Author: Zaria Gorvett
Channelling your inner Muhammad Ali might not always be as reckless as it sounds. Zaria Gorvett explains.
There are three chickens, dancing in a line. With their bodies held up by pairs of white-gloved hands, they sway and swerve in time to “Upside Down” by Diana Ross. As their bodies move, their heads remain perfectly still; it’s as though they’re held in place by some invisible force.
No, this wasn’t a – rather fabulous – dream of mine, and yes, I am going somewhere with this.
The hypnotic scene was concocted by the luxury car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz, as part of a viral advertising campaign to promote their new “Intelligent Drive” system back in 2013. It turns out chickens have secret ballerina reflexes, which allow them to keep their heads stable at all times. Mercedes-Benz wanted us to know that their cars have this “Magic Body Control” too.
One of their arch rivals saw this as provocation. A few months later, Jaguar released a response: another advert, with another dancing chicken. The puppeteer observes in wonderment, “See, it's just like a Mercedes!” – right before the poor animal is eaten by a jaguar. Among a blizzard of feathers, they deliver their killer line: “Magic Body Control? We prefer cat-like reflexes.”
Though trash talk is usually associated with self-aggrandising sports egos, there are plenty of juicy examples in other industries, from marketing to politics to law. Even ancient kings did it; in one famous example, Philip II of Macedon sent his enemies a message boasting that if he brought his army into their land, they would be utterly destroyed, never to rise again – essentially, that he’d kick their behinds. The enemy leaders replied with a single word: “if”.
And though it might be hard to imagine a colleague laughing that their pot plant could give a better presentation than you, it turns out that, in fact, this kind of office chat is relatively normal.
The latest evidence suggests that these verbal contests have been creeping into the workplace – and they’re far more prevalent than you would expect. Last year Jeremy Yip, an expert in management from Georgetown University, along with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, decided to find out exactly how prevalent trash talk is among the employees of Fortune 500 companies. They surveyed 143 people about their experiences, and found that 61% could remember instances of trash talk that had occurred within the last three months.
“It’s quite prevalent and quite frequent,” he says. “It’s shocking really.” So how is all this gutter talk affecting people? And should we all be honing our best put-downs?
But first – what actually is trash talk? The researchers defined it as “boastful remarks about the self or insulting remarks about an opponent”. Yip’s favourite example of the latter occurred in 1999, when London was preparing to celebrate the new millennium.
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