Dumb Ways to Discourse, a Failed Approach in Safety
Guest post by Dr Rob Long from www.humandymensions.com
have a look at some very young children realistically mimicking the campaign (with over a million hits) and see if this doesn’t bother you particularly: a child about the age of 10 taking an overdose of pills, a young girl shoving a fork down a toaster, a child wearing a rubbish bag over their head, a child getting in a clothes dryer, a young boy eating a tube of super glue and surprisingly, actually showing real kids playing around trains???
Dumb Ways to Discourse, a Failed Approach in Safety
The Dumb Ways to Die campaign is a classic example of a failure to think about the trajectory of a goal and trajectory of a discourse. The Dumb Ways to Die campaign and it’s self-assessed success (based on hits on the Internet) demonstrate just how superficial and short sighted the campaign is. So, let’s do some analysis of the discourse of this campaign.
The discourse of this Dumb Ways to Die campaign is suicide, young people (the target audience) ‘choosing’ dumb ways to die. The research shows that 80% of all rail deaths are by suicide (http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/suicide-main-cause-of-rail-deaths-20121101-28luk.html). The Dumb Ways to Die discourse is also about fun, entertainment, jingle and the myth of stupidity. Strangely enough the research indicates that the hidden discourse behind deaths on the rail network is mental health, depression, isolation and loneliness. The real discourse is masked by this Dumb Ways to Die campaign and shifts the real agenda to laughter, desensitization, flippancy and language gymnastics (this is not about suicide but rail safety) to deny the suicide agenda.
One of the important things about understanding the nature of language is discerning the discourse (culture of power) that runs underneath. When we hear political ‘spin’ we hear language gymnastics that masks reality, we know what the reality is, it’s just the politician has changed the words on the matter. The hidden nature of discourse is often concealed in the words but you have to cast away the ‘spin’ to discern the hidden message. This often happens when people espouse goals.
When we hear people espouse goals we rarely think about the by-products of the goal or the trajectory of the goal. These are often hidden in the ‘spin’ associated with the promotion of the goal. How many people stop and say: ‘where is this goal taking us’? before embarking on a journey that leads to the dehumanization of others, excessive systems and victimization by non-conformity.
What became clear in time in the Dumb Ways to Die campaign was the effort used to justify itself (through sunk cost), regardless of the fact that it was an ineffective and unethical campaign. The only way the promoters of the Dumb Ways to Die campaign could justify its unethical discourse was to revel in Internet hits (currently at 60 million), nothing positive changed in the real world.
What an absurd idea to think that Internet hits demonstrate success or could justify a lack of ethics? The campaign was launched in November 2012 and what have been the outcomes? Is anyone thinking more critically about the issue of suicide on the rail network? Perhaps it would be more professional to do some solid research demonstrating the supposed success of Dumb Ways to Die campaign by publishing current rates of suicide on the rail network. Judging success by hits on the Youtube is hardly a method of ethical validity (Miley cyrus nude is now over 600 million hits).
If you want to see what teens really think of the Dumb Ways to Die campaign perhaps you might like to look at this:
Then also have a look at some very young children realistically mimicking the campaign (with over a million hits) and see if this doesn’t bother you particularly: a child about the age of 10 taking an overdose of pills, a young girl shoving a fork down a toaster, a child wearing a rubbish bag over their head, a child getting in a clothes dryer, a young boy eating a tube of super glue and surprisingly, actually showing real kids playing around trains???
Then have a look at an adolescent version (1.7 million hits) at:
The parody versions of the Dumb Ways to Die campaign that advocate suicide-as-fun are approximately 20 million hits. Surely these examples are a good demonstration of how one should consider the trajectory of goals prior to naively starting some campaign.
The fundamental issue with the Dumb Ways to Die campaign is that it has no sense of trajectory or understanding of culture change. My guess is that the effect of this campaign on youth culture and suicide has been set back significantly in the last two years. Forget about the trajectory of the campaign, ignore research on the nature of adolescence, don’t consult the youth sector, don’t worry about understanding culture, just do it.
Culture change actually requires some knowledge about the social psychology of culture. Culture change is only assisted when the language is right and consistent with goals, this is not the case with the Dumb Ways to Die campaign. The whole idea of associating stupidity with suicide is offensive, unethical, immature and naïve. Worse still, the way this campaign clearly targets teens, desensitizes them to the real issues of suicide. As for the kids who die by any methods advertised by the Dumb Ways to Die campaign like electrocution with a toaster, overdosing on pills or putting a rubbish bag over their head, that must be all OK, because people who chose suicide are just dumb!
Perhaps the promoters of this Dumb Ways to Die campaign could start by pulling it off the Internet and then study the power of language, framing, priming and culture (eg. Fairhurst’s The Power of Framing, Creating the Language of Leadership, Newberg’s book Words Can Change Your Brain, Schein, Organisation al Culture and Leadership). The study of the power of language is called ‘semiology’ and the power of symbols and artifacts is called ‘semiotics’. Understanding semiology and semiotics is essential if one wants to affect change in culture. Associating stupidity with suicide is so dangerous, demonstrating ways to suicide as entertainment is even more unethical.
End note: It was interesting to read recently a publication entitled: Safety Culture and Climate in Construction: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice . Here is a document focused on culture and change in the construction industry and yet there is no mention of semiology or semiotics (essentials of culture). This is evidence of the problem, and why so many see no problems with associating the language of stupidity with suicide. If organisations want to affect culture change, they should perhaps start by learning something about culture and it certainly isn’t helped by weak definitions like ‘what we do around here’.
If you or your organisation want to learn more about culture, discourse and culture change contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or your organisation wish to learn more about the real issues of mental health and suicide contact: http://www.mhatwork.com.au/