The Blog

you are your message

March 18, 2012 |

The viral, connected nature of this world can be good to you and at other times it can kill you. 3 events in the media/online-world stacked up at the end of last week that have me thinking.

First, Jason Russell of Invisible Children had an unfortunate media meltdown. He was arrested in San Diego. It’s not easy to know what was going on, but the headlines have been brutal.

Second, Mike Daisey whose one-man show’s indictment of Apple’s manufacturing practices in China has ridden a rocket of acclaim. Turns out his hugely popular act contains significant fabrications (actually just making stuff up). He appeared on the NPR radio show two months ago, This American Life, and subsequent fact checking revealed the fiction. Unfortunately, the situation came to light only after This American Life’s episode on him aired (and was the episode with the most downloads in their history, naturally). This American Life’s show this week deals with the problem.

Finally, on American Idol (yes, a guilty pleasure at our house—I watch mostly to see Steven Tyler’s wardrobe and to try to parse out his best quotes) a contestant, Jermaine Jones, didn’t disclose outstanding arrest warrants to the producers. And, in true reality TV fashion, they confronted him with cameras rolling and aired the confession and his subsequent removal from the show.

As I write, Russell hasn’t made a public statement.

Daisey said that his fabrications didn’t change the facts . . . he said that his stage show was different from journalism and that is regret is letting This American Life air it as if it was journalism.

And poor Jones, on camera, managed to say something like: “I was hoping it would go away.” (Who hasn’t hoped that, huh?).

A few thoughts are rattling around in my brain about this . . .

I’m astounded by the people who rejoice, revel and have fun with these kind of sad moments. It diminishes us all. And for those of us who are Jesus-people, it is painful when members of our tribe join in the “fun.” I love what Eugene Cho has to say.

Secondly, Daisey and Russell are men whose lives are connected with their messaging . . . Daisey apparently says that his fabrications don’t change the facts — horrible conditions are present at factories in China — he just didn’t have the encounters he claimed to have. Russell’s troubles this week aren’t directly connected to Invisible People’s message . . . but it taints Invisible People’s cause — no way to avoid it.
Here’s what we can’t avoid: individuals are the message (I say that at risk of Marshall McLuhan rolling over in his grave). Daisey cannot dodge the bullet by claiming his act is theater and therefore his fiction doesn’t change the stituation. His show will suffer, plus he harmed This American Life, although Ira Glass will not only repair the damage, he’ll make it work to his advantage.

The stickiest, most memorable messages are connected to people. Either about specific, real people representing an issue or delivered by passionate people.

Russell brought a relatively unknown issue to the world’s attention — whatever you think about him, you were thinking about it. Agree or disagree . . . you thought and discussed the issue. 4 weeks ago I suspect it wasn’t even on your radar.

Daisey did the same. He had us Apple-guys cringing and hoping that they’d right that wrong. It was hard to enjoy great Apple technology and design if they were damaging people in the manufacturing. That wouldn’t have happened without Daisey’s act.

Of course, I’m not defending any of these guys. It appears they all have really blown it. Daisey’s fault was premeditated and probably born out of his passion, I’ll give him the over-zealous card. Russell may have had something medical happen or the pressure got to him . . . who knows? And Jones was afraid if people found out about his past, he wouldn’t be able to live his dream.

I’m always going to have sympathy for the rogues, trouble makers and broken people . . . that’s who I am.

Bottom-line? People are their message. You are your message. And what happens to you in your life, happens to your message. And as Jones, the ex-American Idol contestant learned, it won’t go away. That’s the way the world is.

So what do you think? Are we are our message? Does Daisey’s fabrications alter the impact of his message? Has Russell’s problem hurt Invisible People? Let’s hear it.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: griffithchris)

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10 Responses to “you are your message”

  1. Wow! You have given us a lot to chew on in this post, especially those of us who blog, or teach, or consult. I’m thinking back on my actions and words from the past week. What did I say or do that didn’t match my professional rhetoric? Did I hurt my message? Much to ponder. Thank you.

  2. Jeff Gilman says:

    How interesting that you would reference McLuhan. The new media including a viral youtube video, a “reality” TV Show or even a quasi-journalistic stage show would have given him a field day. It is even making his “Global Village” smaller. Maybe their message wouldn’t even be known except for this crazy new world of media. And maybe they are experiencing principle from another 60′s icon: Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame…” Will we even remember them next week?

  3. I was at a job inquiry with an insurance company about becoming an agent for them. It was really just a follow-through on a commitment because I had already decided to work with Mary Kay cosmetics as an Independent Beauty Consultant. The man’s response to this disclosure was: “With that [MK] you have to be ‘on’ all the time.”

    I remember thinking that he really missed the point: with any of our associations we make public, we have to be “on” all the time.

    We all have our “I am’s”:
    I am a Christian, I am a wife, I am an employee at XYZ…each person we meet will be observing whether we are a fine example or a lousy one based on what associations we have represented to them.

    All of our “I am’s” are 24/7 and when we think that we can shut one off, it is usually because we are contemplating an action that is contrary to its principles.

    It is the voice of Satan still today asking the question he asked Eve, “Did they really say that a __________ couldn’t do ________? You fill in the blanks.

  4. Steve Thomas says:

    @Rebekah — thanks so much for your comments. It’s a challenging exercise to examine the match of words and deeds…I know I fail, both in the examination and in remembering to examine…grateful for your thinking with me (and the rest of us in the Tribe).
    st

  5. Steve Thomas says:

    @Jeff — it is fun to imagine what McLuhan would make of today’s media/social media culture. We do live in a “reset” world, if not every 15 minutes we reset, it does seem that our attention is very limited.
    Thanks a ton for dropping by.
    st

  6. Steve Thomas says:

    @Cathleen — love the way you think! Thanks so much for moving the conversation forward.
    st

  7. Randy Siever says:

    It seems to me that the main issue in all three (or at least plainly in two out of three) is integrity. By integrity I mean the more structural engineering meaning: The same all the way through. Something has “integrity” when it’s the same density or consistency all the way through. In computerese, it’s “What you see is what you get.” Although in politics it appears you must appear squeeky-clean, most people are quite ok with a flawed human being…as long as they are honest about their flaws. It’s the cover up, the deceit, the deflections, the pretending that, when exposed, drives us nuts. Steve, your beautiful admission in your post–”I’m always going to have sympathy for the rogues, trouble makers and broken people . . . that’s who I am.” is what I’m talking about. We love you because you are who you are all the way through. We wouldn’t be destroyed or feel personally betrayed if it came out that you had a breakdown and were found walking naked on the beach. We’d be heartbroken and want to come to your aid.

    I’m rambling now, but hopefully my point is still clear. If we could be publicly what we are in private, if we could be willing to allow people to see our flaws and warts and insecurities, even if we are in a leadership role, I suspect we’d have a lot more allies and a lot less personal attacks. This may be way too idealistic to employ, but I think it still is true.

  8. Steve Thomas says:

    @Randy — Thanks for your kind words, that means a lot.

    And I’m grateful for your reminder of the meaning of “integrity”…outside of Christian-talk. It is difficult for most of us to imagine living in complete harmony publicly and privately. We imagine that what happened to Russell, Daisey and Jones would happen to us…probably without the national media coverage, but still largely UNCOMFORTABLE.

    Good guys like you are the hope of giving people courage to live their lives with as little hidden as possible.

    Thanks so much for spicing up the conversation.
    st

  9. Cathie Cowie says:

    People are complex, not simple. Our consciousness of the cost of our failures is limited by the noise of our cultures.

    Peter denied his Lord at the trial of Jesus (Matt. 26:69-75) and later withdrew from the Gen-tiles in Antioch because of his fear of the Jewish saints from Jerusalem (Gal. 2:11-14).

    There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and righly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. ~ Flannery O’Connor

    I read a beautiful note today about Jesus as described by John the Disciple. In this writing I was reminded how John describes Jesus as being full of both grace and truth. John was careful enough as a writer to position this the way he did because the order of those words, matters in the following of Christ.

    In a sense we have to leverage the order of these as John did to faithfully represent Christ in difficult interactions. That is to always, lead with grace and also tell the truth. I am grateful to God for providing the Gospel of John and providing the words we are given to ensure we do this too, in the right order.

    We can seek to understand first and then confront the cost of all these public and private harms. It is more difficult, yes. But, it is the way of the cross, this difficulty, to put grace in front.

  10. Steve Thomas says:

    @Cathie — Great to hear from you. Great perspective and heart-felt thoughts. Grace and truth is beautiful, but challenging. What a wonderful world if we extended as you describe, grace first. I certainly want that in my life. I suspect most of us do.
    It is a challenge to always extend it to others. But what a blessing when we do.
    Thank you!
    st

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