When does “not knowing” become complicity?


Writing freelance in a global economy creates fascinating opportunities. In the last two weeks, a few of the subjects I’ve written about include:

  • a plumbing company in the Pacific Northwest
  • the product line for a new Arizona jewelry company
  • job-hunting in the UK
  • an Australian university
  • the jewelry worn on the TV show “Mad Men,” and
  • loads and loads of product descriptions for a swimwear manufacturer in Brazil.

Making strangers feel like friends

I take pride in doing my job well, so I enjoy finding info that makes every client look terrific. And my copy for international companies reads as if I’m familiar with their country.

That means when I write about Brazilian swimwear, I refer to local beaches, local products and local traditions … and play with language and metaphor to be as slyly sexy as Brazil expects.

Making bad guys seem like friends

I showed my husband one of my pieces, and he grudgingly acknowledged that it was really good. Then he asked:

“Aren’t you becoming complicit in Brazil’s abusive treatment of women? It’s the worst country in Latin America … probably in this hemisphere.”

Ow. I can’t say I was thinking about the meaning of Brazilian swimwear when I wrote those texts. I was just playing the writer’s equivalent of a really fun video game: completing the required number of words, with the required frequency of search terms, in as little time as possible, for the highest possible quality score.

Dividing speech from truth

I’m “playing advertising” very much like all the bankers and financiers that have trashed our economy over the last few years have been “playing lending.” I’ve let someone somewhere disaggregate the client company from the product information from the marketing of both, and then reassemble them in random packages — a web design from one place, logo from another, photos from a third, text from a fourth (me) — none of which in fact understands anything about the client business except our responsibility to “make them look good.”

But what if they’re no good? I have no way of knowing. All I know is that my job is to make them look good — and I like to do my job well.

What does that mean for my faith? Because God says:

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Eph. 4:25)

Are creatives responsible to think globally and work locally, so we know we are presenting the truth?

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About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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2 Responses to When does “not knowing” become complicity?

  1. Randy Pena says:

    Nice site. Theres some good information on here. Ill be checking back regularly.

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