Here’s your Superbowl-and-circuses, Citizens™! Please enjoy the clash of these broken, opiated gladiators we have assembled for your pleasure. You will also enjoy these messages exhorting you to buy more products and services. Because the awareness that you have no value as anything but Consumers may upset, you are encouraged to treat our crass blandishments as entertainment. More entertainment to entertain you! We have been assured that there will be no shortage of websites that will fall all over themselves to give you a chance to watch our ads online, just in case, heaven forfend, that you were unfortunate enough to miss the opportunity during the game itself. We aim to please, as long as pleasing means you’ll like us more and buy more of our useless garbage.
Oh Oracle Google! Consort to the Apple-onian godhead, second among our modern pantheon, the smoke of our ad-view offerings wafts skyward, and your powerful limbs engorge with ad revenue. It is a mere 4% of your Olympian might that does not spring from selling us Product, and we in turn swell with pride. Even Facebook, so unloved but so tightly wound around our lives like the snakes on fleet Hermes’ staff, even Facebook is an ad-revenue eyeball-offering 85%-er.
Our Dionysian rites, on screens big and small, are littered with more Products more!, sometimes so risibly over-the-top as to temper the bite of tragedy with some welcome if undeliberate corporate comedy. And music — oh terpsichorean muse — we enlist your aid in winging ever more goods into our hands. Goods, I say, because goods and products are the same, and they are Good!
OK, enough faux-classical silliness. Yes, the cranky old man has a wild hair up his butt again. But all of these things and more boggle me right upside my head.
Even the great and glorious internet which was going to set us all free and liberate human expression like nothing before in history… well, it has, I’ll admit, but not without a bill that needs paying. This latest generation in its accelerated Benny Hill yakkety-sax sped-up evolution — the social media explosion — has become a lumbering race between massive advertising companies dedicated to finding ever-cleverer ways to mine data about your interactions with your friends and your ‘friends’ to sell you more instantly-obsolescent shit and worthless ‘services’ that you don’t need. What kind of hilariously dire dystopian vision of the future would that have been, 25 years ago, if you suggested that some of the most successful companies in the world would be making billions from inserting themselves into your personal relationships with other people? Or for the most popular communications channel in history to be arbitrarily limited to 140 characters?
Every medium we have has been deep-tissue colonized by the necrotizing fasciitis of the advertisers. I manage to ignore it most of the time, because I have been lucky enough to have lived outside of the filthy whirlpool of modern marketing for the 15 years or so. I live in Korea, I don’t watch more than a few minutes of broadcast TV a week (and it’s all in Korean, from which I remain immunized), and all the non-Korean television I watch, I download, pre-stripped of advertising. I run adblockers in all my browsers, selectively unblocking sites that I choose to support. I do not have a landline, and I do not answer my mobile phone unless I know who is calling me. The place I’ve chosen to live and the way of it have insulated me to some extent from the worst of the Great EnCancering. But I have been watching the metastasis with interest and not a little bit of driveby-rubber-necker-at-a-car-crash horror, and occasionally a few bright squirts of the victims’ blood sails right through my open window right into my dumb face, which certainly wakes me up if nothing else.
What set me off on this latest round? Well, this.
I’m sorry, who is this?
Sorry, what was that again?
Is this a sales call?
No, absolutely not. Do not call this number again.
It may be recognizable as a cold call, an advertising call, and I sense that most of you, dear readers, are in the process of raising eyebrow, shrugging, or even shaking your head slightly in bemusement. ‘Stav,’ I hear you thinking or possibly even addressing your screen in mild frustration, ‘you know that we love you, but have you really gone off on a tear because somebody called you out of the blue and tried to sell you something? That’s just an ordinary part of modern life, sir!’
Yes, damn it, that is what set me off. I picked up my phone at work — caller ID displaying the number ’54’, which confused me slightly, but I have no idea how the phones work in this stupid office — and had that conversation. It was the first time I’ve ever had that happen.
Let me say that again, to emphasize. That brief sales call was My First Time.
Now they say you always remember your first time. After all, getting fucked is a big deal, especially if it’s never happened to you before. And writing a couple of thousand words about it tends to cement it in your mind. Maybe you remember your first time. I hope it was pleasant for you.
It wasn’t, for me. It filled me with a flavour of fury that I am still savouring a little, to be honest, so I guess it wasn’t unalloyed bad. I have no idea how some woman in India got my name (because she knew it) or my work phone number in Korea (because, well, phone call), or in what world it makes sense for her to try and send me an information package on financial management services. It rings my already boggled brain like a bell. It’s like a minor colour detail in a Charlie Stross novel that extrapolates Stupid Marketing Tricks into a near-future tale with an Advertising Will Eat Itself sidebar: funny, maybe, but a little disturbing, too.
Maybe part of my recoil in disgust from the brief experience comes from my dislike of the telephone in general. It seems to me sometimes overly intimate, somehow, the way the telephone thrusts someone’s voice right up inside your head, and if the person has gotten in there on false premises, it has a rapey taste to it, to me at least.
Now this is called “Advertising Lullaby”, keeping in mind of course that the whole purpose of advertising is to lull you to sleep.
Quality, value, styles, service, selection, convenience, economy savings, performance, experience, hospitality, low rates, friendly service, name brands, easy terms, affordable prices, money-back guarantee, free installation.
Free admission, free appraisal, free alterations, free delivery, free estimates, free home trial, and free parking.
No cash? No problem. No kidding, no fuss, no muss, no risk, no obligation, no red tape, no down payment, no entry fee, no hidden charges, no purchase necessary, no one will call on you, no payments of interest till September.
Limited time only though so act now, order today, send no money, offer good while supplies last, two to a customer, each item sold separately, batteries not included, mileage may vary, all sales are final, allow 6 weeks for delivery, some items not available, some assembly required, some restrictions may apply.
Come on in for a free demonstration and a free consultation with our friendly professional staff. Our experienced and knowledgeable sales representatives will help you make a selection that’s just right for you and just right for your budget and say, don’t forget to pick up your free gift, a classic, deluxe, custom, designer, luxury, prestige, high quality, premium select, gourmet pocket pencil sharpener… yours for the asking, no purchase necessary, it’s our way of saying “thank you”.
And if you act now, we’ll include an extra added, free, complementary, bonus gift, a classic, deluxe, custom, designer, luxury, prestige, high quality, premium select, gourmet combination key ring, magnifying glass, and garden hose, in a genuine, imitation, leather-style, carrying case with authentic vinyl trim… yours for the asking, no purchase necessary, it’s our way of saying “thank you”.
Actually, it’s our way of saying “bend over just a little bit farther so we can stick this big advertising dick up your ass a little bit deeper! You miserable, no-good, fucking consumer asshole!”
–George Carlin, You Are All Diseased
Here’s another little episode that slapped the warty advertising dick in my face, literally a couple of days after the Cold Call Assault. I’m not sure if there’s a degree of fnordianism about this: it may be that once you notice the first sloppy member being rubbed all over you, the advertising scales fall from your eyes, you awaken from the slumber Carlin’s Advertising Lullably has lulled you into, and you start to notice the veritable cock bouquet being thrust at you every waking hour.
I love to watch the Craig Ferguson show, mostly because I love Craig. I like his honesty, his intolerance for bullshit, his efforts to rework the late night shitshow into something a little more human, and his funny voices, of course. Because I live in Mega Future Smokestack Funland, I have to download episodes of his show, and I enjoy watching them a handful at a time while sipping my watery Friday lager. I am someone who takes pleasure from his little rituals and habits.
The announcer at the beginning of the show since time immemorial has read off a little ‘Brought to you by’ spiel, which generally just slides by me, unremarked, because it is an expected step in the ritual, and because, you know, the induced ad-coma. Most often in recent times the Valued Sponsor was Applebee’s, which I gather is one of those horrendous ‘family restaurant’ shitshows in America that loads you up with 5000-calorie gut-bombs disguised as food and made palatable by generous handfuls of health-giving salt and lashings of butter mechanically extracted from bovine-spongiform cattle. Fair enough, I guess. Or, occasionally, I seem to recall, Samsung.
But last Friday, by the time I’d gotten pretty well lubricated, the queue of episodes clocked over into the last one I had on the hard drive, and the announcer started blithering in his authoritatively-friendly baritone about something called ‘Intermezzo’.
Being a naturally curious fellow, I googled it. Being somewhat inebriated at the time, I lost my shit. Having a modicum of self-control, I refrained from shooting off an obscenity-laced email, because Ferguson himself doesn’t actually read those things, of course, unless his staff picks them to be read on air.
Here’s what this Intermezzo thing is. It’s a sleeping pill that is designed (or, more likely, stumbled upon while trying to develop medication for anal fissures or something) to be taken when you wake up in the middle of the night. That’s right. When you’ve only gotten 4 hours of sleep, and you wake up to pee, pop this pill, and back to dreamland you go. It’s utterly ridiculous.
But here’s the kicker. Not only is this shit addictive, not only is it known to trigger suicidal ideation in some people, but the first dose ‘may be fatal’.
I guess it’s not so much that the ever-more-powerful pharmaceutical industries are dedicated to selling more and more drugs to more and more people, for problems ranging from real and serious to mild to mostly imaginary. That’s Business, and that’s a thing I may have to get off my chest some other day. The thing for me is that this loathesome, worthless, dangerous drug is being pushed on Craig’s show.
I’m only a few years younger than Craig is. We share a similarly… spotty past. I’m long past the time in my life when I need or want heroes. But it has been nice to believe that someone as successful as he is reached that point without compromise. I’ll admit that the love I’ve felt for the man — as is so often the case — is really for the parts of me I see, no matter how spuriously, reflected in him. A silly dream that I still have trouble letting go of, mostly because I suppose I still imagine that I might enjoy greater success in the future (whatever that means) without compromising what I believe. And I know, I do, that even if he were so inclined, there’s no way he has the SHOWBIZ POWA to be able to vet the ads on his show. That just doesn’t happen, I know. Hell, I don’t even see the ads, only the built-in pre-roll voice-over. For all I know, all of the ads shown during the ad breaks are for even more egregious pharmaceutical crap. He makes jokes about boner pill ads all the time, after all. But he is very given indeed to telling us, and his guests, and the world in general (and more power to him for it) about how drugs nearly ruined his life, and how getting off them was a turning point for him. Not all of those drugs were illegal. And now his program is being used (one hopes and presumes by his Corporate Overlords, without his consent) to push potentially fatal, addictive drugs that are made and marketed by corporate America, and so all good.
Not all good, is what I’m saying here.
So it is, for me, a twin disappointment. The first disappointment is that Ferguson, who has carefully cultivated his to-hell-with-the-money-men persona, is complicit in flogging this kind of stuff. It disappoints because I honestly believe that the persona isn’t just a construct or an outright lie, though the truth is probably that it’s a comedic exaggeration of his own contrarian tendencies. It was nice to believe for a while, at least, that he really was kicking against the pricks. And maybe there’s some small chance that he might be embarrassed having his show be ‘sponsored’ by products like this, were he aware. But I’ve started to think that might not be the case, and it makes me a little more sad and tired when I’m feeling sad and tired.
Which leads to my second disappointment, which is in myself. I’m too old, too wiley, to be hornswoggled, or at least I should be. Being bitter or jaded or so damaged as to never trust that it’s at least possible that someone who is entertaining you has integrity, there’s no happiness to be found in that. We need to trust, or at least I need to trust, because trusting and then being disappointed is better than never trusting at all.
But that doesn’t take away any of the sting.