Monday, March 05, 2007

Copywriting the Peace Process

While flicking through the London Times the other day I came across an ad, placed by the British Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, calling for tenders, not for the design of a new stadium on the site of the former Maze/Long Kesh prison, but for the right to have it named after one's company, one's brand, or if you're feeling particularly extravagant, oneself. The planning of the new stadium is to be overseen by Mott McDonald HOK, whose previous portfolio includes Croke Park, the Emirates Stadium and the impending Lansdowne Road rehaul.

While I am not so cynical that I cannot hail a peace, however fragile, finally settling on the troubled northern corner of our island, there is a wearisome recourse to vacuous jargon and rhetoric in the text of the ad:

'The vision of the future of Northern Ireland is for a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society firmly founded on the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust.

'The proposed development of the Maze/Long Kesh former prison site is planned to provide a physical expression of the ongoing transformation from conflict to peace and to provide an inclusive and shared resource for the whole community.'

That's a lot of positive language in two short paragraphs, but, given its recent history, Northern Ireland can be forgiven for engaging in 'wouldn't it be great if it could be like this all the time' wistfulness, even when the wilful politeness of this New Labour-honed prose does seem to protest too much. What I find ultimately depressing however is the final clunker dropped at the end of the ad, which calls for the wonderful opportunity to brand this symbol of peace and prosperity:

'We are seeking a sponsor who supports the ethos of the Shared Future for Northern Ireland [note all those block capitals] and who appreciates the mutual commercial benefits to be gained by being associated with the international branding of this iconic proposal.'

When George Best shuffled off this mortal coil eighteen months ago, many pointed out that he was probably the only Irishman for centuries to have been viewed with the same favour of all his compatriots both north and south. If one were to be permitted to be sentimental, might one not suggest that he might be a better choice to bear the name of the stadium, rather than have it be yet another Allianz Arena, a Budweiser Bowl or Vodafone Park? Admittedly there is not much money to be made from Bestie, now that the after-dinner speech circuit is closed to him, but it is hard to share the Strategic Investment Board's enthusiasm for a project that is always going to symbolise more the reach of a multinational conglomerate than any putative spirit of peace and reconciliation.