Does history forget a crisis?


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Correction FluidRemember Toyota? Didn’t they do something, like, not good? It’s hard to remember what with BP doing something so incredibly not good it makes Toyota look like they deserve an Oscar for Best Company Ever.

History is full of stories like this; in our short-sighted momentary grasp of facts, we think that something is going to be vilified for all time on account of a massive screw-up, only to realize much later that something else got in the way of carving that in stone. Take Wagner, for example. When we think of Wagner we probably think of Ride of the Valkyries playing during the helicopter scene in Apocalypse Now. His music endures as a cultural touchstone and the annual performance of his works at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is sold out for years to come. This, despite his awful anti-semetic views and definite ties to the Nazi party.

Can you imagine someone in modern times having such a tarnish on their reputation, yet be remembered in a mostly positive light? No? How about Michael Jackson, who died a little over a year ago, prompting a massive worldwide demonstration of nostalgia and heartbreak for his death, despite the allegations of child molestation and general bizarre behavior that marred his career?

I’m bringing this up because as a PR professional, I have to wonder if the forgetfulness of history is engineered in some way by the people responsible for a person or brand’s reputation. Or is it just that great flack Time (not the magazine), who heals all public relations crises? It’s difficult to say.

Cog and I have fought over who is cooler, Edison or Telsa, for a long, long time. He’s wrong, of course, but I will be the first to admit Telsa was not the better businessman. And for that, his genius and his discoveries are largely lost to history (or stolen by that d-bag, Edison). As a nerd, I feel pity for Tesla because I know in my heart he was right. But as a pro, I have to wonder why he never hired a manager for all those moneymaking ideas. Does the fact he didn’t mean history should forget him?

The BP oil spill, by all measures, is supposed to be the worst ecological crisis ever recorded. Will we look back on it in ten years and remember what the letters BP stood for? Will we still hate BP for what happened, or will BP have disappeared, renamed or reformed or perhaps renegotiated into something we don’t recognize? Maybe some other gigantic crisis (and there always seems to be a gigantic crisis) will have captured our limited attention by then, and the anniversary of this spill will pass without anyone noticing. Or maybe the BP spill will become the Benedict Arnold of modern times, a name so blackened that we hate the sound of it deep in our gut, even if we don’t remember why.

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