For a while now I’ve had what I like to think of as an original idea. There may be no such thing as an original idea, of course, so I suppose I should attempt to clarify: What I mean is that it seemed like an original idea.
This is an important distinction because writers borrow all the time. You can’t take somebody else’s words and ideas and present them as your own. That’s called plagiarism. But you can take plots and ideas and all sorts of other stuff and make them your own. Shakespeare did this to great effect and we’ve been stealing from him, in turn, ever since (how many “Romeo and Juliet” styled movies can you name?)
Plus, when your brain has spent a lifetime exposed to advertising it’s hard to tell if what you’re having is an original thought or something beamed into your mind like a drill bit during a break in a “Leave It To Beaver” episode.
Anyway, my (so-called) original idea was that the 7-Up logo would make a great flashing light advertisement on the surface of the moon. Imagine a moonrise with a pulsating neon green pitch for a sugary pop. I must have had this “original” idea a long time ago because nobody drinks 7-Up any longer (though it might be one of those Yogi Berra things: nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded.)
In any case, it was a rather bitter, cynical observation about rampant commercialism, the strength of which is perhaps American culture’s most potent weapon. Why send in the troops when you can send in the Coca-Cola Bottling Company?
There does not seem to be any limit. Even outer space will not be able to resist what among humans may be a biological requirement to sell things to each other. It might not be 7-Up, but it will be something.
You might find this a violation. Certainly some things in the universe should be exempt from our impulse to peddle. But where, exactly, does the line get drawn?
Certainly not on the baseball diamond, where advertising is as fundamental as one, two, three strikes you’re out. Prepare for a pop quiz: Which oil company has an iconic ad at Fenway Park, home of the World Champion Boston Red Sox? (if you answered “Citgo,” you are, just like the Sox, a winner!).
I bring up the Citgo sign because it has been there, I think, for more than a half century, which means it’s been around long enough for people to get used to it, and long enough for some to notice a great emptiness should it, one forlorn day, be gone. The point is that advertising can be just as valued as anything else.
And, yet, you wouldn’t want to see a Citgo sign flashing atop Teddy Roosevelt’s nose on Mount Rushmore, now — would you? There are places that would seem off limits, hence my nightmare about 7-Up and the moon.
But what might seem no-brainer off-limits today might become no big deal tomorrow. Football players, otherwise known as soccer players, around the world wear ads on their uniforms like refrigerators wear magnets, but not all that long ago you would have thought that off limits in American sports. Not any longer.
Once upon a time you might have thought state and national parks would be off limits, as well.
"This is just the beginning," wrote Jim Hightower, a radio commentator and public speaker, in a 2016 opinion piece. "Corporate lobbyists will demand ever-greater commercial intrusions — including their ultimate goal of privatizing these public jewels and turning them into a nationwide chain of Disneylands."
These flashes of thought, not an original item among them, I suspect, came to mind when I was looking at a plan in Wallingford to allow advertising in town parks. On the plus side: revenue. On the minus side?
Do I think it’s a terrible idea? I do not. But it’s something to keep in mind the next time you look up at the moon.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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