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Is the Hollywood...

Battle of Symbols

Is The Hollywood Symbol Big Enough?

As the big “summit meeting” between Washington and Hollywood in mid-November moved forward, there were other things in the press that captured our attention and made us wonder how effective this pow-wow would be. Sure Hollywood was a central player in the “battle of symbols” but she wasn’t the only player. There were other parts of America that needed to be recruited into the war. In some formal, planned, strategic way more than the Pentagon “science fair” prize reward contest.

Like the high tech industry for example. In the November 8th edition of The New York Times, Nancy Jackson observes that palmtop makers are taking aim at the military. In her article she notes:

Imagine this: Lieutenant Smith, a United States Army platoon leader at a base camp in Uzbekistan, is preparing for a three-day mission in Afghanistan. For four hours, he and his fellow officers have been going over maps and hundreds of details that must be nailed down. They retrieve the information they need from a new addition to their battle packs: hand-held computers.

All of this is reality for many in American business today. The wonders of these little hand held devices are one of the big technological wonders of America in the past five years. Why shouldn’t they be sent off to battle?

The first question is pretty much a “no-brainer.” Yet the real question centers not on whether they should be used but rather what is the overall symbolism emerging from their use? In effect, how does this change the so-called media of the war. What are the major images of this use of PDAs by Americans in Afghanistan? The perception by the global community from these? How might these devices change overall strategy? How can these devices be best utilized against the enemy. At the same time, though, don’t assume that the enemy doesn’t already have this technology in its possession, using it perhaps more than we are.

The question sprouted up from the information in The New York Times. Basically it centered around the crossover from the high tech industry into the military (symbolized you might say by Palm and Handspring’s PDA hand held devices.) So far, there seemed to be a much quicker response from the high tech industry than the entertainment industry. And it was a much more practical application than all that haziness hanging over Hollywood.

And yet, it still seemed so symbolic of more and more battles in the contemporary world. The key symbolism seemed to be about the crossover of American business into military technology. Thinking about a key piece of Business technology and the military should be in some type of direct connection. Would there ever be some type of new communication between the two? Sure old business had the ear of the Bush administration but what about Generation X and the Millennium Generation? Most of America’s most creative high tech people were in these generations but this was not included in the administration’s Hollywood encounter in mid-November 2001.

It was the older and established Hollywood generation in fact that had the ear of the Bush administration in November of 2001. What about The Blair Witch Project Hollywood? And outside the different niches of Hollywood, should other industries (somewhat broadly defined as symbols need to be in these tiny times) like “bricks and mortar” business in general or perhaps advertising or media or why not American theme parks or leading American musicians or novelists or … the list could go on and on and the outer boundaries of it were pretty hard to see.

The fact of the matter was that it was much easier to see the inner dimensions of the symbols being mustered up and to know that somehow America’s image communicated to her own people and to the peoples around the world would be a lot better if more than just Hollywood and the government got together on the whole thing. A big meeting was important and for Hollywood to have an audience with its long time nemesis in the Republican Party, somewhat unheard of. The making of a new symbol for sure if the two dualities of the symbol could somehow come to a form of temporary cease fire.

So, although it was big, this “shot gun wedding” between government and Hollywood, was it big enough? Where was the advertising industry represented in all of this? Perhaps still shaking ashes off their elegant pin striped suits from the atrocities in September and trying to come up with some ideas for bigger and stronger brands. And those Silicon Valley internet gurus and new economy gurus who had made a few billion in the past few years. Shouldn’t they be listened to at least as much as some studio head from Hollywood? Or other members of the dot.com world and the new economy. Or business visionaries like Jack Welch? Should there perhaps be a coalition of leading American businessmen outside of Hollywood? What about leading musicians like Sting or Stevie Wonder or Steely Dan depending on your tastes? There were the literary artists – the VS Naipauls, the novelists that might be able to tell America’s story to the world better than the Pentagon or Al Jazeera. There were the musicians. There were the poets.

The point of the moment seemed to be that it would be a good idea to attempt to throw a wide loop over the definition of America’s leading symbol researchers, makers, communicators and managers. The government was meeting with part of the creative element of symbol making. An important part. But still, only a part.

With the powerful image of America dropping sophisticated large bombs on the poor and rubble of Afghanistan. It was glaringly apparent that the PR battle was being won by the terrorists so far.

It was a lot like fighting another brand in that world of marketing symbols America was the best in the world at. If only she would remember all of this and simply apply it to the battle at hand. The competing brand had a powerful spokesperson in Osama bin Laden. You could certainly call him the deranged scum of the earth and might not be too far off base. On the other hand, you could also try to see him as a type of symbolic icon and try to sense his mass appeal to many of the young, bored Muslim generation around the world. A modern Robin Hood to Marshall Bush.

It would not have been political to say in November of 2001 that America needed increase the quality and quantity of symbols being sent into the battle, both domestic directed symbols and global ones. Yes, call it propaganda but if only all the great American symbol makers could be enlisted into the battle, there would be so much more of a chance for victory. And would it still be propaganda or more like the true expression of the American culture? For the first time.

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