Return of the Repressed Uptown Loft

[POW MIA bride.]
I'm sure I'm not alone in being mystified by Viagra commercials. Slate grey color scale images of a couple on a cliff watching a sunset in side-by-side bathtubs. Trucks pulling things in slow motion. A sepia toned guy throwing a football through a tire swing. Amber waves of Amber's hair.

These things work in mysterious ways, through the play of semi-liminal images, association and connotation. I'm sure there's millions of dollars of psychology research behind each of these commercials. You can only assume that the Viagra and Cialis ad agencies know something that we don't know about how to talk about sex without talking about sex.

Lately, a less subtle sexual iconography is emerging around the Uptown apartment boom. During construction, a pair of new apartment buildings boasted a series of bro-tastic posters advertising easy sex. The Lime building featured signs saying: "Don't get hitched until you enjoy your year at Lime" and "Tarts welcome." The almost anagrammatically named Elan apartments draped itself in: "You might not remember her name, but her apartment..." Even the brochure for the staid Penfield apartments in Saint Paul have a curious collection of stock images [see photo below]. And of course, last week we were luckily enough to experience the vague porn video provided by the good folks at Nelson + Partners. Minnpost's Steve Neuman wrote the best synopsis of all. Here's the money shot:

Dollar Store Ryan Gosling (still SOCKLESS) gets the fireplace going while Mystery Blonde powders her nose, then they just keep on drinking before clothes start coming off and they go to his sleek, modern bedroom.  The screen goes dark.  
Cut to the following morning, as the sun rises over Lake Calhoun, and DSRG and Mystery Blonde are standing on his balcony in matching white robes. It’s shot from a distance and you can’t see what they’re drinking, but I assume they’ve already put a good a.m. dent in a handle of vodka.  And the credits roll.
The unsubtle message for the viewer: live here and you will have perfunctory, joyless sex with attractive women even if you’re a tardy jerk who shows up one cocktail in. 

Misogyny aside, I'm struck by how all of these "sex and the city" ads seem incredibly stupid. Not only are they hipster snark fodder, they seem to fuel the generational culture wars brewing around Minneapolis development.

But yet... stupid sexy urban living ads spread like randy rabbits. What's going on?

[Close up of a brochure for the Penfield in Saint Paul.]

I'm convinced that the real estate marketing people are up to something interesting. Sex sells, and there's must be something going on here about urban lifestyles and suburban alienation.

In other words, our urban environments have long been tied to particular sexual codes. For example, during the 19th century, unchaperoned women in the city were often assumed to be prostitutes. The Victorian era gave birth to a particular image of domesticity, where the residential suburban home served as a moral refuge from a corrupt and sexually perverted city. In other words, the nuclear family had a landscape. The suburbs offered a domicile carefully composed by Godly, straight, and monogamous women. These landscapes became proper homes for children, refuges from postlapsarian morally ambiguous urban chaos.

Of course this was mostly bullshit. It turns out that women didn't want to be protected from the world, and the city was full of sexual liberation and creativity (gayborhoods are but one example). For the most part, the moral landscape of the suburbs did nothing but cover up any number of of deep sexual problems in ways that provided fodder for generations of authors and filmmakers. (And continue to release themselves through lonely violent men.)

But today we have a new wave of architecture as innuendo. That the Uptown apartment has become an intertwining of urban space and sexual fantasy suggests that we remain gripped by spatial alienation. It tells me that, young and old alike, many still yearn for liberation from the lonely burbs. We want to be thrust back into the hurly-burly of the city street, where it seems like anything can happen.

Laugh as we will, the marketing people know something we don't. (They always do.) Viagra commercials meet Uptown lofts. Brotastic ads for Bud Light Lime rise incarnate at the corner of 29th and Lyndale. Maybe the "back to the city" movement has deep Freudian roots, and our new city represents a landscape of desire that is not going away. The Uptown boom is the return of the repressed.

[An erection.]


Julie said...

We were just mocking the website for the new NoLo Velo development yesterday. They're a mix of the design views and some most hilarious stock photos. "Look! Ambiguously ethnic millennial doing yoga! Awkward first wine date in, apparently, NYC!"

I am always cynical about stock image selection.

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Anonymous said...

I briefly dated a suburbanite who'd bought a condo between Minneapolis and St. Paul. It was a single rung on his planned out life ladder, a better investment than renting before returning to the burbs for a white picket fence and marriage by 30. Definitely repressed, definitely horny. He'd purchased the furniture as seen in the model unit as well.

I dated him against both my better judgment and the generic advice of a friend-of-the-family priest ("don't date guys you meet at church!") and was flattered when he seriously informed me that I wasn't the kind of girl one takes home to their parents.

Neither he nor the ad make sense to me, but they seem to share a similar worldview.

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