What is the Goal of Verizon's Set of Videos for Black History Month?
This is the kind of subject matter that gets well-intentioned writer-type people in trouble, so let me state right at the outset
that I love everybody and everything. I am cool with every extant gender, skin color, ethnicity, nationality, faith, sexual orientation, political affiliation and body geometry, as well as others that haven't yet been invented and/or emerged from the Darwinian mire (e.g., pan-Eskimo republocrats, Amphibiasians). If you are a person on this planet - or an animal! don't forget the cuddly, delicious animals! - I celebrate your being. My only bias is against dumb people, who I believe should be fitted for protective mittens and banned from the Internet and interstates.
Now that we've gotten the ass-covering component of this column out of the way: What the dickens is Verizon hoping to accomplish with its series of videos celebrating Black History Month?
Is it seeking to inspire? To awaken? To info-tain? After viewing all seven video vignettes, I'm still not entirely sure. The program, which debuted just before the start of Black History Month, taps nine successful black Americans to relate their business and life
philosophies. They talk about the challenges they faced and the wisdom they've accumulated.
In theory, this is a fine and timely idea, regardless of what month it says on the calendar. In practice, the campaign reeks of corporate do-goodery and political hypercorrectness. It's all platitudes: believe in yourself, failure is a blessing in disguise, there is no finish line, etc. Two videos in, my cliché Bingo scorecard looked as if it had been hit by an ink bomb. No aspect of the campaign is immune to the taint of triteness: Even the site copy reads like a tagline to a straight-to-video movie ("Before their common bond was medicine, their common bond was struggle").
That's my main problem with the campaign: It lacks specifics. I don't doubt that Beverly Bond had to deal with all sorts of boorishness on her way to the top of the DJ food chain. So how about detailing a single specific incident, rather than confining her mini-lecture to generalities? I don't see how Bond's use of social media helps viewers "celebrate [her] story and put [themselves] on the path to success," to use Verizon's own words.
Similarly, Verizon hamstrings the campaign by showcasing businesspeople, professionals and performers whose stories have
already been told (by themselves and by others). That's not to say that the nine featured individuals aren't deserving of the accolades that have come their way, so much as that Verizon didn't exactly have to break its back to locate them. Hell, education reformer Dr. Steve Perry appears on CNN more often than most of its anchors. You want to inspire/inform/galvanize us, flag down a historian or a biochemist or a community organizer who hasn't already been profiled by NPR.
As for the clips themselves, they're right out of Generic Videology 101: They rotate easily between close-ups and side-angle shots and chuck in sporadic you-R-there flashes of nearby monitors and cameras. The editing attempts to lend gravity to the proceedings, sometimes to inadvertent comic effect. Thus Dr. Perry is seen examining an apple with a pensive look on his face, actor Laz Alonso is seen examining a thread of 8mm film with a pensive look on his face and Bond is seen fingering through her record collection with a pensive look on her face. The message sent: Everybody involved with this project has big thinky thoughts about thinking.
In the end, this campaign represents the most cynical kind of corporate PR, a program that exists for no reason other than so that, if challenged, Verizon can say, "Hey, we did something. We are citizens in good standing of Planet Inclusivity." To my mind, that's more of a slap than letting the month pass without acknowledgment. Either do a campaign of this ilk right - real, specific stories from subjects who haven't been massively overprofiled - or don't bother.