Monday, 4 April 2011

Is there some kind of course we can make the marketing departments take?

There's a new shared space* in Auckland's CBD, in Darby St, and a party to celebrate this innovative approach to urban planning on April 15th.  They've got the Mayor, and Kidz in Space and there has generally been much marketing riffing on the "space" theme.

Which is all well and good until we get to the casually exclusionary language being used to promote it all:
Putting man back into space
There was a "Man In Space" advert in the latest OurAuckland, in every letterbox in the superb Super City area I assume, and there's a "putting man back into space" tagline on the poster for the big launch.  You can see it on the Facebook event page.  So cute, so witty, so blithely ignoring the fact that there may be sharers of this space who aren't men.  And that being inclusive actually outweighs having a snazzy marketing idea any day of the week. 

What's particularly disappointing is that it doesn't appear that it was always labelled this way - it seems to have been changed to the "man in space" idea at some point since this went up on the Auckland Council website on 24th February:

There's another page up on it now (in addition to the Feb one which is still up) that has similar text and the exact same picture but with the new heading "putting man back into space".

When did the change happen?  Who made it?  And why? 

And when will people ever stop responding to legitimate concerns about this kind of casual exclusion of real people with the oh so predictable "man means mankind, which means humankind, which means people, silly"? 

*  Shared by pedestrians, cars, cyclists, dogs, trees, wheelchairs, and many more.  It'll be interested to see how that works out, as a first attempt at getting this to work in car-obsessed Auckland.


goodgravey said...

The predictable responses you mention can be countered by an equally obvious one. "So if 'man' means people, why the fuck didn't you just say 'people' then?"

As many have commented before, words mean something. You don't just pluck words out of the air and say "That sounds good, I'll use that".

Well, it seems a lot of people do, but it takes so little effort to add "OK, but what does it mean when I use words like this? I know what it means to me, but what will it mean to my readers? What sort of message does it send?

See how little effort it takes - I just did it then.

What is worse than the casual misuse of language without due care for its implications is situations like this, where a deliberate change has been made. Someone had to give thought to the issue to make the change. And chose exclusionary language.

Just bizarre.

Matthew G said...

Totally agree.

I've been thinking a bit, abstractly perhaps, about Yuri Gagarin, and in particular about how the BBC world service were talking about the 30th anniversary of the "first man in space". My thoughts were along the lines of, well, he was a man, and the first one in space, and that phrase has a certain shared cultural "resonance", so maybe it's hard to exactly criticise its usage, but wouldn't it be nice when one day we all see that as an odd way of saying it, rather than "first person in space".

I actually think it is a good time to start using the later phrase (in terms perhaps of "cultural stickiness"), and the media for example could help by at least interchanging the terms, or using "person" outside of the "iconic" phrase.

All that seems like vague academic ponderings compared to saying "putting man back into space", which makes me wince. Shame it doesn't do the same for so many other people. I sure hope it wasn't chosen to (offhandedly) link in with the current "man" marketing craze.