Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Confirmed: There Is Only Misery On The Subway
Advertising, as I best understand it, prods at our failure to obtain happiness for ourselves. Buy a Toyota, the ads proclaim, and assuage your misery. Wear Sketchers, counter the urban fashionistas, and dress your existentialism in haute couture. Money couldn’t buy love for Paul McCartney, but he’d have you believe that an iPod could. The ad industry is half-chimera, half self-help, and, apparently, not effective enough for PhilosophyWorks.org, whose advertisements on the New York City Subway explicitly hawk happiness.
The agonizing questions float about their advertisement, like falling leaves of curiosity: “Who am I? What am I doing here? How can I be more effective in daily life? How can I be happy?”
A shining sun illuminates these timeless ruminations with beaming stalactites, and a group of amiable, unassuming clouds part in deference to your opportunity—our opportunity—to take a 10-week course at the School of Practical Philosophy exploring these otherwise-unconquerable quandaries.
Terrified of blind consumerism, I weighed my options: next to PhilosphyWorks.org’s purported 10-week cure-all was a large placard trumpeting the City University of New York’s respective anti-AIDS and anti-malaria achievements. A touch ghoulish, and since I was already enrolled in CUNY, lost on me. Next signboard over, the Interboro Technical School was promising, via an ethnically varied polyglot of smiling faces, that a high-salaried position was just an education away. Afterwards, I craned my neck to view an ad behind me; it was tagged by a graffiti artist with the declaration, “2Btru4eva.”
I’m endowed with the same neurotransmitters as everyone else and, therefore, do not claim to be above advertising. I feel a tinge of longing at the automobile that I can’t afford, or the game system with which I might more effectively conquer Nazi Germany. But New York City is too much. Too much advertising, too much product. Too many promises, confusions, and bewilderments. Too much reductive, “If it’s happiness they want, let’s sell them some” reasoning.
I can’t be bought by philosophyworks.org, nor by my own school, for that matter. It’s not because I’m too smart for it, but because I have too much pride to be lured into surrendering to diluted ideas and half-assed commercialism. Happiness might be store-bought, but the stores around here have lost my interest.
If there were one false prophet—one advertisement, and not a single more, that swore to entail happiness—I might go for it. However, the market is so saturated with battling cries for consumerism that the ruse is transparent: if 10,000 companies a day tell me their product will cure my gloom, then I must induce that, in fact, none of them will. It’s simply impossible for them all to be right, so I must assume that they’re all wrong.
Then I’m back at square one, riding the subway alone, once again faced with the grim reality of happiness that cannot be bought. “True” happiness, however dubious a concept that is (happiness for Hitler looks a lot different than happiness for Einstein), exists absolutely outside the realm of things that can be offered on a subway wall.
So sorry, School of Practical Philosophy, but you’re just not practical enough— 2Btru4eva, you need a little more than a shining sun on the F train.
Stay Sold, Sir Paul