Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gotomeeting's TV Ad: Slacktivism In Action

I've been Googling and Googling and can't find any reference to the "Kenyan Water Project" showcased on a recent commercial for the web-conferencing company Gotomeeting. I guess it was all made up for the commercial. (Gotomeeting, if you are reading this, and the commercial was actually based on something real, not just a hypothetical use of your services, please let me know). I can't quite put my finger on why it's so offensive to me that this commercial for Gotomeeting would use a fictional charity to sell itself. Here's the ad:

If it had been a fictional clothing company, or fictional donut shop, that would be par for the course. The fictional depiction of a use of one's goods or services has been a staple of advertising from time immemorial. But this is different. Perhaps it offends me so because it is a prime example of "slacktivism". Wikipedia defines slacktivism as 
"a portmanteau formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes 'feel-good' measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist." 
But this isn't just slacktivism. It is worse. This is slacktivism used to make money. This commercial is used to associate the company, Gotomeeting with fictional well-intentioned folks bringing fictional clean water to fictional Kenyan villagers, which in turn elevates the public's view of Gotomeeting, bringing the company not-fictional money.
So does the fact that this commercial showcases the non-existent "Kenyan Water Project" promote the clean water cause? Not at all. If anything, this feel-good commercial harms the real cause it hijacks, because the worst part of slacktivism is that it breeds complacency. Because who needs to start a real charity when there's a fictional one out there in TV land doing fictional good?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pictorial Evidence of the Benefits of Relaxed Drug Policy

The other day I was walking down an L.A. street and saw a man holding this sign (above), outside of one of the city's many (perfectly legal) medical marijuana dispensaries. He was working for a group protesting the dispensary's allegedly shady business dealings. The economist in me had to take a picture, as this was something one could only see in a region with relaxed policies towards marijuana: a public business dispute. When a product is illegal, as marijuana is for non-medical use in some states like California,  and banned outright in all others, negotiations and disputes must be held in private, away from the watchful eye of the law. This illegality brings about an entirely different way of doing business. In an illegal industry there can be no legal backing behind business contracts, and suppliers certainly could not  publicly call for a boycott, as it would alert the cops. To me, this openness is a step forward. If you stop and think about the methods of negotiation and conflict resolution available to people in the illegal drug trade, you might think so too. Here's a short list of methods that can be used to enforce contracts in illegal industries:
  • Stabbings
  • Shootings
  • Bombings
  • Good old-fashioned ass-whoopings
  • Leg breaking
  • Blackmail
  • Vandalism
  • Kidnapping
  • Etc. etc. etc.
Is it worth it to keep a drug illegal, when its illegality leads to a wider-spread use of the above-mentioned "negotiation methods"? Watching some episodes of Boardwalk Empire might help one mull it over.
I'm not denying that this is a complex issue. Drugs cause harm to society; one must only look to the devastating effects of alcohol and tobacco to see this. However, I think there's one thing everyone can agree on: boycotts are better than bombings.