Atlas Productions LLC recently released Atlas Shrugged Part 1 on DVD and Blu-Ray. The movie is a scrappy adaptation of Ayn Rand’s massive novel, which argues passionately against altruism and for self-interest. (I confess that I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged. I’m told it is similar to the The Fountainhead, which I did read, only Atlas is a shit-ton longer.)
When the DVD was released, incredulous emails started pouring in from fans. Somewhere along the line this sentence found its way into the description on the product’s box:
“AYN RAND’s timeless novel of courage and self-sacrifice comes to life…”
Well, sure, it’s a novel of self-sacrifice. Specifically, how wrong and terrible Ayn Rand thinks it is.
On Friday the company announced that it would be replacing more than 100,000 title sheets appearing on the DVD and Blu-ray versions sold through major retail outlets. It also set up a website for consumers to order replacement title sheets for their copies. The new text replaces “courage and self-sacrifice” with “rational self-interest.”
To its credit, Atlas Productions’ announcement struck exactly the right tone. First, it took customers’ complaints very seriously, demonstrating that they understood why “self-sacrifice” was wildly inappropriate, and showing how they would make things right. But they also recognized the humor in the situation, leading with the self-deprecating headline “ATLAS SHRUGGED Inadvertently Releases Collector’s Item.”
How did “self-sacrifice” get into a description of an Ayn Rand story? I suspect that everyone involved in Atlas Shrugged Part 1 was overextended and working very hard to get the product shipped in time. Under this pressure, the copywriter fell back on a stock phrase that in most cases applies perfectly well to a given movie. Courage, self-sacrifice, sure. Done. When others reviewed it, their brains — occupied with other vital details of the launch — accepted a phrase they’d seen many times before.
In addition to slowing down and choosing your words carefully, you can avoid this by nudging your editors and subject matter experts when you know things are especially crazy, to make sure they’re giving your draft a thorough reality check. Leave comments in the draft asking questions and calling attention to certain sections. Follow up with them afterward asking for confirmation if you’re feeling especially paranoid (but don’t be a pest.) There might be a million other things clamoring for their urgent attention, but a single overlooked word can make a huge difference.
(Via Badass Digest)