Since 2001, the Montgomery Muni/BART station in San Francisco's Financial District has been subjected to blitz marketing campaigns where every pole, wall, floor and stairway are up for grabs by a single sponsor.
One of the first advertisers was monster.com, and I remember a memorable campaign for some drug which was being touted as "The Purple Pill," with pictures of purple capsules cascading about everywhere, as if we were trapped in a paperback copy of "Valley of The Dolls."
Still, the advertising installation that went up last week is the most bizarre use of the station I've ever seen, featuring large black-and-white photos of suffering Africans that look like parodies of the great photographer Sebastiao Salgado.
This is accompanied by slick signage trying to induce guilt trips among people who have enough money that they can worry about their stock portfolio and how ethical its holdings might be.
The whole "Save Darfur" campaign has always felt strange. Shouldn't we be divesting our portfolios of companies that are profiting off the Iraq Invasion? As Americans we carry a hell of a lot more responsibility for that suffering than the situation in Darfur.
Also, is such a blatantly political set of advertisements really within the guidelines of the Municipal Transportation Authority? (Update: It is BART, rather than the MTA, which is responsible for allowing the ads, according to MTA spokesperson Maggie Lynch and J. in the comments.) Can anybody install their message as long as they have the bucks? How much does it cost to rent out the station, and how much was the entire installation? (The savedarfur.org annual budget is $15 million.)
And since we're asking stupid questions, why did the station agent Ms. Fang tell me that I was not allowed to take photos in the station? Paid propaganda is allowed, but journalism is not?
Jan Adams at the "Happening Here" blog wrote about the "Save Darfur" campaign about a year ago, and the entire article is worth reading (click here).
Here's an excerpt:
"I don't get Darfur. No -- I don't mean that I don't believe that hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of human beings have been uprooted and may die because of conflict there...And no, certainly, I don't mean that I believe the world should simply leave these people to their fate. But the Darfur campaign in the United States doesn't feel right. For one thing, one of its biggest boosters is Mr. Invade and Torture himself, Pres. GWB...and when I look at the organizational members of the Save Darfur coalition, the list, in addition to the usual suspects, is full of outfits whose commitment to humanitarian action on behalf of the suffering regularly disappears when the sufferings are afflicted by the United States or Israel."