But so much is murkier, as well. Who is our enemy? Who are our friends? And, as vexing as any question our society faces, what price are we willing to pay to preserve American freedom?
Any price ... correct? Maybe. It's not as simple a proposition as it sounds-because, for starters, national surveys have consistently demonstrated that many Americans don't even understand the freedoms they enjoy.
Oh, they can flash back to grade-school civics and mouth something about, say, freedom of religion and the press. But polls show that a majority of Americans believe the press has too much freedom. And let's just say that Islam isn't exactly enjoying a bull market these days.
Meanwhile, who really ponders the significance of the right to peaceably assemble, or the other basic liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights? In fact, the organization chartered to protect those fundamental rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, is widely demonized. The first President Bush used the ACLU as an epithet to smear his liberal opponent.
So who, then, to remind Americans about the priceless gift of freedom? Why, the Advertising Council! Yep, those nice folks who remind us not to drive drunk and not to set forest fires, our foremost experts in altering behavior by belaboring the obvious. The latest call to action:
"Freedom. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Protect It."
And we're, like, duh. But we'll certainly entertain any effort to make the principles come alive, especially if it will enlighten the fools who, for instance, burned Dixie Chicks records because their lead singer dissed the president. Sadly, no such luck.
Three spots record testimonies of immigrants who fled hellish political repression in Cambodia, Armenia and Ukraine (under Stalin). The tales of prison and genocide abroad are unassailable arguments for American freedom-but not necessarily stirring ones. For the complacent majority, dulled by the American blessings of security and affluence, the object lessons will waft by, like all the familiar pieties, too remote and foreign-sounding to break through.
Part of the problem is the story-telling, which is flat despite the jarring editing and sound-design gimmicks punctuating the narratives with split-second images of the Statue of Liberty, the Constitution and other icons of American freedom. Mainly, though, we don't need to put faces on liberated victims of foreign evils. We need to dramatize why those evils are so remote.
The Ad Council tried that in last year's pool of spots, portraying a Bizarro World America where federal agents troll for suspects in public libraries. The irony was that what was meant to be Twilight Zone fantasy had already come to pass, courtesy of the civil-rights-eroding Patriot Act. The audience didn't seem to notice. Polls reveal the public's approval for some of the terror war's harshest measures-proving the price we are willing to pay to preserve our freedoms is the erosion of those freedoms themselves.
This is no job for grateful immigrants. Somebody call Smoky the Bear.
The forest is ablaze.
Ogilvy & Mather, New York
Ad Review Rating: 2.5 stars