I just watched a vignette from the “Mad Men” DVD special features in which an expert quotes the following fact: The typical American is exposed to approximately 3,000 advertisements every single day. I think whether or not I’m living in America, that statistic is mindboggling, and though I believe it and I vaguely remember what that felt like—the billboards, the bus stop posters, the placard at the back of the shopping cart, the radio commercials, the DVR interstitials, the email, the many facets of online—but it’s still difficult to fathom from this perspective.
Before I left and since I’ve arrived, I’ve been asked many times why I joined the Peace Corps. In fact, the Peace Corps asks each of us to write an essay about this particular subject before we arrive in country. One thing I like to talk about when answering this question is 3-D movies. When you go to a 3-D movie, you get a special pair of glasses so that one eye sees one thing, and the other eye sees the same thing, but slightly different. When your brain resolves the two perspectives, it yields a much richer multi-dimensional image. And just the same, I think there’s something to be gained from seeing the world through the American lens in combination with the Samoan lens. And now that I’ve had time to adapt to the Samoan lifestyle, the differences between the two lenses are becoming more stark.
It’s somewhat common for people to ask what I miss most about The States. At this point, my stock answer is that my perception of America has become almost dreamlike. In my mind, America has become so mythical that yearning for In-N-Out Burger is tantamount to yearning to ride a unicorn. It’s just not something I think about often because it’s anachronistic nearly to the point of fantasy.
But the advertising thing is weird for two reasons:
- I spent a year and a half working in Internet advertising; and
- As Mad Men points out several times, “Advertising is at its best when you don’t realize it’s there.
The second bullet above makes me feel naïve about my self-evaluation of my advertising intake here in Samoa. I feel like there must be days in which I’m exposed to an extremely low number of advertisements. I have no TV, I don’t listen t the radio, my internet connectivity is limited, I rarely ride in cars, I don’t read any periodicals. I’m sure I’m exposed to more advertising than I realize, but it still seems awfully difficult for Madison Avenue to reach me here.
And so the idea of 3,000 ads a day makes my brain hurt.
I hope you’re well. Pictures below.
The kids brought by panipopo this evening.