whole lot bigger and more complex.
That they have a brand value reflects the importance of wild places to us. They represent a space where we can escape from the overwhelming tyranny of the marketplace and spend some quiet time with our own truths.
And I’m not saying we should keep these truths to ourselves. There is a wealth of art, music and literature that reveals a genuine love for the natural world that can only be a positive force for change. Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Mickey Smith’s Dark Side of the Lens, and the Finisterre crew’s own recent film Edges of Sanity, are just a few of the millions of examples. I am personally devoted to the cause of fostering connection via books and songs.
The line between art and advertising can be a very thin one. But it is crucial. Promoting consumerism is not likely to encourage the kind of lifestyle choices necessary to avoid mass extinction.
One Wednesday morning in November I went surfing. It was a normal day, not a weekend or a holiday, but there were fifty people in the water. Although I love surfing uncrowded waves, a part of me rejoiced that so many people had made the choice to bunk off work and go surfing.
These are the kind of value judgements that could change the course of natural history.
Luckily you don’t need expensive, branded clothing to bunk off work and go surfing. In fact, refraining from taking part in brand culture should allow you to do it a lot more often.
Which is, I think, a message worth promoting.
Comments are very much open if you want to have a crack at changing my mind.
Happy holidays. I’m off to drink some Champagne.