June 18, 2019

M. J. Maddox, PhD
is the American English Doctor.


Subversive Staples Ads

Staples ad showing notebooks in the street

Staples ad showing notebooks in the street

This post combines “word of the week” with social commentary.

Word of the week: subvert (verb).

The verb subvert comes from two Latin words, sub (under) and vertere (to turn). To subvert something is to turn it upside down. The noun is subversion and the adjective is subversive.

Figuratively, to subvert is to undermine the character of a person or to overthrow a law, tradition, or accepted value. Recent back-to-school television ads for the office supply company Staples are subversive in this sense.

One ad shows a pile of binders and assorted school supplies in the street being run over deliberately by children on bicycles. The scene shifts to the interior of a Staples store where a bewildered woman is saying helplessly to the clerk, “I know I bought them.” The clerk responds, ” If I were you, I’d buy some more, for next week.”

Staples ads showing school supplies left in the rain

Staples ads showing school supplies left in the rain

Another ad shows school paraphernalia—including a school textbook—lying on a bench in the rain. Hanging on a fence in the background is an open backpack. The scene shifts to the interior of a store in which a woman is buying a new backpack for her daughter. The woman says, “This is the last one I’m getting for her.” Indulgently, the clerk says, “No, it’s not,” and the woman agrees, “No, it’s not.”

A third ad shows a boy running for the school bus as loose

Staples ad showing boy dropping papers as he runs for the bus

Staples ad showing boy dropping papers as he runs for the bus

papers spill onto the grass behind him. The implication is that he will not attempt to retrieve any of the papers, which, one might assume, include homework assignments.

When I was a child, I didn’t walk to school through the snow uphill both ways, but I did take care of my school supplies. Before I started school, I had been taught to bring my toys in from the rain.

In the days of my childhood, parents bought school textbooks as well as notebooks, paper, pencils and pens. My brother and I covered our textbooks with brown paper grocery bags to protect them. I had a book satchel and pencil box to keep things in. They were safely zipped and snapped before I left the house on the way to school.

Nowadays, children have backpacks that cost anywhere from $7 to $50. Schools issue closely spaced supply lists beginning with kindergarten. When I took my nine-year-old granddaughter to buy school supplies the year she entered fourth grade, I spent just at $100. When I was bringing up my own two children on a meager salary, I had to depend on help from my mother to cover $25 worth of supplies for each child every year.

What kind of arrogant, insensitive irresponsible products of spoiled privileged childhoods wrote these Staples ads? Don’t they know that most parents are lucky to get enough money together to pay for one set of supplies for each child?

These ads are good for one thing. They provide rich study material for a course on parenting.

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