On the firing line? 身处前线

2020.08.25

Reader question:

Please explain "on the firing line" in this sentence: "Easy for them to talk because they're not on the firing line as we are."

My comments:

This is a gripe against those who don't sympathize with the speaker's plight - hardship at work from day to day or some other difficulty.

Perhaps "they" either don't understand what the speaker's group ("we") are going through on a daily basis or they are just people who don't have any empathy. This means if they don't share the same lifestyle with us, they don't understand what we are going through in life.

For example, an army general may not understand why soldiers have so much to complain about because he stays in the safety of his directing room, perhaps in the bunker, all the time. He, therefore, does not understand what soldiers are afraid of.

Well, to come back to the phrase in question, soldiers fear bullets and death.

"On the firing line", you see, originally refers to the front line of soldiers whose job is to open fire against the enemy. While they're firing shots at the enemy, soldiers behind them get to lay down low and therefore not expose themselves to enemy gunfire. After the squad on the firing line run out bullets, another line of soldiers step up to take their place. Now these men are on the firing line, firing shots at the enemy while also being exposed to enemy gunfire.

This expression clearly originates from the battlefield, from battles in the old days, when long rifles were in use. Anyways, to be on the firing line is to be on the frontline, to be exposed to danger directly without any protection. It's like healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients today, for example, without face masks, gloves and other protective gear.

Metaphorically speaking, if you're on the firing line, you're in the forefront of an activity or endeavor, being the first to taste and bear with any hardship that comes your way. In other words, you're exposed to danger and risk.

All right, here are media examples of "firing line":

1. The big banks are in the firing line, with the financial services royal commission hearing they leave themselves open to findings of significant breaches of companies and credit law.

At the end of the first fortnight of sitting, counsel assisting Rowena Orr detailed a long list of misconduct, poor behaviour and breaches of law, calling on commissioner Kenneth Hayne to consider their implications for his report, due in December.

Areas of misconduct include “home loans, car loans, credit cards and overdraft facilities”, she told the commission. NAB bankers falsified documents, accepted dodgy information and took kickbacks from lending introducers.

As a result, 10 bankers lost their jobs, including branch managers, 10 resigned and 32 were disciplined. Their actions expose the bank to findings of misleading and deceptive conduct, among others.

- Royal commission: Banks under the gun as laundry list of misconduct is laid bare, TheNewDaily.com, March 23, 2018.

2. The Volusia-Flagler area was forecast to be a hiring hotbed this year. Instead, employers here could be forced to lay off workers as the coronavirus outbreak shuts increasing segments of the economy.

Businesses on the firing line include restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms, hotels, car dealerships and furniture stores.

“We have cut back hours for our servers, but I’m trying not to cut jobs,” said Ted Teschner, owner of the Mr. Dunderbak’s restaurant/pub inside Volusia Mall. “We’re like a family. Many of our employees have been with us for years.”

“But we can’t keep paying them through July,” he said, referring to reports on how long the coronavirus outbreak and the need for social distancing could last.

It could be far worse than that. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday warned Republican senators that the national unemployment rate could rise as high as 20% if they failed to pass a proposed coronavirus rescue package, according to numerous news reports.

- Coronavirus: Shutdown could trigger layoffs in Daytona area, News-JournalOnline.com, March 18, 2020.

3. Ads keep missing the goalposts on the climate emergency, diversity, ocean plastic—pick a theme. Behind every misstep is bad advice, lack of understanding or someone who didn’t listen.

The majority of a company’s value is inevitably tied to the brand. Missteps can cost billions in the short term, like #DieselGate for VW, and other times can prove near fatal, as was the case for American Apparel, which is now on life support.

Most agencies and marketing departments are ill-equipped at understanding and responding to the challenges of our time. And sorry to say, there is no quick branding fix to systemic racism, rampant carbon pollution or an excessive buy-and-throw-away culture. But it’s undeniably time to live up to our shared responsibility, whatever side of the table you’re sitting on. Climate change, population growth, resource scarcity, biodiversity loss and increasingly acidic oceans are only some of the issues that will challenge all brands’ profitability and long-term growth.

The brand is on the firing line every day, but what about its advisers? Remember when it was customary to write the agency name in the upper-right-hand corner on print ads? (Oh yes, I began in adland two decades ago. Apologies to younger readers.)

That act has significance. Like an artist signing a work or signing for a house mortgage, it comes with a responsibility. It’s your neck; it’s your legacy. It shows you, as an adviser, took your work seriously. Just because most advertising work is so short-lived is no excuse. When the ad carries your name, it provides transparency and a production liability. And maybe having that name out there for public scrutiny could force agencies to take more responsibility and potentially accelerate much-needed change.

For an industry that hypes itself as brand builders and positioning experts, isn’t it ironic that all agencies swim in the same generic soup, shouting, “Look at our awards! Look at our work!”? We have a significant role to play in positively shaping businesses and brands going forward, but only if we strive for more than simply being an award-winning sausage factory. A client comes with a brief, and out comes a sausage as desired—or maybe the art director added a splash of this season’s hyped Pantone red color.

No wonder clients don’t want to pay as much anymore for our circus clown balloon-blowing abilities. They’re struggling with bigger problems than a 30-second award-winning ad. A rising tide raises all boats. Let’s strive higher as an industry, which will ultimately protect trillions in brand value. Ad agencies shouldn’t become consultancies; our key strength is still finding creative solutions to business and brand challenges. And clients still need an infusion of fresh perspective.

- There Needs to Be More Accountability in Advertising to Shatter the Status Quo, by Thomas Kolster, AdWeek.com, August 9, 2020.

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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