As is the habit of my generation, we read, view and listen to ‘the news’. And we actually enjoy it… or at least most of the time we do. I love it all, the good, the bad and the just plain bloody stupid and boy am I discovering that there’s a whole new generation of ‘stupid’. Sportsmen who don’t have the brains not to get caught twice; stars with problems that defy description and ordinary folk who find some sort of sadistic joy in copying them. Yes! We certainly are breeding a whole new regime of idiots who will sadly diminish the already sagging gene pool.
But seriously, why do we suddenly have this idiosyncratic lot foisted upon us? The truthful answer is, “For the life of me, I do not know”. What I can say is that ‘dumb’ is very definitely fashionable. I can confirm that on almost every occasion in which I write a document, article or paper, I’m asked to “dumb it down”.
Now let’s be clear here, I’m no mental pigmy, neither am I an intellectual genius, but I’m staggered, astounded and basically bemused by the thought that we should ‘dumb’ our communications down. In my Father’s day we were taught to strive for excellence, to better ourselves, to grow our intellect, extend ourselves and in general seek out better ways. Today we have mistakenly associated the word ‘simplicity’ for ‘stupidity’.
In advertising terms we strive for simplicity and believe it or not that can be complex. In fact it’s absolutely correct to say that making things simple, first takes an understanding of the complicated.
Let’s take copy as a real example. Just this morning I heard a news item on the ABC. The reader stated that a certain politician had asked the Minister why a certain procedure had been “done that way”. Done? What procedure is ever done? It’s more than puerile grammatical ignorance and hair splitting to me. It’s ‘dumbing down’ of the first order and why am I as unhappy as Kevin Rudd in a room full of strippers?
Well it’s like this. Every time we ‘dumb down’ we retreat to the lowest common denominator. We go where the ignorant want us to go. We don’t lift others, we simply diminish our own intellect. When our marketing becomes void of cleverness; when our word power is so reduced to the basics, when our concepts are dictated to by the unknowing, then we are submitting our initiative; our innovation and our brilliance to what we have been and not what we could be.
I am constantly reminded of the great Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech when he said, “What is our deepest fear? Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” [ originally written by Marianne Williamson ]
In our profession we have an obligation to communicate simply but never to abdicate our greatness to something smaller, something less wonderful. Say “No!” to ‘dumbing down’.