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Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

The Frivol-atility of Media Mismanagement






The following is an op-ed from Majora K. Vocink a dedicated reader of the blog and someone that I have served with over my 20 year career.

In an age when the necessity for field work in public outreach grows less and less with each technological advancement, the need for responsible and focused messaging via social media and other public platforms is paramount to the message’s success.  While the vast majority of content generated by public affairs divisions across the Air Force is typically and benignly oriented towards serving the community, occasionally the typical morphs into the atypical.  In such cases, the presentation of the message overpowers the message itself, and one misrepresentation undermines the strength of the message entirely.  At best, it can come off as frivolous, and at worst, volatile.




Just such a miscalculated media effort recently came at the expense of the professionals at Hill AFB.  Entitled The Big Picture - PSA #1  (seen above) the video intends to pan the lens further out to capture the efforts of agencies peripheral to the mission and emphasize the services they provide, hence “the big picture.”  However, with visions of self-aggrandizement, apathetic leadership, a general lack of discipline and direction, etc., embodied in the portrayal of the enlisted corps, in stark contrast to the Steve Rogers-esque portrayal of the officer corps, this video, regrettably, only succeeds in feeding into age-old stereotypes, thus reducing “the big picture” to the mere caricatures portrayed in the PSA.  A very small picture indeed.

I’m going to skip a long-winded discussion about class-ism and hierarchical social structures that underpin the message observed in this PSA.  Let’s just focus on the delivery of the message itself.  To help us understand this messaging error, we can draw parallels between other now-infamous glaring instances of poor messaging.  Consider the case of a globally recognized African-American athlete portrayed as an angry King Kong figure on the cover of a globally-viewed magazine.  Then consider the long history of an African-American community that has been dismissed as subservient, or worse yet, sub-human in value, and you begin to see the significance of how poorly designed and delivered that message was.  Certainly, it must’ve been unintentional, but clearly out-of-sync to any rational human with an objective view of racist imagery.


Take for another example an advertisement where an apparently oblivious celebrity waltzed into a protest scene to a hand a police officer a soft drink, then joined the protesters in revelry. From every possible perspective, whether you view it from the
marginalization of a protest movement steeped in deep social rifts, or from the contrast presented in the riot police who had apparently just lacked a soft drink to be humanized, or the oblivious public that apparently thought the goings-on were just a big party, so have a soft drink and smile, why so serious?... The advertisement quickly lost its grip of the dire reality at the core of what was happening across America. The message was hopelessly lost in this poorly delivered, high brow effort.


Similarly, PSA #1 strikes these discordant tones.  Well, you may be thinking, “but enlisted Airmen are not an oppressed member of a historically oppressed segment of society.”  Of course not.  I also don’t tend to subscribe to such finite, literal interpretations of thought.  However, the concept of reducing any group of people to a caricature of itself is comparable across any demographic where caricatures are employed to represent the group.  In the case of PSA #1, these caricatures certainly weren’t intended to be incendiary.  Maybe they were strictly intended to take a lighthearted, comedic approach.  Maybe they were intended to accentuate the hardships an Airmen might navigate.  Maybe, just maybe, they were designed to chide a workforce that the creative team behind this PSA views as selfish, apathetic, and generally undisciplined and misguided.  In any case whatsoever, these depictions provide a very narrow perspective of a very dynamic enlisted and officer corps.  Indeed, it provides a very narrow perspective of the talents of the team itself that created the PSA.

Unfortunately, the hard truth is that PSA #1 wildly misses the mark, with the unintentional cost of losing the message of a strong community with services designed to support its growth and development.  This video goes down as yet another tone-deaf endeavor in a never-ending stream that accosts our collective digital consciousness.  We are all, each and every one of us, bigger than the caricatures thrust upon us.  We can do better than PSA #1, and I, for one, look forward to better products in the future.

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