Micah Purnell is a multidisciplinary creative thinker, designer and artist. He was a guest speaker at our Holy Hack event this Summer.
Television was introduced to the island of Fiji for the first time In 1995. It took just under three years for the first cases of anorexia and bulimia to surface.
I’m acutely aware, as I walk around Manchester city centre today with my children, aged 2, 5, 8 & 10, how powerful the visual messages which bombard our every step can be. It’s shocking really, how ingrained and unconscious advertising messages have become. We don’t even realise we’re participating in a grand game of psychological manipulation anymore.
Anne Cronin, an advertising and cities expert at the University of Lancaster points out that “Outdoor advertising has become part of people’s day-to-day urban wallpaper… and connect everyday ways of thinking to commercial imperatives.”
It’s this commercial imperative that creates the myth of scarcity and feeds people’s status anxieties. We start to fear that having nothing equates to being nothing.
Clear Channel, a leading, national advertising agency, boast on their website that “When brands advertise on our street structures, they become part of the public social space, entering people’s thoughts and conversations.”
And they’re right. So it’s time we take those spaces back.
About 8 years ago I cancelled my monthly direct debit to church and put it towards a dream I’d been having - That one day all outdoor advertising spaces in the UK would be used to display content that inspired something other than shopping. That they promoted a message that didn’t tax the mind or the pocket.
What if those spaces were used for something more wholesome, of something true, noble, pure and admirable? Something praiseworthy. What about messages preaching brave hospitality, sabbath rest or interdependence?
How might that affect the day-to-day wellbeing of the good people in our towns and cities?
I began by buying advertising space with my tithe - putting my hard earned tips where my dream was.
I started with 100 fly-posters for 2 weeks, refreshed every couple of months for two to three years. Later I bought space on billboards and utilised stickers, plaques and beer mats.
I applied simple rules to stand in contrast to traditional advertising space: no logos, no tags, no links or signatures. My messages could ask for nothing in return so as to avoid any resemblance to the mechanics of advertising.
I’d counter traditional advertising slogans with messages like ‘A cheerful look brings joy to the heart’ from Proverbs. ‘Enough is as good as a feast’ from Mary Poppins and ‘It’s better to help people than garden gnomes’ from Amelie.
Wisdom is wisdom wherever it’s found. I soon started writing my own.
Walter Bruggerman, the American theologian says that a poetic imagination is the last remaining tool with which to challenge the dominant culture:
“The task is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness which is alternative to the dominant culture”.
My task, our task is to reconfigure the visual landscape of our cities and towns.
To write a new story.