As I heard more stories about the deleterious effects of Bill 21, I researched the various publicity campaigns that introduced it to the public. I saw a connection to my own experience serving on the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) where I heard all the same buzzwords.
“Stigma” and “Anti-stigma”
There is a class of “professional journalists” who depend on corporate and governmental sources for their livelihood, and who publicize to some degree the “official line” on a story in exchange for journalistic access to the powerful. When I see the same keywords disseminated by these journalists whenever and wherever possible, I see a publicity campaign, which is to say, I see the tail end of a coordinated marketing campaign.
Now one of the key techniques of modern marketers is to hijack a story, also called “newsjacking.” And one of the favorite types of stories to newsjack is the death of a celebrity. And sure enough, right on time, André Picard, public health reporter for the Globe and Mail, has newsjacked the sad story of Robin Williams' death by retweeting the newsjack of James Kirkbride in order to direct us to the “sage words” of Ian Colman, quoted in another newsjack by Lynn Desjardins of Radio Canada.
James Kirkbride and Ian Colman both just happen to be in the business of getting funding for psychiatric research of the type that the “anti-stigma” campaign is hoping to fund. (The MHCC and those behind Bill 21 have a very pronounced bias towards funding research, and seem peculiarly unable to take in that they are restricting public access to helpful mental health resources right now, the subject of this blog.)
I do not wish to discuss the particulars here except to say that an argument, based on Mr. Williams’ death, for funding the type of research called for by the “anti-stigma” campaign seems questionable, especially because Mr. Williams cannot speak for himself. But no matter. Picard, Kirkbride, Colman, and Desjardins had the hijack angle all figured out before the facts of Mr. Williams’ death were even established. There really is no argument. It is propaganda.
Mr. Williams, like most great comics, sometimes had a keen sense of how things work. An interviewer described one of his recent films as “a devastatingly funny indictment of the modern grief industry.” When she asked him if things were getting worse, Williams replied: "Well, I think people want it. In a weird way, it's trying to keep hope alive… you just try and keep it in perspective; you have to remember the best and the worst."
Sounds like Robin Williams would have forgiven Picard, Kirkbride, Colman and Desjardins for using the grief over his death to gain marketshare, but I for one wish they might listen to that critical marketing expert linked above, who notes “we stopped counting how many PR people broadly distribute a pitch for their client when someone in the public eye dies."