Wednesday, January 26, 2005

In Times Square

I was walking through Time Square, which is far from pleasant and makes me wonder why tourists flock there. It's the least characteristic place in New York City, a place where there are three different Friday's restauarants to choose from. It exemplifies the conundrum of modern convenience in travel: the very presence of tourists makes it unpleasant for tourists, proving that easier travel for all makes it less appealing for all. (Does that make me an elitist?) Negotiating the streets is tricky, too, not only because they are overcrowded but because no one abides the communication system of nods and leans that I referred to yesterday. People may be too mystified by the flashing lights and TV screens; they don't watch where they're going, which is less a matter of noticing obstacles than it is signalling to fellow pedestrians your intentions.
The lights there, too, exemplify the adaptation phenomenon researchers of hedonic psychology often talk about, and the all important factor of context. Humans adapt to the levels of display and expectation exhibited by those around them (which is why ornate Christmas-light tours de force are so often resented), and the same is true of retailers. Neon becomes mandatory in an environment like Times Square, where the bar has been raised by all the other storefront signs. WHat would be ostentatious and gaudy anywhere else is necessary there for survival. Though it seems like a deperate attempt for attention, the neon and the lights become a kind of camoflauge, allowing business to conform and seem acceptable and normal for their environment. The same can be said for the way many people dress -- the tourists seemed to stick out to me, because they were wearing camoflauge for the wrong environment.

Across the MTV building was this slogan: There is one thing all people understand regardless of language: Music." Or something like that, trite and untrue, or at least inapplicable to MTV, which obviously is not a music station. But if the last word was "youth," then it would fit perfectly. MTV should be called Youth TV. It's job is to market youthfulness and novelty, to confer the aura of youthfulness to a variety of goods. Music, because its so ephemeral, often stands in for youth, which needs to be continually refreshed, replenished with brand new signifiers.

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