I love New York, but the corporate pornography of Times Square leaves me flaccid

    After attending the Netroots Nation conference in Providence, I spent $23, and took the Megabus to New York. (I’d wanted to take the train, but I couldn’t justify spending the additional $90.) I met up with Linette and the kids there, and we took over the Brooklyn apartment of Linette’s brother, Neal, forcing him to sleep on the couch, while the four of us collectively drooled, pooped and peed all over his ridiculously comfortable bed. We stayed for four days, and, in that time, managed to hit seven museums, eat about a half-dozen good meals, and meet up with approximately 20 distant relatives and old friends. I’m reluctant to promise, as I still haven’t posted anything about our trip to Charlotte two years ago, or the weekend that we spent in Toronto earlier this spring, but I’d like to eventually share some of the highlights here. (For instance, we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the New York Historical Society archives that was incredible, and I’d love to tell you about it.) In the meantime, though, I wanted to share some photos that I took in Times Square, which, at least culturally (and spiritually) speaking, was the low-point of the trip.

    I had a good time, as I was with some old high school friends, but I really can’t stand the new, Disneyfied Times Square. (I prefer the old, seedy Times Square of my misspent youth.) My old high school friend Brad [seen here being patriotic], however, had promised to take his daughter to the huge M&M World complex, so I went along for the ride, without putting up a fight… Brad, after all, hadn’t complained when I’d insisted upon starting the day with a visit to the Cindy Sherman exhibition at the MoMA, or, later that morning, when I made him take me on a romantic carriage ride around Central Park (while our daughters stared longingly at a carnival that they weren’t allowed to enter).

    M&M World is three stories tall, which means that they’ve got a thousands of square feet that they need to fill with lowest-common-denominator crap designed to excite the consumption centers of the American reptilian brain. My favorite piece was a plush M&M suffering from a rectal prolapse, which I’m assuming was added to the collection so that geriatric visitors would have something to gravitate toward, as their grandkids stare in awe at the tastefully rhinestone-encrusted items of clothing… I particularly like this M&M’s, “Oh, no, is that my colon that I feel against the inside of my leg,” face.

    Speaking of rhinestone-encrusted couture, here’s a $3,000 jacket that I had my eye on. According to the tag, it’s “like” a jacket that could be worn by the likes of Hillary Duff and Hannah Montana. It, of course, wasn’t worn by either of those two folks (one of whom I think is actually a real person), but that’s beside the point.

    There’s a lot of military stuff on the shelves at M&M World. Apparently, there’s a long, proud history there. At least, they’ve got shirts on their shelves that announce that, during World War II, M&Ms were the first candy to be carried into combat. My favorite military-themed piece at M&M World was this assault vehicle manned by happy, yet stern, M&Ms waving American flags.

    And I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the M&M folks also go to great lengths to commoditize patriotism. Here’s a good example. It’s a shirt on which the Statue of Liberty is being showered by M&Ms. (I can’t tell for sure, but I think the building in the background could be one of the Twin Towers, which makes me think the M&Ms could be signifying either people leaping to their deaths, or the particulate matter which caused respiratory disease in so many of the 9/11 first responders.)

    And, we didn’t just go to M&M World. On our way to meet up with more friends at John’s Pizzeria, we also stopped at the mega-Toys R Us, where I found the following in their “Princess School” section, next to their Twilight Barbies. In case it’s not clear from the photo, these are heels for three year olds… [note: I’m including this so that I can, once again, use the “prostitot” tag.]

    And, then there were the gummy bear ear buds, complete with “gummy scent.” Because, really, who doesn’t love to sniff things after extracting them from their ears?

    And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s also a whole section of super-sized candy! Here, for instance, is their display of suitcase-sized boxes of Nerds.

    The good stuff will come later – there was plenty of it – but I just felt as though I had to vent a bit. As distasteful as I’m sure some of us found the more traditional porn of the old Times Square, I find this blind, gluttonous, unapologetic consumerism even worse… And, on that note, I leave you with this video of Reverend Billy, of The Church of Stop Shopping, ministering to the masses on Yew York on the sin off mass consumption.

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      15 Comments

      1. Posted June 17, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        love the Rev. Billy.
        Times Square has not really changed. Pornography is nothing but the commodification of sex and the elimination of interpersonal intimacy in favor of purchased pleasure. M and M’s, Debbie does Dallas, it is all the same. What ever it takes to separate you from your greenbacks.

      2. anonymous
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        I like the fact, I guess, that our government provided cigarettes and candy to our men in uniform. It seems odd, however, that the M&M company would celebrate the fact that more young American men were shot to death, and had their guts blown out with M&Ms in their pockets than any other candy. (“Melts in your mouth, not on your corpse.”)

      3. Edward
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        In a few more years there will be images of M&Ms as firemen, running into the World Trade Center (and not melting). That’s what great brands do. They co-opt powerful, shared cultural experiences, twisting them so as to make people feel more invested in their products. It’s more insidious than porn. Porn doesn’t wrap itself in the flag, and manipulate at that level. It’s not that sophisticated (yet).

      4. Posted June 17, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Thanks, Wobblie, for articulating that better than I could. That’s kind of what I was going for in the title. It’s still porn. It’s just a different kind of porn.

      5. John Galt
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        This is what freedom looks like, you commie son-of-a-bitch.

      6. Knox
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        Flag-waving M&M security forces. That image says it all, doesn’t it?

      7. Posted June 17, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        What is that thing with its ass hanging out supposed to be? A puppet? Because if it’s a puppet, it doesn’t look like you can make its mouth move and then what’s the point?

      8. someone
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        I’m guessing golf club cover. Probably the only truly necessary item for sale in that store.

      9. Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps the M & M creature is excreting its digested friends? I live three blocks from Times Square, and have never visited the M & M hq. It looks bad. I did finally visit “Believe It or Not,” which was more fun than I expected.

        Fun fact: when I moved from San Francisco. I turned my apartment over to Rev. Billy, who was then just Bill Talen. So long ago…

      10. Anonymatt
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        The building on the t-shirt looks nothing like one of The Twin Towers.

      11. Rai Harashi
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        Even worse, they’re co-opting our shared experience of looking at any building!

      12. Mr. Y
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        The war imagery is appropriate. Not only was the product first rolled out in 1941, but the idea for the candy came from the Spanish Civil War. The following comes from Wikipedia.

        Forrest Mars, Sr., the founder of the Mars Company, invented the idea for the candy in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War when he saw soldiers eating chocolate pellets with a hard shell of tempered chocolate surrounding the inside, preventing the candies from melting. Mars received a patent for his own process on March 3, 1941.

      13. Mr. Y
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

        And the top image isn’t of a golf club cover. It’s of a condom.

      14. Anonymous Mike
        Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        Watching Good Morning America this morning, I noticed they were interviewing Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter in front of that very same wall of Nerds. Weird.

      15. anonymous
        Posted June 20, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        Times Square doesn’t always suck. Today it was taken over by yoga enthusiasts.

        http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/20/12317977-serenity-on-the-city-yoga-practitioners-take-over-times-square-for-summer-solstice?lite

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      1. [...] Kids, it is still a city of creative inspiration. I detest the Times Square of today with its fake Disneyland-like commercialism and in-your face crassness. I reluctantly agreed to walk through there with my daughter during my [...]

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