READ THE SUN

Unlike everybody else, we dislike advertisements. We know. We’re taking a controversial position, but bear with us here.

We kind of think that economics is about as much of a science as witch doctoring. The world economy is short-circuiting right now because everyone went along with the sage advice of the financial gurus who thought up mortgage-backed securities and cutting bad debt up into traunches that could be sold as good debt . . . and on and on.
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As we understand it (full disclosure: we don’t understand it) one of the cornerstones of capitalism is that people act rationally and in their own self-interest, and even if capitalism stratifies the classes and ruins the earth with a consumptive ethos, we can at least reap the rewards of the generative engine of the free market. Innovation and production of wealth, blah blah blah. OK, fine, don’t love it, but at the moment, we’re too much of a wimp to rage against this machine.

But here’s the problem. Advertisements. FUCKING LIE. THEY LIE SO HARD. So how are the discrete constituents (consumers) of a capitalist system supposed to make these rational decisions in their own self-interest if they’re bombarded with disingenuous images so often repeated that even the savviest of media consumers aren’t immune to their charms? And don’t give us that dreck arguing against Galbraith’s dependence effect, like this professor CSPU does: “needs, wants, tastes, and demand all originate within the consumer. A sign that says “Lemonade—5¢” cannot create a desire for the product if the consumer is not thirsty or does not like lemonade.”

stearnsWe’re not sure if this guy’s a moron or a liar but this is the Internet so we’re prepared to call him both. An ad can do exactly that fucking thing. It can create want. Absolutely it can. Are you telling us that fashion fetishists really just ‘need’ new clothes? No, they want the clothes that an adjacency in Vanity Fair has advertised. Are you seriously saying that Hammacker Schemmler’s products exist to fulfill needs that people already have prior to reading their catalogue on an airplane?

What we’re trying to argue here is that we really hate how the axiom of capitalism is that people act rationally, but then the organizations trying to sell us product don’t permit us to act rationally. They force us to act emotionally, out of lust or fear or greed. Even the way that TV ads are produced is designed to evoke emotional (as opposed to rational) response—audio in commercials is compressed in such a way that ads sound louder than TV programs. It’s harder to act “rationally” when you’re being sonically bombarded.
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We know, we know, this argument is tired and it’s been argued more coherently with more intellectual rigor by everyone from Naomi Klein to Adbusters, but all we’re trying to say is that misleading advertisements—and that’s almost all of them—aren’t fair, and they undermine a tenet of the system they’re nominally trying to prop up. It’s weird and despicable, like a skinhead on a unicycle. What.

What we hate a lot less are ads that just level with you, and there’s a good’un by Louis Rhead in the Met’s Rockefeller Hall (remember? This blog concerns museums!) It says, in its entirety, “READ THE SUN.” That’s it. Just a straightforward command: no emotional manipulation, no lies-by-omission, no disingenuous viral marketing, no false dichotomies, no lazily pregnant double-entendre. With this ad, we know where we stand, and we’re able to decide whether or not to comply with the all-caps instruction.

The rest of the ads in the hall use the same selling-of-dreams tactic that modern commercials do. But the hell with it. Our screed above doesn’t account for the fact that we’re pushovers Art Nouveau prints. The ham-fisted directive of Edward Penfield’s 1896 “Ride a Stearns and be Content” is pretty fun.  We also like the trompe-l’Å“il tiles on E. Pickert’s February 9, 1895 poster for the  New York Times, the rich colors in Rhead’s lithograph for Le Journal de la Beauté, and the way the lady is frenching a peacock on the cover of Will H. Bradley’s woodcut cover for his typography magazine.

Not much more to say on these guys. As Penfield wrote, “A design that needs study is not a poster no matter how well it is executed.”
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Sidenote: it’s the mark of a phenomenal collection when the hallways taking you from one gallery to the next are themselves packed with terrific art. A recent AP article on museum attendance spiking in this down economy states that, “At any given time, most museums display only 1 percent of [their] collections.” Let’s ramp that up, shall we? Per Andy’s bathroom post, we advocate for putting some of the works currently in storage in the Met’s bowels and annexes on the walls of the restroom.

The Rockefeller Hall

Highlights: All of them. Large-format Art Nouveau lithographs.

Memorable Quote: “READ THE SUN”

Next week: Self-Portraits in the Modern Mezzanine