Being in a somewhat captive audience on the subway it’s hard not to soak in the visual stimuli provided by advertising on the train. In between the blur of Budweiser and city services ads every so often an ad or a campaign stands out. A more recent series that has burned an image in the back of my brain is an entry from Dentyne to promote their gum. The ads play with the concept that internet technology and culture have wedged themselves in-between actual human contact. The ads use naturalistic photography juxtaposed with plain text representations of common internet phrases and communique. The implicit meaning is that these locutions are insufficient compared to their real-life counterparts and that one should reject the distance created by technology. The warmth of actual intimacy — while chewing gum — is apparently preferable to the sterile distance of online communication. I like the ads. Whenever I board the train and see one I find myself staring for lengthy periods of time but I also feel that I have a completely opposite reaction than the ads direct meaning.

One of the greatest tools several thousands dollars of debt and a film degree have given me is the ability to perform and obsession with imagery analysis. I like the idea that pictures carry a visual vocabulary of meaning. The Dentyne ads to me carry an emotional weight in that their imagery communicates feelings like love, friendship, communion, humanity. They are beautifully shot and really have a sort of aesthetics of the real kind of feel to them. For a while, the reason behind my fascination eluded me, I liked the images but felt off-put by the message. To me the internet is not a de-facto distancing technology, but quite the opposite. It can be used to extend and facilitate real human interaction. It is useful in its supplemental function as a way to find people who might otherwise slip through the cracks and its ability to communicate information like performances, parties, gatherings en masse. When used properly in fact the internet can be the means to an end for real-life human intimacy. It finally hit me when I saw the above image “Friend Request Acceptedâ€? and I realized what it was about the ad campaign that stood out.

For me, far from criticizing or commenting on the distance between what these words mean and the representative picture of the women hugging I think the emotional connection I associate with the image and the meaning of the words is one and the same. In a way “Friend Request Acceptedâ€? is a sort of virtual hug between two people. What’s bizarre for me is the way in which I realized I had associated emotional significance to such phrases in the same way I attributed the same feeling to imagery. In a way the sterile, unassuming phrases we are accustomed to seeing online become a snap-shot of an emotion that is both visceral and in a way hyperreal.

After all, how often are we conscious of the moments we become friends? I can name many people I would consider close friends but I can’t name the specific point at which that became the case for each relationship. I can think of instances, moments when that connection manifested and I became aware of the reality of our friendship. But, as with many people my day to day interactions are not so much a catalog of those moments of clarity but instead a deluge of taking life for granted. That is what really hits me about this campaign. The isolated clips provide a window into an untapped level of awareness. Whether they be generic computer phrases or beautiful photographs.

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