The internet nearly exploded this week after an advert on behalf of the UK government resurfaced.
The name #Fatima was trending on Twitter, memes and reactions to the ad circulated on every social media channel and blanket coverage in online titles critiqued the blatant lack of respect for the arts.
So what was all the fuss about?
The Big Idea
A simple poster ad featuring an image of a ballet dancer putting on pointe shoes alongside copy that reads, ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. (She just doesn’t know it yet)’. It signs off with the government QA Retraining Programme’s slogan: ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.’
The ad went viral at the start of this week but the questions that seemed to have no answer were: when did it originally go live, and which government department issued it?
The Culture Secretary distanced himself from the campaign, labelling it as ‘crass’, Boris Johnson commented that the piece of content was not appropriate and was being pulled, so naturally the internet linked the campaign to Rishi Sunak because he recently suggested that those in music and creative industries should retrain as a way of getting through the economic devastation of the pandemic.
What They Did
After the initial explosion, it’s transpired that the ‘Fatima’ ad was one in a series that launched a while ago (still unclear when exactly) encouraging people from different industries to seek training in cyber.
In response to the uproar, the government decided to archive the website.
The sentiment of the retraining website seems helpful and positive at the start, but then we scroll on to the poster ads featuring a factory worker, retail assistant, pilot, barista and so on all being displayed in the same format as ‘Fatima’.
Out of context, the Fatima ad looks like a blatant disregard for the arts.
In context, well, it doesn’t look much better.
So why is it soooo bad?
Putting all of the blatantly obvious problems with the ballet dancer ad aside (it only took the brilliant minds of the creative industry to spell this out to the government), the larger issue at hand for me is around the messaging of this campaign. There are two main issues:
The first: by saying ‘she just doesn’t know yet’, the government is talking about Fatima in the third person, and we all know that is just rude.
Surely if they wanted Fatima to consider a new career, they’d talk to her directly and say, ‘Hey, Fatima, I know you’ve trained your whole life to become a ballet dancer and things are looking rather grim right now because we don’t give a s*** about the arts, but if you wanted an alternative, we offer free courses in cyber security.’
But they didn’t.
They are telling someone else that Fatima’s ballet career will end and she might be able to bag a prized job in cyber. But who are they talking to? Fatima’s ballet company director? The people in charge of our destiny as depicted in the most recent series of Westworld? Her controlling father? Who?
The second issue is that the government has deliberately used visuals to depict which jobs they consider to be at risk or ones that should ‘move on’ and retrain, like they can decide whose current job isn’t worth saving or holding onto.
And this is scary and insulting, because unfortunately as COVID has revealed through the various funds and schemes in relation to employment, they really can decide. A lot of people are at Rishi’s mercy.
The thing is, performers and artists are all too aware that their jobs are tough.
I left the acting world because I didn’t have the stomach to stick it out. A government ad telling performers to retrain isn’t the first kick in the teeth that they’ve received (try auditioning on The West End).
The anger and outrage is around the government having the audacity to tell others that their jobs are no longer relevant while they have completely failed in delivering their own! Do they really think we won’t go to the theatre again? That we won’t go for coffee, travel, or need an Amazon Prime delivery fulfilled? If anyone should rethink and retrain, it’s the folks sitting in Westminster.
Oh, and if you really want to have a laugh, try this government quiz which is part of the National Careers Service to help people identify their skills and new career opportunities. I was advised to consider a career as a stunt performer. I’m sure the five times it took me to pass my practical driver’s test won’t be a problem.
The government could’ve used positive messaging in this campaign saying, ‘We don’t care what your background is, cyber could be a career for you!’. But instead, they patronised people working in industries they have identified as irrelevant, and it hit a nerve!