Serial Novel “The Sorrows” - December 8

I never knew you borrowed the whole carbon footprint playbook from the Keep America Beautiful campaign.

Of course I remember the television commercial from 1971. With the American Indian in native dress, standing by the side of a busy highway, a passing motorist throwing a bag of trash at his feet. Turning to the camera, saddened, disappointed, as a single tear rolls ever so slowly down his cheek. It was the first time I’d seen a grown man cry.

The slogan was ‘People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It.’ The single tear circulated in other media, stilled on billboards and print ads. Winning multiple awards and often cited as the best commercial of all time. For Americans, the crying Indian became the quintessential symbol of environmental idealism.

I only learned later that Keep America Beautiful was created by leading beverage and packaging corporations hellbent on blocking any environmental initiatives and legislation. The campaign deflected the question of responsibility away from corporations and placed it entirely in the realm of individual action by making individual consumers feel guilty and responsible for the polluted environment.

The campaign was a powerful political decoy devised by corporate interests to divert public attention from the real issues of industrial waste. It put Machiavelli to shame.

Later I learned the American Indian was played by Italian actor Espera de Corti in red makeup and a black wig. No, nothing is sacred.

Americans love to love their myths. Even when they’re not remotely true. All the Marlboro men were unemployed Hollywood extras who played cowboys. All of them died of lung cancer.

Who would have imagined that those public relations strategies we presented as stop gaps would become business as usual? That the PR stunts and smokescreens and distractions would become the way to run a country?

Can you believe that journalists fell for Suella Braverman’s dig at Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati while she rushed the Public Order Bill through parliament? Criminalising every effective means of protest as the media huffed and puffed about Braverman’s aggressive tone while completely ignoring the suffocating, anti-democratic laws being put into place.

The Public Order Bill is the kind of legislation you might expect to see in Russia or Iran. Illegal protest is now defined as acts causing disruption to two or more individuals, or to an organisation. Given that the Police Act redefined disruption to include noise, this bans all meaningful protests.

For locking or glueing yourself to a railing, you can now be sentenced to a year in prison – twice the maximum sentence for common assault. Sitting on the road, or obstructing fracking machinery, pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure, airports or printing presses can also get you a year. Digging a tunnel as part of a protest and you can be sent down for three years.

There are even prevention orders within the new bill. If you’ve taken part in a protest in England or Wales in the previous five years, whether or not you’ve been convicted of any offence, you can now be served with a two-year order forbidding you from attending further protests. Or fraternising with particular persons or particular areas. Or using the internet to encourage other people to protest. If you break these terms, you automatically face up to a year in prison.

Even here in Australia state governments have introduced tough new laws increasing punishments for non-violent protesters with large fines and up to two years in jail. Climate activists are being subjected to vindictive legal action that severely restricts the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

In Sydney, one climate activist was jailed for 15 months for blocking one lane of traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She didn’t bomb it. She just parked a truck and stood holding a flare as a climate protest until the police removed her. Along with jail time, she was also fined $2,500.

The New South Wales premier said it was pleasing to see her jailed and fined, said that protesters who want to put our way of life at risk should have the book thrown at them. Apparently protests aren’t supposed to inconvenience people.

Governments are happy to subsidise environmental carnage but any protests to shake people out of their stupor are now effectively outlawed.

We’re hurtling towards planetary collapse with unimaginable consequences. Yet the powers that be seem hellbent on increasing the horrors. It’s frightening.

Let’s be honest. We invented crisis management as a service to increase client billings. Especially for corporate leaders who suddenly found themselves hit by some unexpected event that could decimate the share price and their bonuses.

Exxon Valdez oil spill. Tylenol product tampering. JP Morgan Chase financial exposure. Dow Corning’s silicone-gel breast implant. Procter & Gamble devil-worshiping logo. Equifax data breach. One-off events that were easily contained.

But everything’s become a crisis now. It’s as if crisis has become the operating system for capital, corporations and governance. One crisis leads to another leads to another. All of their own making. It’s absurd.

Increase in income and wealth gap. Decline of the middle class. Threats to employment. Undermined trust in institutions. Discrimination against minorities. Spikes in energy prices. Economic disruption. Austerity measures. Global poverty. Pollution. It’s one damn crisis after the other.

With seemingly no way forward. Democracy seems to have reached a loggerhead. Oppositions are waylaid for years. There are no constructive ideas. Everything is mired in muck.

Which is exactly how I feel after apparently finally being Covid free. Tested negative for three days in a row. But still feel terribly lethargic. I also have an annoying, persistent cough. Like some consumptive in a historical drama.

My lungs feel rattled. My mind less so although my thoughts seem somewhat breathless. It’s an odd feeling that’s difficult to put into words.

Apologies for going on and on. How’s business back in the UK? You’re not working too hard, I hope?

Did you see that global consumer carbonated soft drinks and coffee giant Keurig Dr Pepper are on the hunt for a new PR firm?

They run a portfolio of more than 125 owned, licensed and allied third-tier brands that are falling out of favour. Like Dr Pepper, 7 Up, Snapple, Canada Dry, Schweppes, Green Mountain Coffee. Basically bottled or canned sugar and caffeine. Bob Gamgort is the chairman and chief executive.

As part of the procurement process, any firms tendering for the PR account have to accept 360-day payment terms. And we thought we used to have late payers.

Of course Bob’s multi-million dollar salary doesn’t get paid annually. Perhaps we should buy some stock and become shareholder activists. Push for Bob to get paid on the same predatory terms.

I guess that’s the pleasure of being chairman and CEO. Bob’s probably also head of the compensation committee. To the winner the spoils, eh.

Have you moved any closer on that Saudi Arabia account?


Thank you for reading this chapter of “The Sorrows”, an experimental serial novel about the end of the world written in real-time by Stefano Boscutti. Subscribe now to receive new chapters for free via email.

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