Taking the lead
Of India, no less
A couple of days ago I suggested that the best way to select our president would be a reality television show like "American Idol". This, I said, offered a compromise between the audience (representing the unwashed masses) and the judges (representing the voice of reason). It also allows us to get candidates who are not drawn from the American upper-crust.

Now, of course, some people thought I was joking. And of course, America would never accept this, precisely because those same people like the electoral college method of putting platitude-offering do-nothing American aristocrats into office. America, as a conservative country, is kind of predicated on our desire to elect people who will not do anything.

That is the problem with Howard Dean, Ron Paul and Barack Obama in a nutshell, of course. People don't want change. Americans are perfectly aware that they have vehicles for change. They deride them (Democrats in particular are guilty of this; Republicans at least embrace their kooks). This is because unfortunately the American electorate is composed largely of hypocrites. They may mean well (indeed, I'm sure they do), but they sure as hell don't mean what they say. Change is frightening. Action is frightening. Sitting back and letting the world roll on while lauding change and action, however, that works fine. So folks thought I was kidding.

I was not, however. This idea is vindicated, in a roundabout way, through the Times of India's momentous "Lead India" initiative. This started out as a print ad, asking Indian voters if they were going to simply shrug their shoulders and accept the status quo, or whether they were willing to take up the mantle and unite India across its many chasms. DraftFCB CD Janet Barker-Evans, after the initiative took the Grand Prix at Cannes, explained the nearly-unanimous decision: "They sold an idea to people who need it. They sold hope."

The print ad became a TV spot narrated by India's most famous actors. It included Internet activism. It included massive, street-level rallies and voter registration drives. It included SMS-driven mobile work. And one key aspect was the Lead India reality TV series, drawing people from across India into a steadily-narrowed pool of political activists. The grand prize: a substantial sum of money to carry out their social activist mission, and a shot at political office.

Whether or not India will actually reach a stable equilibrium and address its burgeoning problems remains unclear. The results of the campaign, though, do not: in the end, more than a billion people were turned on to the possibilities of India's future as the world's largest democracy. That's billion, with a "b". The ads themselves were incredibly inspirational; the television programme immensely popular. JWT's campaign offered up the possibility of bridging India's divides and forging a new vision--not for increasing sales of the Times, but for the future of India as a country.

A billion people.

Yeah. Real funny, ain't it?

-Alex
La Chevre
26.07.2008 - 3h02

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