Well, John, as the Brits put it, what's getting up your nose today?
Today, without a doubt it's advertising. Not any one campaign, but the whole industry. Don't get me wrong -- it makes me very happy that in advertising there are well-paying, expense-account-padded jobs into which many failed poets, novelists and artists can move to pay their mortgages.
But have you noticed how over the past few decades advertising, slowly but surely, has crept (oozed, seeped) into nearly every public space and corner of life?
A year ago, I was startled when entering one of the washrooms at my college when a poster on the wall suddely spoke to me. No, I wasn't doing drugs that day (and if so, I didn't inhale or ingest, just rolled them around a bit and spat them out). It was a trial run of a new technology that hid a motion detector, sound chip and speaker behind a poster, which fired up whenever anyone approached. Mind you, there were already ads over the urinals and sinks, and even in the stalls. When one can't even focus on a constructive elimination without the blandishments of Mammon, the world is in sorry shape.
The Toronto Transit Commission, which is actually a pretty good system of subways, buses, streetcars and light rail transit, has been underfunded for years by various goverments run by former appliance salesmen and car dealers. As a result, the dignified cream and red livery of its vehicles has often been defaced by whole-vehicle ads. Even the steps in the subways stations bear cut-up ads that look like a continuous billboard when you're far enough away. Many public spaces and attractions that were originally built with public money are now the Rogers This or the Nokia That.
I feel particularly sorry for racing drivers. In the 50s and 60s, they wore sleek driving suits, plain little helmets, and tooled around in gorgeous, curvy vehicles that bore little but a number to hide their swooping lines.
Now both drivers and cars look like explosion in a logo factory.
No point in getting into the economics of this. I'm not against capitalism or advertising (in the right place and time, like on otherwise free radio and TV or controlled billboards). My beef is an esthetic one. There should be parts of the world, both private and shared, into which advertising never intrudes. The world is about far more than buying and selling, and it's a symptom of the weak backbones of many elected officials and regulators that ads have so taken over the visible (and audible) world.
Video and computer games are following the lead of Hollywood movies and TV shows, which for years have been semi-secretly feeding us product placements so that there's little entertainment without an ad buried in it somewhere.
Also, it's important to notice that this trend isn't only the fault of the ad industry; many tasteless individuals have abetted it. They turn themselves and their vehicles into mobile ads, proudly wearing clothes, shoes and other accessories that are more logo than comfort, thinking that proclaiming their brand choices somehow makes them interesting, and generally carrying on like a drunk Paris Hilton at a philosophy seminar.
And, as a logical postivist once pointed out, she's not even good-looking or shapely, really. The celebrity industry, which is just another form of advertising, made her famous because she's famous.
Soon, we'll be booking genetic engineers to modify our future progeny's chromosones so they will be born with full-colour birthmarks on their foreheads or chests, for which Sony, Jack Daniels, or the Gap will pay them royalties throughout life.
Ladies of the night can have condom and sex toy ads inscribed on their rentable flesh. Eligible singles will have sweat-powered laser projectors in their hats which shine a message onto everything they turn their heads towards: "Cool 30-something bachelor with great brands seeks 20-something blonde in target demographic!" Oh yeah, and instead of the usual three-colour stoplights, you can only proceed at an intersection when the brand and logo of your vehicle make appears on the Omniscreen. Political candidates will be promoted by little electro-implants that make ordinary people speak in sound bites exactly like Hillary, Billary, McCainery or Obama.
And let's get on with projecting commercial messages on the moon, which is just dead space in the sky anyway. You with me or agin me???
Causes John Oughton Supports
PEN International, Amnesty International, League of Canadian Poets, POR AMOR, Greenpeace