Tuesday, June 17, 2008
south of the border
I am always surprised when I go to the United States, because I expect it to be just like home, but it’s not quite. Little things (like advertising for prescription medication) and big things (like the shrine-like monuments to presidents past on the National Mall) jar my senses, when I am expecting business as normal. When I was in DC last week, I was struck by the use of military language in advertising – when I was riding the subway, I saw a variety of ads for things like investment banks and software products that used language about “knowing the enemy” and being “ever vigilant.” It was weird – it wasn’t necessarily that fear was being used as an advertising tactic (à la “buy our insurance or your family will end up on the street when your house burns down and it will be all your fault”), but just that this was a metaphor that the advertisers were using to speak to their audience – as in “everyone knows how we have to be ever vigilant in war, so clearly this translates to business too . . .”. This highly militarized discourse was particularly interesting in light of another thing that I have noticed about Americans – they’re generally quite friendly. From my experience, on the one hand, it’s a nation that can be convinced to buy through mention of “the enemy”, but on the other, it’s a society full of people who are quite happy to start up a pleasant conversation with a stranger in the elevator. Weird.