Conference Project: MetroNorth Ad Bust

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My project was replacing ads on the Metro North train with my own work.

With this poster, I wanted to propose an alternative path to happiness/fulfillment than those suggested by advertisements. Advertisements suggest that we can improve ourselves and our experience through the purchase of the advertised product/service/experience.  Ads sculpt this illusion that there is an alternate reality, a utopia of youth, beauty and opulence, and the ticket is just the purchase of their product. They suggest that if you modify the externalities of your life (your appearance, your shelter, your car, etc) than your internal self will be improved.

It reduces the human experience to that of mere consumerism, and dramatically simplifies our desires to a reward system where self-improvement is predicated entirely on money spending. John Berger frames the relationship between society and the advertisement industry in this 1972 episode of Ways of Seeing. It’s challenging to unlearn the buyer’s high, but I think it’s just a matter of realizing that fulfillment is based on a state of mind.

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This second ad was to address the one-way communicative nature of advertisements. Ads speak but don’t listen. They tell you what you want, but don’t respond to your needs. I wanted to make an ad that just listened. So I made randomtrainsign@gmail.com.

I’m not sure how long it lasted but I got 2 emails within the first few hours after I put it up. I posted this picture online so it’s possible that these emails are from people who viewed it online. To me, that makes no difference because my goal was to inspire people to interact with a space that would otherwise be ignored, so if they’re doing that through web use that still accomplishes something in my book. I’m really inspired to keep going with this particular one, and make more “randomtrainsign@gmail.com” ads.  I wanted this to look handmade, rather than printed, because I wanted it to maintain a sort of holistic, person-to-person feel. In terms of the responses:

The first was a [kind of] intense poem:

TERRIBLE MISTAKES ARE MADE ON THE MOVE.
SEATS FACING EACH OTHER OR NOTHING.
SUIT AND A LEATHER BOOT A LIST SO I WONT FORGET.
POLICE MAN TAKING OUT HIS HANDKERCHIEF.
PARANOID OR INCESSANT CLICKING ON THE TELEPHONE?
CHOKE ON YOUR OPINION.
A LITTLE OVERWHELMED I BEGAN WITH DOUBT.
BOTHERED ME BEFORE NOW GENERALIZED EVASIONS.
WHAT PART OF THE MIDDLE WEST IS A WRONG IDEA?
TRIED VERY HARD TO DIE.
KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF THE BATHROOM FLOOR.
PRETEND TO BE SURPRISED BETWEEN THE SHEETS.
SHE LAY PERFECTLY STILL, LISTENING, A CAR?
TOO OLD TO LIE TO MYSELF.
ETERNAL GRACELESS CIRCLES.
IMPORTANT LOOKING DOOR.
The second email was a short story:

It was my first time traveling over night on my own, and i had stopped in Newark New jersey over night. it was about 1 am and bitter cold in the city, there was not a soul to be seen. I moseyed about the main streets alone in the flickering lights of the un maintained street lamps, when a newspaper box caught my eye, it was moderately tagged with graffiti, and i had wanted to get a closer look, possible make a contribution myself. With my head so close to the box taking in the names scrawled across its front facing side, i had not the peripheral vision or the outward attention to notice the man approaching me from behind, suddenly i felt a tap on my shoulder and flung myself around in startled manner, only to be politely pushed to the side by a straggly worn down looking gentleman. The man proceeded to reach in his pockets and fumble around for something, a moment later he pulled out a hand full of change put some in the machine, pulled out 1 newspaper and handed it to me with a smile, a nod, and a god bless you. its the small things in life, that effect us in the biggest ways.

IMG_3186This third one had a pretty simple message, which was something along the lines of “this looks like a child did it and it’s still 100x more engaging than most advertisements.” Making it lo-fi, child-style was a conscious choice because I thought it would be empowering to see something that wasn’t aesthetically groomed in an ad shelter. Kind of sending a message like “trust me, you don’t need to be talented to do this. Just curious and empowered!”