Monday, May 21, 2007


I am cranky. I just spent my Saturday at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. It wasn’t a good time.

This is what the world looks like in the global economy. You’re assaulted by corporate logos everywhere you look; even the aquarium’s mascot is a bright-orange Nemo rip-off named--get this--”Deepo.”

Deepo? As in Home Depot, perhaps? Why yes, the Atlanta-based Home Depot, known for its orange logo, does happen to be a major sponsor of the new facility. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

In fact, much of Atlanta is one giant sales pitch. The wonderful MARTA, which transported us with ease and comfort from Buckhead to downtown, is filled with advertisements: television screens inside the cars blare ads, while at the station you are greeted with LED displays, billboards and floor mats hawking everything from new DVD releases to eyecare.

I don’t mean to pick on Atlanta, which is a lovely city in many respects. I’ve traveled enough New York subways to know that Atlanta isn’t the first city to view transit riders as a captive audience. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I’m sick of being marketed to. I’m tired of being viewed as a giant, throbbing wallet of cash everywhere I go by some “big brother”-like force that wants to know everything about me so it can separate me from my savings. It’s the ultimate dehumanizing experience for the consumer age. We haven’t been names in a long time, now the only number we represent is what’s in our bank accounts. And now they want our kids.

Seeing corporate logos so shamelessly displayed at a family destination like the Georgia Aquarium appalled me. These weren’t small “brought to you by” plaques; in many cases the corporate sponsor’s name was more prominent than that of the attraction.

This is wrong for a lot of reasons. Museums, zoos and aquariums are not entertainment venues, they are educational opportunities. They serve a community function, and with that should come a civic responsibility to not treat impressionable young kids like market sectors.

Three years ago the American Psychological Assn. called for stricter regulations protecting children from advertising. I really don’t see the difference between a TV ad for Lucky Charms featuring a cute leprechaun and Home Depot’s Deepo the orange fish.

Look, I’m glad that corporate America is supporting a worthwhile effort like the Georgia Aquarium, and they deserve to be acknowledged for this contribution to the betterment of society. But do they have to turn these good works into a screaming sales pitch that’s rammed down our throats at every turn? Did UPS really need to advertise how it transports animal exhibits to the aquarium in a multi-panel advertise---oops, I mean educational display as I left the beluga whale exhibit? If this is what brown can do for me, I don’t want it.

We’re all just little fish here, but it’s high time we stood up to this big fish and told it to quit pushing us around.