Monday, March 21, 2005

Hi-ho, fellow travelers. We come to you this week with one simple thought: Wouldn’t it be GREAT if things were better than they really are?

Not so quick. Clearly things are not better than they really are. If anything they are worse1. Moreover, it is dangerous to even engage in the tempting hope for mo’ betterness. You get one taste of this hope in your heart and you become the very wettest of all possible dreams to every advertiser, corporate marketing department, Internet shyster, shill-artist and Persian rug merchant who has been unleashed on the unsuspecting American public. Don’t get us wrong—we expect “puffery” in our advertisements: toilet tissue that is 150% softer, antacids providing relief before our meal, detergent that makes our dishes glisten with the aurora of The Lord He-self. If you don’t promise “more,” then—frankly—we don’t trust you’re trying.

But some products today promise the impossible and more with such a sociopathically straight face that even we are ashamed. Plus, the circle of cheap and unrepentant advertisers has now expanded to include parties such as everyone’s boss, everyone’s best friend, and everyone’s U.S. President who, since he is not selling a product that will satisfy even one of our essential and base needs for salt, sugar, booty or groovy beats, leaves us feeling disquieted. At the core.

Light Bulbs That “Make Things Look Better” Than They Really Look
You’ve seen the ad, in which a garden-variety good cop / bad cop shakedown turns into the admiration of the perp’s puce sport shirt. The ad, we grant, is clever. But our judgment is probably not to be trusted in such things, as we are admitted ad-sluts who tend to prefer the get-to-the-point-in-30-seconds beauty and high-stim production values of ads to the cheesed-out, any-actor-will-do approach the networks are now taking to their actual shows2.

But we’re just not buying this product. It reminds us of those X-ray vision glasses you used to be able to buy out of the back of Boy’s Life that promised you’d be able to look through the blouse of the girl next door and see her Maguffies3. Those didn’t work any better than the Sea Monkeys we spent two weeks’ allowance on, which were nothing but teeny tiny licelike brine shrimp that taunted us with their existential pointlessness for the full two weeks it took us to get up the courage to flush them down the toilet. Kerphooey on you, magic light bulb! We still look like Bela Lugosi when you light us from below and, when lit from above, there is still a freakish resemblance to Dennis Franz4. Still you taunt us in the morning, our hung-over eyes pointing in opposite directions as we pour Pabst on our Post Toasties! Still you dangle, illuminating every cranny of our squalor with hallucinatory intensity! Damn you, super light bulb! Stop being so damn smug!

Condoms That “Heat Up” While in Use
We come to the end of a long day of ranting against The Man, and all we ask is some decent late night entertainment on the tube and a plate of 7-Eleven nachos, heavy on the fine and rubbery jalapeños. We flip on the new guy who comes after Letterman, one “Craig Ferguson,” who is at least a major improvement over SportsCenter pretty boy Craig Kilborn5, and what do we find? A commercial from the good people at Trojan, selling us their new Shared Pleasure condom, a rubber with the distinction of releasing a “warming sensation” during the carnal act.

Now, we’re all about the carnal act, of course. But there are so many easier, less-combustible directions, we personally would have taken O.T.C. sexual-device marketing before we R&D’d whatever horrifically alchemic boy-and-girl juice-sensitive balm is applied to one’s glands by these little dingers. We feel our peers in sexual maturity who patronize this item suffer from a lack of vision. We knew this girl in college who could do this thing with a binder clip that would curl your ears. And you can get a box of those for like a buck at Staples or might even have one on the floor under your desk right now. So much can happen mechanically before ever broaching the chemical realm of the humpty dance, and while we know very little about the flora and fauna that compose the front lawn of love, we damn well respect it as an ecosystem that should not be fucked with. Shame on you, agrobiz-whore, soil-scorching, pooty tang-hating Trojan farmers! Respect the soil from which all life begins!

“No Pun Intended”
We don’t know who’s keeping reliable stats on this kind of stuff, but here’s what we’ve observed: Of the insufferably many times that people say “No pun intended,” we notice that a pun was, in fact, intended, no less than 98% of the time. We would really like to chalk up this particular form of personal false advertising to a healthy dose of irony6, but that would directly contradict the facial-expression evidence that the phrase “no pun intended” is, in fact, a very complicated indicator/apology for a pun that was in fact intended but that the speaker thought was bad enough that (a) no one would even notice it, or (b) it would require a kind of “Hey, I didn’t REALLY mean that!” disclaimer. We are totally in favor of bad puns, particularly bad puns made by our friend Spike (and particularly his bad puns that involve one of the 47 synonyms he frequently uses for the word “breasts” [for one of which, by the way, See, supra, Footnote 3]), who tends to make them unapologetically and in front of our wives while jerking his eyebrows around like Groucho Marx with 240 volts running through his system.

The other thing we love about Spike, by the way, is that when he makes his dirty jokes, he doesn’t end them by saying “if you know what I mean.” Again, this phrase is only for those who worry that their double entendre was insufficiently clear or flat-out not funny. Both “if you know what I mean” and “no pun intended” just make you look more needy and less funny. Enough.

The “Ownership Society”
Look, kids, this ain’t a political column, and we’re fairly reluctant to tread in this area. But with the President literally traveling from state to state “selling” a Social Security overhaul as if it were a baldness cure he was hawking from the back of a pick-up, well, we have no choice. You have to admire the chutzpah: the dude tells us the sky is falling7, but what he really wants to sell us is a new set of flatware8. The product being sold this season by the prez and his slick pinky-ringed marketing honchos has been dubbed “The Ownership Society,” which we suppose is sort of like calling a car a “Camry” or a “Lexus” in the sense that it sounds good but doesn’t mean jackisimo. That is to say: Isn’t America already the most ruthlessly capitalist nation on Earth, defined on a minute-to-minute basis by the fact that Rich People own lots of shit and Poor People are little more than a carefully maintained scare tactic to keep the rest of us rushing back to our pathetic jobs in fear? Don’t get us wrong, we are greedy capitalists ourselves, sitting in a dusty corner of D.M.T. headquarters counting the shiny pile of gold that this column brings us every month. We are Yankee Doodle Dandy in favor of Bill Gates adding a new wing to compound every time someone decides to buy a new flat-screen monitor. But putting at risk the minimal safety net of Social Security just because Grover Nordquist hasn’t gotten laid by Ann Coulter yet? For shame, Mr. President. Consider yourself a walking, (sort of) talking Disquieting Trend.

1 We are more than fully aware that these assertions are absurd and that things cannot be either better or worse than they "really are." The problem, of course, is in defining "real," which means that perceptions are maybe the only viable reality--which is precisely the kind of terrifying and utterly disquieting notion that we have generally been willing to embrace rather than run from due to our unusually high tolerance for most advertising. But in this column, you see, we've come to our limit.

2 How much do we love ads? We have been known to shush the children and step on the dog’s snout during the commercials then mute the show itself. We incidentally wonder how we are to tell them apart, given the rampant TiVo-proof product placement orgy that is American Idol and its ilk, and are glad that at least the show still tends to be "the longer one," allowing us to focus our attention where it has been earned (which is to say, on the ad). We do not include infomercials within this assessment, since we eschew them universally, as they tax our attention span with their very, very long narrative arcs. From this exception we of course except any offering in the Girls Gone Wild pantheon (fucking duh) and any item involving that fortune teller on Telemundo who looks like Liberace. We just love that guy. Unabashedly.

3 We would still really like to see the girl next door’s Maguffies but have upgraded our technology considerably. See, supra our Girls Gone Wild informercial exception, Footnote 2.

4 It goes without saying here that the failure of ABC to cancel NYPD Blue at some point in the post–Jimmy Smits era long ago became a disquieting trend unto itself.

5 Ferguson used to play Drew Carey's boss on the now-cancelled sitcom where he was, at best, a footnote to several gags involving Carey's horribly fat Tammy Faye Bakkeresque secretary. Thus, one problem with watching Ferguson late at night is that this association, largely unshakable in our experience, causes our pleasure in the 7-Eleven nachos to be diminished.

6 Do you remember how after 9/11 there was all this talk about "The End of Irony"? And how our whole culture's reaction to being attacked by a bunch of Saudi Arabian maniacs was going to be one of sudden sober sincerity? We would like to say (a) Thank goodness this was not the case, (b) Why did anyone think that a culture that gives Paris Hilton a TV show was one terrorist strike away from abandoning its most cherished value, and (c) We hereby call for an end to all "The End of" headlines and book titles (e.g. The End of History) as they are plainly nothing more than over-grand exaggerations meant as a pseudo-intellectual substitute for putting something in the headline or title that that is not a crock.

7 Wonky aside: Bush and his gang of power-hungry neoconservative nutjobs are selling the notion that it is a "crisis" that Social Security will be able to pay out less than it has promised some 40–50 years in the future. Dude: a crisis is something that is imminent, like when the 7-Eleven has run out of jalapeños or when you run out of gas on the New Jersey Turnpike on your way to make a payment.

8 Final wonky aside, we swear: By which we mean that the "solution" he's selling (privatizing much of the program) would not only fail to address the alleged "crisis" but would also cost everyone a boatload of green right now when we are in a midst of a massive wartime deficit.

Dowd, Untouchable Mutant Mutant.If she seems cold and standoffish, it's because her slightest touch will siphon your energy and consciousness.
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