This last Winter term, I took a Classics class. It was the first of its kind, comparing Plato’s The Republic and the writings of Mencius, the Chinese philosophical follow-up to Confucius. In my first class, I felt rather like an anchor had been attached to my foot and I was drowning in knowledge and readings I didn’t understand, while the rest of the class was calmly treading water at the surface, basking in the light of their knowledge – I’d never taken a Classics course, much less anything remotely to do with Greek or Chinese history or thought. I was terrified. But as I took in the writings of these two great thinkers and floated to the surface to join the others, one major theme plagued me as a communicator (Journalism major): Plato condemned Greek poetry and the poets.
Plato’s beef with poetry was that, in ancient Greece, poetry and mythology and the stories of Odysseus and the Greek gods encouraged the Greek people to engage in and invest in lives of amorality and baseness. Greek mythology, like MTV is full of self-centered gods who abide by no one’s rules but their own. The problem is, to continue this metaphor, that there were no other channels like CNN, C-Span, Discovery or TLC to encourage true knowledge and goodness. So if an audience is only getting MTV, that sure as hell entertains you, but doesn’t encourage its audience to better themselves, what conclusions should be drawn about life? It’s poetic and epic, but does it foster goodness?
This was a little convicting, because in the journalism school, out of all of the focuses – news-ed, magazine, broadcast, electronic media, etc. – public relations majors, and probably advertising, seem to be the poets of the school. What would Plato think of public relations professionals and the industry as a whole?
Is there such a thing as Platonic PR?
I suppose this could be, more or less, conceived as a question of ethical PR, but it’s more than that. Public relations writers craft messages that are pleasing to our audiences and our clients: we highlight positive information and find ways to hide or spin negative information. We tap into the vehicles that will best carry our messages to our publics.
The first thing that came to my mind was non-profit PR and what I’m doing for my internship. My team is working on a local account that creates curricula for new and young parents in order to foster low-stress home environments and eliminate child abuse and neglect. The greater good, right? Sounds very Platonic. We’re using our poetic skills to strategically create awareness for our client.
But is Platonic PR limited to non-profit organizations and charity causes? Can it encroach upon the corporate, for-profit realm?
I’m going to go with: YES.
Like I said, avoid calling this “ethical” PR, because you can do celebrity or Exxon Mobile reputation management and still play by the rules. Platonic PR seems to me to reach beyond just ethicality to help a client strive for the greater good and act with with justice and truth and the idea of the “good beyond being” in mind. I realize that the “good beyond being” means just that – it’s beyond being and unattainable. But I don’t think it’s a waste of time to try. As Shakespeare and Hallmark cards prove, poetry can be used to educate and stimulate goodness in a society.