Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ithaca, New York: The Social Dynamics of the Poster Sale

One thing that has surprised me about the poster job, more than anything else, is the social codes embedded in poster buying. It never even really occurred to me, but now that I work poster sales, I am blown away by how seriously crucial it is to the college experience and how much you can learn about social norms through the whole poster process.

First, of course, is the sheer number of people who come to the poster sale, and who actually wait all year for it. They show up and say things like "Last year you had such-and-such a poster and it was on sale for such-and-such a price? Have you still got it?" Hell, I vividly remember going to the poster sale when I was a freshman in 1997, and plastering my room with Casablanca posters thereafter. The poster sale is actually an Event, an Event that's important because posters are vital in helping college kids create an identity.

That may sound like hyperbole, but it's really not! For a lot of these kids, it's their very first chance to decorate their space without parental input, and they choose subjects and images that convey important information about themselves. Sure, creating a certain mood and having a connection to the 'feeling' that posters create is a huge part of it. But so is making sure other people know what you're about and what you like. It's all bands, movies, quotes, and famous people. And in the end, there is a surprising amount of division along gender lines.

Girls buy this.

Dudes buy this

Now, it's no big secret that college males want to buy pictures of naked chicks for their walls, as one of this year's classy top sellers for frat boys attests:

The whole visual objectification of women is well-acknowledged. At the least most guys know that they should feel slightly ashamed about buying this sort of thing, thankfully. The above poster, when purchased, is usually tightly rolled up when brought to the register, or covered by a second, less offensive image. Naturally, I make sure to pull out the Nice Rack poster in a very visible manner, with a flourish, so that everyone in the near vicinity can catch a glimpse of what dude here is buying. But. I have to say, I have been much more horrified by what the women buy!

When it's not the black-and-white images of Kim Anderson's cutsey children dressed up like grown-ups, it's more often than not a picture of two people kissing in a romantic embrace. This I do not understand. Why do you want a picture of two strangers (not from your favorite movie or video or band) making out - on your wall?!

Here's some examples of the top sellers this year:

Any reference to Paris ups the sales instantly.

There two are entitled 'Urban Romance':

And who could forget:

Seriously. All of these. Top-sellers. And there's actually a LOT more that I didn't include here. In the end, 'the kiss' is objectified by women just as much as the female body is objectified by men. People always comment that men generally fixate on bodies while women instead fixate on the notion of romance. Sure. But nothing has made me more sure that this is culturally conditioned than working on the poster job. Why the hell are these images so popular? It's not just because part of buying a poster is the creation of a mood and a haven and a home. It's because the largest part of buying a poster is acquiring social and cultural identifiers that can be plastered on your wall for everyone to see. It communicates a message to other people who can recognize that message.

I don't know. My present poster partner Matt has said that if he ever went home with a girl who had one of these romance images on the wall, he would run the other direction. As fast as possible. So I guess in these cases women buy smoochy pics for other women. In fact, they sure do seem to buy them while in groups.


doug said...

Nothing says romance like people making out of the 1 train. (Or is it the 3?)


Oh man, that was brillant

Diana Wright said...

Do you have a poster of the Klimt Leda?

Posters in my dorm room nearly 40 years ago -- my roommate had a wall-sized Spartacus. I had a signed Philippe Entremont. Not an auspicious beginning.

Stella said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Clever post, but I bid to differ at a point or two. Sure Klimt and the Parisian Kiss can be read as objectifying romance, but especially with what concerns, particularly the second, as far as I know the picture was not set up but shot randomly. What people see in it (as I did when I last saw this picture hanging in a room in Florence) was a full surrender to a notion that is more and more challenged in our days. What is romantic about this particular picture, in my opinion, is neither Paris in the background, the handsome couple or the black and white aesthetics. It's that small moment that freezes the action and isolates the main actors from the rest of the world who anyway go on their usual business.

I find that the picture has essentially captured the breath and beating heartpulse of a kiss that brings one almost to faint, even if it is not recognisable by everyone else. It is nostalgic, not because of its antiquity but because of that special relation we hold with our truest and most memorable experiences.