A Source of Solace, Not Ad Revenue
Daniel Shoer Roth
August 29, 2010
Consumerism and materialism are venerated like modern gods in the United States, thanks to the advertising industry, which has convinced us that happiness is achieved by owning the gadgets and using the services it successfully promotes.
It is estimated that on average we see 3,000 ads per day. It is impossible to avoid them. We see them in doctors' offices, elevators, washroom stalls, gas stations, taxis, bus stops, hospitals and even schools. Add to this the explosion of commercials on television, movie theaters, radio, the Internet, technological devices and billboards, and you understand why so many consumers want to be what they are not and have what they do not need.
One haven from brash commercialism still exists: our public parks. But that may change if the Miami-Dade Commission approves a proposal by Commissioner Joe Martinez. We could see advertisements for a video game, a fast-food chain or a miracle weight-loss pill in the county's 263 parks and in the parks of several municipalities.
Martinez maintains that it is ``inconceivable'' to charge residents $5 for parking in the main parks as the county approved a few weeks ago. He is right, it is absurd. He proposed to ask the voters to amend the Miami-Dade Home Rule Charter to legalize commercial advertising in the parks, which would serve as an alternative source of revenue to maintain the level of service.
With such short notice, Martinez apparently couldn't get enough support to have the commission put the question on the November ballot. But the issue could resurface for the next election.
``The parks offer families a free escape from the every day stressors,'' Martinez said in a statement.
It is precisely for that reason that green spaces must be kept free of the often harmful effects of advertising, especially for children.
The idea of commercializing nature is part of a very troubling trend to blur the separation between commercialism and everything else in our lives. The subliminal message is that everything is for sale and that there is no need to strive for the collective good because we can always count on advertising to fill that void.
``It is toxic, because it undermines the sense of well-being. It interferes with our experience with green space and nature,'' said Susan Linn, a psychologist who heads the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a national coalition that seeks to limit the impact of the commercial culture on children.
Linn says that childhood obesity, eating disorders, youth violence, family stress, alcohol use and tobacco consumption by minors, as well as rampant materialism, are scourges exacerbated by advertising and marketing.
Several studies show that people who obsess over material things and their body image -- obsessions that thrive in South Florida -- are less happy, have lower self-esteem, feel pressured to live a certain way and report more symptoms of anxiety.
For that reason, local governments have the duty to preserve some public spaces, maintained with taxpayer funds, free of advertising. Of course, in the face of budget problems, more cities across the country are going the advertising route.
An example is the city of Miami, which recently authorized a developer to place two giant, garish electronic billboards, almost 40 stories high, as part of an 11-story garage it plans to build next to the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami.
The billboards not only will dull the majestic architecture of the theaters, but also will turn the city into a bad imitation of Las Vegas.
Public parks are havens for the residents, not amusement parks or ballparks, where advertising is blatant.
The enjoyment of these green spaces has spiritual and mental benefits for a large number of visitors, because the spaces are associated with an escape from a hectic life and the opportunity to find inner peace and solitude. Some people cherish a visit to a park as an experience for spiritual rekindling; others find spirituality in nature itself.
To accommodate a plethora of commercial imagery in county parks is to fill them with visual pollution. The premise of the commercial culture is that buying things willy make us happier. But no purchase is enough to achieve happiness. Instead, an encounter with nature -- without an assault by this culture of consumerism -- offers life's best gift.