Monday, December 3, 2007

please pardon our progress

i saw a sign with this sentence on it in the marriott hotel where i attended an anthropology conference in washington dc. the sign was next to an escalator which was not working.

normally, such a sign would say, "please pardon our appearance." in other words, we are sorry for making you look at such a mess.

but now some corporate official has decided to apologize for progress. there is a logical problem here. if maintenance work is defined only as "progress," then why should anyone be apologizing for it, asking our pardon for it, or pardoning it?

it is a disingenuous masking of an already polite phrase. it reminds me of the story of victorians who found other names for "table legs," as if switching words could bring less offense to the delicate hearer. changing the word "mess" or "appearance" to "progress" is a kind of linguistic tarp placed over a construction site. but it makes no logical sense, as well as looking excessively fawning. in their haste to please customers, corporate people are muffling polite phrases which are covering something ugly.

or is it ugly? is maintenance work really ugly and offensive? or is it simply mundane? is the real reason for its physical and linguistic screening and muffling not about viewer's delicate constitutions, but rather a prudish corporate obsession with image?

imagine a police officer running along a subway platform shouting, "please forgive our security!" as another officer comes running along behind, in pursuit of a criminal. as a commuter is pushed onto the tracks below, the officer turns hastily and calls out, "sorry for making you safe like this!" what is asked forgiveness for is not security -- an abstraction close to meaninglessness -- but a concrete situation differing from the norm.

corporations always run from the concrete in any case, except as a sensory tease to get consumers to spend money on uniform, abstractly planned and engineered products.

1 comment:

Pierce said...

I just walked into my library and saw that sign so I googled the phrase to see if anyone had anything to say about it. I've always thought the same as you about this phrase.

Good work.