The facts: the American TV series ‘Homeland’ has reached its fifth season , starting staged in a Syrian refugee camp (in Berlin). The producers wanted to give a real sense of a street and asked Arabian street artists to produce graffiti for its walls. So they did. The episode was produced and the graffiti went on the walls of the fictitious street, as planned. The slight problem was that the ‘street artists’ wrote slogans such as ‘Homeland is a joke’, ‘Homeland is racist’ or ‘Freedom is now in 3D’. The thing was produced. Nobody read the slogans in Arabic (Arabic? wow!) so nobody noticed. There were the walls that were needed in a proper Syrian refugee camp, graffiti included.
The thing went viral of course. The conversation around went in several directions: the clever hacking, the nobody noticing, the superficial view of the Arab world by the West, etc.
All that is true. An article in The Guardian points to the American background of lack of understanding in such places such as the US State Department. Four years after the 9/11 ‘there were a mere eight out of 3,600 foreign service officers in the entire US State Department who spoke Arabic to a level of sophistication one might expect the nature of their work to require’. And by 2011 ‘that number had risen to 380 FSOs out of 7,600’.
The producers of Homeland and the US Estate Department are two different things but there is a common background in the cultural ‘understanting’, or lack of it.
The situation may be interpreted in all the above angles. From a corporate perspective, it’s a good lesson for Corporate Communications.
Well, we have walls full of mission, vision and value statements graffiti that nobody reads. We are very good at externalizing statements and give them a static life on walls and powerpoints. We are so used to it that we don’t pay attention anymore. We have honesty, integrity, openness and teamwork in walls ( oh, and passion). By externalizing them we lose the plot. They are condemned to not to occupy any bit of bandwidth, let alone memory. I could change those statements on the wall for something outrageous a la ‘Homeland is a joke’ and nobody would notice.
Try an experiment: externalise some of those things on walls, but use some spelling mistakes. Wait to see how long will take for someday to alert you.
Alex Gansa , the screenwriter and producer of Homeland, did the right thing. He gave credit to the hackers: “We can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.”So, the head of Corporate Communications should say: we admire you for spotting the jargon, meaningless and robotic statements, let alone the spelling mistakes.
Which would be a breakthrough in these times when nobody reads a thing, walls or otherwise, unless it fits a smartphone screen – a conversation for another day.
Missions, visions and behavioural values rest in the corporate graveyards of walls, meeting rooms and company brochures.
It must be a better way