Archive for June, 2007

You aren’t fooling anyone, dammit.

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

A few months ago I was clicking along, going through my regular cycle of megajim email, work email, blog check-ins, Slashdot, CNN and, finally, Hotmail (the slush pile resulting from random site and product registrations), when I noticed a funny little Flash-video banner. I couldn’t remember where I first saw it. It just sort of surfaced. This African-American woman is doing a little dance in front of her office computer. She’s obviously very happy. Her hips and arms are in the rhythm. At the last moment she turns around and finds that we have been watching her, probably shimmying along in gonzo empathy. You go girl. She holds her hands to the sides of her head, wide-eyed in wonder, embarrassment and the sheer electricity of the moment. Very cute.

Yes, very fucking cute. That’s what we’re all about these days. Cute videos shot from cell phones are sprinkled onto the delicious donut called the Internet, and we all gather to nibble, filling our lives with empty calories. Our current decade can be generally defined by two things: fear and social networking. Let’s talk about The Fear some other time. The social stuff is where we are finding the murmurs of humanity in the midst of post-traumatic madness. It relaxes me to watch a cat flush a toilet 30 times, over and over. That reminds me that I, too, have cats. I, too, have the safety of my home. There is a connectedness within this human society. I’ve never wiggled my ass in front of a computer in an office, but I can certainly see how someone might be so full of crazy joy.

So a month or so goes by. I see the dancing woman a few more times, and then I see this:

Dancing Lady

Same video clip, only now it’s part of a Mortgage Rates Fall Again banner ad (a headline suspect of a Dewey Defeats Truman level of reliability). The implication is that she was sitting at her desk, doing regular online stuff (email, blog, Slashdot . . . okay, Slashdot is regular for self-described/wannabe “nerds” and “geeks”, so maybe she was perusing Salon or Googling herself (to Google one’s self is to check in with the zeitgeist, to measure your mark upon the world, or to make sure that the old stalker ex isn’t going to easily track you down . . . it’s also an electronic form of diddling yourself, so, unless you want to go blind or sterile, keep the self-Googling to a minimum)), having a somewhat normal day, when hey hey hey, it’s the deal of the century, dammit, the mortgage of the millennium, and she is right then and there infused with The Spirit, the American Dream pumping through her arteries and down into her feet and she just has to jump up right now and do it! Glory be, get me a mortgage!

Exact same video clip, pasted into the realm of the affordable $510,000 mortgage.

I click around some more. That’s what work is all about. Clicking. I’m reminded of the signs I see on the expressway: Click It or Ticket. They’re telling me that if I don’t click my seatbelt, I’ll have to pay some insane moving-violation ticket. Mandatory safety for the good of the people. And they’re using a terrible pseudo-rhyme to seduce me with cleverness (click IT or tickET . . . obviously all the folks with English degrees did not move into civil service). You have to click something, though. Make the right clicks and you can create Web sites, sell high and buy low. Make the wrong click and you end up sending that catty email to the very person you decided to complain about. I’ve done this. Twice. It wasn’t fun. So the key, the slogan, is to Think When You Click. If this was a roadside public service announcement, it would read: thiNK it before you cliCK it. Sage advice.

So another three hundred clicks into my day I see her again. Getting down, full of the fever. The scenario is a bit different, though.

Dancing Lady

This time, she is innocently clicking, checking the weather while her computer chokes through a mail merge, wondering why she ever stopped going to college, why she waffled between Accounting and English and then back to Accounting for a single, brilliantly imploding semester before dumping the whole thing and just getting the job to pay for the car to get to the job, when blammo, she can fix it all by graduating, yes, that’s right, graduating in under one year. Holy fucking shit. Get thee to a matriculatron, woman.

Let’s take the first issue, the matter of how anyone who isn’t a genius could possibly get a complete and fulfilling education in under a year, and put it away for some other time. So, if you’re keeping track, future topics include our Culture of Fear, and Instant Education. And perhaps Roadside Grammar.

There’s no way that this woman could be dancing about both a $510,000 mortgage and a one-year education. Those two things just don’t go together. I do acknowledge that there are people out there with very narrow, parochial knowledge bases who are making a killing. These folks generally don’t elevate themselves from the basic cut-paste-merge office job to become major players within a single orbital cycle. No, both of these ads are focusing on the same suckers who attend the Get Rich By Buying My Book real estate scam seminars. These are people who are still wearing their BluBlockers, daydreaming of some magical way to pry themselves out of the American Grave that is the lower middle class. And evidently they’re all using Hotmail.

There’s a scary problem at the bottom of this, though. You see, banner ads make money. Businesses wouldn’t be paying Google and Hotmail to place those ads if there wasn’t some level of return. So there are people who are clicking the dancing lady, actually attempting to get that $510K mortgage. And I suspect that those same users (in tech terms, you usually refer to someone using a Web site or application as a user, similar, I suppose, to how you would refer to someone who habitually sticks syringes of heroin into his/her veins) could very well decide that, in order to pay off that $510K hole, a quick education might be needed to leverage a better job. To make more money to pay for the education. Can enough people possibly be so gullible as to willfully screw themselves over in order to help some unknown business rake it in? I suppose this would be a good moment to post an ironic link to the White House or a picture of G.W. Bush. If the ad persists, then it must be making money. Cold logic, folks.

Then there was this:

Dancing Lady

Wait. What’s up with the doppelganger? This must be genius marketing. As a stupid white guy, I just figured that this was the same African American woman who was in the other ad.

Dancing Lady

Okay, there’s two of them. Well, who cares. I’ll just get that mortgage. Then there’s another possibility. The first dancing woman just didn’t do it for me. Oh, look at this foxy lady in the striped shirt. Oh yeah, she’s is far more hip, sexy, and outrageously infused with the exuberance of this amazing freaking deal. And her friend is dancing, too, so this MUST be a solid investment. Or . . . African American women know that something is up. Sisters are doing it for themselves. I’ve seen several of them dancing around in front of their computers, hilariously caught in candid joy. Deal me in.

I want to believe my own headline. We are not being fooled. We will not stand for this crap. But it’s click it or ticket, folks. Someone is clicking this. Some batch of knuckleheads are siphoning us from the potential enlightenment of the information age into a bottomless shit soup. Most of the time I can ignore the static buzz of constant advertising, and most of the ads I see are blatantly manipulative. But this seems to be a new breed of marketing. If enough people are constantly told that they are fucking idiots, I’m very afraid that there will actually be more fucking idiots in this world. Fucking idiots who will encourage the creation of even more egregious advertising, more dancing women and bug-eyed cats and generally cute bullshit designed to both pacify my social angst and convince me that it’s okay to be ignorant.

Please stop clicking. Stop dancing. Cut the crap.