Stick It Back - An Anti-Advertising Campaign

Advertising gives me a pain. I think we have to fight back however we can. If advertisers are going to stick it to us, we have to stick it back to them. I propose to put adhesive stickers on advertisements, or near the offending institutions, to counteract this perniciousness, to fight this pandemic with our scorn and our ridicule, and their enticements, gross or subtle, with our rejection, and their propaganda with our dose of reality. It ought to be an international initiative. All who care about this can do it in their spare time, or as they make their rounds. We should follow Richard Nixon’s famous counsel: “Give ‘em the shaft!” In this article I provide a few examples of what I’ve done, or would do. But first a little background.

Even when I was just a small kid, most advertisements seemed amazingly stupid, always pandering to people’s worst instincts, and trying to convince people that they needed something they hardly needed. Everything you can imagine, from chewing gum and cigarettes to cars, swimming pools, and vacations in Miami (of all places!). Our family and our community, and our country in general, seemed to have more than enough of what we thought we needed, and not enough of what we really needed but often didn’t notice the lack of. Crass materialism seems to be what we modern types take for granted, just as fish scarcely notice the water. But does it have to be like this?

Dante’s Inferno and the Advertising Profession
In college we were assigned Dante’s Inferno, and one thing about Dante’s tour of Hell that made a strong impression on me was that a certain Circle of Hell (the Eighth Circle, first bolgia, or “crowd” – sure I didn’t know, but I looked it up) as designated for the “panderers and seducers” – those who, for their own personal gain, entice others to sin. In Dante they get off rather easy, in my opinion, merely being whipped by horned demons. I thought they deserved at least a sea of excrement as well, believing as I do that the punishment should fit the crime. (See “Panderers and Seducers – Sea of Excrement” – footnote 1, below)

Anyhow, naturally I thought immediately of the advertising profession. Similarly, propaganda and the dissemination of false and foolish notions seemed to me likewise deserving of contempt and denunciation. I feel even more strongly about this today, when we are even more inundated with these mentally-invasive provocations than we were 40 or 50 years ago. (The only exceptions I make to this anatema, this fatwa of mine, are the rare commercials or advertisements that are truly funny, clever, and even intelligent, those that inform or persuade but which still give us something, or make us smarter, and respect us. There are actually many of these, but they are overwhelmed by the trash.)

As I go around town, I see advertisements all the time that inspire my ire, and I want to do something to fight back, to defuse the power of these ads, punch a hole in the gas bag, and point out to a largely unthinking public how it is being manipulated, deceived, and fed simplistic or idiotic notions. I’ve had many ideas. I have not carried them out, for the most part, for lack of time, and lack of the nerve to do something illegal.

Plaques and Place Names
Sometimes my “targets” are not advertisements meant to sell products, but rather historical plaques or official names which say something tendentious or misleading. For example, here in Torino there is a section of the Parco Michelotti (the park that runs along the east bank of the Po River) dedicated to the memory of the Jews who were deported to a horrible fate in the Nazi camps. (Actually, the dedicatory signs, interestingly, do not specify who were “the Fallen”: . But only a goat would not know that this refers overwhelmingly to Jews.) “Parco Caduti dei Lager Nazisti”, or the Park of the Fallen in the Nazi Concentration Camps. That’s all the sign says – as if it were all the fault of those nasty Nazis, who were not Italian, who invaded Italy and took away as many Jews as they could.

Well, it’s good to be reminded of this great crime, and of the depths to which humanity can sink. But by merely reading these few simple words on the signs, or on the plaque in one part of this section, you’d never guess that Italian authorities and home-grown Italian Fascists (of all classes and all walks of life) were instrumental and even crucial in rounding up Italian Jews and handing them over to the Nazis. This is disingenuous in the extreme, reinforcing as it does a self-congratulatory myth according to which the Italians are good and decent people who would never collaborate with such an evil. But history shows us that this is not true. Seems that just about every country whitewashes its own history, and washes its own brains. (See footnote 2, Plaques and Signs, below.)

Posters and Announcements
Another type of “target” (which is not an advertisement in the strict sense) are certain posters or announcements. A simple example: early in 2014 here in Torino there was a retrospective exhibit of photographs by Eve Arnold, the noted and very fine and versatile photographer. For the poster announcing the exhibition they chose one of Arnold’s photos of Marilyn Monroe (the subject of several other images in the exhibit, in fact a whole section of it), and a very good photo indeed, although Arnold has many images equally worthy of such a poster. However, there was probably nothing quite so alluring as this picture of Marilyn, an image guaranteed to draw plenty of attention. Surely, far fewer people would have been interested in this exhibit if they had used Arnold’s very different but equally fine portrait of Malcolm X, with his maximum cool. Or likewise if they had chosen her female trombonist on stage, or her Cuban woman brooding in a bar, both images classic. Instead, it was simply another occasion to take advantage, for obvious reasons, of the star-religion that made an icon out of Monroe, and certainly had a part in her sad fate. I wanted to scribble in the margin something like “poor thing – dead fifty years and they’re still exploiting her.”

For the the curators and administration of Palazzo Madama who organized the show, and for the supporting banks and corporations that like to be seen as friends of culture, it was a sure crowd-pleaser. But do we really need to see more of the old gal, whose every inch we have already seen? My objection is not to the Arnold show, which was a very valid choice out of many worthy potential exhibits, but to the use of Monroe’s picture for publicity, of the usual titillating sort. (See footnote 3, Marilyn.)

Not very far behind the Nazis and Fascists on my hate list stands McDonald’s, for a crime against humanity of another sort – not mass murder or totalitarian repression, of course, but for something still quite grave: their invasion of the diet of the whole developed world, which has habituated hundreds of millions of people to unwholesome, industrialized, and overpriced food. (Not that they don’t make a few tasty things.) This is not the moment to preach any further along these lines. Let’s get practical. Here’s what I did:

The Clandestine Laser Printer (Notes from Underground)
I got a couple of logos and worked with them in Photoshop, intending to print them on adhesive-backed sheets – like the ones you use for labels, but whole, uncut sheets. With one graphic, which shows the slogan “I’m lovin’ it” below the familiar arches, I changed the text to “I’m shittin” it”. With another, consisting of just the arches making the initial “M”, I made more space on the right and added “ERDE”. The “I’m shittin’ it” I copied four up on a standard page; the “MERDE” two on a sheet, roughly bumper sticker format.

Hard-Boiled and Under Cover
I cased the joint – that is, I had a real good look around a few of the McDonalds establishments around here to see where I could stick some stickers without getting stuck myself. I especially wanted to determine if there were any surveillance cameras around. I got into the habit of carrying around a few stickers whenever I went around. Despite my fears of getting busted for my anti-publicity campaign, I managed to put stickers on a few trash receptacles near one local McDonald’s, and a few more in places remote from any enemy strongholds, such as utility poles or the backs of traffic signs near traffic lights, where people (ordinarily) stop and have a few seconds to look around. My stickers were gone some time later, but I hope that at least a few noticed.

Dumbing Down - Are We Dumb Enough Yet?
There is also a campaign for Converse, aimed clearly at young people, whose slogan is simply “Shoes are boring. Wear sneakers.” Duh! I want to answer that with “Advertisements are boring. Boycott advertisers.” Then there is the well-known Diesel “Stupid” campaign which appeals to an even lower common denominator. Stupid is as stupid does, and I say it’s stupid to let yourself be manipulated by people who are just trying to sell you something, and even stupider to not mind being addressed in this condescending way. I could go on, and on, and on.

Lifestyle Choices, and Being Comfortably Dumb
It isn’t always advertising campaigns that get to me – sometimes they’re people’s personal choices for self-expression, or simply the public nuisances they create (sometimes with the help of their dogs). Speaking of people’s little self-expressions, I often see parked in my neighborhood a colossal Jeep Range Rover. It’s covered with stickers, everything very sporty, very utility – you’d think they drive it over the Alps, through the desert, everywhere – instead of just using it to go to work in the morning. I can only guess what it cost, or how much fuel it consumes. It doesn’t surprise me that there are still people around with such an undeveloped consciousness. What surprises me is the sticker, on the same car, that says “Try Vegetarianism – it’s great!” I can think of some pointed responses to this.

Public Nuisances
About public nuisances: since I am as annoyed as most people are to find dog feces everywhere in the city, I wanted to make a series of sarcastic comments, to be printed on strips of paper, then to be attached to kebab sticks and inserted into the offending piles, to be found most likely the next day by the very Masters who couldn’t be bothered to clean it up, or at least to take their animals to a marginally more suitable place (like the curb), or both. I offer here just a few examples (I wrote a pageful in very little time, but perhaps I have a gift for sarcasm): “Excuse me, did you drop this?”, “First Prize for Size”, “Take me home”, “Needs more fiber”, “Stamp out antipersonnel mines”, “The real shit is the one with two legs”, etc.. Just to make the point. (Anyone who wants my two-page list, contact me – but it’s in Italian.)

A Secret Service Failure for ex-President’s Daughter
On this very subject, it gave me great satisfaction, back around 1980, to hear an announcer/host on WBAI-FM relate this: he happened to live in the same New York neighborhood as Tricia Nixon, daughter of the ex-President. It seems that Ms. Nixon was in the habit of walking her dog every morning and having the dog empty his bowels on the sidewalk, always in the very same place. He bought a Richard Nixon mask – I think Halloween was coming up – and went out early to place the mask in just that spot. I don’t know if he waited around to observe Ms. Nixon’s reaction, but surely she was not amused.

That’s about it. So the point of all this is to appeal to everyone out there to do something like this. I don’t really have the time, the inclination, the ability, or the legal status to do this as it ought to be done. (Mind that advertising is illegal unless you pay lots of money to put it up – if you do it free-lance as I am describing, it’s considered vandalism or defamation.) Someone should create a proper website where people could upload and exchange their subversive designs for anti-advertising.

Allen Schill
September 2014


1: Panderers and Seducers (Sea of Excrement)
Fortunately, or at least moderately satisfying to my sense of justice, the sea of excrement is reserved for the flatterers in the very next level down; it symbolizes, pungently, the worth of their words in life. So at least it’s close enough to the Mad Men and the pimps and procurers as to be ever-present in their nostrils, especially in that heat. (The panderers and seducers are whipped and driven by these demons, just as in life they used the passions of others to drive them.)

2: Plaques and Signs
Official names of public places and texts inscribed in memorial plaques are not true advertisements, so they communicate to us – not with us – more subliminally; our guard is not up in the same way as it is when money is at stake. Depending on one’s politics, religious sensibilities, and sense of history, a person might have strong feelings about a street named for Sacco and Vanzetti (in Torino) or for Mother Cabrini (in New York), or a sports arena called “Workers’ Stadium” (in Beijing – where, it’s said, the executions are carried out). The Firesign Theatre often made fun of this sort of thing – for example, the students at Communist Martyrs High School are hard at work on a mural entitled “The Heroic Struggle of the Little People to Finish the Mural”. But, just as Tom Lehrer said, when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, that political satire was dead, the Firesign Theatre’s joke has been surpassed by just about anything in North Korea with a name.

3: Marilyn
I have no objection to titillation (if you don’t believe me, just ask my wife). Sexuality is a wonderful thing in itself; I object only to its commodification and to its ubiquitous commercial use. I confirm that the photo they chose for the announcement is very appealing – a partly-covered Marilyn is lying in a disarrayed bed, looking up towards the camera, but with her eyes practically closed, and with a very satisfied expression, a look that made you want to just – protect her! To snuggle in there under the covers and absorb some of that lovely animal warmth! maybe contribute some!

What also struck me about the photograph (I really haven’t seen that many photos of her) was her forearm, which seemed surprisingly hairy, and not exactly platinum-downy, either. Which just goes to show that nobody is perfect.

© 2014 Allen Schill. All rights reserved in all countries. No part of this document may be reproduced or used in any form without prior written permission from the author. Anyone is welcome to link to it or to quote brief passages, but I would like to be notified.

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