All Aboard the Apple iPod Express!

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So the mayor of Surrey – a little suburban municipality just to the east and across the river from Vancouver – thinks that Translink, the regional transit authority, should follow Toronto’s example and sell naming rights to stations and lines as a source of badly needed funds. Forget road tolls, gas taxes, or any otherwise targeted taxes. No. Sell the public commons!

The Toronto deal drastically increases advertising space on buses and subways, and well, yah, the right to rename stations and lines.

I’m not sure – no actually, I am entirely sure – how I feel about this proposal. Forget Toronto for a minute, and just consider what is being proposed: Selling what remains of any notion of public space to the highest bidder so that they can in turn try their darndest to sell us more shit, more shit, more shit! What is this saying about who we are as a people, as a culture? 

One has to ask how far, how much of our public realm we are willing to “sell” to pay for the infrastructure we seem unwilling to pay for ourselves. How much of our everyday experience we are willing to give over to the consumption machine that is advertising, branding, selling?

How that is going to look, I’m not sure. There is an example in Chicago where Apple paid something like $4 million to renovate a dilapidated subway station and adjoining plaza...on which, get this, there is a shiny new Apple store! There are talks to rename the station.


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  • Comment Link chela Friday, 22 July 2011 03:20 posted by chela

    oh for f- sake. This is so annoying.

    I recall when the White Rock Playhouse was turned into the Coast Capital theater, with neon signage no less. A core structure of that city's heritage stripped of its soul. No longer the watering hole for culture but just another glaring reminder on the slog of consumption we move through day to day.

    What does this say about the people? Not to get all jargon jargon, but isn't this just the epitome of swimming in orange consciousness?
    Opportunity and individualistic priorities of earn-spend-consume-repeat become more important than valuing communities both in the physical space itself and in the spiritual/psychic impact that space has on the people who occupy it.

    And how does one argue against a move such as this when the worldview that would consider this move to be positive and resourceful can't actually hold a perspective that values anything other than capitalistic 'growth'?

    boooooooooo. I am so tired of having my attention seized moment by moment in relentless (often successful)attempts to create a stirring of craving in me; making me feeeeeel like I need what they got. Jesus, the inside of the bus is already trying to sell me shit food, low self-esteem, distracting technology and over-priced shiny objects, the last thing I need is the bus itself and each stop to be a play by play reminder of soullessness.

  • Comment Link Jarrod Friday, 22 July 2011 14:51 posted by Jarrod

    Public infrastructure is one thing, but the arts are something else altogether.

    Ironically, those responsible for renaming the playhouse likely accepted the funding to achieve the opposite end, to keep their programs going and to keep soul and culture IN their city.

    They don't have a hope of some new tax or toll for funding, so how can you fault them? It has nothing to do with capitalism. Why do you think they call them starving artists?

    Of course it would be nice if everyone had all the money and resources they need at every moment, but the real world isn't like that and often requires compromise.

    And to claim that changing the name of a building "strips it's soul" and automatically means it's "no longer the watering hole for culture" is hyperbole to the extreme.

    Naming a building "Current City" + "Playhouse" isn't what gives it soul and culture. It's what happens inside.

  • Comment Link chela Friday, 22 July 2011 22:58 posted by chela

    Fair points. Of course it is what happens inside the playhouse that matters, but what is happening outside and all around us matters as well.

    'Strips its soul' was perhaps hyperbole in the extreme, but this isn't about that one isolated playhouse. I don't actually fault the arts for looking for ways to keep them going. I don't fault the playhouse, I'm certain it was the best of all options at that time.

    But it is still the capitalist machine driving. What I do fault is the bank itself and systems driving it. Perhaps this is naive or idealistic of me, as this is the world we live in. But I would like to see a new kind of corporate responsibility.

    Isn't what we're looking to do with this world is attempt to move towards fuller health in many ways?

    The advertising that is around us all of the time has an impact on us. It impacts us deeply. And while, yes, the arts and public infrastructure are different things, I would argue that part of the reason that this proposal isn't just thrown out in disgust is because corporate sponsored naming is so common that it has become normalized.

    So while this is the world we are living in, that it is fast becoming one giant billboard for corporate growth is still quite sad. And I do think it impacts the soul.

    Do I know what the solution is in terms of funding these things in other ways? No, I do not. It seems that the issues beneath have a great deal to do with both systems and values.

    There is a reason that people react to artists 'selling out'. And of course the perspective you laid out so clearly is perfectly valid. There are so many angles to skillfully consider.
    I do think it's important thought to ask when are things going too far? I think they already have. Certainly having an Apple iPod Express is too far. Or isn't it? How do we know?

  • Comment Link Jarrod Monday, 25 July 2011 03:17 posted by Jarrod

    I googled... This isn't the "capitalist machine driving", in fact, it's not even a "bank". Coast Capitol Savings is a regional credit union, owned and controlled by their members (not investors) and headquartered in Surrey (a short drive from the Playhouse). They actually budget 7% of their pre-tax income to give back to the community, donating $4.6 million in 2010 alone to all kinds of great causes:'re_Helping/

    If this isn't a good example of corporate responsibility then what is?

    You are blaming the very people and groups who actually epitomise the values you are say we need more of.

  • Comment Link chela Monday, 25 July 2011 19:58 posted by chela

    So while I sit here chowing down on my humble pie, I have learned a very valuable lesson: Don't sloppily spew an ENTIRELY EMOTIONAL argument online.

    That said, I have some questions, but would like to be explicit about my tone. I'm not into having a debate, because:

    a)Clearly I am out of my league, I don't actually have the knowledge or understanding of the complexities of economics and capitalism to have a leg to stand on in constructing an argument and thus:

    b)I don't want to spend my Monday afternoon in a state of public humiliation.

    c)I actually feel some torment around these issues and want to press into them more, moving into a place of inquiry around them.

    I appreciate how you so clearly and directly put me in my place and so I'd appreciate some further insights or wisdom on some of what continues to not sit well for me.

    "This isn't the "capitalist machine driving"
    -Can you please help me to understand how this is so? I do get the point about this credit union and what they're offering and how it contrasts with my unchecked assumptions. But isn't this still capitalism?

    "If this isn't a good example of corporate responsibility then what is?"
    -I think this is a really important question. At first blush, this looks great, but I am hesitant to celebrate it. In the case of corporate sponsorship, I wonder why the name needs to be splayed in such a way?
    Can't they sponsor and not require that kind of public acknowledgement?
    In such a case it feels more like purchasing advertising space than the intention to contribute to the community. I do realize this is complex. This type of 'giving back' isn't actually uncommon and I may sound like a total naive 'corporate hater' but couldn't this money be considered part of their marketing budget?
    After all, isn't marketing about speaking to a particular worldview, in this case the worldview of the customers who want to do business with a company that is giving back?

    I don't mean to knock the good that's being done, (which is why this is overwhelmingly complex for me) but it seems to me that growth and profit are still the focus of the game.

    What I wonder about a new kind of corporate responsibility is where the impact of these logos being all around us are actually considered. Thoughts on this?

    "You are blaming the very people and groups who actually epitomise the values you are say we need more of."

    hmmmmmm. I am not so sure. On the one hand, of course, certainly more than many out there. But on the other hand...I think some of the values I am espousing are outside of this all together.

    A Seth Godin blog post landed in my inbox today, that while it isn't totally on par with this, speaks to the bottom line being the priority at the end of the day. You can check it out here:

    It seems that when growth and profit are the main priority, as long as community contribution supports that, then great, we're all in. But what happens when it doesn't?
    Isn't there damage being done?
    How is that damage measured?

    One of the struggles I have here is that when we take situation by situation as in this case of the playhouse, there's a lot of rational logic that makes us go, 'ok, well that all makes sense'.

    But it still doesn't FEEL good and our city is still a billboard and so I don't know what to make of the results of all these rationally logical decisions that make so much sense.

    please help me to reconcile this.
    Shred me if you must. I would appreciate an expanded view.

    Paul? You know you want to.

  • Comment Link Matt Lewis Tuesday, 26 July 2011 02:19 posted by Matt Lewis

    I am trying to figure out what Baxter's point is here. I think his intention was to provoke a discussion, which seems to be working! However, the original post seems a bit muddled. Is it about a lack of political will to raise taxes in order to fund public goods like transit? Is it an abhorrence of consumer culture? It seems a bit all over the shop.

    Chela, I would like to speak to your thoughts about 'profit and growth' specifically. It is not necessarily the case that seeking profit and growth leads to damage. Sometimes, an idea is powerful enough to lead to higher profits and growth all on it's own. For instance, it used to be that grocery stores were organized in such a way that you would tell the clerk what you wanted, and then the clerk would go and fetch it for you before ringing up the sale. It took up the time of two people to collect groceries for one person!

    An enterprising grocer decided to try something different and set up the store into aisles and the allow customers to browse and to pick out their own items. This grocer was able to cut back on staff and to offer lower prices. Eventually, this organizational form took over, and this is the structure of the modern grocery store.

    Here it is the case that the application of an idea resulted in a new way to organize a grocery store which led to higher profits and economic growth. There does not appear to be any damage in this case, just an improvement in efficiency.

    I can understand that many people associate profits and economic growth with the destruction and depletion of natural capital. However, to think they are irrevocably intertwined is to ignore the power of a good idea.

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Wednesday, 27 July 2011 13:31 posted by Andrew Baxter

    Okay, let me jump into the fray here.

    Thanks Jarrod for stirring up some debate. But I must disagree, slightly.

    First of all, to suggest that Coast Capital Savings is acting out of some sort of benevolence because it is owned in a slightly different manner than other banks somehow is perhaps a smidgeon hyperbolic.

    It acts essentially like a publicly traded company in that we, as bank account holders, "invest" - that is buy shares in the company - and the bank then uses our money, our deposits to make more money for us, the shareholders. It doesn't particularly matter who owns a company, in a capitalist system, they are all acting under the exact same sets of priorities and forces.

    And I agree with Chela. It’s all well and good to do some public good with corporate profit, but the singular need to then brand itself in giant glowing letters is indicative of a deeper current in our economic system. A few years ago, the old Memorial Arena was torn down in Victoria. It was built in 1949 and named in honour of the city’s war dead. In order to rebuild it, private money was needed – and to Matt’s point, yes I am talking about political will and taxes...among other things – and so the arena is now the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena. (The original name was simply going to be the Save-On-Foods Arena until a public outcry forced the name ‘adjustment’.) There is clearly a corporate interest in buying advertising involved in the decision to support the project, and so no matter the public good accomplished with this private, corporate investment, I have a hard time believing that there was much beyond simple economic rationale involved in the decision. Corporate responsibility, to my mind, would be supporting the building of a train station, a stadium, or whathaveyou for the sake of the public good, not for an advertising opportunity.

    Secondly, I as well would like some clarification.

    You said: “You are blaming the very people and groups who actually epitomise the values you are say we need more of.”
    Perhaps you could expand on exactly who these people are? And exactly what are their values?

    Matt, can’t I have more than one point?
    I suppose what I was trying to draw attention to with my piece was the increasing amount of time and space advertising has been colonising of our lives.

    Also, the fact that we as a society – and culture more generally it would seem – are unable, or more probably unwilling, to pay for the things we want. We want everything on the cheap. If we had to pay the actual costs of things, we might actually have to demand change. How absurd. And so we subsidize our lifestyles with increasing corporate ‘investment’. I just think the price is too steep for my liking.

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