Saturday, November 22, 2008

Masonic Central Podcast and Masonic Advertising


Thanks to everyone who joined us on Masonic Central's podcast tonight. Greg and Dean are developing quite a respectable backlog of informative and entertaining shows, along with a regular following of listeners. Putting together this program requires dedication and time and research, and they are to be commended for their hard work. I am grateful for their kind invitation to appear tonight.

If you missed the program, hear it here (Episode 19).

One of the topics we discussed was advertising, and there was some discussion on the text side about the difference between advertising and promotion. I contend that one era's promotion is another's advertising. Masons have used the technology available to them throughout history to promote themselves. To wit:


Going to lay the cornerstone of the US Capitol


Three Masters, one Grand Master, lots of Masonic aprons on display=advertising?




Freemasons Chronicle, 1875


Boston in 1895


Chicago Masonic Temple 1898 - Masons build the tallest skyscraper in the world





Smoke 'em if you got 'em.


Freemason Pavilion, 1964 New York World's Fair



.

8 comments:

Nathan Brindle said...

That last one is a bit frightening, given our unwillingness to mix politics and Masonry, but at least a Masonic president would be a true lightworker.

Jesse said...

Hi Brother Hodapp

Enjoyed the show. Your thoughts on the tendency of some brethren to heap all the blame for the ills of our fraternity squarely on Grand Lodges' shoulders were spot on.

I respectfully disagree with your opinion on Masonic advertising though.

Saying that contemporary Freemasonry TV ads are justifiable because it was the same kind of promotion when the fraternity built the tallest skyscraper in the 1900's is, totally false! TV ads go against the spirit of Freemasonry. Leading by example in quite dignity should be our style. Admittedly, building the tallest skyscraper was not exactly quiet but it doesn't compare to a TV commercial. Yes, the fraternity should cultivate an attractive public image but TV ads strip the mystery away, which it can't be denied, is an attractive feature of the fraternity. Let's revive parades and cornerstone laying.

Best fraternal regards

Jesse

P.S. By now, after numerous posts of dissent, I guess you know I like a debate. No hard feelings.

Chris Hodapp said...

Jesse wrote: "Saying that contemporary Freemasonry TV ads are justifiable because it was the same kind of promotion when the fraternity built the tallest skyscraper in the 1900's is, totally false! "

Obviously, I disagree. Somebody famous once said 'Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.' Freemasons have promoted the fraternity since its modern beginnings. Ads began appearing in newspapers and magazines in the early 1700s announcing the time and locations of Masonic meetings, and obviously, as talked about during the show, it's hard to get more blatant than a parade with Masons decked out in aprons, jewels and other regalia, marching through the street. It wasn't just for cornerstone ceremonies, either. They weren't trying to be a secret. Anything but. They were showing off and attracting new members. And if you think they weren't, go back and think some more. More important, read accounts of the period.

Jesse wrote:"TV ads go against the spirit of Freemasonry."

How? Which snapshot of some golden age of Freemasonry are you suggesting it goes against? Which spirit of Freemasonry is promotion of the fraternity in public going against?

Jesse wrote: "Leading by example in quite {sic] dignity should be our style. Admittedly, building the tallest skyscraper was not exactly quiet but it doesn't compare to a TV commercial."

No, you're right. Building the tallest skyscraper in the world is a lot more expensive, in-your-face, ostentatious, brash, and omnipresent than any TV commercial could ever be.

And what was the Boston lodge building covered with signage, symbols, and lights in 1895 but a massive advertising billboard?

As I said on the show, we face a tougher challenge than any other time in the modern history of the fraternity. A tinier percentage of the overall US population knows who and what the Masons are and what they stand for than any time since the Revolution. We don't just have a recruitment or even just a retention problem. We have an education problem. We have been largely forgotten by society, as part of a larger sociological movement that cast off the institutions nationwide that existed prior to the fall of the Nixon Administration.

I get accused by some quarters that I don't "GET IT." That I'm little more than some glad-handing neanderthal who thinks Freemasonry should be nothing but fish frys and funny hat nights. Anyone who knows me in real life knows I'm anything but that. I'm the first guy who thinks that the lodge experience should be impressive, thought-provoking, life-changing, well-executed, and even a little spooky. And I do not believe we should be handing our secrets and our lessons to a bewildered man on a paper plate at the end of an all-degree day, along with his tainted bologna sandwich. But I have also heard the disturbing trend of attitudes in some corners of the fraternity:

We need more Masonic funerals to bury all of those slack-jawed truck drivers and knuckle-dragging mouth breathers who don't "GET IT" so we can get back to REAL Freemasonry."

Again I ask, just what brief moment in the wide-ranging history of this fraternity represents that special moment of perfection when Blue Lodge Freemasonry "GOT IT"? At what exact point in time were the lads down at the lodge practicing some ideal brand of esoteric introspection and intellectual refinement? It's a fair bet that Washington's lodge in Fredericksburg wasn't debating Diderot or Voltaire's polemics. The members of Boston's St. Andrew's lodge were far more likely to be exchanging ideas about dodging the tax man or whose cousin to go to get a merchant's license than contemplating the alchemical origins of the ritual. It was the 'higher degrees' and appendant bodies that took Freemasonry down those paths. It was the spiritualism-soaked 19th century that had the big explosion of symbolic interpretation.

Freemasonry has adapted and survived for almost four centuries because it has elastic walls. Groups like the Odd Fellows were not so accomodating, and have almost completely disappeared. But our members (or interested potential ones) who only study Freemasonry's esoteric symbolism and philosophies without also considering its history and the societies and communities in which it has resided and adapted to are the ones who don't "GET IT."

Freemasonry's most rapid growth around the world between 1717 and 1760 occured because it offered a social and business network; it offered safety in tumultuous times of competing colonial powers worldwide and feuding factions in the colonies (why do you think the Grand Hailing Sign of Distress was created?); it offered a haven from political and religious persecution at a time when Catholics were still burning heretics in Portugal (right up until the 1770s) and Protestants were tossing Catholics off their land (Maryland was the only colony that allowed Catholics to own property without restriction); it offered a chance for a growing merchant class to improve their social standing by hobnobbing with the nobs and toffs; it offered a course in self-improvement; and it served a thirst for the simple, social act of drinking and singing and dining together (songs make up a large part of Anderson's Constitutions and the monitors that followed). You can't just claim Freemasonry is an esoteric mystery school that has lost its way unless you simply ignore its growth and development throughout society and only go hunting for the origin of its symbolism.

I come back to my original point, which is that Freemasons have always advertised themselves, one way or another, using the technology of the times. It may have been more or less subtle from one era to the next, but don't make the mistake of thinking that it became the largest fraternal organization in the world because of some whispering campaign. As I said in the show, because My Generation™ pitched out everything their fathers stood for, society has forgotten who and what we are. Contrast that with the Civil War era when soldiers wore a square and compasses on their uniform in the hopes that brethren would treat them well if they were wounded or captured. It's likely that a enemy combatant today would see the symbol and say, "What the hell is that?" The same reaction is likely from the overwhelming number of people on the street.

Today, it's not enough to build the tallest skyscraper in the world, because if you told people the Freemasons did it, they'd say, "Who's that?"

Justa Mason said...

One could ask "What mystery about Freemasonry in the old days?" Everyone had heard of it. It was a status symbol. If you were a Freemason, you were somebody. That's why some people joined. This, incidentally, is why the "movers and shakers" were Freemasons in some cases. It had nothing to do with meetings or content in them. They joined for status.

Robertson in his "History of Freemasonry in Canada" reprints minutes of Lodge meetings from 200 years ago. There was more knife-and-forkery going on then than now. There's no evidence of intellectual discussions or pontifications. Masons ate and drank, marched to church on St. John's Day, marched back, ate and drank some more, then fined each other for getting too drunk or obnoxious. They didn't do much else, other than confer degrees, elect officers and dispense charity.

Chris, I don't see Masonic funeral marches or cornerstone layings at schools as intended to be advertising. That may have been an end result, but I don't see that as the purpose.

I see nothing wrong with institutional ads, other than they're probably not cost effective if someone thinks their purpose is solely for recruitment. For that, I prefer the old-fashioned way; a friend sponsors a friend. But if someone wants to cut some, I can think of someone in the Craft who could do the voice-over. :)

Justa

Jesse said...

Hello Brother Hodapp

Thanks for your reply! I can't comment on your whole post but here are a few points.

Chris wrote: "Freemasons have promoted the fraternity since its modern beginnings. Ads began appearing in newspapers and magazines in the early 1700s announcing the time and locations of Masonic meetings, and obviously, as talked about during the show, it's hard to get more blatant than a parade with Masons decked out in aprons, jewels and other regalia, marching through the street."

I still say there is a qualitative difference between the examples you give, brother Hodapp, and TV ads. Your examples are announcing, even proudly in the case of parades, the fraternity's presence. After all our existence is not meant to be a secret or a mystery. Where as TV ads are blatantly soliciting membership. This is what I meant when I said that TV ads go against the "spirit" of Freemasonry, which as I understand it, does not solicit new members.

Chris wrote: "Building the tallest skyscraper in the world is a lot more expensive, in-your-face, ostentatious, brash, and omnipresent than any TV commercial could ever be."

Erecting a skyscraper is of more practical value to society. TV ads contribute nothing! Yes, skyscrapers are ostentatious (metaphorically speaking, as an aside, Freemasons should be more interested in rebuilding King Solomon's Temple than the Tower of Babel) but skyscrapers don't actually speak like TV ads do! A Masonic symbol noticed on a building by a thinking man will linger in his minds' eye and possibly result in him petitioning his local lodge. Believe it or not many brothers relate this is how they came to the fraternity.

Chris wrote: "And what was the Boston lodge building covered with signage, symbols, and lights in 1895 but a massive advertising billboard?"

Again there is a qualitative difference between the fraternity's symbols on public display and TV ads. The former is abstract and hopefully stimulates the average man on the streets' curiosity. The latter is just explicit, unimaginative solicitation. Whatever happened to "seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you", or in the parlance of our times, "2B1Ask1?"

Cheers

Jesse

Jesse said...

Hi Justa Mason

You wrote,"'What mystery about Freemasonry in the old days?' Everyone had heard of it."

Yes everyone had heard of it but what Masons actually did at lodge was still something of a secret to the general public. Truthfully I think Masonic ritual is still something of a mystery to most brethren. Which is fine, the lodge means different things to different men. Service club or esoterically minded society, both are valid! Both should be found in equal amounts.

Chris Hodapp said...

Jesse, the last time I looked, the commercials I saw simply said, "Ask."

How can a man off the street with no knowledge of what Freemasonry is "ASK2B1" if he doesn't know "WHAT1IS"?

Sure, showing Masonic symbols on buildings was implicit promotion a century ago, based on the notion that everyone recognized what they were. That's not the case today.

Masonic Traveler said...

I would LOVE a few more spooky lodge meetings :)