Radically goofy: Mister Splash Pants and the Geography of Hope

Well whad­dya know. Cal­gary Jour­nal­ist Chris Turn­er has writ­ten an out­stand­ing arti­cle about the phe­nom­e­na of Mis­ter Splashy Pants for the Globe and Mail. I say “out­stand­ing” not just because I’m but­ton-pop­ping proud to see this blog sit­ed as a news source — he’s latched onto and artic­u­lat­ed some real­ly good stuff about how dig­i­tal social net­works are chang­ing activism, and how all of us hoe­ing our rows in the fields of social change need to change the tone and voice with which we speak to those net­works.

And there was one name that just bare­ly made the final cut. As Green­peace Inter­na­tion­al offi­cial Bri­an Fitzger­ald lat­er explained on his blog, Mr. Splashy Pants was near­ly lost to “the self-cen­sor­ship instinct.” Mr. Fitzger­ald and his col­leagues thought it was fun­ny, he wrote, but they also wor­ried it was “undig­ni­fied.”

Still, Mr. Fitzger­ald and his col­leagues decid­ed to “push back” again­st inter­nal cen­sor­ship, to share with their audi­ence “what amus­es and inspires those of us with­in the walls and below the decks.” In oth­er words, to rethink the mar­ket­ing of social caus­es. And in fact, this might be Mr. Splashy Pants’s most sig­nif­i­cant mes­sage: If you pre­sume to speak to the mass­es about society’s ills and how to cor­rect them, do it in their lan­guage — and admit it’s also yours. Be their con­science, sure, but address them as friends would.

Mar­ket­ing con­sul­tants often talk about the impor­tance of “stick­i­ness” — a con­cept cod­i­fied in Mal­colm Gladwell’s mam­moth best­seller The Tip­ping Point that refers to the almost mys­ti­cal abil­i­ty of cer­tain kinds of infor­ma­tion to cut through the thick under­growth of the dig­i­tal age and adhere to every­thing they touch.Mr. Splashy Pants was, in this regard, like dig­i­tal Krazy Glue.

Now this is not the first Mis­ter Turn­er has men­tioned Mis­ter Splashy. He penned an encour­age­ment to vote for MSP, “Or El Splash­eri­no if you aren’t into the whole brevi­ty thing…” at his blog, the Geog­ra­phy of Hope as a blow again­st “hec­tor­ing humour­less­ness.” And he knows where­of he speaks. He brings to the piece a unique per­spec­tive as a for­mer Green­peace can­vasser who burned out and retreat­ed.

I left the job at the end of the sum­mer utter­ly exhaust­ed at the prospect of sav­ing whales or old-growth forests or the life-sus­tain­ing ozone lay­er — at least if their sal­va­tion required me to spend anoth­er day traf­fick­ing door to door in fear, guilt and despair.The work was not with­out its gid­dy inter­ludes. In the evenings, cam­paign­ers drove back to the stu­dent house serv­ing as Greenpeace’s Kingston office and ate and rant­ed togeth­er, drank beer and passed joints, kicked hacky sacks and sang songs, gig­gled our ass­es off and howled at the moon.

The exu­ber­ance of those nights, though, was no match for the earnest plead­ing of the late after­noons and ear­ly evenings, the grim reit­er­a­tions of eco­log­i­cal hor­ror and impend­ing doom on doorstep after doorstep. If we were in the busi­ness of sav­ing the plan­et, I won­dered, why couldn’t it be a joy­ous busi­ness?

I let my Green­peace mem­ber­ship lapse the fol­low­ing sum­mer and, for many years after, I saw noth­ing in my occa­sion­al encoun­ters with the orga­ni­za­tion to win me back to its fold. Instead, I saw the same damn­ing mes­sages strung from bridges, the same traf­fick­ing in sym­bols of tox­i­c­i­ty and ruin. The same unceas­ing joy­less­ness.

Which is why the sud­den appear­ance of Mr. Splashy Pants — a phrase so sil­ly it could have emerged from one of our late-night bull ses­sions — was so cap­ti­vat­ing. It made its case in a chortling instant: Green­peace had some­how found its fun­ny bone and used it to hatch pos­si­bly the most infec­tious viral mar­ket­ing cam­paign in the his­to­ry of envi­ron­men­tal activism.

And there it is — that stark con­trast between the Green­peace that insid­ers know and the Green­peace which shows its face to the pub­lic — a schism we in the web team have been chip­ping away at for some time now with blogs and crew pro­files, a less for­mal voice in our web con­tent, and pos­i­tive cam­paigns like Green my Apple. For an orga­ni­za­tion which is so full of life and humor and hero­ism and fine bar­room sto­ry fod­der, how can we be per­ceived as dark grumpy grinch­es?

This is one of the things that our Comms Direc­tor, Francesca Polini, iden­ti­fied as an essen­tial chal­lenge in com­mu­ni­cat­ing the Green­peace iden­ti­ty — ris­ing out of the trap of neg­a­tivism, of nay say­ing, of solu­tion­less doom-mon­ger­ing: one of the most con­sis­tent neg­a­tive impres­sions of the organ­i­sa­tion she found in opin­ion polling on three con­ti­nents.

In my favourite bit of anec­do­tal respon­se to one of the focus groups, one par­tic­i­pant declared that if Green­peace were a per­son at a par­ty, they’d be talk­ing inces­sant­ly and nobody else would get a word in edge­wise. Ewwwww. I hate those peo­ple.

So hats off to Mis­ter Turn­er for buy­ing a t-shirt and being the only jour­nal­ist who has real­ly seen into the soul of the Mis­ter Splashy Pants sto­ry, and the impor­tant lessons it holds for Green­peace and the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment in gen­er­al. I espe­cial­ly liked this:

But Splashy is more than just an online punch­line. The envi­ron­men­tal move­ment has asked us for decades now to pro­tect “the divine spir­it of the ocean,” and still the per­il remained immi­nent for all those hump­back whales. We were moved, instead, to save Mr. Splashy Pants.Just 10 days after Green­peace offi­cial­ly chris­tened Splashy, the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment declared a mora­to­ri­um on their hump­back whale hunt for this sea­son. The offi­cial expla­na­tion didn’t men­tion it, but just may­be the whalers real­ized there would be con­se­quences for the cold-blood­ed mur­der of an ani­mal whose name might as well be a syn­onym for fun.

globeandmail.com: Rad­i­cal­ly goofy

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1 thought on “Radically goofy: Mister Splash Pants and the Geography of Hope”

  1. So cool! 🙂

    makes me think of those famous lyrics…

    It’s what you wear from ear to ear and not from head to toe”

    Remem­ber you’re nev­er ful­ly dressed with­out a smile!”

    Mr. Splashy Pants was like adding the smile to an already very well dressed whales cam­paign.

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