MSF ads to haunt Twitter (and your dreams) for weeks to come

The aid/development Twitterverse engaged in a rollicking debate over the appropriateness of the new MSF UK ad today. Here’s the ad:

Some, like Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi, argued that the ad played to stereotypes of Africa as a wasteland of civil wars, rape and murder –even though the ad itself is not set on a specific continent and no actors are ever shown. On Aid Watch, Freschi wrote:

After watching this ad several times (I don’t recommend you try this), I feel 1) deranged and 2) hopeless, as though nothing I could ever do, much less donate a few dollars to MSF, could possibly have any effect on the vast, incomprehensible suffering in the world.

For my part, I argued that MSF does emergency medical relief, and it is entirely appropriate for MSF ads to highlight that. MSF is not CARE or even the IRC. MSF employees literally work with blood and guts and human goo all day, treating badly injured, ill, malnourished and displaced people in what are surely among the most desperate moments of their patients’ lives.¬† Therefore, a campaign featuring nothing but resilient, empowered beneficiaries ( a la “I Am Powerful”) doesn’t make sense, while a disturbing one that shocks the viewer’s conscience does.

As the debate progressed (or devolved, depending on how you see it), more MSF ads came to my attention.

The feel-good:

The Peter Singer:

The PTSD mashup / cry into your mom’s lap:

The “human ball”:

The recruitment poster:

The too-literal:

The lame one:

The kiddles:

Below the jump, two non-MSF ads that will sound your WTF? alarms for two very different reasons.

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Where do I enlist?

Americorps volunteers are, apparently, the Afro-Socialist shock troops who will keep Real Americans in line (and by lines, I mean bread and medicine lines) when Obama and his pals, George Soros, Ban Ki Moon and Bill Ayers, turn America into a totalitarian oligarchy through provision of free abortions  to billions of illegal aliens and establishment of Sharia Law and criminalization of heterosexuality and mass granny killings and the nationalization of all the conglomerates you hold dear.

Or, something like that. Just ask Glenn Beck, America’s last patriot!

As Jason Linkins sagely put it:

Who hasn’t gazed upon the average gaggle of Americorps volunteers, fresh and clueless from college, and thought to themselves: “From this raw material, I could surely fashion a brutal cadre of fearsome shock troops that will finally bring Western civilization to its knees!”

My best friend just applied to Americorps and her birthday is coming up. I need to scour eBay for an ammo belt to match her fave heels.

“August has ended those dreams”

I have to shake my head sadly and agree with Frank Pasquale’s assessment:

Back in June and July, when I was posting on the policy options behind health care reform, I naively thought that we were headed for an illuminating public debate about the issue. In my most sanguine moments, I imagined a world where not just experts, but even some plurality of voters grasped concepts like DRG’s, risk-adjustment, and parallel public-private systems of health care provision.

August has ended those dreams. What we have instead is completely unhinged talk of “death panels,” euthanasia for the elderly, universal coverage as slavery-reparation, and wholesale government takeovers of the health care system.

[...]

Emotional appeals trump rational argument. In an interview on Chris Lydon’s show Open Source, Cass Sunstein, a rationalist, dismissed the emotional appeals suggested by George Lakoff because they expressed too dim a view of human nature.

On the Sunstein-Lakoff point; I don’t think the problem human nature at all, but rather the peculiarities of American political culture. There are societies in which public debates over polarizing policy issues are conducted with civility –ours just isn’t one of those societies. Not at this point in our political development anyway.

Pasquale agrees, and blames the the omnipresent bullshit cloud that is the only form of political socialization for way too many people in this country (think: Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Lou Dobbs, radio shock jocks, Fox News, sensationalist rags like the NY Post, and the Washington rumor mill).

It should now be clear that Lakoff likely overestimates the sense of responsibility in the mainstream media. Rather than engage in the hard work of educating viewers about what reform would actually do, it’s searching for the exciting, shocking footage of screaming and shouting. Given the death of appointment television, news producers know that they may well be competing for eyeballs against nasty spats on Real Housewives of New Jersey, or babbling beefcake on the Bachelorette. Dress up the same antics as being Something Important or Civic Protest, and you’ve got yourself a news story. It’s so much easier than, say, describing whom a public option would help, or how health insurance exchanges would operate.

Nothing new, but Pasquale captures the absurdity well.