Monday, February 13, 2006

Hats Off To Checker Cab - Fighting Back Against Scandalous Advertising

I dropped my car off for service, and took a cab to work.

What would you do if you had dropped your car off and the cab that had arrived to take you to work had an advertisement of the top which offended you? Take the cab anyway? Call for another cab? It is a tough question. But every day we are confronted by attention-drawing exploitive imagery which is gradually getting more suggestive and inappropriate. It desensitizes us to normal bounds of propriety and scandalizes the innocent. Under the guise of the right to free speech marketing gurus are manipulating our appetites and creating demands for products and services we would be better off not using. Under the cloak of normal capitalist practice the fabric of our society of slowly, inexorably being torn apart and the silent majority is sitting back doing nothing because of our inertia and the belief that we as individuals can not have an effect. Well it is not true, the little guy, you can make a big difference.
Here is a cab with roof top advertising the type that I have often seen used for "gentleman's clubs".

If just a few of us complained every day about what did not work for us, if we drew attention to offences to good taste, we could form a collective army of public opinion which could drive this country in the direction we want it to go.

Let me give you an example. The cab I didn’t take had an advert for some dirty bar where prostitutes sell their services. The idea that my dollar was going to finance a promotion for such a business galled me. So I wrote a letter complaining to the Checker Cab Company, and to their credit they got back to me and told me that such advertising was to stopped forthwith. I was pleasantly surprised. I share my letter and their response with you.

So what, big deal you might say. But consider this if every time you saw an offensive advertisement you complained to the producer, and then asked other people who employ that producer whether they want to be associated with and represented by a company that uses business methods which are destructive of moral values, what would the accumulative effect be. Would they react like the Check Cab Company? If so then you and I can play a part in cleaning up America, the land of which we are so proud.

Take a look at these bill boards and ask yourself what other company is also using that marketer, Viacom or Regency or whatever, to promote there products. A letter to the company suggesting that they not endorse such free speech, and implying that with their tacit support of it, you feel that you would prefer not to use their service or product. Such and expression of condemnation might do a lot to change the permissive way advertisers get us to absorb their subliminal and not so thinly veiled messages.

Now take a look at this window treatment in a shop window on Sunset Boulevard. I am asking myself what was going on in the mind of the owner when this was allowed to be displayed.

I have heard that if you look for the bad you will surely find it. But where do you draw the line?


PatrickHare said...

Dr. Neil -

Thanks for the excellent service yesterday and for this provocative posting. I thought your letter to the cab company was a model of graciousness. You didn't berate them or hold yourself up as morally superior in some way. You noted the cultural value of freedom of expression and showed an appreciation for the company's need to produce revenue by advertising. You gave them permission to disagree and then you gently encouraged them to hold themselves to a higher standard. Well done. I only wish that more Christians used this gracious, loving approach in their cultural critiques. Instead, we attack so viciously that we cause others to put up walls and we come off so often as self-righteous prudes.
Of course, our culture is already so saturated with sexuality from television and film (ironic that so many Christians turn to the FOX network for news) that these billboards don't strike most people as outside the norm. I'm not saying they shouldn't - it's just that they don't.
On a related issue, I'm not sure that the church has done a very good job of dealing with sexuality. Often our approach has been somewhat Puritanical, holding that all sexual expression should be kept behind closed doors. It's interesting that the Bible isn't as uncomfortable with a celebration of sexuality as we are. The Song of Solomon is a collection of erotic poetry. While I think that obscenity and pornography are a destructive evil in our culture, might there not be a place for the celebration of sexuality in a healthy manner, in contrast to our culture's perversion of it?
What might that look like?

Anonymous said...

Hats off to Checker Cab, and hats off to you, Doc. If more Christians took action, as you did, there would be considerably less slime in the media.

Patrick Hare makes a good point that it is best to protest graciously because it is more likely to get results. But I think his concern about the Puritanical streak in Christianity is irrelevant to contemporary culture. Are the prudish Christians running amok? Hardly. The problem is, as Hare otherwise alludes, that Christians are watching Fox without protest, and shrugging off illicit advertising without complaint. I’m a Catholic, but I say, “Give us more Puritans!”

The Song of Solomon surely is erotic, but it was recited at WEDDINGS, in celebration of the sacred physical bond and the fertility of marriage. When the Puritanical Christians take to protesting a billboard advertisement for baby cribs because a curvaceous lassie in her bridal gown is giving her lad a “come-hither” look, then I’ll be on your side, Mr. Hare. Until then, I’m with the Puritans.

Western culture (especially in Europe) is in decay, and if Christians don’t combat the rot, the radical Muslims will surely fill the vacuum. And those neo-Ayatollahs will make the Puritans look like Hugh Hefner.