Stamp Out Pervasive Commercialism

For some time now, it has been pretty much impossible to parody the incursion of commercialism on the public realm.

The latest evidence?

The U.S. Postal Service last week announced plans to let corporations customize the stamps they use, to include advertisements for their products, services or corporate image.

Beyond issues of taste, does this matter?

It does.

The public realm represents, or should represent, a set of values that are distinct from, and at times in contradiction to, commercial values. It also embodies, or should embody, a distinct approach to managing resources and providing services — one that advances common as opposed to private interests.

There is also an insidious regulatory impact from omnipresent commercialism. (For a sampling of commercial intrusions, see lists maintained by the Portland, Oregon-based Commercial Alert here, here and here.) Pervasive advertising and marketing — especially in association with public and community institutions — makes corporations seem part of the fabric of the public sphere. Another member of the community. A neighbor who shouldn’t be subjected to special rules or regulations. This cultural impact may be intangible, but it is real and important.

Here’s what Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert says about the Postal Service’s latest commercialism innovation:

It is not the proper role for the U.S. Postal Service to advertise for private interests on our public stamps. The stamps have a long and glorious tradition of promoting heroes and history, and now they are being degraded to promote businesses — and perhaps the next Enron. It is not the proper role for the U.S. Postal Service to prop up companies with PR problems or who are polluters, tortfeasors or corporate welfare recipients.