McGinnis: Uh-Oh! What we can learn from SpaghettiOs’ Pearl Harbor tweeWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s amazing the places we can take life lessons from. Sometimes we learn from the words of elders or great statesmen. Sometimes we find wisdom from the opinions of mighty philosophers or humorists. And sometimes, we learn from the tastelessness connected to a picture of a piece of pasta waving an American flag.
We live in an age of instant connection. At this moment, I can type out any idea and send it into the world via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram, countless more. Hell, even MySpace if I was feeling nostalgic. My idea — no matter how profound or idiotic it might be — would then be on display for the world to consume. And if I were to say something really, really stupid and offensive — there is every chance that those words would remain connected to me until the day I die. Such immediacy of communication is not so easily erased.
The other side of a living, eternal conversation such as we’re having now on the internet is that we all feel a need to weigh in on every issue that comes along. This is by no means a bad thing — the open marketplace of ideas fostered by freedom of speech is what makes the world a vital and living place. But what can happen sometimes is, we as individuals feel a pressure to contribute when it doesn’t necessarily exist.
This need extends, apparently, even to accounts that serve no purpose beyond corporate promotion. Until this week, I wasn’t even aware that the classic brand of canned pasta, SpaghettiO’s, even had a Twitter account — but the fact didn’t surprise me in the least. Nor did the fact that the maintainers of the account, whoever they are, would ascribe to the belief that major events just could not go by without knowing what SpaghettiO’s had to say.
And so it was on December 6, a day before the 72nd anniversary of the day that has lived in infamy, that the SpaghettiO’s account tweeted: “Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us.” The tweet itself was harmless. No, it was the picture accompanying the tweet that caused the problem: An image of the SpaghettiO’s mascot — a cartoon piece of living pasta — standing before a blue sky, its standard goofy grin on its, uh, “face,” and hoisting an American flag.
Reaction was swift and brutal. The tweet was decried from pretty much all quarters as being insensitive, ill-conceived, exploitative and stupid. “What the **** is wrong with you people?” read one of the kinder opinions. Memes and parody images mocking the post were everywhere. Suddenly, millions of users who maybe hadn’t even thought about SpaghettiO’s in decades were microwaving it to a crisp in effigy.
The tweet and photo were yanked quickly. Campbell’s, the company that owns SpaghettiO’s, issued an apology. But it’s not that simple in this day and age, of course. No matter how much you say you’re sorry, no matter how quickly you delete, your fail of epic proportions will remain in the public consciousness, playing like an eternal loop of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
Of course, this wasn’t the first time a company was accused of exploiting tragedy via social media this year. Several high-profile brands faceplanted around the time of 9/11, posting visual images of questionable taste, none more egregious in my eyes than a picture of the twin beams of light in NYC being obscured by a name-brand smartphone, turning one of the most powerful images connected to the tragedy into little more than a backdrop for a commercial.
I don’t think SpaghettiO’s weren’t being that crass with their Pearl Harbor tweet. I honestly don’t feel that whoever was running the company’s social media — whether he or she still has a job right now — was trying to “commercialize” the anniversary with the post. I honestly think they simply felt that the people who followed SpaghettiO’s expected them to make note of such events. So they composed the tweet’s simple, banal text, and then decided it needed an image. And, scanning through the company’s rather lackluster selection of clip art, chose the most “patriotic” picture they could find. And then they posted it without a second thought, until the blizzard of criticism began to come down.
The immediacy of that reaction should be enough to make us all take pause when it comes to our online postings. Once you hit “send,” what you say is out there, in the public sphere, free to be taken in whatever way by the world. We all have to be mindful of how every tweet, every image, every status update may be read, and be prepared to take responsibility for it. The key is simply to take a moment, stop and think about what you’re sending out into the world bearing your signature. Just use that big thing between your ears — you know, the thing that the SpaghettiO’s mascot clearly lacks.