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.