Commentary Contracts Culture Elginism History Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Speaking of Words The Parthenon Marbles Project

The Bridge Of The Parthenon Marbles

As I have vowed to devote a decent amount of time to the possession of The Parthenon Marbles by the British Museum and the struggle for their return to Athens—where they belong—I follow what others are doing to build that bridge from London to Athens.  And early last year while I had made several attempts to engage other organizations to form a united front on the issue of The Marbles—unsuccessfully—each organization behaved either indifferently or with a sense of entitlement as though they were the only official group to steer this project.

Of course, I find such postures wholly unacceptable and view them with some suspicion, since it seems to me these organizations have more on their mind besides the return of The Parthenon Marbles.

Their reputations, for example.

I think some fancy themselves as hovering beneath the shadow of Pheidias and bathing themselves with it once the Marbles are returned and therefore enhancing their image of themselves.  Or perhaps others have grown accustomed to whatever small economic advantages they have earned during the course of this struggle—or perhaps they have enhanced their political liaisons and therefore consider themselves powerful.

And finally it is no secret that buried deep within the Greek psyche is a sense of leadership.  Everyone wants to be the boss.  This, of course, also makes it impossible to establish any form of unity—which is exactly what is required to convince the trustees of The British Museum that Athena is not happy—at all—about the theft and vandalism of her temple.  And if you know anything about Athena then you know she is not the type of goddess one messes with.  So things are still a bit messy.  Confusion prevails.  And confusion inhibits movement towards a common goal.

Indeed I had a few notions of my own which were greeted with skepticism.

I had suggested last December to a producer of The Colbert Show that Stephen Colbert mobilize The Colbert Nation—a formidable group—and parachute them onto the roof of the British Museum where they would stomp their feet in unison until the British Museum would not only relent but beg Athens to come fetch the Marbles.  I estimated this job would require no more than 3 hours of effort on the part of The Nation.  (But I think the producer thought I was joking, and never bothered to respond.)

Prior to that, earlier in the year, I had contacted the Oxford English Dictionary and advised them there was a new word being circulated on the street and wondered how long it would take for this word to reach the dictionary.  A dictionary person wrote back and told me she had only seen 7000 hits of the word on the Internet and usually it takes about 5 years worth of publication of the word before they consider putting it in their books.

I then asked her about the objectivity of the OED.  Since the word—its definition—shed a frown upon the British Empire would they be reluctant perhaps to publish it?  Her response was somewhat vague.  She said they are advised of all sorts of offensive words on a daily basis and glean them carefully before considering them for inclusion. It’s part of their job.  I found this response choppy, however.  She had managed to circumvent addressing the very specific question I had asked.  This is not uncommon, I might add.  Navigating away from controversial subjects and into the murky waters of banality.

However, her earlier response, about the presence and circulation and publication of a word—the standards demanded by the OED—before a word is carefully reviewed and considered for inclusion into OED gave me an idea!

I thought…

Well, if you want to see it published why then I shall publish it!

And I did.

After searching for an appropriate font and finding it, I printed over 2000 bumper stickers (at my own expense) with 2 companion messages and divided them in half.  And thus began the circulation of the word in published format.  By then we were well into the month of December.

Now because I have an aversion to most organizations—I don’t like their sense of belonging—and nor do I attempt to profit from causes I believe in, I decided to give away the bumper stickers, but only to people I liked and trusted.  The first to receive sets of the bumper stickers were a group of Middle School aged children in central Indonesia who had found me on Facebook at the time and were interested in my project.  (Andreas had found me through the Clinton Foundation website and tracked me down from there.  Now what I was doing there is altogether different but not unrelated story.  I will only say the former President showed extreme disrespect toward Athena and months later the calamity of Haiti fell into his lap.)

And so, the bumper stickers have been in circulation since December of 2009.  They have been distributed in London, Philadelphia, Maryland, The District of Columbia, Chicago and Athens, besides Indonesia.  And will continue to spread to other nations.  No hurry when a job demands that it be done correctly.  So that by 2014 the OED will be prepared to give serious consideration to the publication of a word that only now appears faint to them.

However, as I am not a marketing siren—nor have I ever much engaged in marketing techniques—when I recently came across a campaign related to The Marbles I noticed a peculiar similarity between the message they advanced and the one I had scripted last year.  The messages were almost identical but thousands of miles apart in scope and purpose.  Their message has gained momentum and popularity while mine remains known only to a handful of people.  Indeed, their message has developed a chorus where people go and chant the refrain this one woman said came to her in a moment of inspiration while visiting the British Museum Marbles exhibit.

(Even though I went to London to meet with the author of the word that captured my interest and affection, I could not bring myself to step foot in the British Museum while there—certainly not to view what their subject had so surreptitiously and crudely removed from the Temple of Athena in the start of the 1800s—and had informed my buddy, the curator there, of this fact and begged for compassion.)

Anyway, the marketing sirens, I am sad to say, have gotten the message all wrong.  And though the message is brief—a mere 3 words, like mine—this makes the matter even more critical and requires some examination.

The word they used is riddled with a lack of clarity.  The word they used is associated with many characteristics that dilute the grit of the message.  It contains elements of a passive-aggressive nature, and suggests that something be carried, conveyed, or cause to come with, to, or toward the speaker. For example, Bring me my slippers. The suggestion here also implies transportation.  And although the Marbles do need to be transported from London to Athens… 

That is not the issue here.

And if these marketing vixens think the British Museum is going to pay any attention to such measly word associations then they should probably take a closer look at the history of that Empire.

“The medium is the message.”

That phrase was coined and introduced by Marshall McLuhan in his widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964.

That, dear sirens, requires that the message be precise, crisp and clean.

And leave no doubt whatsoever about its intention.