Stop, look and listen – before you tell your story

Follow Your Dreams (Cancelled) – Banksy

I can’t pinpoint the exact date that it happened to me, but I’d say it was likely that it was shortly after Naomi Klein wrote her infamous book, No Logo.

Random, huh? But perhaps not.

It’s a little hazy – however, I think that’s where it all started – after my friend, now brother-in-law, gave me a copy of the book to read.

It dawned on me that what she was saying was that brands were moving past the age of selling products and instead, selling an ‘idea’.

I think what happened thereafter was that I opened my eyes, wide, and kept them open.

I was occasionally ‘blinkered’ by things that arrived in my eye line, along with tonnes of things being thrown into my peripheral vision as I tried to bat them away and keep some sort of focus.

Whatever focus was supposed to be.

Fast-forward some 16 years and I was speaking to my brother-in-law recently about the time we decided to pen our thoughts and put together a little magazine called COMA.

The general premise behind the magazine was to open people’s eyes up to the ignorance they were swimming in – or what we believed to be ignorance.

I think the two of us decided we could make some sort of stand against the brands, the politics and whatnot.

I mean, who wouldn’t when they’re all fired up and ready to take on the world with pens and paper and a bootleg copy of QuarkXPress?

We were bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

He recently found the last copy (maybe the only copy) of COMA in his loft and sent it to me. For the past few weeks have wondered what I could do with the content inside (more on that in a bit).

COMA was about conformity and our distinct will to not conform, to not be stuck in a cycle and to not do what we were told.

This said, we were not rude, obnoxious kids who decided to cause trouble but instead we were deciding we weren’t going to take everything that was told to us at face value.

Why should we?

Surely we shouldn’t believe everything we read and hear as being ‘true’?

Take a minute to think about this:

“Advertising and public relations both take the dough of existing sentiment – the world as it is – and knead it into forms that lead people to think and especially act in certain ways” — Image Makers

I’ve just finished reading DO/STORY “How to tell your story so the world listens” (affiliate link) and for some unbeknown reason I’ve decided to put this post together.

I think it was perhaps that I got the spark to finally resurrect one of the things I wrote for COMA back then and make use of it now.

So, here’s the short piece that I wrote back then for COMA, unamended, and perhaps not so great, but an important part of telling my own story:

Stop. Take a look around — what do you see?

That’s right, exactly the same as everybody else. A big space. The urban landscape before your very eyes is of diverse variety, a world of images and typography ready to pounce on you, ready to grasp your attention.

Ready to make you, the observer, CONSUME.

Advertising is invading the very space in which we live in.

How often do you walk down the street and get bombarded with a visual explosion? Huge billboards, signs in shop windows and even adverts above urinals in toilets portraying ‘perfect, I want to be like you’ people or the sickly sweet, friendly advertising of companies like Coca Cola.

These are the things that lead people towards a lifestyle of CONSUMPTION, WORK and SLEEP.

Advertising eats up the public space that could be used to express people’s feelings; used to exercise people’s so-called freedom of speech. I am not promoting graffiti, nor am I saying it’s wrong, I am merely pointing out that the things in front of our very eyes are constricted by abstract observation. Theoretically, people have the right to observe what they want. But when this is reversed and broken down, the reality is that we see only what we are intended to see — advertising.

You are forced to observe the constant onslaught of imagery enticing you to consume, whether you are walking down the street, watching television or reading a magazine. Advertising agencies are use these mediums as tools to sell. Graffiti can also be seen as a tool but one which sells alternative or unconventional viewpoints:

“Graffiti has been used to start revolutions, stop wars and generally is the voice of people who aren’t listened to. Graffiti is one of the few tools if you have almost nothing” – Banksy

Graffiti artists are considered vandals. Stereotypes perpetuated by the media manipulate people into consuming the idea that all graffiti artists are destructive and nihilistic.

They promote a notion that these artists see public space simply as a mindless opportunity to destroy, a space to be vandalised. In some cases this is true but sometimes these public spaces are used as a constructive outlet for these artists and a canvas for the right to express.

Surely, the real issue regarding the demonisation of graffiti artists is one of control. These individual “expressions” are placed in public without the permission of the collective and this opposes the mass manipulation and control which advertisers require in order to manipulate consumption.

Perhaps if graffiti artists maintained the same type of ability to monopolise opinion via media they would be able to offer an alternative perspective concerning advertising billboards. These adverts can be viewed as far more damaging than any picture an artist may paint.

“Twisted little people go out everyday and deface this great city. Leaving their idiotic little scribblings, invading communities and making people feel dirty and used. The just take, take, take and don’t put anything back. They’re mean and selfish and make the world an ugly place to be. We call them advertising agencies…” – Banksy

Why do the media not encourage artistic expressions from people genuinely passionate about democracy and the ideals of personal freedom it supposedly upholds?

Why do they not encourage diversity and artistic expressions which question the conventional or ‘normal’ environment we live in?

Why do the media seek to create a society where artistic expression is considered to be ‘wrong’ whilst the manipulation of public space by corporations determined to manipulate consumption is ‘right’?

In a society obsessed by conformity, should these artists not be applauded for displaying characteristics reflective of the diversity and difference ‘democracy’ supposedly celebrates?

I guess, the reason I felt compelled to put this all together was to stop for a second, maybe a minute– I dunno, perhaps longer. Who’s counting?

And, to think about things.

Telling your own story, of what you’ve done, what you’ve been up to, how you got there, what happened on the way.

The why, is what makes you, well YOU.

All too often I try and come up with an idea of what I should teach and mentor people in relation to UX and Design (I teach at General Assembly and mentor a few people too) and more often than not I see a lot of people who sound like each other, whose work is like each other’s and whose mentality is basically the same – where’s the difference?

I firmly believe that part of this is down to stereotypes and the rhetoric behind them. If we’re told something, then we might take it at face value and believe it.

But, like I said earlier, I don’t always want to take things at face value.

Just because somebody says something, doesn’t mean it’s always true. Opinion can be forced upon as fact and sometimes we should just forget about someone’s opinion so we can tell our own stories – in our own way.

If we stick to, and uphold stereotypes then we’re fuelling the very fire that ignites it in the first place.

If you want to be different, you actually HAVE to be different.

And so:

“Why tell your grandkids you worked 9–5, five days a week for 40 years and quietly sat in traffic jams while people went to war, suffered disease and shot down their classmates?
Why not tell them you refused to live in fear?
Tell them you crossed the Thames,
saw the London Eye,
and met your soul mate in Peckham.
Travel to the ends of the earth.
Go now and live adventures that will make your grandkids proud.”

Thank you for reading this somewhat of a brain dump, which I enjoyed writing. If you have any comments, stick them below.