This piece first appeared in the Melbourne Age in April 2005
Anzac Day is over for another year, and this year for the first time, we’ve been sobered not by the ritual of what the day represents, but by the specter of what the day could become.
This year we’ve seen TV footage of the tons of rubbish left on the hillsides…rubbish left by Australian patriots with a hunger for fast food and a reluctance to take their rubbish with them. We’ve seen images of the enormous video screens used to bombard the crowd with hits by the Bee Gees, James Taylor (what has HE got to do with Anzac Day?) and Eric Clapton (likewise!).
Canada’s ‘National Post’ on Tuesday described the Gallipoli crowd as ‘young people who spent much of the weekend drinking and partying at a camp out near the site of Australia’s most significant losses of the First World War’. They went on to label the event as a ‘piss-up that rivaled any major concert weekend.’ Isn’t it great to see a leading overseas newspaper describe the event in such glowing terms?
Closer to home the supermarket shelves have been chockers with a dazzling variety of Anzac biscuits. No doubt Woolies and Coles did very nicely out of that thank you. We have Anzac footy games, Anzac flags and a burgeoning Anzac paraphernalia market that will soon rival that of Valentines Day. The Australian Ebay site is currently offering ‘Huge deals on Anzac products” Why, there’s even ‘Anzac Day flag style umbrellas with free post for $19.99’. Bargain!
Our television channels dedicated umpteen hours of highly paid commercial airtime to Anzac Day. The fact that the time delay meant we could actually watch the Dawn Service without getting up at dawn was a marketer’s delight. TV advertising types will be examining the ratings figures closely to tweak next year’s broadcast. Perhaps the March could be cut just a bit shorter so we could get a panel discussion thingy in prior to the actual service. Perhaps there could be an Anzac Eve Service as well and maybe a sponsored pre-dawn sound and light show could stretch the coverage a little.
I even heard people wishing one another a ‘happy Anzac Day’. Why then can’t we have Anzac Day cards that we give to friends and loved ones? Brilliant!
The new battle of Gallipoli lies not with some road going too deeply into a hillside or a car park being built too close to a battlefield. The new battle lies in the probable commercialisation of a significant date that needs no hype and no spectacle to pull the heartstrings of those who care. The new soldiers will be those like RSL Victoria Chief Executive John Deighton who was disgusted at the “lack of respect” shown by attendees at the Gallipoli service. They will be fighting not only the media types who see live coverage of the event as an enormously profitable advertising vehicle, but the myriad of event organisers, promotion marketers and entrepreneurs who see the world as simply a marketplace.
No matter how badly it may sit with business, the world is more than just a shop. It is a children’s playground, a concert stage, a hospital, a game of hopscotch, a school and a garden. It is many things that don’t necessarily revolve around consumerism, advertising and hype. Anzac Day is also one of these things. A day when simplicity and silence can paint a far more memorable picture than any Bee Gees film clip or televised spectacle.
This whole concept is anathema to marketers around the world, yet lets hope that somehow, common sense can prevail and Anzac Day will be spared from the galloping madness of contemporary consumerism.