Saturday, January 5, 2008

On brand name awareness...

I am a huge motor racing fan. While Formula One is my love/obsession (and I will be writing on here about it regularly later this year), I have two real highlights in my year in regards to racing. One of them is the Le Mans 24hr race. I caught my first Le Mans race in the late 90's, and was utterly hooked. I now watch all the coverage I can. Whatever I get on TV for coverage, I watch. Hell, last year I spent more time watching live cameras on the net and listening to Radio Le Mans. (Oh how I love thee, modern technology.) My record is watching all 20 hours or so that were broadcast in recent years on TV. I LOVE it. I love sportscar racing. I love endurance racing.

My other highlight of the year is the Dakar Rally. The yearly trek through Africa by bikes, cars and trucks. Fantastic race. I have a huge amount of respect for those who take part in both the aforementioned events. I am in awe of the dedication, especially on the Dakar. I love racing, and these two events are my personal crown jewels of motorsport.

So it is with absolute disgust that I discover today that the latter, due to go off on Sunday, has been canceled. Not postponed. Not delayed. Outright bloody canceled. Why? Well the rally spends a week traveling through Mauritania, and last week, three French tourists were shot dead. They were having a picnic by the side of the road... Sorry? A picnic? You're canceling a globally renowned sporting event because three people got shot eating a picnic? Clearly this person has never heard of the United States where this is probably just as likely to happen in Florida or several other states I could mention. Of course, this was no ORDINARY killing. Oh no, no ordinary killing at all... This was... *cue scary music* Islamic fundamentalists! Yes, folk, not just terrorists... And not just your regular, run of the mill religious nuts, but the DREADED AL QAEDA SUPERTERRORIST~! Rarely seen, often spoken about, ad fucking nauseum...

I'm sorry, this has got to stop. It really is at the point where someone can shoot someone, say "I'm Al Qaeda" and the certain people just go batshit insane. Like the comedy Scottish airport attack in 2007 where they crashed an SUV into the front doors, managed to set themselves on fire, and run around screaming a bit. I saw Gordon Brown, the UK's Prime Minister giving a very earnest statement on TV, and I was laughing. As terror attacks go, this was pretty pathetic. (And my former home country knows a thing or two about terrorist attacks.) Two guys crash a car then manage to burn themselves and get arrested, and it's marketed (and that's what the news is now people, marketing, telling you what to be afraid of) as an Al Qaeda attack, when ultimately it was more like a Three Stooges short, complete with police beatdown at the end... "Honestly, I was trying to beat the flames out..." (with a big piece of wood.)

I realise asking the world to make sense was rendered pointless years ago, but I at least like to think that grown adults no longer believe in the boogeyman. Clearly I am mistaken.

So back to the rally. The event organizers (who are French incidentally), have canceled the entire rally. Not just because of the three French tourists, but because a specific threat was made against the rally... Please note that, a "specific threat"...

On the Dakar, I don't know the official statistics, but it seems from casual observation that, on average, at least one competitor dies every year. The other gruesome unreported statistic is that a fair number of residents of the areas they race through are killed each year as well. So death is no stranger on the Dakar. The drivers, and especially the riders are already in a good deal of danger the instant they set out.

I really am baffled. This is not a circuit race. This is not the Daytona 500, the Italian Grand Prix... Hell, even Le Mans, where lots of people are gathered in close proximity to each other. This is a race through the desert! I am really keen to learn how the SUPERTERRORISTS~! planned to do something to the Dakar. Near as I can figure, the best bet would be the nightly bivouac where the competitors stay at the end of the stages. So we've got a bunch of racers in tents in the desert. They get blown up. Hardly 9/11 Part 2 is it? On a scale of 1-10, with 9/11 being right up there at number 10, (at least until Al Qaeda complete building the Death Star, which if we're to believe the blathering of the news media, would be their logical next step) blowing up a few racers in the desert is hardly going to register much above a 2 in the public indignation states. Terrorists exist to cause terror. I'm not seeing people fleeing and hiding under the table when a few dust covered guys in the desert get blown up.

So that leaves an attack during the stages themselves. This makes even less sense. The competitors are more at risk from the sand dunes and the local wildlife. Hundreds of miles across the desert. Competitors released individually. No crowds lining the stages (outside of the villages the rally passes through). Not exactly looking like a prime target is it.

I'm sorry, but this whole thing is horseshit, and I smell a big rat. If race organizers capitulated to terrorist threats, and canceled events in the wake of an "attack", or even just a threat, there would have been no British Grand Prix for most of the 1980's thanks to the IRA. Three French tourists does not a terror attack make. The whole point with terrorism, and I remember learning this from people growing up in a country constantly threatened by the IRA, is you don't give in. You live your life as normal. They want you to live in fear. You respond by saying "Fuck you". Instead the folk who run the Dakar have rolled over and played dead and started cowering under their metaphorical tables.

This really is at absurd levels now. Al Qaeda have the worlds greatest PR department it would seem. I have visions of men in suits planning out marketing strategies, and big whiteboards drafting out mission statements etc... We're talking SUPER TERRORISTS here! The phrase "Al Qaeda", thanks to the muppet-in-chief in the US, Tony "God talks to me" Blair and various other sheep across the world, is now the goto phrase for sewing fear. When you want them not just scared... But SHIT SCARED! Al Qaeda is the goto name when you want people so fucked up with terror they won't know whether it's Wednesday or Neptune.

There are companies out there I'm sure who would, quite literally, KILL for this kind of brand awareness. Fuck Heinz. Fuck Coca Cola. Al Qaeda is now the number one brand name in the world, and is used for it's purpose relentlessly.

Stay in your homes people. Live in fear. The boogeyman is coming to get you.