Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I’m having trouble thinking about blogging and all things digital right now because my head is back in the 19th century. I’m writing a new novel set around 1880 and the more I read letters from that era that end in flourishing signatures, preceded by phrases like “I am, your affectionate brother" or "yours very truly”, the harder it is to wrench myself back into today.
Look at this signature by my great-grandfather, Joe Buddle, laid down by him in Tauranga in 1879. It’s so elegant and practised that it would seem it was obligatory then to develop a ‘hand’ that said something about you - assuming you could actually read and write.
We don’t care now. Who’s writing letters with a pen? People aren’t even bothering to say “Hi Joe” at the start of emails, let alone “Dear Joe”. We just launch right into the message. Our sign-offs are just “cheers”, or “regards” if we’re being extra polite. Affection doesn't get a look in. And business emails don’t even carry a name as a sign-off because the automatic signature does it for you. Texting requires no goodbyes at all, except perhaps a CU.
Perhaps it’s all this impersonal communicating that is making big events seem much more profound now. Half the planet must have stopped to watch Michael Jackson’s memorial service, with all of its tributes. When Michael’s brother Germaine sang Smile, and his daughter Paris showed us her breaking heart, they revealed how important it is in this crazy world for us to stop, listen and feel.
We’ve come in 130 years from a world where it was important to write 'very truly’ to one where we care mostly about speed and instant fame.
Michael’s life may have been all too speedy and a bit manic, especially in his later years, but in his going he’s somehow touched a lot of lives.
His whole career was all about exposure and visibility (and the opposite as well - made up of secrecy and shadows). In a way, he was a human example of the power of advertising, that peculiarly 20th century art form.
The entire world knew his music and his moves and his face. Whether admired or despised, he was a massive global brand.
But I’ve found that advertising’s power began to get a hold on us much earlier than the 20th century. In reading old issues of the Bay of Plenty Times I’ve come across an 1880 ditty that was already shouting to the world that if you wanted to be KNOWN, if you wanted to SUCCEED, then you had to advertise, you had to be SEEN. Here’s how it goes – read and ponder:

Tell me not that advertising
Is at best an empty dream,
For its charm is more surprising
That its base traducers deem.

And whichever way thou turnest
Thou wilt find upon the whole,
Those who advertise in earnest
Soonest reach the wished for goal.

Wouldst thou save regret and sorrow
For good prospects thrown away?
Never wait, then, till tomorrow;
Always advertise today.

Advertise then! Time is fleeting!
All the wealth this side the grave
That is ever worth the meeting
It will bring if thou be brave.

Try the charm of advertising,
And avert a meaner fate;
Be ye ever enterprising,
Learn to advertise and wait.
(Author unknown)

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