Week 3 – Social Responsibility (SR) and Social Responsibility Projects (SRP)

In 1993, when we started making short films on issues that can be regarded as topics that are embraced with the concept of social responsibility, the group was quite limited. The films or the motionless visuals (posters, billboards, leaflets, etc.) were defined as social ads, and we used the same term for a long time. At that time, this definition was not given importance, known or hardly understood. Nevertheless, today (I mean the year 2011) the ones who work for the public good used to be involved in the financial activities. Now some of them are retired and in a way they are trying to clean what they have contaminated, which is equally important.

Today, I find the popular term that starts with social and ends with responsibility dull and meaningless. I also used to promote these terms unwillingly, but now they are replaced by the term contra. The terms are hypocritical and open to misinterpretation. Moreover, I am concerned that when the third word project is attached to social responsibility, the phrase social responsibility project becomes even more meaningless.

The word social is an underdeveloped and boring one. It creates an unpleasant feeling. Responsibility is something that we all (for example me) almost hate. Except for the extraordinarily enlightening leading figures in society, we, common people, do not generally want to take any responsibilities. We usually try to avoid responsibilities (I do). The phrase social responsibility composed of these two hypocritical and dull terms becomes an awful one. Let’s refer to this phrase as SR from then on in this text to minimise this unpleasant feeling.

One of the misperception that SR creates is because of the financial connection between the development process of this concept and the corporations and the state. While the corporations and the states that are fully responsible of the ecological and ethical misery that the world suffers from, they pretend to act responsibly when they are involved in SR. In fact, they do far less than what they are supposed to do and they spend even more money to advertise what they produce than they spend on SR. Consequently, corporations turn SR, which is problematic in itself, into advertising. As it is the state, national or multinational corporations that are responsible for the current situation of the world, it is their primary duty to announce the ecological and social issues, create awareness about them and eliminate these problems.

Another misperception that the term SR creates is that it defines the area of work as if it was a piece of boring homework, but actually it is enjoyable and meaningful to be part of it. You naturally obtain a great deal of satisfaction while you are watching a campaign or film that advises using water or soil more effectively or not alienating  the ones who suffer from schizophrenia from society; you feel the joy of attaining an enjoyable and meaningful deed and discover the human in you. Calling this process SR enables you to see the clues that show to what extent these corporations that make money with commercial advertising could internalise the essence of this process. Besides, they have been involved in this area more and more restricting the independent production. It is highly significant that this production of films and promotions that aim to publicise the issues concerning ecological and human rights must be independent.

I prefer the term contra to SR for the last two years. This period is shorter than the one during which SR has become popular and the advertising and public relations companies have transformed into SR experts. After 2000, there has been a drastic increase in SR. All of a sudden, at the turn of the new millennium, the state, corporations and certainly the advertising sector felt the need of doing something to solve the ecological and social problems.

It is possible to set the starting date of these problems back to the time before 12 September, to 1972’s, 60’s, to the date the republic was founded, to 1071 the Battle of Manzikert, or to the birth of Christ. While all these things are happening and Istanbul, the city we live in, is imposing whatever they want on Anatolia, it never does it more rationally, scientifically and in a more modern way. The social ads are also generally produced in Istanbul. Istanbul is the centre of not only social ads but also all other big organizations.

In the last quarter of the century the transformation has accelerated; global warming, exploitation of natural resources and unequal distribution of them have grown, and ecological and social contamination has gained speed.  The results of the pollution in the developed countries have also reached a considerable level. The SR process has become compulsory as a result of the pressure coming from the West and the level of pollution within our borders that has become intolerable, and a lot of NGO’s have been founded. The most significant and biggest ones, as you could guess, are founded in Istanbul. Most of them are governed by former business people who are actually primarily responsible for the pollution that we are exposed to together with the state of course. “It is us who polluted the most, and it’s us again who can clean it.” You might remember this understanding and this statement. A considerable number of these NGO’s are founded as branches of corporations; that is, they are financially and managerially connected to these corporations among which you can see the ones that are in technology, finance, IT and media business. I have serious doubts that they employ the brightest staff in these areas. It is worthy to attract people’s attention to the situation that the one who pollute the environment (the corporations) and the ones who try to clean it (the NGO’s) are in the same structure and have the same function using the same financial sources.

Consequently, the Istanbul oriented huge NGO’s founded by these former business people later than the western countries started to define the processes in ecological, cultural, artistic and social cases. When they felt the need, they opened branches in parts of Anatolia where they function frequently and extensively.

Towards the end of 70’s, when the acid rains that were promising today’s global warming became tragic, campaigns aiming at individuals started in western countries. It was emphasised that creating consciousness of the issue was very important, and conscious individuals were believed to make the school, corporations, states and families conscious about it. The most significant problem in these campaigns was actually a hidden one that they established a message that both the guilty and the responsible are the individuals and they got the masses to believe in this. The campaigns held a quarter century ago created the rich and famous Bob Geldoff and his counterparts. These people who were defined as environmentalist humanist activists who later arranged more colonialist and orientalist organizations left concerts that made no use behind. The wars, famine and erosions still exist in Africa and they get even worse.

It is not right and rational to centralise the individual as the primary responsible one to face global warming that lasts for almost a quarter century and deficiency of clean water supplies that probably resulted from global warming; this cannot be legitimised and explained. The SR campaigns organised by either NGO’s or corporations in this country continuously blame the individual, identify them as the source of the problem and warn them. The campaigns that duplicate similar ones made in the west are very cruel, and there is a reason for this. The advertising companies that the state and the national or multinational corporations do business with for a century cannot make campaigns that blame their employers they are financed by and announce the real felon. Then blame the public: don’t leave your TV in stand-by mode but switch it off, take less showers and brush your teeth with less water, and everything will be fine. The system does this for a lot of reasons, but there is one reason which is real; capitalism fuelled by excessive consumption. (As a Turk, how many less showers could we take?) Especially the USA and Japan haven’t signed a lot of international environmental protocols. Considerable amount of data provide sound evidence that the ecosystem will be totally destroyed if people consume as much as any Swedish, Japanese or American individual.

Consequently, while the primary job of advertising companies and agencies financed and managed by capitalism is to make films that pump consumerism, they make global warming campaigns together with other campaigns which are far from being rational, consistent, persuasive and logical. I think we have to examine the reasons behind this. Although we know that nothing will change, this issue cannot be concealed; this cannot remain as a social taboo. When we do not discuss it, nothing will change.

There is a danger that the individual precautions we take and especially the short-term solutions we find to solve the ecological problems derived from global warming worsen the situation, which is similar to the situation that the millions of air-conditioning systems aimed at cooling the world makes the world even hotter.

When we thank God that the air-conditioning system is making us cooler, as the agents who switch on the air-conditioner, we are part of the process and equally responsible for the consequences as millions of others in the world are. In the meantime, we are quite confused because we watch ads that claim our air-conditioning system is the most environmentally-friendly one. We cannot really understand whether this ad is a social ad or not; we cannot completely understand fully anyway. In this chaos, we do not have knowledge, curiosity and time to understand this process.

The solution to the problems of the world is evident: stop air-conditioning. However, can the NGOs, which were founded by multinational or national companies, and the films made by them or the advertising companies that design the posters for these ads say this? No, they cannot. They cannot tell people not to buy air-conditioning systems. Neither did Bush. They cannot tell people not to consume excessively. They cannot tell them not to throw their old cars away, but repair and use them. They cannot tell them not to speak on the phone more than necessary; they can tell them to speak more and more, use more detergents, change their new cars with brand new ones. They cannot make any clear, simple and understandable sentences to reduce consumption because all their resources and wealth derive from the companies that are nourished from the crowds that they turn into piranhas. Not only the advertising companies but also the NGOs that are established like sub-foundations of these companies find it difficult to tell the truth because of their structures nourished from these companies and their close relations with them.

It is warming up, water supplies and the main resources that nourish life on earth are diminishing. At micro level, individuals are primarily shown as responsible of this situation (which is not actually true; big companies and states are the ones who are responsible of this), and at macro level, the third world countries are blamed, which is not true either. There is no doubt that the USA and Japan have been committing more ecological crimes than Ghana and Jamaica.

Individuals, independent scientists and NGOs must take initiative to take action against global warming, which is one of the most fatal problems that humanity has faced, and all other problems like violence, rain forests, refugees, human rights, etc. because the advertising companies pumping consumerism and big NGOs in the centre that are dependent upon the USA and Europe and appear as sub-foundations of big companies cannot solve these problems. There is no chance that they can tell the national companies, the USA or Germany that support them to stop lying, that they pollute and consume the most and should make self-criticism. This would be the denial of the construction of advertising discourse and the self-destruction of their opportunities to exist.

Today, they talk about crisis, banks declare their bankruptcies, and we watch them understanding nothing. Actually we knew about this consequence; the ecological structure of the world cannot stand against this anymore. The financial structure cannot abide either. Everything has become evident, unhidden. It is ecologically, economically and also ethically impossible to stand that much consumption of a small minority (and believe me they are also unhappy) and the poverty that billions suffer from.

“You have to do shopping of 617 litres to fill a Beko fridge so that we could be happy,”: an advertisement slogan.

In summary:

  1. Unless SRP’s (social responsibility projects) are managed by independent directors, problems will occur.
  2. If SRP’s are produced by NGO’s in relation to companies, problems will occur.
  3. If SRP’s are produced by advertising companies whose job is mainly to increase consumption, problems will occur.

3.1.It is a problematic process to give both “consume” and “don’t consume” messages.

  1. The SPR’s produced dependently cannot reflect the real problems.

4.1.They point at the individuals as the responsible ones for the problems, which is even more dangerous.

4.2.When they mispronounce the problem, they cannot offer the correct solutions.

  1. A great deal of the effort and finance devoted to SRP’s which are produced among companies, advertising companies and NGO’s in collaboration are actually spent for the sake of the companies’ promotion not for the problems.

5.1.Both the effort and the finance are wasted.

5.2.Commercial ads are confused with social ads.

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