Morgan Spurlock’s Vision

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Morgan Spurlock, he of Super Size Me fame, has a new project. He’s asking you, Internet user, to help him assemble a panoramic photo of Times Square . . . but with all the advertising scrubbed away. Because that’s the first thing most of us think when we visit Times Square. Golly, if only this place looked more like Pyongyang!

I’m also not sure what point he’s trying to prove. Wait. I mean I very much know the point he’s trying to prove. It’s just absurd. The aim of the project is to appreciate the glory of Times Square without those crass accouterments of commerce . . . that made the glory of Times Square possible. (Spurlock seems to have gotten the idea from Sao Paulo, Brazil, which banned outdoor advertising in 2007.)

If you think I’m exaggerating Spurlock’s commie sympathies, here’s a fun passage from his 2005 book, Don’t Eat This Book:

Right now, I’m planning a trip to Cuba. I want to experience the country and its people before that Pandora’s box is opened there. Because you know after the day Fidel dies, the shipments of American consumer crap will come flooding in.

Maybe that’s what this project is all about. It’s so that when the damnable day comes that the Cuban people are finally afforded personal, political, and economic freedom, Morgan Spurlock will still be able to visit a magical place where the buildings are bare, the nights aren’t littered with neon, and everyone suffers quietly—but equally—in poverty. If only, sigh, on his computer.

My 2006 Reason piece explaining why Morgan Spurlock and values crusader Ben Shapiro are the same person here.

BONUS: A reader sends this fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal about zoning laws in Times Square. Garishness is actually mandatory.


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66 Responses to “Morgan Spurlock’s Vision”

  1. #1 |  André Kenji | 

    I live in a suburb of São Paulo. Outdoor advertising per se wasn´t banned, just severely restricted.

  2. #2 |  poopcake | 

    come on, balko. i wouldn’t presume to imagine you’d care, but i think you might be alienating your non-hardcore libertarian readers with this minor, inconsequential shit.

    in short, a somewhat well-known, but not really, documentary film maker (he did that thing about how mcdonalds is bad for you, right? good to know, i’d think, even if you are a libertarian) is doing a project about what times square would look like without the advertising and years ago he expressed a desire to see cuba before it becomes americanized. shocking right?

    i suppose you might feel pressured to throw some red meat to the zealots from time to time to keep up your libertarian cred, but wouldn’t it be better to find common ground with seemingly idealogical adversaries instead of writing people off as pinko liberty-haters because they find mindless consumerism and obsessive materialism a bit unhealthy?

  3. #3 |  t1 | 

    “How would you know where to find what you needed to buy? How would you find out about new products?”

    Are you serious? If I want to buy food, I go to the supermarket. If I want to by a TV I go to Best Buy. Or get everything at Walmart. The idea that people would be stumbling around zombie like without advertising to direct them to the right stores is silly.

    “Signs along the interstate let you know where the next gas station is, or where you can find food, and what kind is available nearby?”

    The sat-nav in my car informs me better about gas/food options than any billboards – and it gives me directions, too.

    “You do pay, with your time. This is why there’s often a premium on ad-free entertainment like HBO or satellite radio.”

    That doesn’t makes sense – pay with your time?? As you say, people are willing to pay a premium for ad free entertainment which means that many people actually spend money out of their own pocket to avoid the bounty that advertisers allegedly bestow on them.

  4. #4 |  JOR | 

    “Shouldn’t there be a corollary for Godwin’s Law that covers North Korea? I mean seriously.”

    Seeing there shouldn’t even be a Godwin’s Law (it’s just stupid) – no. A mention of Nazis/Nazi Germany can be either valid or fallacious, depending on the particular context. If a particular mention is fallacious, then the problem with it is that it’s fallacious, and Godwin’s Law is redundant. If it’s valid (as it sometimes is), then citing Godwin’s Law is just a kind of blank-out or evasion.

  5. #5 |  BSK | 

    Radley-

    You’re being disingenuous. You are twisting peoples’ words and then getting upset when they do the same to you.

    Spurlock is attempting to create a visual project… he has not made (at least not that you’ve provided evidence for) any attempts to outlaw advertising. I sometimes wonder what the Statute of Liberty would look like if it was painted blue… does that mean I want a law passed that requires it to be blue?

    In your follow up posts, you’ve offered more evidence of Spurlock’s philosophy. But the fact remains is that being bothered by advertising does not amount to wanting it outlawed. Whether it is for aesthetic of philosophical reasons, there are many people with legitimate issues with the state of advertising. I still haven’t seen any statements here, on this post, of people advocating for the banning of advertising. For you to attack those who disagree with you as advocating for such is a ridiculous strawman. If people, here on this blog, have said that advertising should be illegal, quote them. If Spurlock has said so, quote him, as opposed to just implying it based on other actions. If they haven’t, then back off the wrong argument.

  6. #6 |  Matt | 

    @ JOR – oddly though the way people use Godwin’s law online is not what Godwin actually said, which was just that as a discussion progresses it’s likely someone will make a comparison to the Nazis. Evaluating the comparison still requires thought.

  7. #7 |  Radley Balko | 

    Hey BSK, before you accuse me of being disingenuous, why don’t you read the goddamned website?

    Here, let me help you out:

    ” . . . Sao Paulo, Brazil has banned outdoor ads as a form of visual pollution. It inspired director Morgan Spurlock to think, why can’t we do it in the U.S.?

    Now it’s true, I didn’t hold your hand and cut and paste this so it would be right in front of you. But I did, you know, link to it. Is it too much to ask for you to actually click on a link and read what you see before you accuse me of “twisting people’s words”?

    Getting really bored with the handful of the leftist commenters here who can’t just disagree without also taking a swipe at my integrity. Consider it a warning.

  8. #8 |  Radley Balko | 

    i suppose you might feel pressured to throw some red meat to the zealots from time to time to keep up your libertarian cred, but wouldn’t it be better to find common ground with seemingly idealogical adversaries instead of writing people off as pinko liberty-haters because they find mindless consumerism and obsessive materialism a bit unhealthy?

    I’m a libertarian. This is a libertarian blog. I post what interests me, what outrages me, what amuses me, and what I find important. I don’t throw out “red meat” to keep people happy or to “keep up my libertarian cred.” Don’t like it what I’m writing? Go find another blog to read.

  9. #9 |  DBN | 

    Don’t like it what I’m writing? Go find another blog to read.

    You’re giving these guys (girls) too much credit. They’re the kind of posters who would tell you to “go to Somalia if you like freedom so much.”

  10. #10 |  BSK | 

    Radley-
    That is tenuous at best and seeing as how it seems to be the sole evidence you have that Spurlock wants America to ban public advertising, it would have been worthwhile to include it in the post, don’t ya think? That was sort of your whole point, wasn’t it? I did click through the links, by the way; the quote you are only now offering was in the “About” section, so excuse me for not clicking through every link on every page to find your point. You are insisting people here are arguing on behalf of banning ads; I haven’t seen anyone make that argument. You then bristled when you felt people were misrepresenting your argument. To me, that is disingenuous. If that somehow makes me a leftist in danger of getting banned here, so be it. You offer little room to disagree, as you go after all those who do, quite viciously sometimes.

  11. #11 |  Maria | 

    I remember driving through East Germany. Not an advertisement in sight, not much color either. Just gray buildings. The concrete and dirt bleakness was in fact quite mentally soothing. Perfect for walking meditation. Or something. *eye roll*

    That said, as a photographer I do find the project interesting; not for the ‘why’ of it but for the ‘how’ and seeing the results. The meta question asked is worth exploring. “What would a place look like if we removed the key visual elements that define it?” Just, I wish it was a wider scoped project not so tightly linked to a single and superficial ideological message.

  12. #12 |  Maria | 

    Also, Spurlock might not have to wait that much longer for empty billboards in times square. Didn’t Slate do a series of photos documenting the recession, and some of them featured lovely empty billboards in times square? (nudist billboards, no Photoshop required.)

  13. #13 |  Radley Balko | 

    That said, as a photographer I do find the project interesting; not for the ‘why’ of it but for the ‘how’ and seeing the results. The meta question asked is worth exploring. “What would a place look like if we removed the key visual elements that define it?” Just, I wish it was a wider scoped project not so tightly linked to a single and superficial ideological message.

    This I agree with entirely. If this were an art project, it would be pretty interesting.

    I also just noticed that to help spread word about the project, Spurlock enlisted the services of . . . a marketing firm. Awesome.

  14. #14 |  Radley Balko | 

    You offer little room to disagree, as you go after all those who do, quite viciously sometimes.

    Tenuous? He specifically says the inspiration for the project was a city that has banned outdoor advertising, then says he’d like to see it happen here. What more do you need?

    And I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. I encourage it, far more than most blogs do. What I’m about finished tolerating is this self-righteous crap from left-leaning commenters who question my integrity and good faith any time I post something that dares to stray into free market advocacy. You accused me of deliberately misrepresenting Spurlock. Had you bothered to first read what the project is about, you’d have seen you were wrong. I’d like to think that would have persuaded you not to put up the comment. But perhaps not, since you still can’t seem to concede the point.

    By the way, whether or not Spurlock wants to ban advertising was not the point of the post. The post was about Spurlock’s contempt for commerce, which is so extreme that the guy can be revolted by the ads in Times Square, yet feel all warm and fuzzy when contemplating a visit to Cuba — and the rather callous and clueless way he overlooks how the government’s approach to commerce is directly related the wide disparity in the welfare of the people who live in both places.

  15. #15 |  poopcake | 

    i used the word suppose because i was making a supposition. in other words a hypothesis or guess or assumption. thank you for edifying me.

    go find another blog to read?
    *sigh*
    and the self-ghettoization of libertarians continues

  16. #16 |  André Kenji | 

    Spurlock could travel to São Paulo to see that there is still outdoor advertising here.