Their Own Self
Peddling Ourselves To Death
The Price Of Compulsory Abundance
December 22, 2003
I’ve found a socially conscious use for nerve gas. Advertisers. I’m going to embalm them with it. I’ve cooked up about a gallon. The recipe is on the internet: 3,4-diethylbenzopolywannacrackerine. The feedstock is triphenyldeoxymoron…but I’m getting technical. Anyway it’s great stuff. If I threw it out the window, it would kill every fly between here and the Guatemalan border.
(Watch. In five minutes the FBI will have ninja’d-out agents swinging through my window on ropes, like federal piñatas, to arrest me for Terrorist Thought. I’ll have to replace the screens. The price of liberty is mosquitoes.)
I thought the other day, Doesn’t everyone see how crazy this wretched ad racket has gotten to be? How unpleasant it makes much of life? <I>Maybe not.</I> That’s the frightening thing. The Skinnerian mind-warp—conditioning us suburban rats to push the reward lever—has become ubiquitous, normal, like air: the reason for everything. Everything else is just props.
Isn’t it true? We have a global economy founded on sinus drainage, headaches, winged sanitary napkins, soap that will make all the girls want you, and cars without characteristics except that they swish through lovely countryside containing people far more handsome than you will ever be.
I must get three hundred emails a day for Viagra, or secret Eastern training methods to make mine taller, stronger, or faster than a speeding bullet. It’s wild. If I bought it all I could put up monster antennas and skyscrapers, oil rigs, weird phallic monuments, and maybe raise the dead.
The lobotomy box is all ads, with a sprinkle of stupid shows for people with the IQ of an avocado. Yes, I’ve heard the sheepish shuck-and-jive toe-dance about “But Fred…there are <I>some</I> good things…the History Channel and…and Discovery.” Yeah: Sharks, Nazis, and pyramids. The absolute minimum necessary so that people who can’t be alone with themselves will gawp at singing deodorant applicators.
Radio is the same: Unlistenable, because of ads. Roads? Likewise. Our highways wend in painful ugliness through endless billboards in what once was lovely countryside. Anyone who objects is a tree-hugging commie trying to destroy capitalism and the constitutional right of nasal decongestants to self-expression.
Even in your house you can’t escape. The phone rings every five minutes because some larcenous swine wants to sell you aluminum siding. The web: You have to buy pop-up killers so you don’t get pitches for Dory Does Dallas. You get pop-up ads for pop-up killers. The outsides of buses crawl with ads, as do the insides of buses. Stadiums are lined with ads. Mailboxes bulge with urgings to switch from one to another usurious credit card designed to make you an indentured slave of Bank of America. Everything is advertising and the attempt to escape from it.
It used to be we had magazines supported by advertising. Now we have extended advertisements pretending to be magazines. The male toy-fetish mags—computers, cameras, scuba, motorcycles, guns—are mostly ads, and the purported editorial content is written, if not by the companies, at least for the purpose of selling their various contrivances.
How did we get here? The old economic model was that you increased your wealth by forming an army and attacking villages. You killed the men, raped the women and farm animals, and stole what was left. Then you imposed crushing taxes at the point of a sword, but without requiring the filling out of forms. It was strenuous but not tasteless. With the pernicious discovery of democracy, a new means to the same end became necessary. Sell’em junk.
The Industrial Revolution was the real villain. Supply—of virtually everything—outstripped demand. Used to be, nobody had squat. In say 1850, there was a vast pent-up demand for refrigerators, air-conditioning, and computers, even if nobody had heard of any of them. So when some rascal invented, say, a washing machine, everybody charged out to buy one. A washing machine actually had a purpose, so you didn’t have to advertise. Pretty soon everybody had everything he needed or could reasonably want. Warm dry house, plenty to eat, appliances, car, shoes.
Yet factories in their reckless lunge toward ill-considered fecundity produced more junk than anyone in his right mind could conceivably want. Things kept getting incontinently invented. You know, electric toothbrushes with New Miracle Bristles, or strangely colored toothpastes.
The stuff piled up and threatened to unbalance the planet, causing it to break into asteroids. Advertising exists to sell people things they wouldn’t buy if left to themselves, spreading the weight of the electric tooth brushes and thereby saving the earth.
So the central question of human survival became: How do you make a once-reasonable man want a 400-horsepower riding mower with farm attachment, snow-plow blade, internet connectivity and guest bedroom, so as to cut an eighth of an acre of grass around a suburban box that he doesn’t really like? Answer: Carefully crafted psychologically astute advertising appealing to (for example) the man’s gadget fetish and the woman’s desire for security and social standing.
That and the Winter Holiday Season.
Now, much of advertising doesn’t increase demand. It just divides the spoils and increases the price. Face it, people only need a limited amount of toilet paper, no matter how well it sings—jazz riffs, three-part harmony, it doesn’t matter. Advertising for cold remedies doesn’t make you catch more colds. But it can make you buy “New! Improved! Naso-Rooter! with Trifeculum,” this being a sticky red goop containing exactly the same ingredients as “New! Better than ever! Drip-clogulan!,” a sticky green liquid.
I’ll guess that the ads account for maybe ninety percent of the price of products like aspirin. Aspirin unannounced would cost three cents a trainload. In economic terms, it may be less important than the ads.
All of this makes life hideous. Can you imagine a radio station that just played music and otherwise shut up?
I’m going to fix the sumbitches. Yep, with my trusty nerve gas. I’m gonna hire two huge, sweaty, nasty-looking professional wrestlers, puffed up on steroids like hairy dirigibles. Jesse Ventura might do. Or Arnold. (Governors may actually be becoming useful.)
The next time someone sends me Viagra spam, or sings bewitchingly to me about wonderful gentle laxatives, the wrestlers are going body-slam the rascal, and I’m going to pour the whole everlovin’ gallon of nerve venom down his throat, glurgle. And then stuff in a wad of Silly Putty to keep it there, or an old gym sock that hasn’t been washed in its life. Jesse probably has some.
And I’m gonna sit back with a cold one and watch that sucker twitch. Ha.