Below are responses to common questions, ideas and arguments we have received regarding our actions. They are a collaboration between several TramClean members and therefore reflect our different writing styles and voices.
They are a mixture of our own writing and the fabulous work of Melbourne based anti-advertising advocate Kyle Magee, from his book “What the f*#k do you do that for?”. In some places we have used his words directly, in others we used his arguments as a basis for our own.
“By putting up these stickers, aren’t you just replacing the ads with another type of advertising/your own point of view?”
There is a massive difference between for-profit advertising, which we have removed, and the expression of people’s points of view.
By replacing the ads with stickers, we are highlighting the destructive nature of these ads whilst linking people to more information about our protest, sparking political debate about the place (if any) advertising should hold in society and we are making it clear that the ads have been removed for a reason other than making someone rich.
We are also showing people how easy it is to remove the ads and replace them with our own personal forms of expression – giving the power back to the people to shape our environments and resist the concealment and discrediting of diverse political expression which challenges the status quo. As it stands, much of public space is available only to the voices of the rich minority in order to make themselves richer, or for the expression of ideas that are in line with the established political and economic agendas.
For-profit advertising is the expression of a non-human, unempathetic and profit-driven entity that’s only concern is extracting wealth from the community – however it will frequently pretend it has the interests of humans in mind, if that helps extract the profits from the humans.
On the other hand, the political expression of actual humans is what a fair and direct-democracy is based on.
We all have a right to freely develop and share our political views, but while for-profit advertising is allowed to dominate our public space and fund the for-profit media, individual people’s right to freedom of political expression is commonly repressed.
We find it concerning (but also an understandable symptom of the neo-liberal political moment we are forced to endure) that people find it hard to tell the difference between for-profit advertising and personal/collective political expression. It has become somewhat accepted that people, like corporations, are profit-chasing machines interested only in extracting wealth from other profit-chasing machines.
We reject this cynical myth about human psychology, and believe that we should not be ashamed to admit we care deeply about one another and desperately want to see a just global system built on principles of mutual aid, respect, love and collective liberation – not one in which the only way to have power is to have power OVER someone, or something else.
By removing the for-profit advertising, we want to begin a process of liberating public space, so that it can be used by the public – by all of us.
“Advertising doesn’t affect me/I just ignore it.”
To start with, why would almost every profit-crazy company find advertising to be a good investment and invest trillions of dollars globally every year on advertising, if advertising didn’t achieve its desired aim: to make us buy shit and therefore increase the profits of those invading our public space and media system?
It is common for people to think that they can simply ignore advertising, or that it doesn’t affect them. But this argument completely overlooks how advertising is designed to function. Most advertising campaigns do not expect to immediately persuade people to run out and buy a product. Rather, they are designed to create positive associations and feelings that influence behavior over time. In fact, evidence suggests that people respond negatively to obvious attempts at advertising coercion or persuasion.
It is true that most people pay little or no notice to the ads they see. But it is when we see the product at a later date or are trying to decide between different products that the subliminal impacts of advertising really come into play. The aim of advertisers is to predispose people to view their brand in a more positive light than its alternatives.
A discussion on whether or not individuals can escape the desired product-selling impact of advertising is one thing. But more important is an analysis of the total effect advertising has on the society that it saturates. How can one say that advertising doesn’t affect them, when the vast majority of the media-system is funded by the advertising of for-profit corporations (and when a growing number of political parties, organizations and even educational facilities around the world are also funded by those corporations)?
With every brand in every market promoting its products throughout our public media-space — bombarding us with hundreds of advertising images daily, dominating
our public spaces as well as the mainstream media system funded and shaped by advertising — the combined impact on our entire social and political structure is profound.
The exact effect of advertising is hard to demonstrate concretely — but what we do know just by looking at it, is that advertising encourages us to consume more, to have more materialistic values, to be more individualistic (less concerned with others), and to seek out luxurious and opulent indulgences in vain attempts to try and fill the gaping void of meaninglessness and disconnection — these are definitely influences we could do without, and it seems to me that advertising achieves its aims to a large degree.
After many decades of ‘democracy’, with the for-profit media-advertising system controlling our public media-space, for-profit interests just keep having their way with our democracy, and the rich keep getting richer — the top 1% now own more than the other 99% — that the for-profit media-advertising system plays a key role in this situation is clear, and this affects all of us.
Even if we were to set aside the impact advertising has on the society of critically-thinking adults, we can’t ignore the impact it has on children who are yet to develop their critical faculties — banning advertising aimed at children would be a start, but it doesn’t go far
enough, because advertising aimed at adults also influences children as they develop ideas on how and what they should be in life.
As young people, sucking up everything in an attempt to understand the world and achieve validation, the imagery of advertising is a deeply powerful psychological influence that marks us in the crucial stages of our development. For example, one study made a link between anorexia and advertising, which regularly portrays women as weighing around 42 kg and looking extremely skinny. Imagine the kind of impact that constant bombardment with such images is having on teenage girls. It is clear that the never-ending and inescapable exposure to advertising-media’s idea of “perfect” or “desired by all” body is contributing to body image issues and related developmental and psychological problems.
What advertising does to our youth is not right, it’s child abuse and it’s cultural imperialism.
If anyone is calling anyone stupid or treating anyone with contempt, it’s the companies that invade and colonize our lives with advertising against our will ―manipulating our children, completely dominating our political system, and laughing all the way to the bank.
“Don’t you people know that advertising subsidizes public transport? If you take the ads down the price of trams will go up!”
First of all, we challenge the outdoor advertising industry, the government and the for-profit operators of our public transport system to provide the public with evidence demonstrating to what extent advertising actually subsidizes the cost of public transport tickets.
Our estimate is that companies like YarraTrams and Metro approach advertising as a way to increase their profits, not to make public transport more financially accessible for the public. It is really hard to find accurate information about the way the public transport system is funded, but we do know that Victorians pay more than $2.6 billion in subsidies every year to privately owned public transport operators. We also know that public transport fares continue to rise at above-inflation rates, while the amount of advertising in and around public transport increases. Surely this trend should be in reverse if advertising actually subsidized passenger fares.
A large percentage of tram and bus shelters are actually built and owned by Adshel, meaning that 100% of the revenue raised by advertising in these (public) spaces, goes directly to Adshel. None of this money subsidizes public transport.
A response to this may be that without Adshel we would not have shelters at tram and bus stops. We suggest that this infrastructure should be the responsibility of government or local councils – after all, spending public money on public facilities it is the designated purpose of taxing the public. We believe it is an inequitable trade-off to receive a few tram and bus shelters (many of which offer little shelter or seating space) in exchange for the invasion of our public space and transport system by the destructive messages and cultural influence of for-profit corporations.
Furthermore, advertising doesn’t fund anything, we fund it, because we fund the advertising industry — every time we purchase from a company that advertises, the cost of the advertising is included in the price we pay ― if we were to ban advertising, the money usually squandered on it would be available for other things.
The money currently invested in destructive advertising represents only a small percentage of the money that is fleeced from our communities every year by for-profit companies.
If we were to appropriately tax the for-profit companies presently funneling wealth upward (as an interim measure), we can have everything that advertising (ridiculously) claims to fund or subsidize, but it will not be bent against democracy and toward the for-profit interest, it will instead serve us — ‘the people’.
The idea that we should be thankful to corporate advertising subsidizing our infrastructure or our culture, is absurd — pretty much everywhere we go and everything we do is colonized by noxious advertising (that we pay for), which attempts to manipulate us and our defenseless children while we go about our lives and try to enjoy our spare time – and we’re expected to be grateful for this?!
The gambling and alcohol advertising around sporting events in Australia is a clear example of the antisocial logic of corporate advertising ― as lives are destroyed by alcohol abuse and gambling addiction, we simultaneously give voice to the companies that profit from these practices to promote these practices, just to get a small portion of those funds back. Then we as a community have to bear the burden of these problems while the advertisers skip away with millions.
An example of the destructive nature of advertising being realized and legislated against is the advertising of tobacco products. We now know a lot about the health hazards of smoking cigarettes and advertising cigarettes is completely banned in Australia.. It is important to remember that it didn’t stop because advertising or tobacco industry deeply care for our collective well-being, but because of grass roots organizing, lobbying and decisive government action. In fact the tobacco companies fought to be able to continue advertising tobacco products, despite their obvious dangers.
We as a community should find the proliferation of for-profit advertising as insulting as it is, and refuse to put up with it — the scaremongering about a funding crisis without advertising is only a matter of restructuring.
The funding of public services and culture would be better off without advertising — with democratic funding models in place of advertising our public space and culture would feel like it was really driven by us, belonged to us, as it should, and it would not be interrupted and corrupted by the insidious effects of advertising.
“You guys are just a bunch of “art students” with too much time on your hands. Get off Centrelink and get a job!”
The background of individuals who are involved in TramClean is completely irrelevant and serves as a way to detract from the central issue – advertising and the voices of a tiny, rich and powerful minority are taking over our public space and our “democratic” media-system.
People who have been involved in TramClean come from a variety of geographical locations, socio-economic backgrounds and educational and/or “career” experiences. Some of us are studying, some of us are working, some of us cannot even “access” Centrelink in the first place.
What unites us is a general interest in changing the many ways in which the current system oppresses us all, furthers inequality and destroys the planet that we live on. We spend a lot of our time working towards long-term and short-term goals, both on a large scale and in our local communities, in an attempt to create the change we all wish to see. A lot of the work we do is unpaid, which reflects the state of affairs we are all forced to endure, and is directly linked to the issues we have with for-profit advertising – that what is valued is the generation of profit – and the more money you make, the more money you get paid for making money.
We reject the idea that people’s value lies in their career and their ability to generate profit, especially since most of us are generating profit for the already rich who keep on getting richer off the backs of hard-working people.
We also want to point to the fact that advertising directly contributes to a system in which a lot of our time is spent in repetitive and unsatisfying jobs, despite the fact that technological advancements could have us all working less and shorter hours. We are stuck in a perpetual cycle of working to create more and more “goods” and services that are then sold back to us through advertising (spending heaps of resources to do so) to convince us that we need to purchase more of these “goods” and services, which we have to work more to afford, and so on, and so on. We believe that our lives could be much more satisfying without this cycle of work for consumption’s sake.
“Sure, I agree, the ads on tram windows are too much as they obscure my view. But you could leave the other ads be..”
Clearly the ads on tram windows are easily identified as an obstruction to the functionality of public space – say, to look out and actually see outside of the tram. But as we have argued all along, we believe that this applies to all for-profit advertising.
We are all now so used to advertising in our environment that we blindly accept its presence and do not necessarily notice how crowded it makes the spaces around us. It would certainly be a shock for anyone not used to the cities – finding themselves surrounded by all those ads (and evidence of this can be found in many familiar film scenes).
We think that advertising obscures our ability to see our environment as something that we can have an effect on, something that belongs to us (and not just to the rich) and something that we can partake in.
“Why does TramClean choose not to engage with for-profit media?”
For-profit media and for-profit advertising are closely linked and more often than not dependent on each other. For-profit advertising funds the for-profit media, which in turn provides the canvas for advertising. This means that, obviously, it is not in the for-profit media’s interest to “bite the hand that feeds it” by criticizing or questioning the validity or morality of for-profit advertising or the companies behind it.
Media that is financed by advertising is condemned to lose their editorial independence and cannot afford to criticize advertisers if they don’t want to be cut off from their source of financing. As a result, the industries that are responsible for most of the advertising (the agricultural and food industry, car manufacturers, nuclear energy, petrochemicals, supermarket chains, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals etc) are nearly untouchable in the media.
Since we protest for-profit advertising, we are also protesting the for-profit media system and calling for a public, democratic and non-profit-driven media. We need a democratic media: one funded and/or subsidized with public money and mandated to carry out its democratic function with equal accountability to everyone. We need the media that has our best interest at the heart of its values and that is not furthering the agendas of the rich and powerful.
“Destruction of private property is a criminal activity.”
Advertising is not ‘private property’, it just hides behind private property laws as its projections invade public space it neither owns, nor has any right to.
The ‘private property’ of for-profit advertising was never intended for private use and enjoyment by its owners ― it was intended to undemocratically dominate public space, its sole intention to be ‘used’ by the unconsenting public as they go about their lives in public space.
Advertising companies are selling advertisers access to public space ― public space which is not theirs to sell, and shouldn’t be sold at all.
Furthermore, we do not actually destroy or damage any property or any part of the infrastructure that is of any use to the public and the commuters. We merely remove the ads that were designed to be easily removed.
As far as the question of criminal activity goes, it is crucial to point to the fact that throughout the history of humanity, time after time, the law itself has been changed to incorporate a growing number of hard-earned rights for minorities – rights that where fought for by movements for liberation. Many things that we currently take for granted as promised by the law, were previously unlawful, for example discrimination based on gender or race that is now unlawful in most countries (at least theoretically) was in the past sanctioned by the law. Given that the concept of what is and isn’t lawful changes overtime, the very concept of criminality is just as fluid.
It is also crucial to look towards the activities of the companies who use public space to advertise. To name a few, Coca-cola have committed numerous serious human rights abuses and environmental catastrophes through their use of precious ground water in Colombia, Guatemala, Turkey, China, Mexico, India, El Salvador, at the least. There is strong evidence implicating Coca-Cola in the murder of union leaders. McDonalds, have destroyed many local economies and were taken to court for their practices, the treatment of their workers and their immoral use of advertising towards children. Resource companies are continuing to disregard environmental protection laws in the name of profit while a huge number of various manufacturers are knowingly using child labor whenever they can get away with it.
Our act of removing the advertising of those and many other inhumane and psychopathic corporations is an act of defiance against their politics and their violence. We want the end of their domination and we want to fight towards everyone’s freedom to live without the terror inflicted by these companies.
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