Do you feel stressed by the fast pace of life? Are you short on time? Many scholars have examined the ways that social acceleration seems to define modern existence. In the disciplines of English and cultural studies, we can study this problem by analyzing cultural texts of all kinds: novels, poems, comic books – even advertisements.
Take, for instance, an advertisement titled “Unscheduled,” produced for Go RVing Canada, an organization that promotes campgrounds and recreational vehicles. The ad begins with a suburban family scrambling to catch up to the scheduling demands of their day. With frequent cuts between poorly-framed camera angles, even the footage itself looks like it was shot at a frantic pace. The parents have a hectic conversation about scheduling the kids’ ballet, martial arts lessons, and math tutoring, all while trying desperately to fit everyone into the cars in the driveway.
At this moment, we hear the calmly singing voices of a second family as they coast by, at an entirely relaxed pace, in a recreational vehicle. Slow smiles break across the faces of the first family as they gaze upon the RV. In the next shot, the first family is now leisurely seated around a secluded campfire at night, roasting wieners and playing guitar with an RV behind them. A pure white word fades into the centre of the screen: “Unschedule.”
Human culture, this ad tells us, is fast. Driven by speed, deadlines, and multitasking, culture creates panic and anxiety. Nature, on the other hand, is slow: a place where the demands of scheduling and social acceleration have been lifted, leaving behind a pure experience of clarity and communal gathering. The ad sells RVs and camping by linking them conceptually with this form of “natural” time. If the acceleration society is the disease, then the relaxed pace of nature, as sold through RVing, is the cure. The ad gives us permission to take genuine delight in this.
Slow nature vs. fast culture
And yet, the notion of slow nature as the antidote to fast culture is an oversimplification. The natural world is home to many forms of speed, such as hurricanes, fires, and unstable climates. And as the scholar Sarah Sharma has shown, many people experience time not just as speed, but in complex ways linked to different forms of privilege and labour.
More to the point, culture and nature are inextricably linked. After all, the problems of acceleration in modern culture play a major role in disrupting the very ecosystems that are so treasured in the RV ad. We might even say that the ad discourages us from addressing the problems of overwork, multitasking, and unsustainability by suggesting instead that we briefly run away from them.
About English 491
Advertisements are just one of the countless forms of representation that shape our social world in ways that are not always obvious. In English 491, you can build new knowledge about cultural texts from video games to poetry, from Ulysses to Lady Gaga. Find out what other scholars have said about these topics, and add your voice to the conversation.
Paul Huebener is an Assistant Professor of English at Athabasca University. His book Timing Canada: The Shifting Politics of Time in Canadian Literary Culture was a finalist for the Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism.