Same old song...
Motorway driving is generally a dull business, punctuated by moments of madness, so you need something to help you to stay alert. One of our little stay-awake pastimes is spotting the best straplines on the sides of vans and lorries. You know the sort of thing: "Billy Smith Logistics: get ahead of the competition with BS"; "Tinpot Packaging -- Yes, we can!". A lot of people have remarked on the inanity of these bits of verbiage, but nonetheless companies clearly feel the need to have one, and presumably have paid good money to some PR merchant for theirs ("Strapline Solutions -- does what it says on the van!").
I suppose the impulse behind this is similar to the politician's urge to come up with dog-whistle soundbites. It's a very modern mix, this desire to get a message across to a target demographic, combined with a contempt for the intelligence and attention-span of that very same group of people: "Buy our product, you morons! Yes, you!"
All this terse attention-grabbing has produced a specialist vocabulary, where words like "solution", "excitement", and "delivery" have to do more work than they are really being paid for. Sometimes a strapline can seem to be merely a selection of such words picked out of a hat; perhaps those ones are cheaper ("delivering exciting logistics solutions", and so on). In the end, box-ticking and demographic-tickling are not really exercises in creativity, no matter what PR industry "creatives" might claim. The first van-side straplines were an inventive and effective idea; the next million or so were just copycat "me too" efforts.
In an earlier post I complained about the appropriation of the words "passion" and "passionate" by the corporate world. Nothing sucks the life out of a word like power-dressing it in a suit, or writing it continually on a flip-chart until it loses all meaning. "Excitement" and its cognates had already been turned into dry husks by overuse ("We're really excited to announce the latest revision of Accounting Standard BRS-4353B"), so I suppose "passion" and "passionate" had it coming.
"Passion" has always been a fairly slippery word covering a very wide field, from a serious interest in stamp-collecting to the crucifixion of Jesus, with sex and football somewhere in the middle. But it has now become part of that cynical vocabulary that encourages a view of wage-slavery as adventure; you don't just have a job, but are following your dream, and that job is not just a way of paying your bills, but a pathway to fulfilment. It is now obligatory to be "passionate" about whatever field of employment you happen to find yourself in: sausage-making, widget-bashing, paper-pushing, cold-calling... To declare yourself as anything less ("I am not terribly interested in burger-flipping, as such") is to fail to have signed up wholeheartedly for the voyages of discovery skippered by our self-styled buccaneering captains of industry. Which is to find yourself walking the plank, matey.
The recent competition for leadership of the Labour Party has been exemplary. You can expect this factitious attitude-striking from the likes of Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham: their political souls have been sold so many times over that they must have a tough job remembering who they are in the morning. Like all career politicians, you would expect them to be excited and to be passionate about whatever might deliver an election logistics solution. But even Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Excitement himself, used the words "passion" and "passionate" so frequently in the first paragraphs of his victory speech that I began to suspect he'd forgotten his reading glasses and had resorted to making it up. By Kinnock and by Keir Hardie, it was dull stuff, wasn't it?
So I think I may have formulated a law, that goes something like this:
In rhetoric, the real intensity of a speaker's emotion is in inverse proportion to the number of times any specific emotion is invoked by the speaker.
In other words -- as in all good writing, we are told -- it's a case of show, not tell. The more you tell us you're passionate about solving all our problems, the more we will suspect you're just another lying, posturing hypocrite. On the other hand, if you can find ways to solve all our problems, we really don't care how deeply you feel about it. Be as casual as you like!
But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.Word!