Would Times Square be better without ads?

Filmmaker and corporate provocateur Morgan Spurlock has teamed with The Barbarian Group in an effort to crowdsource away the ads in New York's Times Square. The inspiration for this was São Paolo's decision to ban outdoor advertising as a blight to the environment. The Barbarians shot a panoramic photo of Times Square, replete with all the garish billboards. The site invites visitors to use online-editing tool Aviary to erase the ads. The idea is through collaborative work we can rid Times Square, at least virtually, of the taint of capitalist excess. There is, of course, a certain irony in the fact that The Barbarian Group works in the ad industry. That's par for the course, because Spurlock is paying for his new documentary about the evils of product placement through, yes, product placement. It will be interesting to see the response this gets. The project is billed as a way for the entire Internet to wipe Times Square clean of corporate graffiti. One potential problem is that most people without a design background would be pretty clueless when dumped into Aviary. But then, these kinds of collaborative efforts really only need a few dedicated souls, with the majority acting as spectators. The bigger question is whether an ad-free Times Square would be a better Times Square. Yes, as a New Yorker, I avoid the place like the plague. But tourists flock to Times Square in part because of the advertising hoopla. I don't know how many times I've nearly plowed into a group of tourists staring up at the huge video billboards. Like it or not, advertising is an inextricable part of the fabric of modern life. A Times Square without advertising might even be a little boring.

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