by Jonathan Kiefer || Author's Links
Not long ago, at a downtown subway station in San Francisco, I was forced to consider logging on to Monster.com. That is, I was not allowed to consider logging on to any other job placement website, nor any other kind of website. Nor, in fact, was I allowed to consider anything else at all. Every available inch of advertising space, and some heretofore unavailable ones, had become a billboard for this one company. The colors were striking, the pictures were cute, the slogans were catchy, the saturation was total. The station was overrun with monsters. "But they're, like, SILLY monsters," a little girl told her father, who seemed to share my anxiety. True enough. The site's cartoon mascot--omnipresent on the station's walls, poles, stairs--is rotund and muppetesque, with unwieldy feet, oafish eyes, and a kind of toy horn for a nose. Nonetheless, something quite frightening was lurking in those tunnels. I'd grown accustomed to advertisements in subway stations, even those whose designers had deluded themselves into believing that they were making lasting cultural contributions instead of merely hocking kitsch. But, until that day, I had avoided associating subway ads with the confusion, anxiety and eventual embarrassment of failed performance art. It was a scene that one might describe, pejoratively of course, as "like a scene from" something.
In New York last summer, I'd begun to wonder if a lack of variety among subway train ads might actually be dangerous--an unwelcome promoter of cabin fever. For example, the ride from Manhattan to Queens, en route to the U.S. Open, was typically long but especially tedious: a monopoly of American Express ads featuring famous tennis players ("Legend since '89"; "Warrior since '92" and so on) didn't get me in the sporting spirit but instead had the opposite effect. One hates to approach a major tennis tournament thinking, "Enough Patrick Rafter already!"
It had seemed like it couldn't get worse. That was then.
Bear in mind that as I write this I do not have a single, satisfying, lucrative, full-time job. Presumably, I am an ideal target for Monster.com's advertising blitz, and would do well to comply with its imperatives. But I have refused to visit the site since that day. Yes, it's reactionary, and perhaps I deserve to be impoverished and unemployed, or at least employed but not gainfully. But I do not think I deserve to be preyed upon by monsters.
Actually, I have used the site before, but it's done nothing for me. More importantly, and less fairly, I know more than one person who knows more than one person who doesn't know anyone who's gotten a job from Monster.com.
But I figure, as I guess I'm supposed to, that with an advertising budget THAT big, they must be doing something right. Well, you can't argue with someone who's shouting at you, the same words over and over. "Had your fill of humble pie?" one wall asks. Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Less palatable, though, are your advertisements. "Are you there yet?" Anywhere but here will do nicely for now. "Willy Loman. Head of Sales." Imagine the possibilities. I imagine some default English major has at last found a calling, overcome meekness, and let his or her barbaric "Yawp" echo deafeningly through the yuppied tunnels of metropolitan light rail systems everywhere.
The real question, "How far will we let this go?" has been answered, resoundingly: "As far as we possibly can, and then farther still." Like "reality-TV," this ad-space imperialism has already satirized itself, and somehow outlived, even transcended the more critical elements of satire. That's a monster worth fearing.
I waited about fifteen minutes for my train. Never have I been sorrier to be without a newspaper--even if I wouldn't have made it out of the classifieds.
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