Monday, October 13, 2014

Values for Sale: Whatever, U.S.A.

Sometimes it feels that everything is for sale in our country—including us. That we are unwitting soldiers in a marketing war being waged by giant companies. We wear uniforms of the companies to whom we pay allegiance—Nike, Polo—their logos emblazoned on our chests like flags marking territory: the precious advertising space of our lives. In one class I taught last week, about 1/3 of the students were wearing shirts with the names of colleges (the schools themselves increasingly positioned within the framework of big business). I'm certainly not above this either. Many of my clothes bear the stamp of a business, too. I just don't like feeling like a walking billboard. The physical space around us also feels increasingly tainted by the stench of advertising dollars.

I was thinking about this the other day while watching a baseball game on TV. The Giants, who play in AT&T Stadium, use just about every square inch of the stadium for advertising, including the holographic ads behind home plate which are now part of every pitch. (The only area not smothered in ads is the actual playing field—and you know that's coming!).

Crested Butte, Colo. or "Whatever, USA"

I guess this is why a recent New York Times story caught my eye. Crested Butte, Colorado has decided to take advertising possibilities to a whole other level, temporarily (one hopes) re-branding itself "Whatever, U.S.A." and turning the entire town into a beer ad. The streets and street lamps have been repainted the color of Bud Light cans and in exchange the Anheuser-Busch company has given the town half a million dollars. The company also brags it has brought plenty of new jobs to the town. But at what cost? As one resident says near the end of the article, "I really value my quality of life, and I’m afraid, as we allow these kinds of events to happen, we may be losing it."

Have we gone so far off the rails that we can now only measure the quality of our lives in monetary terms?  

11 comments:

Thomasina R said...

I believe that to a certain extent, all Americans measure the quality of their life--and others' lives--in monetary terms. If two men had equally happy lives, but one man had significantly more money than the other, people would believe the richer man had the better life. Wealth is worshiped in America. Most television shows follow middle to upper class characters. However, I don't think that money is the only way Americans value life. Happiness has always proved to be important to Americans; one way to prove this is by the popularity of works such as "Great Expectations" by Charlies Dickens (Miss Havisham's wealth versus her health) and "A Christmas Carole" (Scrooge's transformation).

Tong W. said...

I guess in this situation it all depends on your own opinion of pursuing happiness. Whether making money makes you happy, with the trade off of giving up your old life or vice versa. What I'm not sure about is whether or not this town had a vote on re-branding with the Anheuser-Busch company or at least a committee hearing on the issue. If there was a debate or vote it would be interesting to hear views from both sides.

Amanda S said...

The extent to which ads have infested the American society is leading Americans to believe the only way to be happy is to be rich. Our mailboxes and emails are cluttered with brightly colored pictures and font competing with one another to obtain our money, but sight isn’t the only way companies compete for our attention. Not only do we see ads, they are also constantly being forced into our head through our ears with use of the radio and television. If you walk through the mall, you notice some stores are even using our sense of smell to attract the attention of shoppers. For example, you can tell without looking if there is an Abercrombie if you are within 100 feet of one due to the excessive use of perfume. Our sense of taste is used as well; free samples are becoming increasingly popular way to attract customers. I wonder if Crested Butte will try to capture the attention of our senses in addition to being visually appealing to the consumers.

Claire H said...

Tong brought up an interesting point about the citizens' of Crested Butte views on Whatever, USA. I think it is important to not only consider what these extreme advertisements reveal about the general American's quality of life, but also how it directly affected the quality of life of citizens in Crested Butte when this advertisement was taking place. An article from Detroit Free Press explained that citizens were reluctant to Whatever, USA because it forced them to close their local businesses, and they were worried that the town would lose its character. The main road was painted blue for the advertisement, and a week after the shot had wrapped up, the road still was coated in blue paint. These citizens value the old-fashioned, charming feel of their town and Whatever, USA directly affected their own lifestyles and values.

Isabelle Tashima said...

I think this post illustrates a large flaw in today’s society. We all seem to strive to complete the same equation: money = happiness. I believe this is because people today take a strong standpoint on a question we discussed in class; they believe that in order to be free one must be economically free. As a result, there is an extreme, irrational craving for money, and society has fully centered itself around this idea. It’s even affected my daily life in several ways. I cancelled my magazine subscriptions because I kept noticing that the ads outnumbered the actual articles, and my home phone rings multiple times a day with telemarketers selling products. People used to walk right up to my house and ring the doorbell trying to sell their products, and it became so frequent that my mom had to put a “no solicitors” sign on the door. The example in Crested Butte is just another campaign on a larger scale that demonstrates Americans’ need for money to achieve happiness and earn a sense of security in their lives.

Ellie L said...

Isabelle- I love how you said "to be free, you must be economically free." This is such an interesting point, and is true to a large extent. As far as Crested Butte becoming an advertisement, I think that it's also very interesting that the advertisement is for BEER above anything else. Does this reflect what Americans value most?

Joesh said...

I agree with Thomasina that the value of happiness in America is based on your wealth. This is shown in American media. Some of the most popular TV shows of all time are: The Price is Right and the Oprah Winfrey Show. In the Price is Right contestants try and guess the price of certain items. The Oprah show is probably mostly known for the episode where Oprah gives away a car to everyone in the audience. These two TV shows show Americans' interest or even obsession with money.

Colin W said...

I agree with Thomasina's original comment on this post strongly. The example of two happy men, and one rich men is very interesting. It brings up an excellent point as to how our society looks at wealth. I agree to some extent that people try to wear bear the stamp of a business. In the business and professional world I think this is a very logical theory. For example, if a CEO of a big time company like Nike wearing a suite he purchased at Goodwill, he would absolutely be negatively judged by people in the room. However, I think this is different in schools. At New Trier, I think students are not judged by the brand that they bear on their chest. I definitely think that this differs according to sexuality though. I feel like girls are more negatively judged for not wearing the newest "designer clothing" then boys for not wearing a New Trier Lacrosse shirt.

Jake P said...

I think that wealth and happiness are going to be forever linked in America. However, I think this is a product of how wealth brings us freedom. We talked in class about how money brings you more independence. I think that is the real reason that wealth is valued so greatly in the US.

Ana D said...

Sadly, I would say that many Americans live hand in hand with their wealth. Even in our own school, you see the kids with the newest trends, or most clothes; and you assume they have money and a good life. I really do think that there is a completely different story behind the money. Wealthy people can use their money to put on a front to make people think they have it all. However, this could just be masking how they really feel.

David Y. said...

I would definitely agree with Jake here. The reason for the link between wealth and happiness is the freedom or independence it gives a person. It gives them much more freedom of schedule and also more opportunities for different experiences.
But to answer the question, yes I think society for the most part measures quality of life in monetary terms. Everything we do as kids even is seen as preparation for college, preparation for a job, preparation to live in the freedom of wealth. The "American Dream" is itself measured in terms of luxury and wealth. The more wealth you have, the more freedom, the more happiness. That's kind of the American Dream, to be wealthy/happy.
I just see this great correlation between quality of life and freedom/independence, and that in turn links to wealth.