Now you see it

Posted February 02 2016
Magicians, MLA and the art of misdirection.

Dedi got the ball rolling in ancient Egypt in 2700 BC as one of the first recorded magicians, then in 50–300 AD groups of magicians known as Acetabularii performed tricks using cups and balls in ancient Rome. More recently, in 1983, David Seth Kotkin (better known as David Copperfield) made the Statue of Liberty “disappear” in front of a live audience on Liberty Island. In that same year, Dutch magician Richard Ross mystified the world with his flawless linking rings trick. At the heart of these seemingly magical manoeuvres is art of misdirection or sleight of hand. Illusionists throughout the ages have employed it to gain fame, fortune and more recently increased sales of lamb on Australia Day.

Misdirection, Wikipedia tells us, is a form of deception where “the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another”.

It goes on: “managing the audience’s attention is the aim of all theater, it is the foremost requirement of theatrical magic. Whether the magic is of a ‘pocket trick’ variety, or, a large stage production in Las Vegas” … or indeed an advertising campaign employed by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

“Operation Boomerang” aims to encourage Aussies, in all their patriotic glory, to eat more lamb—anything less is portrayed as unAustralian. To do this, the advertising campaign establishes a whimsical narrative about wresting Aussies from far-flung corners of the globe and bringing them home to chow down on lamb on Australia Day. In doing so, it aims to unite its target audience, namely meateaters, by taking firm aim and directing ridicule at the lowest hanging fruit—vegans—a group roundly condemned by those who eat the meat of any species. In targeting this minority group (and one MLA knows it will never win over, so it has nothing to lose), MLA hopes to win back those meat eaters who are increasingly being shown to shun lamb. All the laughter and attention has cast the gaze away from the trembling young lamb at the abattoir. Such a sleight of hand is a clever ploy by MLA; it knows that thoughts and images of converting a cute snow-white little lamb into a lamb chop is going to do nothing to assist sales.

And while debate has raged about Operation Boomerang and its targeting of vegans and their kindness towards animals, a part of me welcomes the mere mention of the word in this widely screened commercial. Devoid of huge advertising budgets and clever marketing teams, the message of veganism could never have been so widely spread without these stoic efforts of MLA, and I cannot help but smile as the question, “So what is a vegan?” is asked by an audience who would never have done so otherwise. Thirty years ago, when this writer commenced her vegan journey, there were no campaigns or even advertisements reminding one of the need to eat meat. In fact, so isolated was I that I was a “vedge-an” for a long while before I ran into a kindly vegan who told me I was pronouncing it wrong. Now those who shun meat and animal products for ethical reasons are popping up everywhere: from firemen to film stars, tennis players to teachers and laymen and women to lawyers and all occupations in between.

‘Tis true for these folk that happy and healthy lives without harming others is not only possible but practical.

The true skill of MLA will now be whether the public will be hoodwinked into eating more lamb—judging by its falling sales not even a glitzy multi million dollar advertising campaign and magic will be able to change that.