Every once in while, a corporation or institution makes a decision so astonishingly bad that average people wonder just how a bunch of high-powered and highly paid executives can be so monumentally stupid. These “teachable moments” used to come along once every decade or so, but now they seem to be happening every other week.
The latest catastrophe has been the instant backlash provoked by Scandinavian Air’s spectacularly ill judged marketing strategy of deriding Scandinavian culture as somehow fraudulent or not real, while at the same time encouraging customers to engage in yet more of the same cultural appropriation they’ve just been belittled for.
Now Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) are shocked to discover that the general public are not altogether happy with being told that almost every part of their cultural identity is somehow invalid, which is pretty much the same thing as denying that a huge part of them even exists in any meaningful sense. Not only is this obvious nonsense, but it’s just one more wearying example of the cultural and anthropological bigotry which has become a disturbingly acceptable part of media discourse in recent years. Boiled down, this pernicious form of psychological self-flagellation holds that pretty much everything in Western societies (and especially the Anglosphere) is somehow stolen from some other society and is therefore not real or worthy of respect.
Needless to say, SAS pulled the ad very quickly and has disabled the comments on YouTube, but it’s far too late; the damage is done and the internet never forgets. They did of course try to put out the fire with a seat-of-the-pants rehash and a “clarification” which fooled exactly nobody. What makes this episode so revealing is that it isn’t simply an example of tone deaf marketing, oh no. SAS deliberately went out of its way to insult and belittle the core identity of those who buy its daily bread, in the belief that somehow this would encourage them to choose SAS over its competitors…okay then, let me know how that goes. Whoever said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity clearly hadn’t heard of “woke capitalism”.
We shouldn’t be surprised though, as this is exactly the same pattern of behaviour expressed by Hillary Clinton’s infamous deplorables comments and in calling Brexiteers xenophobic ignoramuses at every opportunity. We all know how those strategies ended up and there’s no reason to think this debacle will be any different.
Despite the fun we’re all having with SAS right now, this episode does highlight an important issue which many opponents of globalism have singularly failed to address. It may be true that populism is on the rise and the nation state is reasserting itself as the most durable and flexible social settlement, but we cannot go back to the way things were. The information age is upon us and it’ll take more than a few trade tariffs for isolationism to achieve cultural hegemony. In other words, though the demise of unnecessary supranational authorities like the EU and the UN can’t come soon enough, our new state of interconnectedness will remain indefinitely after they’re gone. This can only be a good thing as it necessitates genuine understanding and cooperation, without a burdensome authority structure attempting to micro-manage our voluntary economic and cultural exchanges.
If SAS would take any advice from someone like me, I’d suggest that with a few changes, their dumpster fire of a campaign could yet be saved. Instead of deriding Scandinavian folk for basically not contributing anything to the world, SAS should instead celebrate the cultural cross-fertilisation which is the inevitable consequence of our interconnected lives. All that’s required is to blend unmistakable symbols of nationhood with positive imagery and the whole experience becomes so much more gratifying. For example, the ad could show a Scandinavian guy training with a Japanese katana, and another wearing cricket whites. Both these symbols are inextricably bound up with their countries of origin and there is no question around their origins, thus evoking a sense of shared experiences and the voluntary exchange of customs and cultural artefacts. Another great image would be a bunch of Japanese football fans wearing those teriffic plastic Viking helmets, complete with horns and blonde plats for good measure.
Rahm Emanuel famously said that one should never let a crisis go to waste, so SAS could still turn this around if they can just resist the urge to deride the people they rely on to pay the rent. I’m not holding my breath though.