Last week, the saga between UW and Brothers Bar and Grill added a new dimension. In the midst of a legal battle with the university over the UW Board of Regents’ decision to exercise eminent domain and seize the property Brothers now resides on, the owners of the bar undertook an interesting public relations campaign. The beginning of the campaign was marked, most obviously, by covering the side of their two-story bar with a giant banner adorned with a target and a plea to someone, anyone, to “mobilize” at their website.
But it wasn’t the public nature of the campaign undertaken by Brothers owners that added another chapter to the dispute; it was the campaign’s new underlying message.
Throughout this, the argument Brothers has made, often in those annoying but charitable one page spreads in this paper, is that quite simply, the UW Board of Regents screwed them. That is, after a year of ultimately successful negotiations with the UW administration and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the UW Board of Regents reneged on the agreement reached and, using the powers of eminent domain, moved to condemn their building, costing Brothers a lot of money. This seems to be a pretty good argument, and from all accounts, pretty true. I have no problems with that.
My problem is that wasn’t the message of the mega-poster erected last week, nor many of the owners’ most recent public statements.
In fact, the message of the Brothers mega-banner last week had absolutely nothing to do with any part of that narrative. Instead, in the middle of that unavoidable target-banner were the words, “No UW Music School.” That’s it; nothing about two UW alumni being unfairly pushed around by a university which advertises a “special connection” between UW and its alums. Nothing pressuring the Board of Regents to change their minds, or encouraging students to help “Save Brothers” (that piece of text was relegated to small print in the corner of the poster). Just a singular sentence, meant to garner the support of the masses, declaring a firm stance against any new UW music school.
Seems kind of weird, right? Well, it isn’t. It is part of a trend.
In a television interview with the two Brothers owners and “Fox & Friends” hosts, the “fair and balanced” interview began with a predictable narrated recap of the dispute, recounting the university’s decision to exercise the power of eminent domain, and the existential threat it posed to “The American Dream.” But what caught my eye about the narrated introduction was not what it said, but what it finished with. The host of the show, after describing the proposed seizure of the bar, remarked in a clearly condescending tone, “…all of this so officials could make room for a new music school.” A few seconds later the two faces of the Brothers owners flashed onto the screen, both snickering to themselves.
This has become the underlying message and attitude of the public relations campaign being undertaken by the Brothers owners. It is a message and attitude of condescension and arrogance toward the importance of a new music school.
If their bar was being seized to build a new business school, would they have placed in the middle of their banner, “No UW Business School”? Would the owners of Brothers bar have taken out full-page newspaper advertisements and drawn attention to what their bar is going to be replaced with by filling the ads with open letters addressed to donors supporting the school? Last week, would they have snickered to themselves as the Fox reporter condescendingly referred to officials planning to build a new business school? Would the Fox reporter even have mentioned the exact reason the university was seizing the property? I’m doubtful on all counts.
The Brothers owners appear to be attempting to exploit and encourage that uniquely American lack of respect for the societal importance and contribution of the arts, such as music performance, and it needs to stop. Mostly because it simply makes very little sense to think the highly educated and relatively affluent UW student body fails to value the importance of music as an art form — but also because it belittles their campaign. It makes them sound like Sarah Palin screeching at a crowd of “real Americans.”
The varieties of music which would be taught, practiced, and performed in a new music school would work, as do the arts more generally, to enrich and define human existence in the kinds of valuable ways that nothing else can. Lending university funds to such an important purpose would be a wise use of limited resources, especially considering the $15 million discount they are receiving compliments of an anonymous donor.
So, Brothers bar owners, find a new public relations message that isn’t insulting and arrogant, and a mega-banner that is actually legal (seriously, how could you have not thought to check city code?) You’ve got a good argument and host a spectacularly sloppy dance-party Thursday through Saturday; I suggest you stick to that.
Alec Slocum ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in philosophy and legal studies.