If you’ve been riding the New York subways lately, then you’ve probably caught sight of the heavy banner advertising campaigns that both Seamless and StreetEasy — food delivery and apartment hunt companies, respectively — have been running. In the former, slogans like “The role of ‘Your Mom’ will by played by us” and “Let people who can spell ‘Baba Ganoush’ make it” adorn the overhead space on the train. In the latter, indie-aesthetic doodles depict various living factors as math equations, e.g. Manhattan apartment + English Degree = Guarantors Accepted.
In case you missed the joke, they’re saying that your parents can sign on as the liability on your Manhattan apartment because you were foolish enough to get a BA. Also, they aren’t joking.
Far be it from us to take issue with having your parents as pseudo-landlords in your first New York apartment. That’s a situation we can all relate to, and as long as they’re not your actual landlords, it’s fine by us. But where these subway ads are trying to be cute, they’re catering to a generation of soft New Yorkers by creating a virtual parents’ basement of apps — all dependency and convenience — where you’ll rot for the rest of your days.
StreetEasy’s #FindYourFormula ads made their debut late last month, and usually take up the entirety of one side of a train. It’s additions and subtractions, with final answers that read like punchlines. Well, we checked their math and pared down those tongue-in-cheek equations to the following assumptions they make about the city:
1. Liberal arts graduates cannot afford rent in nice places, but that’s why they have supportive parents to co-sign their leases.
2. Rats and cockroaches are edgy, like the East Village, where well-off hipsters throw their money in the air because fuck being clean!
3. Toxic waste is just one of those quirky things about Gowanus! So is Whole Foods! So is the Kentile Floors sign that isn’t even there anymore!
4. Park Slope. I can’t. Just look at this. Dogs + Babies + Private School + PERFORMANCE FLEECE = A BK NEIGHBORHOOD?
StreetEasy is an online database of residential property listings. It’s a resource for New Yorkers and transplants alike seeking housing. It offers rentals, sales and market data, so you can see how the rents stack up against the median and find a deal. But with this new ad campaign, StreetEasy would have New Yorkers adopt a broker’s state of mind, pigeonholing neighborhoods to a few qualifying aspects that are either just plain narrow-minded or that celebrate an extremely privileged experience.
In fact, one of the most disturbing aspects of these ads is their nod to landmarks and businesses that no longer exist because of gentrification. Specifically, the Mars Bar on the LES and the Kentile Floors sign in Gowanus. Why are they advertising a long-dead punk bar that’s now a TD Bank? Who exactly are they catering to? The New Yorkers who recognize the bar are now being lumped into a reviled category, that of the well-intentioned transplant renter who ends up contributing to the loss of a neighborhood’s culture.
The Seamless ads are just as terrible, albeit a little less micro-aggressive. By telling you to order in because you’ll probably fail at life if you don’t, or because you’re already failing at being a grownup anyway, all these ads are coddling the next generation of Basics who tweet about their failures without actually trying to succeed first. (BTW, your Twitter following isn’t going to GoFund back the bank account balance you devoured with all those $16 Seamless orders that made you so funny for claiming you’re “the worst.”)
What’s more, Seamless ads are celebrating and encouraging a world in which you don’t interact with your fellow New Yorkers. Sure, we all love ordering in when we’re hungover or when the rain is beating down so hard we can’t imagine schlepping to the grocery store. This is a brag-worthy convenience of New York life. But part of the reason to live in this giant mad city at all is to embrace the diversity of what’s around you — not to use an app as stand-in mommy because you never learned how to cook, or because you’re afraid to leave your authentic Gowanus loft.
Living in those shitty first few apartments when you move to New York teaches you something. So does going to the deli for breakfast, or just patronizing businesses owned by people who have been there longer than you. You meet your weird neighbors, and you hear amazing stories, and you get lost on streets you never noticed before. Do the math yourself: at the end of the day, the lowest common denominator is the city we all decided to call home.
The role of “your rant-y friend” will be played by Sam, if you follow her on Twitter: @ahoysamantha