Published December 13th, 2017
by Steven Clark

Despite this being a blog full of bile, self hatred and harsh opinions expressed via penis metaphors, I feel a weird desire to apologise for my lack of updates recently. Why should you care? Surely if the Habanero blog hasn’t been updated recently it means I’m finally in therapy or some very justified legal action has rendered me destitute. Unfortunately for you – entirely hypothetical loyal reader – I have in fact been very busy working short term contracts to pay for my lavish lifestyle and needlessly expensive wedding.

In the midst of this work, I did receive a valid piece of criticism from a colleague who occasionally reads the blog; that we spend a lot of time focussing on problems instead of discussing potential solutions. After reacting to his criticism with detached hostility, I explained that this is likely due to my own defeatism and feelings of impotence. Catharsis is my impetus to write. Exposing people as frauds and jerks, ipso facto means that they are frauds and jerks, how could this not in itself be a positive step towards change, however small? Besides maybe buying into the idea that one idiot and a blog can make any significant difference in the real world, this also conveniently ignores the fact that most frauds and jerks are pretty happy to continue unimpeded even if their fraud and/or jerk status is widely known, even publicly.

The Jerk
We may not have solutions but we have references

So how do most people typically go about affecting positive change for the things they care about? Charity, I guess.

Now I was going to go down the route of comparing the different types of charitable causes and the people that participate in them but it would give off the impression that I think some causes are more worthy than others, which I don’t particularly. If you give your time or money to charity, whatever it is, you’ve hopefully done something that will help to improve the life of another person. Giving to charity also doesn’t necessarily need to be selfless; the good feeling you get for participating, the new friends you make or the experiences you have can be massively rewarding. All that said, when a charitable cause becomes mostly about self promotion for those who participate, that’s when I start to get uncomfortable.

Before their mass sleepout event this month, Social Bite held an event called CEOSleepout, a type of fundraising-promotion-turned-charitable-organisation that seems to be have been designed with self promotion in mind. The events usually involve a group of business owners sleeping rough outdoors for one night – “a sanitised version of the hell of homelessness” as one participant described it. Sounds perfect for your boss who could use a much needed philanthropic boost to their personal brand after they get done paying you equitably for your labour.

“Sanitised” is right. Besides the evening long opportunity to network, participants slept in a private garden, were given £40k worth of camping equipment (which was then graciously donated to homeless people after it was used) were allowed to keep their phones, (so they could tweet shit like this) and in the morning were served breakfast by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Help the Poor
What’s charity without a good photo op?

This was all in aid of raising £500k for a small village of halfway houses to help around 20 homeless people at a time get back on their feet, which is apparently ready to open this Christmas. So yes, something potentially good came of CEOSleepout – it wasn’t all folk trying to hawk branded t-shirts to solicit donations – but there’s a clear difference between this and what Social Bite just achieved with their aforementioned Sleep in the Park event. As writer Mike Small touches on in this article from earlier in the year:

We could start with the casual and relentless assumption that ‘entrepreneurs’ can and will deliver solutions to deep-seated social problems. This is rarely challenged, it’s just assumed to be some sort of instant panacea. The idea stems from giving the ‘social entrepreneur’ automatic status, as if you can ‘innovate’ your way out of power relations. […] Meanwhile, while we focus on this and similar projects (aimed at giving housing to twenty people) – we just close our eyes to the structural problems of our massive homeless crisis, endemic inequality and a generational housing crisis. I’m not deriding Littlejohn, or Social Bite or ‘innovation’, these are probably great things, and we need the ideas and energy of thousands of people to shift the institutional inertia that besets much of Scotland –  this just seems one-dimensional, and, well, awful.

However good the intention, CEOSleepout ignores the systemic problems that cause homelessness in an attempt to boost the profiles of those involved and create the opportunity for them to bolster this idea of entrepreneurial philanthropy. Obviously the fundamental aim is for participants to gain an understanding of what homelessness is like, but softening the experience and rewarding them with free PR immediately undermines the participants’ ability to empathise. Not to mention donating their used camping equipment to actual homeless people after the fact, as if they’re only worthy of leftovers. Assuming some of these CEOs are quite wealthy people, it seems weird to think that they can play a part in fixing the kind of crises that are arguably perpetuated by their reluctance to pay more taxes. And while I’m sure many of those involved did contribute their own cash, why are we reaching out to them for their time instead of their wallets? Even if all they’re willing to give is time, wouldn’t a council of business leaders be better positioned to petition the government to help fund longer term publicly owned programs like this – if they really believe in them – instead of bumming around a garden with Chris Hoy for 12 hours? Probably, but that would have had less impact on social media engagement.

Homeless Viral
Everyone loves going viral

Since it’s the season of giving and all that shit, let’s stick with the topic of business philanthropy and take a brief look at one of my all time favourite agencies – The Beattie Group. They recently posted their idea of seasonal altruism in the form of this video, where a small group of Beattie employees hung around the checkouts and bought shopping for some lucky folk in a local Tesco. I’m not sure what was stopping them filling three trolleys themselves and donating those to a local food bank but that would have probably made for a less saccharine video. Why give to people that actually need it? Poors don’t look good on camera.

Uninventive and confusing as it may be, Beattie’s output is something that absolutely fascinates me. Had I not met some of their staff in person, I would be entirely convinced that they were a group of bots crawling the internet for the most insipid marketing wank known to man and compiling it all onto one website. They describe themselves as “innovative” but say they “subscribe to traditional family values” in the same sentence; they post a “Quote for the Day” telling us to get used to “a turbulent world” then dedicate a whole news post to bitching about political uncertainty; and they barefacedly feature their CEO Gordon Beattie in a montage video alongside famous billionaires, innovators and “rough diamonds” – whatever that means – as if his output is in any way comparable to theirs.

Gordon Beattie himself is an enigmatic figure. A man who apparently has his long suffering designers spunk out daily “Quote of the Day” images with his humdrum business insights, incomprehensible metaphors and the occasional life lesson, many of which could be charitably described as borrowed. These are then aggregated on his various social media profiles and eventually compiled into the kind of motivational self-published books your dad might read while on the toilet, full of illuminating tidbits like:

“Luxury brands should have the smile of youth, the sophistication of a socialite and the confidence that comes with old age.”

Perhaps my favourite of these quotes came 6 days after the Grenfell Tower fire in June of this year – in which 71 people were killed – where Beattie used his platform to remind us to “Focus on fire prevention – not firefighting”. Incredible. Beyond the smug absurdity of it all, I do love the idea that he chooses to spend his time imparting these moral life lessons for us to follow, however hackneyed, from his official residence of Gibraltar, where tax legislation is kinder to rough diamonds.

So yes, fine, we do focus on problems too much, I admit it. But baby steps – maybe our first proposed solution to the stupid shit we complain about on this blog is to stop credulously taking seriously the moral lessons and philanthropic efforts of a class of people who typically do the things they do primarily for personal enrichment. The people whose idea of “changing the world” means changing one very small specific part of it – the contents of their bank account.

The Sleep in the Park event turned a charity campaign into a what seemed like a genuine movement, getting communities rallied behind and contributing towards a vision of a better Scotland without homelessness. And while we’ve yet to see what Social Bite will achieve with the funds and the focus of the media covering the event is still mostly on Josh Littlejohn and his celebrity cameos, this at least proves that mass action is a better catalyst for change in Scotland than appealing to the better nature of politicians, CEOs and business leaders.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

Business Content Digital Agencies Social Media
Steven Clark

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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