Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pandering to Audiences


What does that mean? The earliest use of the word (Shakespeare's era and writings) meant "pimp." The word evolved and now the dictionary defines said word as "to gratify or indulge" or "to cater to." Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to "pander (politics)." That page defines the act as "the act of expressing one's views in accordance with the likes of a group to which one is attempting to appeal."  

My question for you interpreter types: when does knowing your audience and reaching your audience become pandering? At what point is a historic site pandering to its current, limited audience rather than encouraging new audiences or inspiring new interests among that current audience? 

Sorry, Civil War Battlefields. I have to pick on you because you are the places I am most familiar with, most passionate about, and will ultimately have the most criticism for. As it turns out, you tend to demonstrate some of the best examples of pandering, too. 

Guys. You already have an audience. What does this post really do? Start a debate? A conversation? So what? If you can't really answer the "so what" question, you might have to push yourself a little more. And maybe I shouldn't pick on poor Gettysburg here. They are only followed by 25,000 people on Facebook, serve as the most-recognized battle of the Civil War, and now stand as the #1 landmark as designated by TripAdvisor.

I also understand that during the Civil War there were only white males that made up the US population so it is difficult for us as a modern society to relate since we now have women and people of various ethnicities within our population. That's why we have to obsess over soldiers and soldiering experiences of the war, too. There's no room at battlefields to talk about larger effects of war on populations, how a nation ultimately engages in war, the scarring of landscape, shifting economies, or how support comes from homefronts. We have to talk about campaigns! And fighting strategies! And, of course, those quirky stories about uniforms and gun powder. People like that stuff, right? We already have an audience, right? They already like, share, comment, retweet, and sometimes they even visit. They enjoy the posts of a pretty sunset-with-a-cannon picture. They like the name-and-date-and-place trivia, so we are golden, right? Why bother with anything more, right? 

That's when we fall into the trap of pandering. The number of "likes" do not equal interpretive quality. What can you do to answer the "so what" question? How can we do a better job of engaging, sparking interest, and helping create meaning (instead of pandering)? If you know your resources, you have the ability to create an interpretive piece (program, post, video, whatever) that will capture attention and spark further interest. Before you go and pimp, I mean, pander to your audience your knowledge about a site, consider that question. So what?  

P.S. "Because this campaign was important" doesn't work well as an answer to the "so what" question, by the way. It just sounds like an excuse to pander.

And in case there were any questions, yes, I have been there.
Indeed, there are interpretive spaces and content throughout the massive visitor center.

*I would like to acknowledge a point that a friend of mine made in that sometimes social media posts are just there because there is a concept that we need to fill the feeds and sometimes rangers are busy doing ranger-y things and don't necessarily have the time to develop content of substance. I get that. My apologies if that is what this particular example was. However, do we have to post if it isn't a stellar post? A question for a later discussion.
**All opinions here are my own and certainly don't reflect any official stands of my current or past employers. 

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