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Comments (44) Posted 04.03.07 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rick Poynor

Dancing to the Sound in Your Head



South Station, Boston, 2007

In Boston last weekend, I wandered into the most saturated advertising environment I have seen in the US, or anywhere else for that matter — saturated, in this case, by ads for a single product. In the city's South Station, a cunningly persistent advertiser has succeeded in insinuating no fewer than 114 of its sales messages into the concourse area among the book stands and fast food concessions. They dangle in the form of hanging banners behind the train departure information. They shine out above the track entrances from lightboxes. On either side of the station, 41 separate images on banners and panels plaster the walls above the ticket area and food court. Just when I thought I had scanned the entire station and run out of examples to count with a mounting sense of wonder at the penetrating power of the modern sales pitch, I found three more wall-mounted lightboxes tucked away in the far corners of the concourse.

Which brand do we have to thank for this unparalleled opportunity to contemplate the total coolness of its product — Samsung? McDonald's? Target? Not this time. Every single ad dancing across my sightline at South Station extolled the virtues of the iPod.


South Station, Boston, 2007

What to make of this? We might not appreciate advertising conducted like a saturation bombing campaign and we might even find this degree of repetition a shade boring if not totally manipulative, but we design enthusiasts do love and revere our award-winning Apple products fashioned by the sainted Jonathan Ive. And no Apple product is more loved, or celebrated, or used by a wider range of consumers than the iPod.

Does that make Apple's colonization of this or any other railway station acceptable? Only if you are prepared to go along with the idea that any promotional message can be rubbed into a captive audience's face to the point of overkill, and public spaces such as stations are fair game for any advertiser with the bucks and the gall to commandeer them. There is no difference when it comes to commercial intention between burgers, cellphones and nifty little music gizmos. Nor can the ever-increasing invasion of wall space and air space that might just look nicer without so many ads crammed into it be justified in terms of one perfectly legal product but not another.

What riveted my attention here, though, was the nature of the imagery that had colonized the concourse — its peculiar but revealing incongruity. Apple's latest campaign follows the pattern established by its previous efforts and shows iPod users dancing with the units they grasp in their hands. The latest batch of self-absorbed, pastel-colored groovers is more abandoned than ever. The young men and women throw their heads back as the ecstatic sound of whatever it might be possesses them like waves of electricity and shakes their bodies. They kick and jive and seem to float in a blissful zone among shapes and scribbles and washes of color. Their spiky iPod hair — they all frequent the same hairdresser — flails around prettily as they twist and rock. While their bodies and faces are still shown in silhouette, the better to pick out those pure white earpieces, the graphic pattern of their clothes semaphores their identity as members of the cool crowd. You have to wonder: doesn't anyone ever use iPods to listen to Appalachian folk music, Tibetan throat singing, or the occasional prelude by Shostakovich?


South Station, Boston, 2007

In the 1980s, when personal stereos were still new, many asked whether withdrawal from being fully present in the moment when out in public was a positive development. Listening in the street to music that only you could hear seemed to suggest a retreat from the idea of a shared community life into a private sanctuary with a "keep out" notice nailed to the door. As time passed, it became clear that many people were not as committed to the idea of a communal space for which everyone takes responsibility as had once been the case. The escalating presence of advertising in places that were previously off-limits for good reason only served to emphasize that there was nothing sacrosanct about the public realm, which advertisers were free to overrun and exploit for their own ends. This is not to say that personal stereos were the primary cause of these changes in public perception and conduct. But they were certainly indicative of the way that many people would increasingly treat public space as though it was an extension of their own private living area rather than a shared territory requiring a code of etiquette based on the presence of other people. (And in this regard, as we know, cellphones had an even greater impact on social behavior.)

Apple's South Station stunt appears to be part of a global push to maintain its position as leader in the competitive digital media player market. AppleInsider reports similar installations at the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris and at the McGill subway terminal in Montreal. If the level of infiltration at South Street didn't look so ludicrous, and possibly even self-defeating, one might find its lack of proportion distasteful. As so often with advertising, there is a huge gap between the advertisers' fantasies of what they want us to do and what many of us actually care to do. Some people sitting at café tables or slumped on the benches waiting for trains were no doubt listening to personal stereos, but the prevailing pre-travel mood on the concourse was much closer to torpor than to the get-your-thing-on dance sensation unfolding above our heads in the iPod ads.

Yet now, to complicate things, the personal stereo is being used by some devotees as a way of reasserting spontaneity, exuberance and passion in heavily commercialized, over-controlled public places — with stations as a preferred venue. The phenomenon known as "flash mobbing" began in Manhattan in 2003. Hordes of conspirators show up at a pre-arranged time and location to take part in an unexpected but harmless activity such as pillow fighting. This soon evolved into "mobile clubbing" where, at the appointed hour, participants start dancing like deranged mime artists to a private soundtrack stored on their iPods and other mp3 players. "Mobile clubbing is a mirror image of a terrorist outrage," writes British novelist and critic Geoff Dyer, who took part in an event that made the news at Liverpool Street Station, London, in October 2006. "It's organized with similar precision, the feeling of conspiracy is palpable, and at the allotted time there is a detonation. Of joy."

So here, weirdly, is the very phenomenon that the congregation of airborne dancers in iPod's South Station takeover could be seen to depict. Just a coincidence or an opportunistic response to the latest international trend in street culture? As originally conceived, mobile clubbing was a soft, non-ideological form of protest, a public assertion of individual freedom and joie de vivre, which costs nothing, hurts no one, and amazes observers not taking part who happen to be in the area when bouts of crazy arm-waving and kick-stepping break out around them. "The point is that there is no point, we do it for fun, we do it because we can," explains Ben Cummins, an organizer. Everybody moves to their own beat, yet for a brief moment the dancers converge in a benign ceremony of collective celebration and delight. The action can't ultimately counter the solipsistic consumerism of the iPod and similar gadgets, on which it depends, but at least it's a sign of resistance to total self-involvement and a gesture towards reclaiming public space as a theater for undirected social action, no matter how transient.

The next London event is set to take place at 18:53 on 4 April at Victoria Station. Is it really possible, though, that those scheming cool hunters haven't already whispered into their masters' ears about the brilliant opportunity for guerrilla advertising and media coverage offered by engineering an apparently spontaneous mobile event?


Photographs: Rick Poynor
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Comments (44)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Great post, really got me thinking about public spaces. It seems ironic that certain places (Times Square, Picadilly Circus) are etched into our minds as places that people go to commune and interact, while also being saturated with advertising to a surreal degree. Logically one has to deduce that the advertising follows the people, but in the last few decades it seems that advertising can conversely bring in the people. Perhaps the two parties can develop a synthesized culture.
Nick
04.03.07 at 10:29

I work in advertising and I'm fortunate to be with an agency that angles to create FEWER ads for our clients, rather than rely on media saturation to do the job. Howard Gossage said that there's no reason to bruise an elephant with a thousand BBs when one well-placed shot will do. Many advertising agencies are actually fairly intelligent (consider a shop like Goodby, Silverstein) and endeavor to treat their audiences with dignity and respect, both in terms of the messages in their work and the prevalence (or lack thereof) of it.

For all the blither-blather about "seismic changes" and an "ever shifting media landscape" and whatever other bullshit terms various hacks and pundits spew out in magazine articles and in the philosophy section of their web site, there's a very hard reality that has not and will not change: people look at what interests them, and ignore what doesn't. I think a lot of people are interested in the iPod and naturally interested in music (I agree, not everyone listens to shitty "indie rock" on their mp3 players), so why does Apple feel so compelled to saturate a public space? Its kind of oppressive, but in a really sinister, almost invisible way. I believe quite strongly in capitalism, and fiscally I lean a bit more towards free markets, but this isn't the answer. Various ad rags and ad blogs and other irrelevant congregations divorced from reality might look at something like this and cheer and talk about how awesome it is, and inspire ad students nationwide to conceive their own versions of this, and maybe the citizens in these cities will really like it too. I don't know. Just because *I* think its lame doesn't mean other people will.

I just have to ask--what's the point?
Brad Gutting
04.03.07 at 10:30

Interestingly, this has been going on since at least mid-2005, though I don't know if continuously. Maybe someone from the area can chime in on that. Some video from that period might drive home the saturation a bit more than the few images Rick's inluded above.
Su
04.03.07 at 10:33

I listen to Tibetan throat singing on my iPod!
Nigel
04.03.07 at 10:43

The MBTA seems particularly welcoming to this sort of ad space saturation in recent years. Last I walked through it, the Park Street T station (probably the busiest subway station in the city) was filled with similar sets of ipod posters.

The first example of this I've noticed in Boston was Johnny Walker renting out all ad space in and around South Station -- at least the train and subway areas -- around 2005. Following that Apple and Johnny Walker seem to have traded turns saturating the space.

It seems that in a space largely used by local commuters this sort of advertising would very quickly wear out its novelty, certainly within the span of several years.
Jacob
04.03.07 at 10:52

When my family moved from Washington, DC to Buenos Aires in the late 1970s, I remember being struck by the difference in how public space was treated in each culture. While the DC Metro had the occasional isolated billboard, in Buenos Aires the same ad would be plastered over and over, one next to the other, on an entire wall. Talk about saturation. In the late 1980s, when everything was being privatized, even the Buenos Aires street signage was given a strip for corporate sponsors. On my last visit, a couple of years ago, I noticed that the subway steps had small advertisements placed on them! The unwritten rule there seems to be "If it's public, it's up for grabs."
Ricardo Cordoba
04.03.07 at 11:20

I wonder if Apple will soon become a victim of it's own success. Like most indie rock bands that are popular with those-in-the-know, only to fall of the face of the earth once they go Top 40, Apple is in a precarious position. They seem to be forgetting what got them where they are today: quiet, confident, simplicity.

I also wonder if they are so worried about losing their place in the public's mind that they are now echoing the design of others. When I look at the advertising, not to mention the absolute saturation of it, I start to see bits and pieces of Microsoft. Its quite disconcerting since Microsoft marketing and packaging is lacking at best. And if one looks hard enough, it's even starting to show up in the UI for Leopard. Take a look at the Time Machine feature and you'll see what I mean.

There's nothing wrong with mass marketing or guerrilla advertising, but let's stay on target Apple. Intelligent design breaks through the noise without having to scream.
James D. Nesbitt
04.03.07 at 12:21

It's sadly ironic that the same company that once parodied "Big Brother" is, itself, becoming omnipresent.
Daniel Green
04.03.07 at 12:29

They seem to be forgetting what got them where they are today: quiet, confident, simplicity.

The changes in their stores and customer service signal this, too. Maybe it's just me, but I've noticed a significant decline in the quality of their retail and repair "experience." It's dissapointing and frustrating.
j
04.03.07 at 12:45

thank you for this post... i was just thinking about this on saturday while i was on the el in chicago. i was on the brown line that goes around the loop, and i kept noticing an obscene amount of these ipod posters. it seemed like there were 50 of them at each stop. enough already. we get it. we've seen the campaign for what feels like a century now, and this advertising push is too much. there is definitely a point where one can go overboard, and apple just jumped ship.
karen
04.03.07 at 12:50

It seems a bit ironic that the only way to avoid the saturated mass of iPod advertisements in the South Station is to actually buy an iPod and tune out in public. Perhaps once Apple has achieved its goal of selling an iPod to every member of society, they will cease the need to continue this kind of excess.

By the way Rick, I just finished watching your podcast lecture from SVA. Great stuff!
Jude Landry
04.03.07 at 12:52

The flailing bodies in the new iPod campaign look uncomfortably similar to the work of Robert Longo. I wonder if he's gotten (or sought) any kind of compensation.
Pat Broderick
04.03.07 at 12:53

I purchased a New York City subway metro card and on the back there was an ad. If they are charging for ad space on subway metro cards. Shouldn't the cards be free? As for the repetition and saturation of advertising I started seeing it in the early 2000s as whole NYC subway cars were taken over by one advertiser.

Repetition was a formula that brought greater attention to Warhol. So perhaps media buyers are taking a page from Warhol's book.

BTW: Advertising and Graphic Design are Dead!
1 of 300,000,000 +
04.03.07 at 01:01

j makes a fair point. The idea of 'brand experience' here is no long the simple 'just try our product and you'll see'. As an member of the demographic they are aiming for my cinicism radar turns on as the flood of graphic imagery get more and more brash. I believe it was Brand New School that were involved in the newly 'graphiced up' spots, and though they needed to be refreshed there suddenly seemed to be a purpose to making them more and more like visual wallpaper. Transit advertising has always had it's ways of pressuring the visual conscience. We have all seen the interior of subway cars or buses that have been bought out by a single advertiser, but it is now somewhat depressing to feel that the almighty Apple has fallen (pardon the pun) to the pitfalls of men's deodorant and 9 month IT courses. There are ways to impress me more than advertising dollars. After all of this I go to the Sandisk players, they have taken the landfill issue by the horns and added a replaceable battery. Not as pretty, but I won't need to through the whole unit away in the trash in 18+ months.
Doay
04.03.07 at 01:06

I wish, I wish I could remember who said this, but I can't (however, I'll throw the thought in anyway, with apologies to whoever said it first); that if all the space given away these days to advertising in public spaces was given over to political messages, one might suspect that we were living in a totalitarian society. We reside under another kind of imperative, obviously, that seems to have very little to do with dancing in the streets.
lorraine
04.03.07 at 01:31

At least the iPod ads are pretty well designed. If one were to remove the product and the brand name, these would just look like celebratory banners to decorate a drab train station. The only thing worse would be seeing the same station covered in poorly designed ads.
Jude Landry
04.03.07 at 03:16

From David Foster Wallace:
"An ad that pretends to be art is -- at absolute best -- like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what's sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill's real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair."

Mr. Wallace tends towards the dramatic, but I really like this quotation from him and find it to be true.

Pat--I had never heard of Longo before, and I'm glad that I have now seen his work. Very cool! And Chiat/Day (Apple's agency) probably did rip it off. It wouldn't be the first time they stole something. The Intel Core Duo spot was a direct lift of the Postal Service music video, the new iPhone commercial is a total rip-off of Christian Marclay's work, and then there's the other iPod ad which ripped off a spot for Lugz.

As has been articulated very well already, Apple is slowly turning into the things they used to claim they hated. Ah, will Success Spoil Steve Jobs? I guess so. Thus the challenge with any brand, maintaining that sense of integrity and creativity while getting bigger and bigger. Not easy. Few have really done it.
Brad Gutting
04.03.07 at 03:47

Joseph Beuys said it best when he coined the term, "success-aggression".
David Smith
04.03.07 at 04:30

It's the new Tower of Babel, with everyone talking and nobody listening.
Beerzie Boy
04.03.07 at 04:36

Interesting link to Robert Longo, though I have no problem with commerce referencing art (and visa versa)
Jdm
04.03.07 at 05:48

I was struck by the resemblance to Longo the first time I saw the iPod ads, way back when. Just because Longo created those iconic photographs, however, doesn't mean that he's entitled to any sort of compensation for similar images.

There's also a bit of controversy over Apple's iPhone television ad, which features shots of people in various Hollywood films answering the telephone. It's somewhat similar to Christian Marclay's Telephones, to the extent that he is apparently looking into whether he has any legal recourse.

Harpers featured an article on a similar topic -- "On the Rights of Molotov Man" -- in its February issue.

Art has been appropriating images for decades now, and it doesn't seem likely to stop, unless, of course, the sorts of ridiculously over-the-top legal restrictions that we see with DRM and other abuses of copyright are somehow carried over to apply to visual art.

There's copying, and there's inspiration. Sometimes the line gets a bit fine, but without the ability to borrow, build on, and riff off the culture that surrounds us, we're all prisoners of those who can afford to control our public spaces.

Apple's saturation advertising isn't even close to being the first example of such a campaign. Various companies have been taking over public spaces for years. What they hope to accomplish, I don't know....
Claire
04.03.07 at 08:44

Hi Rick,

I love your writing. I'm not afraid to gush. I think it's so interesting how you tackle the huge and wrestle it down into elastic words. I never saw this installation in person - but I did behind my eyes.

On that shameless fan note, I think it's fantastic that iPod ads have become so bizarre and extremized. I think it means they've FIANLLY peaked and it leaves room for the next great moment in design/campaign entry onto the world-stage. It's also fantastic that that Apple chose to do such a mangled, bastardized, surreal advertising finale. Why not go down flaming...better than mousing out with a snuff.
Jessica Gladstone
04.03.07 at 10:03

The commercial use of public spaces came up during Rick's AIGA lecture as well (that's why he was in Boston last week), but the example he used then was Times Square -- which, as an experience, could be said to be the polar opposite of South Station. What I find interesting is how much less oppresive Times Square feels in comparison; even though the visual landscape is dominated by the same sort of corporate voices, there is a variety that makes the place feel a bit more organic, less determined. I actually think that the iPod campaign works better in such a diverse environment, where the simplicity of the graphics helps them to rise above the din, as it were. It kind of defeats the purpose to make them such an overwhelming presence.

Now, the "Apple used to be cool" sentiment that's been coming across in these comments is, frankly, kind of silly -- the corporate equivalent of snubbing an indie band that's hit it big. As a business, Apple's intent has always been to make a profit; the fact that they have done so with (for the most part) good design is simply a business strategy, not some form of cultural resistance.

By the way, Rick's event in Boston (a conversation with Michael Rock) was great.
Jose Nieto
04.03.07 at 10:48

As others have noted, the iPod banners are beautifully and tastefully done. Here in Calgary (AB, Canada), we are subjected to light rail stations inundated with adverts for the local broadsheet that are, at best, intellectually insulting (Understand people you've never met) -- I'd take the iPod bits anyday.
Linda Cunningham
04.03.07 at 11:09

Lee Clow, who is (at least partly) responsible for Apple's advertising as CCO of Chiat/Day, once told of how he saw a campaign for the Los Angeles Olympics as decorating the city for the event. He saw it as making art.

Very few advertising campaigns bridge the worlds of commerce and art with such a strong stake in both. The saturation of this iPod campaign in a place such as a train station is far more pleasant than many others I've seen. Taking the logos off the posters leaves what is arguably some of the best known art of our current culture. I'm not passing judgement on it's value or contribution to art, but it is undeniably art. Perhaps that's why I give Apple more of a pass on this.
Ben Thoma
04.04.07 at 01:39

The same effect of ubiquitus Apple messaging can be said of SF's Powell street Bart station (their local retail store greets you as you exit to the surface). I grew to appreciate their beauty and energy even more after they were replaced by a muted, copy-rich, Vista campaign. All lame OS preferences aside, it was night and day. If Apple's not there, someone else will be.

On a recent bike ride home from work I caught myself staring at an old building plasted with the current campaign and imagining one from the series framed on my the wall of my home 20 years down the road.



dstych
04.04.07 at 03:41

There is a group in Paris/France called "les déboulonneurs". "débouler" means pulling down in French. They basically organize events, where like-minded people meet in order to clear public space from advertisement. Before starting destroying or painting the posters they call the police and wait until they arrive. As soon as the police arrives, they start which is a very intellingent tactic since they get lots of media attraction.

What I actually want to say is that people feel disturbed by advertisement. And there are people who use flash mobbing as a technological ability to gather quickly and effectivly for a more committed purpose than just for "having fun".

It won't take long until advertisement intelligence will begin to find new, more subtle strategies... we will never get rid of them, they will continuously adjust!
Niloufar
04.04.07 at 08:46

The first saturation campaign I saw was in Tokyo in 1987. Heineken bought every ad in every car on all the trains on my route. Japanese trains incidentally, have an additional space for ads: banners hanging from the ceiling over the isle.

I don't see why people object to saturation ads when it amounts to simply having the same ad in all the available ad spaces rather than different ads. At least it's less visually noisy.

More offensive: in Toronto, the Gardiner Expressway corridor is heavily billboarded. In the early 90s, when the city proclaimed they would allow no new billboards - as they where thought to distract drivers - we instead got a 'beautification' project: the sloping grass along one side of the highway was covered with squares of white stone gravel and low hedges were planted and trimmed to form the logos. Newly privatized public space; kitschy appropriation of plants; evicting homeless people.

More offensive: In the London tube lately they've mashed licensed buskers with privatizing new space for advertising. Advertisers buy an area of floor space, outlined with paint and adorned with their logo and tag line. Buskers stand in the space to play.

Mostly, I am bothered by the way the scheme sells off more public spaces for advertising. It also seems demeaning for the musicians, who incidentally become implicated in the advertising, as if the musicians were sponsored by the brand. I'm sure they get nothing. The hat, or open music case people drop donations in, has a tag line running under it. Nothing like exploiting buskers to create a good brand vibe.
brad
04.04.07 at 09:06

" Taking the logos off the posters leaves what is arguably some of the best known art of our current culture."

incredible...
David Smith
04.04.07 at 09:35

The point about Apple ripping off artists isn't much of a legal matter as it is just a plea for originality. Chiat/Day claims to be one of the most creative agencies around, and I think that claim is worthless when they just do what's been done before.

As for the saturation, I think this is less about Apple doing it and more about....simply doing it. Sure, the iPod ads are pretty (and pretty vacant--its like too much chocolate), but give it a rest! Saturating spaces SUCKS, no matter what the message is...
Brad Gutting
04.04.07 at 10:19

art of our current culture?

Well, saturation is a sign of our times if that's the atists message or intent.

... but still not as everlasting as, say, the mosaic art of Union Terminal in Cincinnati. The murals represented people working in 14 different industries without the logos. Some made the jump to the airport
where the setting is not nearly as granduer.

'course, while the art and architecture endured, the passenger trains now run through there with much less frequency.

Gotta wonder how we came so far so fast.
nanc
04.04.07 at 10:39

I think we like saturation
"At least it's less visually noisy."

We love our Staples Center & our Wrigley Field.

-Ad Observer
Mac Wilson
04.04.07 at 12:10

Malcom Mclaren lamented the demise of non-sponsored public spaces in his bid to run for mayor of the City of London. He suggested that Churches, as one of the only sanctuaries from commercialized public space, be open day and night.

Its difficult to gauge the impact, social or economic, of this kind of advertising. It's one of the reasons so much ad spending is being directed to the web; where click through and traffic can be tracked.

This diminishment of public space will only get worse when these static billboards are inevitably replaced by sound enabled flat panel tv screens (it's already happening).
David Hartman
04.04.07 at 01:04

So here, weirdly, is the very phenomenon that the congregation of airborne dancers in iPod's South Station takeover could be seen to depict.

I would argue that these airborne dancers fail to depict or even suggest collective resistance. Hypertrophied individualism, aided and abetted by the iPod seems to be part of the message. The graphic background of each dancer is unique, with one dancer per poster. This serves instead to encourage estrangement and a celebration of the withdrawal from being fully present in the moment. I'm sure this contradiction isn't lost on Jobs & co.

"Flash-mobbing", "mobil-clubbing", "smart mobs" etc. owe some of their existance to Peter Lamborn Wilson's (nom de plume Hakim Bey) seminal text the T.A.Z. that emerged in the late '80s. Urban designers and artist collectives have long since adopted the T.A.Z. or P.A.Z. to fruitful effect across European capitals.


Blair
04.04.07 at 03:43

Thank you, Rick, for writing about this horrible display of advertising. I walk thru South Station frequently and the iPod advertising is oppressive. It feels like it squashes the viewer and their experience in the station. It was refreshing to read that your experience was similar. Also, I was at the AIGA lecture in Boston -- I thought you were very interesting and were a good reality check for Michael Rock's aggressive individualism.
Colleen Cunningham
04.04.07 at 04:46

I would argue that these airborne dancers fail to depict or even suggest collective resistance. Hypertrophied individualism, aided and abetted by the iPod seems to be part of the message.

I agree, Blair. If there is any reference at all in the visual form of the iPod ads to the phenomenon of mobile clubbing, then it's purely opportunistic and an effect of seeing 114 dancers montaged together in one location. As we both agree, in the individual images each dances in his or her own solipsistic space. Some of the commenters above seem inclined to give Apple credit for having produced relatively well crafted images, though calling them art is stretching it too far. But what I find dubious about the campaign, in all its incarnations to date, but especially as delivered at South Street (or anywhere like it), is the way a company such as Apple presumes to specify the terms of pleasurable personal experience, while visually characterizing the dancers, and by implication the music they listen to, in the most reductive of terms, a pretty narrow kind of "individualism".

I also agree that this has advertising campaign has nothing whatsoever to do with resistance (to anything) and I didn't intend to suggest this. It's about the mass acceptance of a mandated corporate culture. It has nothing to do with the appreciation of music either, since you can clearly achieve exaltation through music using even the most basic forms of technology.
Rick Poynor
04.04.07 at 05:07

At least with television and magazines we have the choice not to turn on the box or open the rag. With crap like this, its unavoidable. Most people take the subway because they have to, and presumably that station and train function because of tax dollars. I'd find it rather distressing if a corporation could put in that much money to run their derivative ads somewhere and ultimately achieve more control than they should rightly have over the spaces in which they run.

But then again, maybe its just because I've always loathed Apple. They're like a better-designed McDonald's or Disney, safe and quite literally vanilla.
Brad Gutting
04.04.07 at 06:09

...what I find dubious about the campaign, in all its incarnations to date, but especially as delivered at South Street (or anywhere like it), is the way a company such as Apple presumes to specify the terms of pleasurable personal experience, while visually characterizing the dancers, and by implication the music they listen to, in the most reductive of terms, a pretty narrow kind of "individualism".

Rick, I believe this could be a piece with a potent and damning argument, in part due to the inherent anti-totalitarianism of the original 1984 Apple commercial that prepared the terrain for today's mac evangelism. This is where the "resistance" theme originated, as you're no doubt aware. In reality, the contemporary iteration of this resistance is more like détournement-lite, to put it mildly. Opportunistic indeed, like any lagging, capitalist fox. But what is damning about your polemic is that it runs counter to one of the core messages freighted by Apple's ethos - the liberation from constraining protocols, which ostensibly frees up more time for unfettered and individualistic expression, in the absence of groupthink!
The hegemonic undertones you refer to might suggest merely sloppy, unimaginative ideation, or a Freudian slip at the very least. However, you seem to be implying there's a more sinister intent at work here. This part of your argument is far less compelling.

Your point of view hints at Adolf Loos' critique of Gesamtkunstwerk, the total art work. Or, more specifically, his critique of Belgian designer Henry Van de Velde. This is too confined a space to elaborate the point but I'll offer one quote that might serve to summarize it:
"I tell you, the time will come, when the furnishings of a prison cell by Professor Henry Van de Velde will be considered aggravation of the sentence."

Unjustified and unacceptable intrusion into public space is the more resilient facet of your argument. If there is anything sacrosanct about the public realm, it is expressed in the framework which helps to defend its integrity - the judicial system and the court of public opinion. Both of these can be leveraged with blistering effect at relatively low cost when compared to the misspent fortunes of visual and conceptual polluters. There are many examples of hardy battles, both exasperating and inspiring which testify to the vitality of public dissent.

As for calling these displays art, I'm inclined to believe that posterity has a flimsier grasp of aesthetic value than we do and wouldn't be surprised to see these pastel banners fetching ludicrous sums at a Christies auction fifty years hence. If Richard Prince's Marlboro man can do it why can't this drek?
Blair
04.05.07 at 01:21

I find some comfort in the fact that everyone in the new iPod ads looks like they're being shot, rather than dancing.
Jw
04.05.07 at 03:48

Clearly another hybrid case of visual environment pollution, its simply disgusting and anoying. I never will use such a stupid thing like the Ipi..
Apple seems to have no respect for humans..
M.Stankewitz
04.06.07 at 11:46

I saw these recently in a subway station (F line) and immediately thought of Robert Longo. You will all remember a few of these were on the walls of Patrick Bateman's well-designed apartment, the American Psycho in the eponymous film. I've never read any writing about this work, but a friend of mine who went to art school pointed out to me how you can't tell if they're experiencing pain or pleasure. Also remember these (fashionable, ineffective) détournements. I was always surprised that iPod kept repeating this ad after that, but probably it was only New Yorkers that saw it, or the few suburbans that read AdBusters.

I was disturbed by what appeared to be the advertiser's awareness of these cultural reference points, and their flouting or trampling or reference, whatever you might think. I'm not sure how to feel about it, except that all the above comments certainly ring true, even those who 'believe' in Apple as an idea. What is so disappointing, however, is that some people have not realized it was branding in the beginning, and it's branding now. Even if you could ascribe good intentions, it's still branding, and Steve Jobs doesn't care about you.

M
04.19.07 at 12:07

From a 1994 Artforum review:

"For better or for worse, "Men in the Cities" was a perfect congruence of art with its time. Film-noir stills in '80s power garb, these life-size figures assumed impossibly distorted positions of twisting, turning, or falling. Via the ambiguity of the subjects' distress, Longo asked whether it mattered if they were victims of gunshots or other random violence or merely writhing from the pain of being forced to take meeting. Endlessly and obsessively reproduced, they represented the ultimate triumph of the institutionalized self, a human being as corporate logo--not "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" but man as the Sears Tower. The idea of an individual crushed by a system of unseen forces is hardly novel, but Longo's innovation was that it could actually be quite glamorous. And it is glamour that Longo continues to promise. He sees himself as a modern-day impresario, silkscreening his collaborators names on the wall like the credits at the end of a movie."
M
04.19.07 at 12:24

Thanks for that, M, and thanks belatedly to everyone who commented here. I didn't mention it in the original piece, but I showed the Iraq iPod ad in the public conversation I had with Michael Rock at the ICA in Boston. The image(s) seem to have received some US press coverage at the time and the campaign was rapidly documented in Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic's book The Design of Dissent. The day after the event I passed through South Station and saw the iPod ads. I gather they've gone now.

I'm always sympathetic to these attempts at culture jamming. They are a sign, however small, that people aren't prepared to take it lying down: they are answering back publicly, and even if the only effect is for some viewers to nod in agreement and take some heart from this small act of disaffection, that's a positive thing. A culture where that didn't happen at all in the streets would be a culture that has entirely succumbed to the official view.
Rick Poynor
04.19.07 at 06:56

Sao Paolo is completely free of advertisement and billboards in public space now!! The spaces that are left naked are scary though... what is advertisement really covering up?
http://www.artthreat.net/2007/04/158
Niloufar
04.26.07 at 01:22


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Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, media, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design.
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BOOKS BY Rick Poynor

Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design
MG Publications, 2010

Jan van Toorn: Critical Practice
010 Publishers, 2008

Obey the Giant: Life in the Image World
Birkhäuser Architecture, 2007

Designing Pornotopia: Travels in Visual Culture
Princeton Architectural Press, 2006

Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design Since the Sixties
Yale University Press, 2005

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