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All In Hand

Miss Vicky's Contest: Name that Sponsor!

Miss Vicky Wed Jul 6, 2005

My sources tell me the city's corporate services committee has forwarded the recommendation to allow corporate advertising on city facilities. Council will be debating this on the 13th, apparently.

You can't blame them... too much. The city is dealing with the legacy of provincial downloading, to the tune of about $130 million a year (and growing). There are limited revenue sources, costs for services are rising, there's much-needed infrastructure improvements to make... Property taxpayers had a nice period without any hikes, and we're paying for it now. But property taxpayers can only handle so much (especially given Ontario's wacky assessment process). No question, we're in a cash crunch. So I'm not surprised this proposal is going forward.

One of my favourite novels is David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It's set in the not-too-distant future, when time is no longer measured chronologically, but open to bidders. Subsidized Time. So instead of 2027, for example, we might have the Year of Glad, or the Year of the Tuck's Medicated Pad. This is only one aspect of the novel that cracks me up (the cadre of wheelchair-bound Quebec separatist assassins is another).... but the dark humour is so because that world is entirely conceivable, the product of unfettered global capitalism, the eroding of public services, and the apathy of a citizenship lulled to submission by popular entertainment, recreational drugs and narcissism.

But I digress.

Yesterday I suggested The Weed Man might want to sponsor the city's soccer fields (in exchange for an end to the call for a pesticide ban, of course). I think we can come up with some better ideas for appropriate (or not so appropriate) sponsors for city facilities. So. It's time for a contest. The floor's open, Faithful Legion, for your nominations. What billboards will grace the new Subsidized City, and where?

Contestants are advised that the city's policies prohibit sponsorship by companies whose "primary" purpose is to sell Tobacco, Alcohol or Pornography. Where human rights are concerned, though, the rules are pretty silent.

Entries will be judged according to Miss Vicky's whim. The prize? Well, I'll think of something.


Sign me up!

Miss Vicky Tue Jul 5, 2005

I admit, I was suprised that I enjoyed the cruise my family took to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday. It's a fun and stressfree way to vacation, especially if you've got a healthy sense of irony, an appreciation for cheesy decor and a love of people-watching.

Thanks to Rick Mercer, I may have identified my next foray into cruising. Yep. I can think of nothing more relaxing than being stuck in the middle of the ocean with these guys.

Edited to add: if I ever meet Rick Mercer, remind me to thank him appropriately for putting the image of Ezra Levant in a speedo in my head.

Shucking Shell

Miss Vicky Tue Jul 5, 2005

It came out today that the NCC bowed to pressure from Shell, one of the sponsors of the Canada Day festivities, and scuttled efforts to educate party-goers on the benefits of alternative energy sources.

Corncob Bob, husky spokescob for the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association was supposed to staff an info booth and spread the word about ethanol and biodiesel. Apparently Shell, who already hold a pretty large share of the world's oil and gas market, had a problem with this.

"[The NCC] said they were very sorry but they said one of their major sponsors had indicated there was a conflict between the message that we were promoting and their company's interests," the CRFA's executive director told the CBC today.

I guess the company's interests don't include renewable or alternative fuel sources, despite their website's claims. Not that Shell has a lot of credibility where human rights, environmental stewardship or corporate social responsibility, despite the company's best efforts to market itself as a leader in socially-responsible practices. Environmental NGOs have even produced an alternative annual report to counter Shell's attempts at rebranding. Clearly, though, the multinational is committed to press on in its efforts to reshape its image, even if it means creaming the mascot of one if its smallest competitors...

I'm not going to blame this all on Shell, though. This is what multinationals do, after all. The problem, really, is the whole culture of corporate sponsorship.

It costs money to put on big events, and corporate sponsorship is the most common way of raising the dough to cover things like lighting and staging, wages for artists and technicians, port-o-potties, liability insurance and so on. Corporations are only too happy to fork over the money, especially when the visibility helps them improve their public image by portraying them as community-minded. But there's always a price tag - and I don't mean just the garish logos splashed all over. This episode reveals that the cost can be much higher - like curtailing free expression and diversity of opinion.

This problem is nothing new - I mean, take a look at university and college campuses. For quite some time, cash-starved postsecondary institutions have looked to corporate sponsorship as a way of making up the shorftall in government funding. Heck, some instutions even have price lists for sponsorship (so much for a classroom, wing, building and so on). And it's not just infrastructure - sponsored research is also on the rise... a lot of government grants now require partnership with the private sector. This can seriously compromise the diversity of research occuring at Canadian universities - not to mention the conflicts that arise when the researcher and the corporate sponsors differ (*ahem*nancyolivieri*ahem*). Here's a good website exposing some of the troublesome relationships in Canadian higher education. There's also this tool for mapping the corporate campus.

But I digress. What's my point? Sponsorship has been on my mind this week. Not just because of poor Corncob Bob. Yesterday, Councillor Maria McRae was on the CBC musing about the possibility of offering bits of the city to corporate sponsors, starting with Landsdowne Park but possibly also opening the door to logos on the boards of public skating rinks or other city facilities. Like our society isn't branded enough already. So my advice to council as they discuss her proposal: be wary. You're not just selling off bits of infrastructure so a corporation can slap an ugly logo up and call themselves community-minded. You're selling the hearts, minds and wallets of the potential consumers that are your citizens. You're connecting city activities and resources to specific products and brands (is the Weed Man going to sponsor soccer fields, for example? And will this have an impact on councillors' votes on banning pesticides?). There's nothing harmless about corporate sponsorship. It may seem like "free money". But nothing's ever free.


Shakespeare in Hintonburg

Miss Vicky Mon Jul 4, 2005

A quick public service announcement: Salamander Theatre's summer training program for young actors(Shakespeare Young Company), will be performing "A Comedy of Errors" in the park behind the Hintonburg Community Centre tomorrow night - that's July 5.

The performance starts at 7pm. It's free but theatre-goers are encouraged to donate after the perfomance, when the players will pass a hat around the audience.


Back in the swing of things

Miss Vicky Mon Jul 4, 2005

Sorry for the radio silence, faithful legion. Webgeek and I spent the weekend in Parry Sound at the family homestead. There's no phone there, so no internet - hence no blogging!

We had a great weekend, though. Good food, good friends, some fireworks, great swimming.... I could have used another month or so, but that comes later in the summer.


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