When I first started working in advertising, not long after the dot-com crash, the industry was weirdly infatuated with bike messengers. Copywriters and designer stared wistfully from their desks whenever a courier arrived, lustily noting their Chrome messenger bags and fixed-gear bikes. It was not uncommon to find an ex-coworker delivering your contracts.
This romance bled into our work. Making advertisements with bike messengers was perhaps the most common way to imbue corporations with Authenticity. From Pabst to Coors, Lincoln to Mercedes, messengers were everywhere.
The bike messenger was the perfect myth for America in the 2000s. The cowboy reborn for the post-bubble era. There was no greater symbol of authenticity.
But our fascination faded. Ubiquity lessened the messenger’s totemic value (if Coors is using bike messengers, why bother?), but we also discovered the truth behind messengers: they were generally miserable. They lacked health care, barely made money, and were injured at a fantastic rate. Some advertisers tried to mitigate this negativity (I remember a couple who looked into providing health care) but in general, the thrill was gone. Today, our romance with messengers survives as a vestigial interest in fixies.
It’s interesting how long we loved bike messengers. Today, their injuries and exploitation would be the subjects of many an article. Uber drivers and other on-demand service workers we never the subject of our longing. As soon as we met them we were presented countless examples of their troubles.
In this era of ubiquitous information can anything be Authentic for more than a moment?
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