This is Part II of my thoughts on the #FindYourPark movement. You can find Part I here.
The NPS has a loooong history of employing non-governmental persons and entities to assist with park administration, services, and publicity. I say this as preface to my examples so that they are not seen as strange and unusual, yet we might also be able to think maybe more critically about them.
First, is the sponsors banner at the bottom of the #FindYourPark homepage that follows you as you scroll through. The NPS on its own would not exhibit such a sponsor list (although political cartoons have joked about congressmen sporting NASCAR like suits showcasing their corporate sponsors). However, #FindYourPark is not solely an NPS endeavor, but a partnership with the National Park Foundation. As an organization that is not a government agency, they have more latitude with how they may operate, most significantly in relation to finances.
This page banner displays the redesigned logos of the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, to showcase a closer relationship between them. It also features the company logos of American Express, Budweiser, Subaru, REI, Humana, and Disney. While Subaru and REI feel like more “natural” choices as they are often associated with outdoor recreation (I mean, Secretary Sally Jewell was the former CEO for REI), there are questions about the presence of a company based on debt, another that promotes the consumption of alcohol, a health care company, and an entertainment company. Many of these companies sponsor a variety of different activities and events in the US and around the world, yet the question remains, why partner for #FindYourPark?
Second, are the ways that #FindYourPark has deployed celebrities and public figures as talking heads promoting the #FindYourPark movement. The #FindYourPark website hosts a series of videos from these individuals profiling their role in the movement, ranging from Michelle Obama, to Bill Nye, to official NPS employees. The National Park Foundation has also been active on Tumblr, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been somewhat of a featured celebrity in his interactions with #FindYourPark and his work in promoting the movement and parks in general. His Tumblr (hitrecord) and his other tumblr (hitrecordjoe) have been partially devoted to promoting the cause.
Back at the NPS Narratives Symposium, people lamented at how the NPS has been really bad at publicity, expecting the NPS to sort of speak for themselves. Through #FindYourPark and working with the National Park Foundation, they seem to have taken that self-criticism and gone way into an almost corproate-style approach of publicity and outreach. I don’t want to call this a “neoliberal” move because I recognize the NPS has been using partnerships for almost as long as the agency has existed, but there does seem to be a shift toward a more corporate partner approach in addition to its longer legacy of private non-profit partnerships.
Rusty Bartels, PhD teaches in Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition.