urinals — commercialization — vandalism

Bathroom reading.
Bathroom reading.

Over the last few years here at Queen’s, students and faculty alike have debated the pros and cons of the corporate presence in the classroom. The corporate presence in the restroom, on the other hand, has gone by with pretty much no controversy.

Should it? Worrying about the influence of conglomerates and outside institutions in our studies is one thing, but is having an ad in front of your face while you’re going to the bathroom the same sort of commercial compromise?

For the last three years, framed advertisements have been shilling everything from cars to pizza to conveniently-priced cable modem plans in the most private of private rooms — the washrooms of the John Deutsch University Centre. And they’re always in the exact spot that you’ll be forced to look at them.

For men, it’s that place right above the urinal (so you don’t have to feel all self-conscious about accidentally glancing left or right), whereas in the Ladies’ Room, the ads tend to be on the inside doors of stalls. In any case, whether you’re a boy or a girl, the ads are still right in your face.

That is, unless someone’s already ripped them out.

Smashed frames, stolen ads and graffiti-ed calls for an end to the whoring of our educational institution are some of the less-than-subtle indicators that the frames are seriously bothering someone. Of the 30 in the JDUC, the only ones to escape unharmed are those in the bathrooms of Alfie’s.

Jack Sinnott, the JDUC’s director, thinks it might be safe to say the vandalism is politically motivated — an attack against the commercialization of Queen’s and against the company that’s put up the ads. That company is NewAd Media, an advertising group charmingly self-described on its website as “the brain child of two young entrepreneurs who were tired of the shirt and tie, nine-to-five lifestyle, [and] traded in their suits and briefcases to set up ‘office’ in the washroom.”

Hipster spin doctoring aside, NewAd is essentially a company that sets up prettily-framed ads for clients (who can still veto any ad they find unacceptable) in bars, restaurants, night clubs and other institutions of higher learning to reel in the 18-34 year-old target market. Their website spiel trumpets that they, unlike any other advertising agency no doubt, are our pals. And they’re willing to flatter us, too. “We understand that you are not a ‘lost generation,’ rather you are confident, optimistic and independent — end of story!” End of story? Not quite. At least one student is using his or her confidence and independence, but probably not in a way NewAd would like. And if Queen’s mystery vandalism can be considered ‘rebellion’, than full-scale revolutions have already taken place elsewhere.

For example, when 400 framed posters went up at the University of Toronto a few years back, in addition to numerous vocal protests, a mystery organization calling itself the M.C. Escher Appreciation Society replaced posters with the work of the artist. Infinite stairs leading to nowhere and interlocking birds were all over campus. Still, in the end, the posters remained.

Not so in la belle province, however. Over the summer, it was announced that the Université de Montréal would be ending its contract with Zoom Media, a company similar in most respects to NewAd. Zoom, which had over 600 framed panels on campus, saw its affiliation end with the school in the wake of pressure that led to the creation of a committee monitoring ad content in the university.

In March, before Zoom was pushed off campus, history professor Thomas Ingersoll quit in disgust, becoming a martyr for the anti-commercial cause. His letter of resignation asked, “How can I enter a classroom to give my lecture about the history of American feminism, when outside the door is superbly mounted an ad showing a fragile, young woman, vulnerable, nearly nude, ultra-feminine, hawking perfume?” To be fair, though, the situation in Montreal is not the same here. For one thing, Queen’s only has one-fifth the posters they did, for another, the posters are only found in the JDUC — not necessarily a place for intellectual betterment.

NewAd was limited to only the JDUC for the first year of their current five-year agreement with the University. Though technically they could have asked Queen’s for permission to move into other buildings, they have not yet spread out across campus, Sinnott explained.

One place they did move to was Clark Hall Pub.

Clark bathroom-frequenter Julia Van Eyk said she reads the ads all the time, but doesn’t particularly like them.

“As good a place as it is for them to advertise, it’s also annoying because they’re taking advantage of the fact that I have nothing else to look at when I’m in there,” she said.

Van Eyk said she thought that because the ads are in a spot where a high traffic of people will see them, it would be much more beneficial for campus services to use the space as a way to keep students informed.

And why not? Despite the condescending tone of most public service announcement ads these days, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have, say, information on how to check yourself for testicular cancer at the urinals? Or even a preview of upcoming events at the QP?

After all, the money from NewAd hasn’t exactly been a lucrative goldmine for the University, Sinnott explained.

“We’re not making a lot,” he admitted. “The agreement is that we get so much per frame, as long as there’s an ad in the frame... We haven’t seen a huge income... we’re talking in the hundreds of dollars a year.”

And even if millions were being made, it’s not like Sinnott is overly wild about the posters in the first place.

“My preference would be not to have the ads. I think there’s a place for advertising, and this isn’t one of them. I share the general concern... Every nook and cranny of our lives is being commodified and we can’t even have a pee without an ad staring us in our face,” he said, shaking his head.

Though there’s still almost two years left on the contract, Sinnott pointed out that there may be some sort of termination clause that could be looked into... if students were to raise the issue.

Right now though, all there is someone who keeps tearing up signs and vandalizing bathrooms.

According to Sinnott, in the past three years, his office, which oversees the entire JDUC, has not received a single complaint. Until there is some sort of formal request, it doesn’t look like there’s that much that can be done.

“Come and see me and tell me face-to-face what your concerns are. Or put it in writing to the JDUC Council or write a letter to the editors of The Journal and say, ‘A pox on ads on campus!’ Otherwise, it’s just wanton vandalism.”

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