Halloween has passed, but zombies are still with us!
While checking my email Inbox recently, one subject line in particular caught my eye:
Zombie overpopulation video for Halloween by Population Matters.”
Halloween season or not, I like zombie films and television shows. For example, my favorite TV show of the moment is iZombie. If you haven’t seen iZombie, don’t judge me; instead, checkout an episode. Then, thank me.
Anyway, I quickly opened the email from a fundraising professional who I respect greatly. Her message piqued my interest even more:
I can’t believe that any communications or development department ok’d this! Horrible.”
Normally, “horrible” might be a good word to describe a zombie video, but that clearly was not the case in this situation. My fellow fundraiser believes that the video is problematic for the charity even if, on a superficial level, it might be mildly entertaining. So, doubly intrigued, I clicked on the link to the video by the UK charity Population Matters. You can watch it here:
On a superficial level, I kind of like the video. It isn’t great, but it is a bit fun while raising awareness about an important issue. I also acknowledge a few key points:
1. The video is a British production for primarily (though not exclusively) a British audience. The British sense of humor and use of humor is very different from the American. What works in one country might not be appropriate in the other.
2. Adults are not the primary target audience. The organization says “young people” are. I can understand how a zombie-themed video could capture the attention of the intended target audience.
3. The video is bound to attract plenty of eyeballs that will achieve the objective of creating awareness for the issue of over population.
It was not until I thought about the video more deeply, viewed it again, and discussed it with colleagues that I began to see the problems with it.
Racism. At worst, the video is seen by some as racist. At best, it’s considered racially insensitive. The problem is that when mentioning the explosive population growth, only children of color are shown. No white babies or children are shown to illustrate the growth in population. Here’s what one colleague at an international social-service agency had to say about the video:
From our perspective, when people talk about overpopulation, they are often referring to black/brown folks in the global south and Africa. There can be a strong undercurrent of racism there, so connecting ‘too many black and brown people’ with zombies has an extremely negative connotation. In the human rights world, this kind of video is considered to be pretty racist. It got a uniformly negative response from the folks here in our office. So, even if millennials would like it, it’s very much out of step with the way family planning/population issues are framed in the human rights world, and makes it harder for groups like ours to even approach the overpopulation issue without being called racist.”
Overwhelming Use of Statistics. The video provided a number of interesting statistics. The trouble is, the use of statistics was overwhelming and abstract. As a result, even after watching the video three times, I cannot remember a single statistic cited. I suspect casual viewers will experience the same thing.
No Emotional Pull. While the video is somewhat fun, it lacks emotional pull. Greg Warner, of MarketSmart, pointed that out to me along with the next two points.
So What? This is one of my favorite questions when evaluating something. As Greg told me, “There’s nothing to answer the question any individual would ask while viewing it: ‘What’s in it for me?’” Yes, the video attempts to point out how the world and our species would be better off by reducing population growth. However, those “benefits” are abstract, particularly to young people who have some sense of immortality and narcissism.
Weak Call to Action. There are two calls to action in the video. Neither is compelling. First, viewers are encouraged to have smaller families. This is not immediately relevant to the target audience of teenagers. The second call to action is to go to the organization’s website for more information. As Greg mentioned to me, “[The call to action] is not all that exciting.”
Given my own thoughts about the video and the comments I received, I had questions about the production. So, I emailed Population Matters. I received a quick response from Simon Ross, the organization’s Chief Executive:
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