February 01, 2007

Big Wild Life

Anchorage's new slogan is "Big Wild Life." In today's ADN version of the story, Anchorage has found a new "indentity. "

I have no doubt that they tried really, really hard, and frankly, there have been worse slogans. "Say WA" comes to mind.

Seattle's recent "Metronatural" is okayish, but brings up irritating images of smug condo dwellers zipping off to Adobe on expensive bicycles, stuffed to the gills with arugula, bike-bags brimming with electric gizmos. Alright, it's an excellent slogan.

HOWEVER. Anchorage's older, perfectly mockable but useful slogan was "Wild about Anchorage." 200K for less specificity.

Aside from the hostility of marketing goons to grammar, and the inherent falseness of this affectation (this is, literally, a bunch of suits in a room avoiding a comma, a plague of a problem in Alaska; the for-real name of the University of Alaska in the city is "University of Alaska Anchorage (sic)" ), this new slogan just avoids blowing.

But look, here's the problem. Every booster in America looks for a relentlessly upbeat slogan, everyone's looking for a brand that projects what they want the city to be, rather than what it is.

Big Wild Life. Sure, in 1950. We've been going over reports from the old farts in Alaska. Anchorage used to be a truly wild, fun, frontier city, with a close community, a strong youth culture and an exhilarating sense of freedom, a fact carefully hidden from us by our parents. But I've been asking around: everyone over 55 reports that Anchorage used to be -BEFORE WE GREW UP- more fun that a barrelful of coke-fiend monkeys. Crazyness and chaos ruled, and while the bodies piled up, the dancing on the tables, driving the jeeps off cliffs and gun-play in the backyard ruled the day. Finally, I put together the stories I've heard: piano bars, braces of French stewardesses, international spies, fur trappers anbd fisherman loaded with cash, secret boogie-woogie clubs in the dell, young people with little scrutiny and a land without a history.

Now of course, its just the kind of place where a bunch of suits spend 200K trying to convince everyone that it's not a corporate whore hole: it's an office park in Siberia. Just try driving a jeep drunk off your ass with a couple of topless girls randomly shooting things through the BP parking lot and see what happens.

Of course, the city had to civilize, laws and responsibility blah, blah, blah. But it did not have to turn into a pale shadow of a real community, busily taking on the trappings of class distinction (Oh? Isn't your split-level in Turnagain?), making Stalinist Magadan look like a vanguard of architecture, selling out the vague traces of its thin history rendered forever in $4 plastic moose pellets to the endless phalanxes of blue-hairs walking downtown with a cast of disappointment shadowing their faces.

Anchorage is not free. It is not wild. It is not big. And it lost it ethos somewhere about 1986.

Big Wild Life. Once, and long ago. There is only one truth here: Branding is for cattle.


Blogger Corresponding Secretary General said...

I feel your pain. For a long time West Virginia's slogan was "Wild, Wonderful West Virginia" which was later supplemented with "Almost Heaven." I think you can figure out when. Later, two governors tried to change the slogan and West Virginians successfully fought off "Gateway to the Midwest" and "A Welcome Change."

Unfortunately, the battle was lost and I understand that the state slogan is now "Open for Business." sigh

February 1, 2007 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger First Sea Lord said...

Open for Business. Wow.

It has the feel of receptionist in a furniture import company in the depopulated middle suburbs, gazing wistfully at a small strip of green on the traffic berm on the four lane street, which is growing brown.

February 1, 2007 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger The Laird of Madrona said...

It is sad. The ad I saw showed an enthusiastic young woman mountain biking. "OMFG!!!! THAT'S TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL!!! Talk about WILD LIFE!!!"

Tourist destinations (which Anchorage is) spend money on ad campaigns because it attracts visitors (so I presume). Anchorage, apart from its location, is now exactly like any mid-continent mid-sized city (read: boring as fuck-all). What are they supposed to do? Tell the truth? "Anchroage: a Wild Time...30-50 Years Ago!"

February 2, 2007 at 12:25 AM  
Blogger First Sea Lord said...

A part of the problem is that Anchorage has, in effect, pushed out much of its creative class, and is just now realizing that in the modern economy this is a vast error.

Anchorage has actually tried fairly hard, but sporadically, to support its arts community, but its efforts have repeatedly fallen flat. The conflict is ultimately cultural, and efforts lose their courage too easily. But it's far beyond the arts as such. I think that Alaska culture has lost a major part of its essential, non-conformist spirit, and with it, many of its future economic hopes that no slogan will cure.

Causes include was the corporatization of its once entrepenurial business, growth in its social intolerance due to an imported southern conservative political culture, a wealthy class generally uninterested in supporting arts that have a risk of stimulating anyone, too many years of middling compromise among its liberals, the inability to truly face its latent anti-native racism, and the exposive growth of better opportunities nearby.

It is a potentially fatal flaw. In the global economy, creativity is among the primary American assets.

On the occasions I run into young Alaskans down here interested in creative work of all kinds, I would like to encourage them to return but cannot honestly do so, and have to advise the opposite: get out of Alaska while you still have a chance a career in the arts. Return and a rich career of bitter, alienated hobby-dom awaits you.

Years ago, the freedom Alaska offered was an interesting counter balance for them creative types, and provided some interesting opportunities. This, generally speaking, is no longer the case.

It is notable that one of the most creative, capable and intelligent Alaska artists I know recently moved to Alabama. She was so good at her work, so powerfully expressive and so undervalued in Alaska, that her leaving convinced me there are few serious opportunities left.

I have hopes for the future, however, as the the oil runs out, and the cultural influence of the Alaska native population grows. It still has, potentially has, some unique opportunities, but idiotic, undending arguments with the half-educated right-wing drain energy.

I go the lumber store in Seattle, ask for help getting the stuff for a painting frame, and they don't look at me like I'm a satanist from Mars; half the time, they're actually interested in the problem.

The simple fact is that there is a large portion of the present Alaska population actively hostile to creavity.

The tickets to Palookaville have been issued. Whether they are one way or not remains to be seen.

February 2, 2007 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger President in exile said...

Your hostility seems out of proportion. In size, Anchorage is between Plano, Texas, and Stockton, California. Compared to other towns its size it has a creditable art community and a large museum. The art scene is pretty active and unique if you take in Native art. It has a music scene of sorts which has produced two national acts in the last year alone (Kate Earl and The Long Winters). The range of excellent, creative restaurants is far beyond most towns this size. All this, and I can ski on more than 100 kilometers of the best ski trails in the country from my front door--which is less than 10 minutes from the airport. The city limits of Anchorage contains numerous unnamed moutain peaks and glaciers and part of a Prince William Sound fjord. I've never been clear about your beef. A community is wehre you make it.

February 2, 2007 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Undersecretary to the Deputy Commissariat said...

The First Sea Lord and I have had this discussion many times, and while I believe I live more happily in Anchorage than I would in any other city, I agree with many of his criticisms of this place.

The vehemence with which the criticisms are expressed might make one wonder if Anchorage beat up the FSL's mother. In fact, unless I mistake him, this place did. In a manner of speaking.

February 3, 2007 at 8:10 PM  

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