We won, you guys! This morning the FCC voted to categorize the internet as a public utility and maintain net neutrality. It’s a major victory against corporate fuckery and a landmark moment in technological history. I want to thank the FCC for doing the right thing. I also want to thank John Oliver for rallying the trolls and getting them to use their powers for good instead of for evil. You remember. I wrote a whole blog about it.
John Oliver and his research team are a bunch of badasses. If you haven’t watched anything from Last Week Tonight, get thee to a YouTube immediately. Oliver is able to go on at great length about things that aren’t being discussed for more than a couple of minutes on the news. I figure that’s because it’s a weekly show and they’re not bound by the constraints of the twenty-four-hour infotainment cycle. This FCC thing is just one example of the rabble-rousing his rants have caused. Time magazine calls it “The John Oliver Effect” (and you should really click on that link and watch all the videos from the article, they’re three of my favorites). One thing I’ve noticed he tends to take on in particular is marketing and advertising (is there really a difference between those two things? I use them synonymously, but I might be wrong). Maybe it’s because he’s a comedian. A comedian’s job is to be precise with language, and those advertising fucks are expertly sneaky with their language, not only in actual ads but also in statements on behalf of the corporations for which they create public images. The episodes about marketing for sugar, herbal supplements, and prescription drugs are all keen dissections of the differences between what they say and what we hear. Probably the best example, though, is the recent episode about tobacco. Oliver tears the tobacco industry to shreds, calling them “open sores on Satan’s dick,” and walking the viewer through a litany of sketchy lawsuits in which tobacco companies have bullied and intimidated governments trying to implement stricter public health policies. What a fucking bunch of demons they are. And yes, I understand that this country was largely built on the funds generated by tobacco. And yes, I am painfully aware of the slow demise of the American family farm. I am from Virginia. I get it. But I’m not talking about farmers here. I’m talking about the lawyers and white collar executives who push death for a living.
Let’s think back, shall we? We don’t even have to think back that far. Just one or two generations ago there were doctors telling people which cigarettes to smoke. What the actual fuck? Were people dumber back then? Did they not feel their cancer or their emphysema? Did they somehow make stairs and hills more smoker-friendly until the 1980s? How have we so changed as a culture that we recognize false advertising as a problem, but we completely accepted it fifty years ago? Why did they buy those lies? I honestly don’t understand how tobacco advertisements ever worked. I am a smoker (yes, still, shut up). But with all the self-examination I can muster without professional help, I don’t think I’ve ever been swayed by cigarette advertising. My generation was the first to have never been inundated with that sort of marketing, coming of smoking age after those ads were banned from television and most magazines. We barely even saw smokers in tv or movies who weren’t cowboys in a period piece, thoroughly despicable villains, or regular people being yelled at for smoking by their friends. I do remember people being able to smoke freely in airports and shopping malls, though, and my dad bitching when he couldn’t anymore. When I was little there were cigarette butts all over the floor of our local grocery store every time we went in there. Fucking gross, right? I’m glad that’s over. On the other hand, I think I should still be able to smoke in a bar. It’s a bar. There is nothing healthy going on there. Let me smoke and I’ll drink more and you’ll make more money off of me. Truth. I have done the research. And really, my cigarette is the least of your concerns if you’re hanging out in a bar, drinking, and probably eating some kind of deep-fried cheese. Booze and fast food are two of the other most evil things in the world, and their ads are all still legal and ubiquitous.
So why does that work? We know alcohol is really, really bad for us. But it’s socially acceptable, and there are beer and liquor ads everywhere. They don’t feel icky the way those old cigarette ads do. They don’t feel likes lies. We’re satisfied with some whispery voice speed-reading “Please drink responsibly” at the end of a beer commercial full of hot girls and buff bros having fun and watching football. ‘Mericuh! Who wants to hear a bunch of shit like “car crash” or “liver failure” or “brain damage” or “life completely destroyed” when you’re trying to make an informed decision as a consumer? And let’s be real. Nothing rhymes with “homeless alcoholic whose family hates him.” It’s bad for jingles. I’m dumbfounded that we’re so staunch about truth in advertising for tobacco but not for alcohol. It is the weirdest blind spot in our outrage. Don’t even get me started on ads for fast food and chemical-laden snacks. Basically, they’re allowed to make us feel happy about any sort of product we can use to kill ourselves as long as we don’t smoke it.
Advertising is changing a bit, though, in other ways. Technology is pushing a lot of changes. DVR is killing tv ads, and pop-up blocking software is the first thing any smart person puts on their new computer. I think marketing people are just finding new ways to think around corners in order to oppress us with their psychological fuckery. For example, the “Skip Ad” button. It gives us a false sense that we’re only seeing the ads we want to see, and you know they’re keeping track of which ones we skip and which we don’t. Data mining bastards. But why give me the option to skip any ad in the first place? Why the hell would I watch an ad if I don’t have to? What’s the logic there? They spent millions of dollars to make a thirty or sixty second ad, but expect me to only watch the first five seconds. How better could that money have been spent? There are people starving to death somewhere who could probably answer that better than I could, but I’m busy being pissed that I have to wait five seconds to get to my YouTube video. It’s unnerving. And they’re getting smarter. I’ve seen several recently that have a five-second ad before the skip button pops up, and then a different ad for the remaining twenty-five seconds. I only know this because I couldn’t get to the button fast enough. So there’s more money wasted. Oh, and then there’s the one with two guys talking and one of them says “Make it quick, the skip button is coming up.” Clever, but really fucking annoying.
I don’t know why this bothers me so much. I’ll be the first to admit that it could be worse. I live in the forest. No tv or radio. No billboards. I don’t read magazines. I don’t get a lot of junk mail with ads or coupons. I’m only in anything resembling civilization one or two days a month. My agro is very internet-centric. Take the freemium business model, for example. There are very few places outside the internet where freemium works. So few that I can’t think of any off the top of my head. But online, you can have something for free very easily. It’s no problem to deliver audio or video directly to your eye and ear holes for the low, low price of having to sit through an advertisement first. But if you want to get rid of the ads, you can pay a small fee. Simple! Unobtrusive! Diabolical! On services like Pandora, the longer you listen, the more ads you have to hear until eventually you want to throttle that breathy bitch that says “Hey, Pandora listener!” and proceeds to ask you how annoying you think the ads are. It’s like that frog who gets slowly boiled to death because he doesn’t notice you gradually raising the temperature. Or, there’s the other kind of freemium, where you can receive service X for free, and services X,Y, and bonus, Z, if you pay. The only problem I have with that is that those companies usually give exactly zero shits about the people who don’t (or can’t) pay. “Have a customer service issue? Too bad. What do you want from us? We’re giving you this for free out of the goodness of our little black hearts. Should have coughed up the money, this is really your own fault. Just don’t be poor, it’s easy.”
I don’t have a solution. I’m not sure that there’s a way around advertising at this point. It pays for the things we like. The whole system just makes me feel like a stupid monkey, though, and for that I am cranky. Capitalist assholes, using my brain against me. I think Bill Hicks summed it up best. I can’t do righteous indignation the way he did, so I’ll just leave this here. Enjoy.