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Just Do – What?


I was a naïve freshman taking a multi-cultural literature class that was a bit over my head at the time. This wasn’t high school anymore. The books weren’t on SparkNotes. We read a book a week and one in particular sparked my interest – Sons and Other Flammable Objects written by Porochista Khakpour. I was absolutely mesmerized by it. Framed around the time of 9/11, the novel is about a cataclysmic fallout between an Iranian father and his Iranian-American son. Porochista herself is an Iranian immigrant who grew up in Los Angeles, and she often writes Op-Eds in the New York Times and short stories that deal with the identity crisis that is often associated with having a hyphenated name. What drew me into this piece wasn’t so much the plot, but more her masterful use of language.

I was pleasantly surprised when my English professor told us to prepare questions we had about the novel because Porochista was going to come to our class and answer them. My surprise heightened to mild obsession after I got to hear a reading by this author and interact with her in the classroom. She was young, edgy, and a mix of dark and hilarious. When I learned that Porochista herself was a visiting professor of creative writing on Bucknell’s campus, I had to get into her class. I did. And after about an hour in her workshop, I decided to minor in creative writing – something I now consider one of my deepest passions.

So there’s my saga. Now you might be wondering – how is Beth going to tie this into what Jordi wants us to talk about? Well here goes nothing. There is something about craft and delivery that is essential to power. Porochista once said to me, it’s not always about what  you say, but instead, how you say it. This is not to say that what you say isn’t important, but what’s going to stick with people is the emotion evoked upon hearing or reading something. This is both beautiful and dangerous.

First, let’s take a look at our president. Barack Obama’s campaign for the 2008 presidential election was masterful. Ironically, for the same class I wrote about above, I also had to write a paper on Obama’s inaugural address. In this paper, I described Obama as “inspiringly commanding.” Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, it is undeniable that he is one of the best speakers this country has ever seen because of his remarkable eloquence. By instilling themes in voters such as “Yes We Can,” “Hope,” and “Change,” Obama acquired a mass following. “The Story of Us” video below outlines Obama’s journey that began five years ago.

I am not trying to discount Obama’s ideas or policies, but it is my belief that people voted for Obama and continue to stay loyal to Obama largely because of this craft and delivery that I am talking about. He inspires something in people that draw them to him, just as I was drawn to Porochista’s book. You can’t be convincing unless you have the ability to catch your audience’s attention – and Obama does just that. In this scenario, the what and the how both matter, but it’s the order of them that is relevant. Obama convinces people of his what through his how. As I said, this is both beautiful and dangerous. There are plenty of educated people out there who understood Obama’s mission and policies from the start. However, there are also plenty of people out there who were blinded by his delivery. They were so taken by him that they supported him for his delivery instead of his policy.

A similar theme can be applied to the Nike case. When you are reading a novel, it is okay to get lost in the language and the beauty of it. But when you are a citizen of a nation under the power of a multitude of political leaders, or a consumer in the economic system feeding into the marketing campaigns of companies, getting lost in the beauty can get us into a lot of trouble.

 Nike outsourced all their manufacturing to third world countries, and used the money that they saved on a brilliant marketing campaign. Celebrity endorsements such as Michael Jordan helped boost their global image and dominance.

The world was entranced. Meanwhile, there were underpaid and overworked laborers in Indonesia putting their lives at risk stitching together the sneakers and soccer balls that Nike glorified through their advertisements. Consumers fed into Nike’s delivery and brand imaging so much, that they didn’t stop and wonder a very simple question – where do these products come from? The same applies to Apple, which I wrote about in my Siri post a few weeks ago.

Language, craft, delivery, eloquence – these are all wonderful things, but they need to be used in the right way. Before we support a president, we need to ask “Yes we can – do what?” and before we support a company, we need to ask “Just Do – What?” Some of us may ask these questions, but I think all of us are guilty at one time or another of settling for the delivery before digging below the surface.

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Discussion

11 thoughts on “Just Do – What?

  1. Beth, I thought you did a great job at tying in one of your passions with what we have talked about in class. Using eloquent language is something that I have struggled with so when I hear/read a type of language that is inspiring, I find myself also being guilty being enchanted. Some of my favorite books are due to the language and not necessarily the plot. I don’t think that Nike’s language spoke to me personally the way that you have described but I can see how others (especially those athletics that play the same sports of the celebrity endorsers) can get caught up in the marketing language of Nike.

    Posted by Amanda Skonezney | February 22, 2012, 2:52 pm
  2. Beth, I completely agree with you about the power of delivery. I voted for Obama, and largely because he was well spoken and extremely confident on the podium. With Nike, and many other consumer products companies, many times marketing schemes and advertising campaigns are what fuels their revenues. Everyone wants to have the next great thing, especially if all he/she’s friends have it. In fact, I’ve been so entranced with Nike and Apple advertising that I honestly care very little about where the products are made. My iPhone works wonderfully, the iPad in my house is extremely convenient, and there’s something about Nike sportswear that makes me feel more confident in my sporting endeavors. I’m not proud of this, but I also feel that for every Nike and Apple there are dozens more companies with overseas operations just as bad if not worse. I have definitely been blinded by the advertising, but I don’t mind it as long as I’m satisfied with the products.

    Posted by Ben K. | February 22, 2012, 3:06 pm
  3. Great post, Beth! I can tell that you are interested in creative writing. What resonated with me about this post was the discussion about advertising. Marketing is something that I have always been interested in, and I think it is very relevant to your discussion about crafting an image. I believe the advertisers job is to attract their customers to buy their products, and this usually is more about the presentation of a product than the product itself. I thought about Mad Men while reading through this, as it is all about an advertising company that has to consistently sell the products that are brought to them. I remember one episode the cigarette companies were having difficulty with sales because of the health issues that came up. The advertising company ignored the health effects completely and instead focused on new angles of persuasion to get the customer to buy the product. Therefore it is extremely evident to me how powerful presentation really can be, and how deep the underlying problems can be once you look past image.

    Posted by alyssakinell | February 22, 2012, 3:23 pm
  4. Joey – I had a feeling you would have a problem with this post but I think you’re missing the connection I was trying to establish. First of all – I’m tying the notion of delivery and eloquence that I have a deep love for in literature to Obama and to Nike – but separately. Obama and Nike use these traits in VERY different ways. I’m not trying to align them. You of all people are an incredibly educated individual who is particularly informed on politics, and I think this puts you in the minority compared to the rest of our nation. Ben himself, another very educated individual, admitted to the fact that part of the reason why he voted for Obama was because he was well-spoken and confident at the podium. As I stated in my post, I am not trying to discredit his policies. However, the long list of content that you supplied from his campaign speeches is one that the majority of this country could not regurgitate as you can. While the point I’m trying to establish may not be true about you or other people in the class, I am interested in looking beyond ourselves to the perspectives of the rest of our nation. Furthermore, I also made the statement that Obama uses his eloquence to draw attention to his content. This is in no way saying that the content isn’t important, but just shedding light on the fact that his delivery undoubtedly catches the attention of his supporters so that they will pay attention to the changes he wants to enact.

    Posted by Beth O'Brien | February 22, 2012, 5:03 pm
  5. By the way – Obama is not the only political leader applicable here; I just thought it was the most relevant. I think a lot of the same can be said for Ronald Reagan – who has been dubbed “The Great Communicator” – but since most of us are too young to know a lot about his presidency, I figured Obama’s campaign was more present in our minds as we all experienced it.

    Posted by Beth O'Brien | February 22, 2012, 5:13 pm
  6. What an interesting post! I’ll stay out of the politics side of this, but I will certainly agree that the eloquence of a speaker has a definite effect upon the listener. It makes me wish I had been able to take a public speaking class at Bucknell, and maybe some more writing classes! By the way, I met Porochista while she was here, and I also fell in love with her – she just exudes this air of dark, biting wit and a worldliness beyond her young years. I also loved her novel. I wish I could hear her speak now as a senior, when I feel far more educated on sophisticated writing and expressing messages through words. Thanks for your post Beth!

    Posted by Caitlin H. | February 23, 2012, 12:28 am
  7. I miss Porochista….

    Posted by Jordi | February 23, 2012, 9:26 pm
  8. Obama can be a masterful speaker. Of course, politics aside, he also benefits from comparisons to his immediate predecessor who never won the presidency on the strength of his oratory.

    I appreciate how you turn from the question of language back to ideas. We can do- what? Hope (for what?)? Politics is always full of strategic ambiguity (Leading America Forward! Getting our Country Back and so on). Yet somehow Obama infused the standard ambiguity with more conviction.

    Years ago I read someone saying that the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties was that the Democratic party was waiting for a charismatic leader and then organized, built infrastructure, around the charismatic leader. Hence, they are always waiting for their next Kennedy. The Republicans, the pundit was saying, were the inverse. They were always building infrastructure and then simply deciding who to stick on top as their candidate. George Bush I, Bob Dole, Bush II, and McCain seemed to fit. Democrats are all latent charisma and no strucure and Republicans were all structure and no charisma. In my mind, Obama was that next coming of Kennedy (although his historical record is way overblown, I think).

    But given how we talked about social movements today, I’d take it a step forward. Obama used the language of social movements, of the civil rights movement, but he also did it a way that did not make too many Whites scared (compared to an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson). Instead of there being a social movement for change and hope that created the conditions for political change, we had a campaign without a movement. The air in 2008 was full of turmoil and dissent, in large part due to the great recession, but also, I’d argue, due to long-simmering tensions in our political economy and society related to rising costs for health care and education and stagnant wages for many sets of Americans. Obama rode it to victory. And then governed mostly from the center (yes, he did. His health care plan was borrowed from Republican sources. He used mostly Clinton’s former economic team. Yes, the guys who gave us Enron and AIG).

    But the energy for a social movement was there. And it broke in two directions. The tea “party” and Occupy. “Party” as it was never an actual political party.

    Oops. this turned into a post. But the main point is this: Obama used the language of social movements to create a campaign. But he never intended, nor has, nor could he, really, create the movement. Movements affect politics but are born in other places.

    Posted by Jordi | February 23, 2012, 9:40 pm
  9. I didn’t read her post as comparing them. I thought she was making the point that language can be powerful above and beyond any specific actions.

    Posted by Jordi | February 24, 2012, 2:19 pm

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