A society of spectacle
$15,000 per second. $900,000 for 1 minute of footage. That’s the cost of “Safe Limits” an advertisement from Waka Kotahi as part of their “Road to Zero” campaign. Maybe you haven’t heard of it. The campaign flew under the radar when it was launched in 2019. But a new advertisement is stirring up some interest… mainly because it doesn’t do much to either educate people on what the program is, or what they’re trying to do.
“All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”
In some sense, the ad is a performance. Why? Some say traffic advertisements don’t impact the target market. Others insist that their effectiveness is very hard to measure.
You’d think this might give public agencies second thoughts about using such means to achieve a target that, while highly desirable, is also very far from where we are now. Pandemic notwithstanding, 319 people died on New Zealand roads last year, a figure the AA says is “far too high”.
So why the drama, and tax-payer funded expense of the ads?
Indeed, images make everything seem simple. Rather than the complexities of flesh and blood, rather than looking at people as people, we simply see a task.
One answer to that question is that our world is has become so saturated with images and displays, that they have overtaken real life. French thinker Guy Debord predicted this in 1967 In his book ‘Society of The Spectacle’, “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”
Debord insisted that this created an impoverished life. Indeed, images make everything seem simple. Rather than the complexities of flesh and blood, rather than looking at people as people, we simply see a task: no deaths or serious injuries on our roads. What an admirable goal.
But on reflection, is it even possible? Can we really have no road deaths? Most of us certainly don’t want people to die, or even be injured on our roads. Yet our country isn’t set up to function without self-propelled vehicles. Moreover, we cannot remove all risk from certain activities. There are humans involved, so mistakes will be made. Were cars replaced by, say horses, there would doubtless be horse fatalities. Okay, there might be fewer of them, but our economy would also grind to a halt. If you think we’ve got supply chain issues now, imagine equine-supplied supermarket shelves.
Unrealistic targets that fail to materialise only produce disappointment and disconnection.
Unfortunately, this sort of extreme goal, that will doubtless go unfulfilled, can also erode trust in Government. Unrealistic targets that fail to materialise only produce disappointment and disconnection. Does anyone remember KiwiBuild?
No. Let’s turn away from the society of the spectacle. In the case of our ‘far too high’ road toll, let’s follow the advice of racing legend and road safety campaigner Greg Murphy. He suggests putting the $2.4 million spent on the campaign so far (yes that’s the real cost of the advertisement plus the airtime) into educating our drivers.
Good idea. Let’s put the time, effort, and resources into face-to-face embodied interactions with other flesh and blood people. That might be more effective than blasting expensive advertisements over the airwaves, and adding to spectacles that simplify everything but change nothing.go back