The big news item in the voiceover world is the firing of D.C. Douglas, the announcer for GEICO. To sum up the drama, Douglas left a voicemail message for FreedomWorks and they responded with this blog post. Soon after, GEICO fired Douglas. You can read his side of the story here. After the firing, FreedomWorks responded with triumph in another blog post.
If that seems like a perfunctory opening, let me explain that I’m not here to take sides, to defend or condemn or judge anyone involved. This incident is not the first time an actor or public figure has been fired for something that happened in his/her personal life. It’s just the first time (that I know of) that it happened to a voice actor and therefore it hit close to home. This incident led me to a question and I’d like your help finding the answer. The question is this: Are public figures allowed to voice their opinions, their dissent, their opposing views, without being vilified to the point of losing their jobs?
D.C. Douglas admits that calling FreedomWorks and his choice of words were both mistakes. I’ll take it a step further and call it immature (Sorry D.C.) and I think FreedomWorks’ responses were equally immature. But what if Douglas hadn’t used inflammatory language? What if he had called and left a message stating that he took offense to the racial and homophobic slurs that have been attributed to the Tea Party and he is truly concerned that without censuring the behavior of some of its members, one of the Tea Party may resort to physical violence? If he attached his name and phone number to a message like that, would the Tea Party be able to affect the loss of his job?
When I was growing up, my mom owned and operated her own business. Her employees wore uniforms with the company logo and she drilled it into them that as long as they wore that uniform, they represented her company and she expected their behavior to be above reproach. It didn’t matter if they were going to or from work or on their lunch break and therefore technically off-the-clock. As long as they wore the uniform, they represented the company and their behavior needed to reflect that. That expectation always stuck with me and I’m sure it’s part of what made me a valuable employee to my subsequent employers.
Now that I’m self-employed, I am my own business and my own brand. My product is my voice. My voice represents my clients. I think about my mom’s expectations all the time. Am I allowed to use my voice however I please without risking the loss of my clients? I think about the things I say before I say them, the words I write before I write them, any information I publish about myself, I try to make sure will not reflect poorly on anyone else. I’m sure I must fail, or if I haven’t yet, I will. I’m human, right? But how much might failure cost me?
In 1993, Charles Barkley was a controversial figure and stated that pro athletes should not be considered role models. Nike made an ad out of that quote. Cut to modern times. Michael Phelps lost his Kellogg sponsorship for being photographed with marijuana. (Dude! He was 22! He’s allowed to experiment!) And then we have the Tiger Woods “scandal”. Yeah, I put scandal in quotes. While his behavior was scandalous, I don’t know that it needed to become a national scandal. But it did, and he lost sponsorships because of it. Should he have? Is it impossible to separate the man from the athlete? Or does any public figure automatically become a walking brand and therefore “on” all the time?
Did GEICO have to fire D.C. Douglas to assuage the Tea Party? Douglas does not blame GEICO for their decision. He takes full responsibility for his actions, which in this day and age is refreshing. But, because he is the voice of GEICO, did his behavior reflect poorly on the company? Were they really answerable for his actions? Are we as voice actors, truly allowed the same freedom of speech as the average citizen that does not voice or represent a product? Is this a political question? Ethical? Philosophical? What are your thoughts?