Madison Avenue And Big Nasty Slugs
A Profound Economic Analysis
I'm going to breed giant radioactive garden slugs that drip cobra venom, and latch onto prey like ticks on a cow, and turn them into formless gunch, and absorb them. I figure we'll feed them advertising executives. I put a bunch of slugs in a cigar box, with a radium watch thrown in so they'll mutate. I'm not sure how to get them to have a hunting instinct. Maybe I'll let them watch late-night TV about sharks and Nazis.
I'll leave them at night on Madison Avenue. Come morning, some wretched ad goober, who probably specializes in singing toilet paper, will get into the elevator. He won't notice an eighty-pound carnivorous slug stuck to the roof like a sticky sleeping bag. When the door closes it will drop, scloop .
You can't get away from advertising any more. It's the only reason they keep us around. Ads keep sneaking deeper into our lives. I had to unplug my fax because all the paper got used by ads from people selling me toner. Five times a day some parasite calls to sell me aluminum siding or dance lessons. Pizza operations festoon my doorknob with ads for artery cement. Pounds of ads come with my Visa bill. Three quarters of my mail is junk, my spam filters overflow, and now they have pop-up ads for underage girls or dimwitted digital cameras.
I can't stand it.
You know those weird plastic isolation bubbles they keep people in who don't have immune systems, so bacteria won't eat them? I'm going to get one, and live in it. It's because I'm sick of looking at footage of snow storms, and hearing about how some dismal deodorant will fill me with the purity of nature. Or how if I drink Pepsi I'll turn into a grinning New Age wimp with a waxed chest, and hot babes will chase me like ants after a sandwich.
I'm in retreat, but it's getting hard to know where to run. First I quit listening to radio. I didn't want to hear pointless voice-major shrieking about Home Depot every five minutes and how I could get a wonderful battery-operated drill I didn't want, free, if I bought carpeting I didn't want either.
Next I began wearing ear plugs when I went to Safeway. I'd be contentedly looking for bachelor food. From the PA system would come a woman's voice like pancake syrup with too much butter in it , saying, "Shoppers! Today we have oooooooh! a special yes! on some marginally edible glop you would never think of eating on your own ." She always has a contrived yodeling lilt in her voice, as if gargling a frog, and sounds as if she wants to lick the microphone.
Shoppers. That's all we are. Sales objects.
Television went next. After seeing the same preternaturally stupid ad for "the new! .Toyota! Erotic Sludge" fifteen times in an hour, I decided I'd never drive again and canceled cable. Yes, I know it wasn't just any old Sludge. It was the New Improved one with more headroom, more trunk room, and more power. It's had more room every year, till I figure you could put the Yucatan Peninsula it, along with lots of battery-powered drills and inedible glop.
A car ad used to tell you something about the car-horsepower, valves, cubic inches. Now it shows the thing swooping powerfully along a desert road. This is to make you think that, if you buy it, you'll be wild and free and at one with cosmic something-or-other instead of being a cubicle dweeb with a huge mortgage, bad knees, and three delinquent kids.
Ads aren't about products. They're about how we'll feel about ourselves if we pop for them. Products are pretty much identical, so ads compete as cures for boredom and inner emptiness. Often they create, and then assuage, anxiety. "Everybody thinks you smell like a rendering plant. Wash with Dial and they'll stop whispering behind your back ."
What happened was, three hundred years ago nobody had anything, except goiter and tuberculosis, because the economy wasn't invented, and so everybody wanted a washer-dryer and refrigerator. You didn't have to advertise. People knew they wanted things. They just couldn't figure out how to get them. There was more demand than supply.
Then inventors figured out how to make more of anything anybody wanted, and more of things it was almost impossible to want, than anybody in his right mind would buy. (That may have been a sentence. If it isn't it's because it had a bad childhood. Maybe its mother got too close to the radium watch with the slugs on it.) So useless junk started piling up and threatening to crush things. Home Depot lost a factory they couldn't find under a mound of battery-powered drills.
Supply had exceeded demand. The situation was desperate.. The trick was for admen to make people buy things that would embarrass a junkyard.
They did. That's why you have to have home theater. You probably lived most of your life without it. After all, movies are terrible. Watching them on home theater is like using a magnifying glass to look at warts. The better you can see them, the more you wish you hadn't.
Then ad weasels learned to make people get competitive about useless nonsense. Today men want the latest in home theater because it makes them feel potent, like a swamp bird with funnier tail feathers. Ever notice that magazines devoted to gadgets-cameras, cars, stereo-appeal almost exclusively to men? Women want better addresses, stranger clothes that are hard to take care of, and jewelry that attracts barracudas if they swim with it. (I wouldn't wear earrings that looked like wounded fish, but maybe that's just me.)
Then the admen discovered that poaching on competitors was easier than inventing something new and different that people would be better off without. That's why you see an average of 1600 ads per hour for indistinguishable kinds of aspirin to treat headaches you probably wouldn't have if you didn't watch too much television. (How many aspirin would you take a year, left to yourself?)
Advertising is like a presidential election. It doesn't change anything, but just decides who gets the spoils.
What if people suddenly thought: "I'm paying forty green ones a month for cable, so I can watch demented perverts squeezing toilet paper and grinning? Have I lost whatever residual mind I may have had?" The economy would come to a calamitous halt and we'd all suffocate beneath mountains of uneaten aspirin.
Slugs, I tell you. Great squalid ones. With radioactive cobra venom.