A few days ago, we received a PR pitch from a company called Crazy Enough to Change the World. Started by two former ad executives last year, the company calls itself the “first open-source creative library,” where charities, NGOs, and other companies and individuals can download their stock videos for free and use them in public service campaigns. Sounds like a good idea.
But then we started watching the videos. And we had some questions.
Its “Campaign Case Study” video shows a wide example of the things its produced. Most of them are fine enough. There’s a video about how people freak out about cutting down a tree in Paris but not in the Amazon. There’s the online “give a heart” campaign to raise awareness about organ donation, with a little girl talking about waiting for a new heart.
But not all of the videos were so innocuous.
There’s a video against domestic abuse, which shows a woman defending herself against her husband, and highlights the techniques that can be used by other women. This isn’t so bad, though we wish the focus were more on men not beating their wives than women having to learn karate to keep themselves safe.
Then, there’s a video for breast cancer awareness, a “five-minute customizable clip of nothing but bouncing boobs.” That is literally how its described in the “library.” It then says, “beauty needs to be nurtured,” with an encouraging note for women to get breast exams.
There’s also a video to raise awareness of child abuse, which was “filmed through the mobile phone of a convicted pedophile,” which looks like guerrilla footage of a lot of little girls playing at a park.
The pièce de résistance, however, is where they put a white kid in blackface and a bad wig and send him into a playground “to unveil racism among young children.” It’s jarring mainly because oh my god blackface why are you putting someone in blackface to do this. But also, they had sent the same white kid in to play with the other kids first, then took him out, made him up with black facepaint, and sent him back in. Perhaps the kids were reticent to play with him because they just thought he was a weirdo wearing makeup and a bad wig?
The story goes that founders Dusan Adamovic and Marko Romcevic were working at the Belgrade office of an ad agency, and decided to take six months off work to try to “make the world a better place.”
Romcevic wrote in a blog post on LinkedIn that he learned a lot from the experience, and had a lot of adventures—such as “chasing around Belgrade parks while trying to catch a perfect shot of a girl’s boobs (you can find the videos in our library), or acting as pedophiles while we filmed our own kids.” (So, phew, those girls are accounted for.)
He also says a band that used their breast cancer footage had its video banned from TV for being “inappropriate.” Hmmmm.
The press coverage of Crazy Enough to Change the World seems to be unilaterally positive, however. Its tree video was featured on AJ+, AdWeek ran its compilation video with no mention of its contents, and the pair were named Heroes of the Week on a Serbian TV channel.
We contacted the founders for a little more explanation. “We wanted to create something that would enable every single person on the planet to support a public cause of their choice,” Romcevic told the Daily Dot over email. “Since people do not have time or resources to create a campaign, and [since] we are the guys with substantial experience in advertising, we took upon ourselves to create these campaigns.”
When asked why they believed things like gratuitous shots of boobs and blackface would be the best ways to teach people about breast cancer and racism, Romcevic did not address the blackface. But for the breast cancer video, he said, “People have seen a fair share of breast exam videos in their life. And what do they do when they’re about to see another one? They close the browser tab or switch the channel…That’s why we decided to develop a fun piece of video content, which people will watch without knowing what’s behind it, and then score with a noble message.”
That strategy sounds pretty reasonable—entertain people first then hit them with the message later. But if the message is encouraging people with breasts to get breast exams, catering to the male gaze is a funny way to go about it.
According to Romcevic, though, they’re succeeding in their goals. “We had schools airing the videos in Canada, India, throughout Europe and the U.S.,” he said. And women and children have thanked them for their messages.
Romcevic says the main thing they were trying to avoid was taking a “familiar route.” Which is admirable, since, yes, our attention spans are ever-shortening, especially when it comes to video. And maybe this is what will change minds about anti-blackness in Serbia—and maybe as an American, I just don’t have enough of a global mindset.
But then again, these videos are being advertised for their global effectiveness. The whole point is that anyone, anywhere, can use them, and while that doesn’t mean Crazy Enough to Change the World should close up shop and stay in its lane, it does mean that the content needs to be produced with an eye to what will be perceived as wildly offensive to many.
Blackface has a history of being used to dehumanize black and dark-skinned people all over the world, not just in America. It’s an ongoing problem in Germany during Karneval, in a minstrel festival in South Africa, and in many, many other places and instances.
Using something that’s offensive to try to make a point about its offensiveness is still using that thing. You’re still reducing women to their breasts. You’re still portraying it as a woman’s responsibility to keep herself from being abused. You’re still putting a child in blackface.
Maybe it helps some people, but it will certainly harm others. There’s no way to measure how many minds the videos change against how many people walk away with those stereotypes reinforced. These guys may mean well, but that’s not enough. And it’s definitely not crazy enough to change the bigotry in the world.