Thursday, January 3, 2008

Good Press, Bad Press, and Post-Taser Deaths

taser teeTry as I may I can't find the source of the aphorism “There's no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right”. If you know who said that, please tell me- it's making me crazy. The proverb popped into my head in connection with Taser International's recent legal shot across Daily Kos' bow over the phrase “Taser Death” that appeared in a post on that blog. I know the phrase is used widely all over the news and the web; I confirmed that with this Google search. Taser International just needs some relief from recent publicity, and Kos is a high profile blog. Who else are they going to bother for using that in a headline- Google? The Globe and Mail, for heaven's sake? They have huge legal departments and might fight. Maybe it worked. Kos seems to have pulled the post.

Good publicity or bad, the pictured tee shirt appeared in Time Magazine Online's '50 Top 10 Lists of 2007'. The featured phrase, uttered by an obtrusive heckler at a John Kerry appearance, promoted the (trademarked) proper noun Taser to a popular verb in the international lexicon. You can now conjugate TI's flagship product- tase, tased, will tase, has tased, had tased, etc. You can be tased in America, Canada, England, France, Germany, Japan- the word spans languages and cultures.

What kind of publicity does that generate? They're selling tons of Tasers to law enforcement and military outfits worldwide, for good or ill (Do mercenaries buy these? Unfriendly foreign military organizations? Will American troops be tased like American citizens are?) so maybe that's great publicity among potential customers. The same thing happened, after all, with the words guillotine, garotte, sap, and napalm- all nouns, names of infamous weapons promoted to verbs- and the manufacturers of those items turned a tidy profit in their day.

On the other hand, maybe that's bad publicity among us, the public, the people who end up being the targets, the people who now and again die, post-tasering. Maybe I'm thinking of the wrong quotation after all. Maybe enough protest can nick their profits, slow domestic taser proliferation, and restrict improper use. I know another proverb about publicity, attributed to the Irishman Brendan Behan: There's no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.