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Thursday, 26 May 2016 07:27

The National Park Service Is Selling Out to Corporations

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2016 May26statoflibertyWill the torch welcoming refugees on the Stature of Liberty be replaced by a can of Budweiser beer? (Photo: Daniel Mennerich)

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Perhaps you have read that Budweiser has announced it is going to brand its beer cans (and bottles) simply as "America" over the summer, with all sorts of patriotic phrases emblazoned on the red, white and blue aluminum containers. It's all party of a multi-corporate sponsorship and advertising tie-in with many events, including the US team at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

In May of 2015, I wrote a commentary criticizing the National Park Service (NPS) for selling branding rights of National Park images to Budweiser (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, headquartered in Belgium) for $2.5 million. The agreement not only was a violation of the National Park Service guidelines, which specify that our public lands should not be affiliated with alcohol or tobacco products, but it also indicated that US government austerity policies were forcing entities that should be considered a "public good" to enter into the corporate branding tidal wave.

The "America" branding of Budweiser -- which will run through the November election and include the opportunistic slogan, ""America is in Your Hands" -- includes an image of the NPS-trademarked image of the Statue of Liberty, according to the trade publication Creativity (an offshoot of Ad Age). The use of the iconic statue -- and possibly other National Park Service-owned images -- by Budweiser during its election and US Olympic team branding initiative was made possible by the rights agreement we discussed in 2015.

The national advocacy alliance Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) -- which condemned the Budweiser relationship with the National Park Service -- is now warning of even more aggressive corporate branding arrangements being pursued by the Park Service. On May 9, it revealed in a news release:

In a quiet but far-reaching move, the National Park Service is poised to begin aggressively seeking corporate sponsorship for park projects and using agency personnel as fundraisers, according to a critical analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The plan will give corporate donors expanded naming rights, use of National Park symbols in advertising and much greater influence over park managers and National Park Service (NPS) decisions....

The policy, in the form of a revised "Director’s Order on Philanthropic Partnerships," would significantly expand the scope of corporate branding both inside and outside parks, including

  • Allowing display of corporate logos in a variety of park settings;

  • Selling corporate "donor recognition" displays on park benches, equipment, interior spaces, landscaped areas, paving stones and even theater seating; and 

  • Licensing park names, landmarks and symbols for corporate marketing campaigns.

PEER derisively calls the move "pandering in our National Parks."

In an age when corporate branding commodifies ever-expanding areas of the public sector -- and where venues and buildings that used to be named after people now bear the names and logos of corporations that pay for naming rights -- it is profoundly disturbing that our experience of natural settings and national monuments will be invaded by company names and images. 

What happens when the Statue of Liberty becomes the Budweiser Statue? It does sound absurd -- but then again, it's possible that we'll soon have a president who would not respond well to Emma Lazarus's poem, "The New Colossus," which is engraved on a bronze plaque at the base the statue:

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In the poem, Lazarus calls the gowned woman with a torch that symbolizes freedom, "the Mother of Exiles."

Donald Trump and a lot of people who want to build walls around the US might be supportive of replacing the torch with a can of Budweiser and removing the Lazarus poem from that National Monument, administered by the NPS. It may not be as surreal as a possibility as it sounds.

Not to be reposted without permission of Truthout.