Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“Perfect Vodka”? Yeah, no — let’s just keep calling it Coral Sky Amphitheatre

The former Coral Sky Amphitheatre—previously Cruzan Amphitheatre, Sound Advice Amphitheatre, Coral Sky Amphitheatre again, Mars Music Amphitheatre, and Coral Sky Amphitheatre the first time—has another new name: Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre. None of us should call it that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against Perfect Vodka, and, frankly, the next time I make the decision to morosely nurse a broken heart with liquid therapy, I’m pleased to know that I’ve got a local, non-GMO, gluten-free option to fuel some inevitably pathetic texts imploring girls from yesteryear to take me back I didn’t mean it I’m so lonely [crying cat emoji]. And really, it’s not like “Coral Sky” is a particularly inspired name.

But companies regularly spend billions to influence what we think, say, and write, and we should stop being complicit in it.

This, first and foremost, includes news organizations. No honorable journalist would do pro bono shilling for a company, and no dishonorable journalist would do so without getting paid. Yet both are more than happy to drop a company’s name in an otherwise unrelated news story about a concert or sporting event or political rally, completely free of charge, because that company paid someone else for naming rights.

Some reporters may argue that they have a journalistic responsibility to properly identify the subjects in their stories using their self-declared names. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill announced in May that a building on their campus, Saunders Hall, would be renamed Carolina Hall. Nobody would quarrel with reporters using the new name because the new name reflects the evolution of race relations, respect for the school’s diverse student population, and the general notion that it’s not a keen idea to have school buildings named after Klansmen in the 21st century.

When Coral Sky becomes Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre, however, the only thing it reflects is the gaming by marketers of what constitutes a “name.” And when a venue runs through so many “names” based on who’s giving its owners money at the moment, it cedes the right to have a name; it instead becomes an unnamed venue that has very prominent ad space available. To put it more simply, if Live Nation insisted that the formal name of the amphitheatre was “Coral Sky Amphitheatre Sponsored By Perfect Vodka,” there isn’t an editor who wouldn’t zap the last four words. How is instead calling it “Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre” any better?

This is more than an inside-baseball, ethics-in-naming-journalism issue, however. It’s about reclaiming the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we view the world around us.

It’s not a coincidence that we think we need to go to “Publix” as opposed to “the grocery store,” or that we say we’re buying “Kleenex” instead of “facial issue”; it’s a part of a concerted effort to embed brands into every aspect of our conscious life. Try going a week without using brand names in conversation. Or even a day. It’s difficult, and even if you can do it, it’ll sound very unnatural to both you and those listening to you. That, too, is not a coincidence.

What makes venue sponsorships particularly egregious is that the companies involved are asking—nay, telling—us to use a brand name for no reason other than they say so. Dennis Cunningham, the president of Perfect Vodka, is quoted in the press release announcing the name change as saying that “[g]reat music and our smooth vodka are sure to make perfect memories,” which is revealing: they’re not just buying naming rights. They’re trying to buy a space in our memories—a space that they did not earn and have no business occupying.

There’s also something very worrying about getting accustomed to viewing everything around us as a medium for advertising. When we see that even things as fundamental as names are for sale at the right price, it trains us to view the places—and, by extension, the people—around us as mere commodities to be exploited then disposed of rather than things that have value, merit, and beauty beyond generating wealth. And South Florida—which, at its worst, is marked by conspicuous consumption, bulldozers, cosmetic surgery, and McMansions—doesn’t need any help fostering a culture of disposability.

To be fair, the venue at 601-7 Sansbury Way isn’t the Grand Canyon, and “Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre” isn’t the abomination that “Arizona Presents Verizon Gorge” would be. But it’s not inconceivable that an ambitious marketing executive will see a compliant public desensitized to the banal horrors of omnipresent branding and find new, previously sacrosanct places to stick their brand names and logos. The onus is on us to head that off now.

Our thoughts, our speech, and our culture shouldn’t be for sale. Live Nation can call its amphitheater whatever it wants, and Perfect Vodka can pay whatever it wants to Live Nation, but we shouldn’t go along with it.