The popular adage “location, location, location” is a pithy albeit repetitive way of saying that what catches your eye may have more to do with where something is than what it is. Amid odd coincidences — restaurants on the downtown side of streets make more money than restaurants on the uptown side — are facts: Billboards next to the highway, mannequined outfits and hot dog stands just catch people’s attention. On our campus, groups strategize about how to best grab your attention and usually settle on a combination of postering, quarter-carding and chalking and tend to opt for volume and frequency, since no one besides Denice Cassaro knows where all of us are and what we’re doing at all times. If and when I hand you a quarter-card while chalking on Ho Plaza and wearing an undershirt with Last Call posters on front and back, you shouldn’t be surprised. Yet there may be another way to approach advertising at Cornell.
Consider the differences between advertising platforms: Posters and q-cards are printed while chalkings are handwritten; q-cards are in-hand and chalkings under-foot while posters are totally visual; you can easily avoid glancing at chalkings and posters, whereas it takes some planning to deliberately ignore a fellow student extending a card to you. But perhaps the largest difference lies in location — not just in the literal sense of where something is, but how we relate to seeing objects and messages in certain places.
People try and put posters at “eye-level” because person-to-person eye-contact is a mark of genuine communication; the more a poster feels like it’s looking back at you, the more sincere it feels. So too with the very newspaper you are holding. Holding a newspaper upright projects an air of sincere attention: You can see all of the paper’s news and no one can see you to interrupt you. As an added bonus, it also looks like you’re holding the Ten Commandments — reading the paper on a table seems so much more casual. Ever notice that the more you care about writing a text, the closer you’ll bring your phone to your face? If you barely care you’ll reply in a word and leave it on the table or your lap, resting horizontally.
Seeing horizontal text just feels bizarre. You might have a Van Gogh re-print (or original, if you roll like that) on your wall, but you certainly won’t have a rug resembling the American Beauty movie poster or a stolen $6.95 Lunch Special poster from Miyake. But even a Shakespearean sonnet or Bob Dylan lyric would feel out of place sewn or etched into your floor. Horizontal space is usually reserved for function first and appearance second, the aesthetically simple, the simply beautiful or the beautifully patterned rug, tile or floor. It is the foundation, meant to literally and figuratively hold down the floor while everything around it — certainly posters, paintings and pictures, even couches and bureaus that share the wall and the floor — changes. We expect the writing and images that we walk past to be part of that ever-changing sphere, expect performances, artists and events to evolve with time and replace themselves. But writing on the ground can be compelling because it challenges our associations of horizontal surfaces with semi-permanence and functionality and poses a provocative dilemma; “Walk on me or read me, I’m staying.”
Like a rug or floor, chalking constitutes a space and requires the reader to ask herself: Is this pretty or important enough to preserve? Do I walk over this or to the side? But the only way to answer those questions is to read the chalking. And once someone reads your chalking, you’ve done your job. And something tells me you have more control over chalking than any other form of on-campus advertising: Where finding a free millimeter on a posterboard that’s actually legal to poster and handing quarter-cards to students who are actually receptive are intercompetitive processes with millions of other groups, there will always be ample space to chalk. Though Ithaca weather can be daunting, chalking is intracompetitive, all about how much you and your group want to reconstitute space, make it your own and let your reader-walker make a decision.
As to why there are all kinds of rules about where you can hang posters and no kind of rules about where you can chalk — with the exception of not chalking on the vertical side of steps — I don’t have an answer. I tend to tell myself that Cornell regards chalking as exercising your inner child and doodling in public. But seriously people, what’s more fun and unexpected, pieces of paper or doodling in public? And haven’t you always secretly wanted people to notice your pretty doodles?
Jacob Kose is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scrambled Eggs appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.