Does spreading the literary word ever justify law-breaking?
The scenario: You’ve written a book, lovingly given a year of your life to honing narrative and plot, subsequently been unable to get an agent for love or money and lounged in dejection for a while before finally deciding to finance it yourself. Shelling out seemingly endless cash you’ve overseen design, hired an editor and typesetter, met with printers, chosen paper quality, cover finish, filled your tiny house with thousands of paperbacks and proudly mailed all your friends to brag about your achievement.
Six months on you’ve picked up some great reviews (as well as one that’s truly abysmal), and blagged your way onto local radio, but only shifted a few hundred copies. You still can’t get into the spare bedroom for fear of being killed in an avalanche of your own creation, and you’ve been rumbled by every online forum in the western world for shamelessly touting your own wares.
What to do?
Surely fortune will shine on you and reward your gutsy bravado?
It’s at this point that the protagonist (in this case – me) asks ‘OK. You’ve come this far. Now, what are you prepared to do?’
It’s classic character-arc – like the cop on the edge throwing down his badge and going after the psychopath alone, the bank-robber lured by one final job, or the poet going after a forbidden love no matter the consequences – only with books and spare bedrooms.
Growing up in the 80’s there was an anti-smoking campaign featuring a villain called Nick-O-Teen. His tag-line was ‘Go on…just one…one won’t hurt.’
I hear his voice the night I illegally fly-poster the London Underground.
Back at home feeling excited about this minor infraction as only the middle-class can, I tell myself ‘No real harm done. It was actually a good thing if you think about…being daring and going after the prize.’
A few days later I am discovered Blue-jacking mobile phones in Piccadilly Waterstones with messages suggesting that people go up to the first floor and check out my novel. I hide in the toilet until the heat is off before making my getaway.
Go on…just one…one won’t hurt.
I inhale. It feels so good.
But do the ends justify the means?
Imagine the scales of justice. On one side there’s the belief in my own work and the positive feedback from readers who have submersed themselves in The Melting Pot. On the other hand you have swift, metered, unflinching punishment.
Not to be overly-dramatic – this is hardly the stuff of adrenaline junkies. To date my punishment has been restricted to chastisement by Daily Telegraph readers for corrupting their blog with blatant marketing, and the worst of my crimes would only ever result in a fine of some description. On a guerrilla marketing scale I doubt Che Guevara would give me the time of day.
But then comes ‘Bus–tagging’ – zig-zagging through traffic and slapping posters on mobile billboards, and ‘Brandalism’ – unabashed copyright infringement. Where will it end? Hostage-taking? (‘Buy my book or the pretty blond gets it.’)
And here’s the nub of it. I could make the statement, ‘It’s not as if I’ve murdered anyone,’ and justify my actions by saying that in the grand scheme of things my actions are pitifully small. But if this is the case then where am I on the moral-sliding scale? ‘Fathers-For-Justice’ recently ran a publicity campaign by dressing up as super-heroes and breaking into heavily guarded buildings such as Buckingham Palace. As far as they were concerned the law-breaking justified the message they were trying to get across. If I dress up in a gorilla costume, wander over to Westminster and ambush the culture minister can I claim the same?
Do you see my dilemma? If guerrilla marketing isn’t as bad as murder, then what is it equal to – a mugging, mild sexual harassment, giving someone a Chinese burn? It’s a moral conundrum in which I’m flying blind.
Or am I merely looking into this too deeply?
Or is this in itself a form of marketing?
Are there no depths to which I won’t stoop?