It was a most unfortunate waste: The contents of my wine glass came shooting through my nostrils when my friends told me about San Diego's new slogan. We were at Mosaic, shrugging off our workweek, and given the restaurant trend to skimp on acoustic tiling, I wasn't sure I'd heard them correctly. “Happy, whaaaa…? I yelled across the tiny table at my best girls.
“Happy happens!” they shouted back in unison. “Kinda like an erection,” my husband would say when I told him about it later.
I couldn't help but laugh—and chortle—when I heard San Diego's slogan du jour, one that had to have been invented by a focus group comprising 6-year-olds. Or a Bible-study group. On some level I suppose it was true: The wine sprayed because happy happened. Imagine.
Slogans are all the rage, of course. Los Angeles recently offered an apropos, “That's So LA,” which sounds like it's dripping from the tongue of a taught-faced girl born in The Valley. New Orleans is predictable with, “We're Jazzed You're Here,” but it's sweet and definitely makes me want to take my shirt off for beads. The Twin Cities plays on the twofer thing with “Minneapolis / Saint Paul: More to Life.”
Salt-of-the-earth Madison gets deep and crunchy with statements rather than a single slogan: “Grow Emotionally, Grow Intellectually. Let Your Heart Wander. Let Your Mind Wonder.” Ya dig? And “The City That Reads,” “Charm City” and “Crabtown” have all been attributed to Baltimore at one time or another. But a local named Alison painted the most vivid picture when she offered her personal Baltimore slogan on a travel blog: “The Wire Wasn't Kidding.” I heart you, Alison, wherever you are.
By comparison, “Happy Happens” is—wah-wah-waaah. It's sort of like cold water on boy parts, if you know what I mean.
Never mind that “happy” is an adjective and “happens” is an intransitive verb, which illustrates the importance of no longer D-listing our city schools when setting priorities. Never mind that the slogan ignores San Diego's rich culture in its blatant generic-ness. And never mind that Forbes recently rated San Diego the ninth most overpriced place to live in America, tied with Newark, N.J. Newark doesn't have a slogan that I could find, but the state just signed on with, “New Jersey and You: Perfect Together.” Not enough to win a visit from me anytime soon, but props to Jersey for grammar, yo.
Despite these nitpicky details, “Happy Happens” is the $8-million catchphrase designed to boost our third-largest industry. According to Mayor Jerry Sanders, the Happy Happens movement “is going to invite [travelers] to experience what many of us are looking for in these stressful economic times, a positive outlook and happy mood.” In other words, it is the carrot being dangled in front of the financially strapped masses, tempting them to put the plane tickets on what's left of their credit cards and leap across our pothole-laden streets in their matching Crocs.
Entertainment in these parts ain't cheap, though. One day at the World Famous San Diego Zoo starts at $26. Kiddos begging for Legoland? That will cost $53, and that's just for one child's ticket. The cost of watching a few Orcas perform circus tricks to the deafening sounds of a hair band at SeaWorld will cost $55 for a single greasy kid to trip through the turnstiles. And don't forget the newly increased sales tax being added to entrance fees and snacks and knick-knacks and beers.
Still. It doesn't matter. Because happy happens, don't you know?
Or I should say, happy HAPPENS, which is pretty much how it appears on the sunny website of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. It was there that I was greeted with the full sunshiny seriousness of this campaign. The word “happy” looks like it was written by a girl who dots her i's with little hearts. There were flower decals, yellow go-carts and children jumping on fluffy hotel beds (what's the hotel tax, again?). I tried to watch the happy HAPPENS video, but all I got was audio—no picture—which didn't make me very happy. The song “Smile On” was snappy, and so then I felt sort of happy. But then I listened to it again and it grated, so I wasn't happy any more. I was annoyed. And frustrated. It was a little schizophrenic.
There was a banner to click for “Happy Deals,” but I didn't see any button for happy endings, which, to be honest, is always a big selling point when I choose a vacation spot. And I was greeted by an onslaught of happy photos: There's a Blackberry with a stylus-drawn smiley face, a cappuccino with a cinnamon smiley face sprinkled in the foam and an image of the Gaslamp Quarter sign, a chem-trail smiley face suspended in the blue sky above. There were so many smiley faces that I wanted to punch Forrest Gump in the kidney for having ever wiped his face on that T-shirt in the first place.
I love San Diego. I do. It's a beautiful place to live. And the promo is convincing. If I didn't already live here, I'd probably come here to get me some happy. But the full flavor of this city can't rightly be reduced to a two-word slogan that focuses solely on stereotypes without alluding to its soul. I wish the decision-makers had looked beyond the happy-happy-joy-joy of Ren & Stimpy for inspiration. Personally, I think a Ron Burgundy-inspired tag line would have been savvy, something that would have brought throngs of thrill seekers and nature lovers alike:
Paradise is a whale's vagina. Come see for yourself!