In I think my second year at university, I walked into one of the mens rooms and was literally quite shocked by something on the wall of the urinals. Was it some really graphic or lewd graffitti? No, like most of us I was long since desensitised to such vandalism. What had shocked me was that overnight the university had installed advertising boards above each urinal, so that when using them, you really couldn’t help but be forced to take in the advertising. The very next day similar advertisments had been installed in the stalls as well, and several sisters confirmed that the same had occured in their bathrooms also. It really blew my mind, the audacity of the corporate world invading the sphere of the bathroom. Was nothing sacred anymore?
Of course, from a marketing point of view it was a stroke of genius. Talk about a captive audience. Furthermore, the university Board of Governors, reacting to the growing mumbling (no typo) of discontent, indicated that the advertisers were paying them good money which would go towards improving this or that facility. Needless to say us students were not impressed. Within a week a group of guerrilla bathroom activists had organised and promptly experimented in defacing to the point of rendering the advertising null or wholesale removal of the advertising (they were encased in steel frames, with some sort of acrylic front and bolted to the walls/stalls). There were some successes, ranging from electrical sanders, acid and certain types of paint. Some were prised right of the walls. In addition to the propaganda of the deed, an ideological propaganda war blossomed between the students and the Board of Governors, with posters, subvertising over the adverts, protest letters and editorials in university papers and even impromptu demonstrations and bathroom boycotts (don’t ask…). The campaign had a degree of success, to the point that the advertisers at the university were beginning to see losses. An accord was reached where only certain types of adverts were allowed (those with a direct relation to academics and the like), and a certain proportion of advertising space was reserved for hygiene information, helplines, charities, and poems.
Some rogue bathroom guerrillas continued the campaign with the fundamentalist mantra of ‘bathrooms not billboards’ but in general the dispute was over, or at least entered into a form of uneasy ceasefire, sort of like we see in Korea.
So, apart from being a humorous but true story – and an educational one at that – why the heck am I relating it here on a primarily Bermudian pro-socialist revolutionary blog?
Well, because its happening again. I don’t know the status of the bathroom dispute back at Trent, but here in Bermuda, the initial phases of such an advertising onslaught has begun. Anyone travelling on the buses lately will have noticed the installation of advertising slots at the front of the bus on the acrylic behind the driver, and above the handrails for people unable to get a seat. As Bermuda’s laws quite fortunately prevent mass billboarding of our roads, it seems as if certain corporate interests have discovered this advertising loophole, and are beginning to exploit it. Gone now are the days of care-free people watching or meditating out the window; now I will have to bitterly avoid the adverts invading my hitherto relaxing bus rides. If the model I learned at uni is anything to go by, it is only a matter of time before the public bathrooms too are converted into billboards for corporate interests. I am sick and tired of corporate interests profaning everything. TV and radio, although based in military technology, can serve the people, but now they serve these corporate interests as mediums for advertising, of which the recreational and educational/information sharing capacity is now a secondary window dressing, a worm on the hook to bait us. Soon public transport will cease to be primarily a medium for mass and efficient transport, but primarily a tool exploited by the advertisers. It really just irritates me.
Oh, and by the way, yes, it was Capital G bank that was being advertised on the bus, as my witty title no doubt suggested.