13 Nov 2014

#RLSDay 2014: 13th November is Robert Louis Stevenson Day

#RLSDay - Robert Louis Stevenson Day in Edinburgh, promoted by the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust.

#RLSDay Edinburgh City of Literature

Celebrate! It's RLS day. 

What in the hell is that? 

It's a marketing exercise.  Or maybe we should call it a promotion.  Or a celebration!

This year, for #RLSDay, the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust have come up with:

  • A request that Edinburgh Airport be renamed Robert Louis Stevenson Airport
  • Talks by Alexander McColl Smith and Nigel Planer
  • Readings from the Robert Louis Stevenson Club
  • A variety of City Walks

#RLSDay is billed as a "moustache-twirling, velvet-clad celebration of the life, loves and work of one of our most famous writers – Robert Louis Stevenson."  

If you don't have a moustache, you are encouraged by the staff of the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust to download and wear a paper one.  Then you take a selfie (obviously) and tag the selfie #RLSDay and post it so you can see yourself displayed with the other buffoons on the internet. 
It is difficult to say what it is that fascinates arts admins in Scotland about moustaches, but the fun of this mock-pogontrophy offers #RLSDay a peculiarly asinine feel, to counter its high-brow and more dignified aspects.

All over the world, people are content to 'celebrate' great writers for either tourist or academic reasons.  There is Dickens Day, now nearing its 30th year, and celebrated around the 11th of October; and Key West is just as merciless (and mercenary) with Hemmingway as Edinburgh is proving to be with Robert Louis Stevenson.

And Oh Edinburgh! Darling that you are, and your pretentious ways!  A statement on the #RLSDay page of The Edinburgh City of Literature website says that you can share your favourite Robert Louis Stevenson quote, 'through the medium of photography'. 

That is blessedly typical of Edinburgh.  They don't have 'photography' there. They have 'the medium of photography.'

On one hand it's great.  There are plenty ways to engage with literature other than reading books (phew!) and this includes celebrity talks (£7) and more edifying aspects, such as plays and workshops.

On the other hand it reminds me of this picture of the Berlin Wall, which was on Google's homepage on the 25th Anniversary of the Wall's demise.  

You see what Google have done there?  

At first glance it's the most normal looking image in the world, but then you realise that Google have grafted themselves on to history.  

Google weren't even around 25 years ago, but look at them now!  

They are towering over the Berlin Wall as if it was they who knocked it down! 

With this simple act of photo-shoppery, Google have raised themselves to be bigger than history, while modestly arguing that they are 'celebrating' history.  It's such common practice these days that we barely notice it.

I wouldn't compare Google to the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust office, not exactly.  But I am old enough to see that this is just what people use history for these days, and the #RLSDay fun and games are a sign that we are now considered by literature promoters as content consumers as opposed to readers.  They recently stuck snappy Sir Walter Scott quote-bites all over Waverley station, in a similar manner.

So you can call this a celebration if you like.  But the truth is that we use history to dignify ourselves, but of course in dignifying ourselves, we just end up looking like idiots in cut-out moustaches.

You can see the whole programme at the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust website.

MARK MICHIE'S novel DEATH ON THE MORA will be published in 2015