They say Princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship. The
reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer. He will throw a prince as
soon as his groom.
My beautiful, my beautiful!
Why the hell did I wake up at 2am this morning? And what am I asking you for? What I need is a kind of cosmic magic 8-ball site that can actually answer questions like these with -- if not genuinely penetrating insight -- at least a little wit and panache.
Perhaps this is somehow related to the inspiration that woke me up two nights ago. I fell asleep thinking about doing an issue of EGR called "What Consumers Really Want" and I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed with that sort of Eureka flash that comes far too seldom these days. What had yanked me out of blissful sleep was the arresting meme: foxier women, faster horses.
Now even I recognize that at least the first part of this represents a sexist notion at base -- though if we are to believe Freud, we have to acknowledge that people do, on however rare occasion, actually think about sex, and that the dreams one might have in the privacy of one's own personal bed are a good place for this sort of thing and nobody else's bloody business. But you write it down and send it to 2000 people and that line of defense is suddenly missing in action.
So I played around with it a little. What about faster women, foxier horses? Possibilities there, true, but I felt it lost something in the translation. This went on for a while until the inevitable question occurred: WHAT AM I FUCKING THINKING?!?!?
For isn't it the sad fact that most of us, most of the time, simply do not know? These thoughts come into our minds. Where do they come from? Where do they go? Some have theorized that it could be something we ate. Sardines, say. But do any of us really believe this? For example, what if I were to dream about e-commerce? What would I have to eat to cause that?
A reader recently wrote to complain about EGR, not an infrequent occurrence by the way. She basically said my writing was too abstract, though she didn't use that word. She said it more by way of description. What she liked hearing about was what somebody had done -- maybe gone to the zoo and seen an interesting new kind of animal (my example, not hers) -- what he or she said to friends, and what they said back. You know, like real life.
I wrote back saying yes, I understood (and I really do), but my life is not like that. What I do all day and night is stare into the one good eye of this cyclopean monster we call the Internet. I earn my living this way. And it's not just the staring I get paid for, either. You think it's easy maintaining the fiction that you're a guru, a pundit, someone who knows more about The Medium than your average stumblebum on the street? No way. I have to constantly think up new analogies, metaphors, emergent trends, shit like that. And make no mistake, this is hard fucking work.
Especially when you're just pulling it out of your hat. But perhaps that reader was right. Perhaps a more interactive human exchange would better convey my point. So OK, I have this big meeting with a large and very well heeled corporation. I am thinking they can feed me for a long time. They, in turn, are thinking I plan to cheat them out of a large sum of money. In other words, your usual prospect meeting.
As it turns out, the CEO is a woman. She is trying to pretend that this is, you know, normal, and I am trying to pretend I'm not scared shitless of her. Just two consenting business pukes doing our jobs. Meanwhile, there are about a dozen underlings scattered around a conference table you could play football on, all of them doing a fair job of convincing me they're really quite important in their own unique way. Probably true. I'm not here to judge.
Anyway, the CEO wastes no time getting down to brass tacks. "So what do consumers really want?" she asks.
Shit, I dunno. I got nothin here. I panic. Am I really supposed to know the answer to this? How come nobody told me? Oh wait, I know! But seeing as how she's a woman and all, I figure I better just give her the second half.
"Faster horses," I say with Total Confidence.
Across the room, someone drops a pin. Everybody hears it. They are all staring at me, dumbfounded.
"You can't be serious," she finally says. I'm thinking: how did she know?
"No, really. Faster horses." I'm sticking to my guns on this one.
"Do you have any notion of our market?" she asks, I figure rhetorically. She isn't really looking what you'd call "swayed" by my argument. "Most of our customers have never even seen a horse! For this you want us to pay you ten thousand dollars?"
Right about then I'm thinking you can keep your money, where's the fucking exit? But then I remember that I am, after all, a Professional.
"It's a metaphor," I say. That always gets em. And indeed, everyone sorta sits up a little and a few tentatively pick up pens, as if to give the impression that, if they were to hear anything potentially profound at this juncture, they might just be inclined to make a note or two.
I'm racking my brain. Jesus, how did I manage to get myself into this? Horses, horses, let's see... But nothing's coming to me.
"Are you implying," ventures one particularly unctuous minion, "that the speed of online transactions gates our ability to deliver total customer satisfaction?"
Say what? Bad as the horses were, this is worse. I have no fucking idea what he's talking about.
"...well sure, that, but also the whole Portal thing..." I say, as if, yes, yes, it's coming to me now... Pens are poised.
"You see, what consumers really want is a place in the universe. A home. A feeling that they belong somewhere. They long to come in out of the cold -- from the harsh realities of nomadic late-20th-century anti-intellectualism to the warm embrace of prefabricated purport."
Oooh. This could be working. I see puzzlement, but it's tinged with willing suspension of disbelief. A little anyway. OK, here's where all those wasted years of writing EGR could come in handy.
"Consumers are like newborn infants," I say, warming to it. "They wake up in mediaspace one day and don't know how they got there, where they came from." People are writing now. Hot damn!
"What do you mean exactly by 'mediaspace'?" one fetching young thing wants to know. She is so fresh and enthusiastic and her blouse is so demure. I nearly get sidetracked into unfathomable lust. But no, I must keep my mind on The Client here...
"Mediaspace is that concatenation of Weltanschauung, Zeitgeist and communication bandwidth that provides new opportunities for wealth creation at any given historical juncture," I orate. "It is the constellation of unbridled desire conjunct with the potential for ultimate fulfillment."
Heads nod knowingly around the table. Finally I am in my element: total bullshit.
"But what does this have to do with horses?" some asshole demands. There's one in every meeting. But I'm ready for him this time.
"Note that I said 'unbridled desire' -- do you know anything about horses?" I ask, snottily.
"I think I see what you're saying," some other besuited weasel chimes in, saving my bacon. "It's like we need to liberate people from their repressed desires so they don't feel guilty about making what are essentially unnecessary purchases."
"Precisely!" I thunder, striking the table with surprising force and causing several people to jump half out of their seats and spill coffee down their fronts. "Get more stuff!" Nevermind that I lifted the line from R. Crumb. No one here is likely to call me on that score.
"Look," I say, demonstrating great patience, as if dealing with witless children, "it's really quite simple." But I know where I'm going with this now, and it'll be anything but.
"Before people become consumers, what are they? Just plain vanilla human beings, right? Confused, bewildered, horny for something, but they don't know what. They wander aimlessly through life filling their basic needs, sure, but suspecting that there must be something else. Some larger plan and object to it all. And that's where you come in. The invention of purpose is a gift to humanity, an invaluable offering in the great potlatch of commercial intercourse. Semantic complexity enriches the social fabric, empowers the body politic, ennobles the spirit, enlivens the soul..."
"Are you seriously suggesting..."
"I'm not suggesting anything!" I interrupt back, having no idea what the guy was going to say, but not liking the sound of that "seriously" bit. "I'm telling you! People will kill for meaning in their lives. Not finding any after so many years, they'll naturally be grateful for any scrap of direction you can provide. Take all these people you see walking around in expensive t-shirts covered with advertising slogans. And they pay for the privilege. You can make these people do anything you want!"
I've got them now, I can tell. Time for a little personalized relevancy, I'm thinking. "Not that it matters much, but what is it that you folks sell again?"
"We produce a suite of collaborative software tools that enable productive group interaction and deliver cost-effective bottom-line results." Mother of God, where do they get these talking mannequins?
"Well then, there you go!" Before the obvious pleasure of the assembled at this entirely pointless interjection can evaporate, I quickly continue. "So that means you're competing against Lotus Notes, right?"
"You should be hugely successful then. That stuff is dog shit." A new warmth circulates about the table and I am gently folded into it. I am being accepted as One of Their Own.
There is more discussion after that, but I can't remember anything that was said, so vast is my relief at having lived through the pitch. Which, by the way, was accepted in toto. What would I actually do for the ten grand? Oh, this and that. Advise. Shepherd their dull ideas toward some vague notion of success. "That's great, Frank. No, I really like it. Seriously."
"Faster horses!" Frank practically shouts into my face, high-fiving me with incredible we-get-the-joke-now joviality. A few months later it's become a kind of war cry for the poor bastards. They think it's the key to some secret knowledge I imparted. "Right on!" I say, and "Killer!" I say, and "Hit one outta the park!"
Consulting. Man, what a racket. Why didn't I figure this out years ago? But I almost feel unclean for doing it. I almost feel guilty. Not for taking their money. That's just manifest destiny. No, sometimes I feel terrible because I think maybe I really am helping these clueless fuckers to rape the rest of us. Giving them some empty-headed motivational excuse to weld all that avarice into an effective weapon that will make us all salivate for spiffier software or snappier net connections or the latest breakfast cereal breakthrough.
But what have I done, really? Tell them that people are confused and lonely, stranded in their lives, burned out and breaking under the strain of an insane commercial culture run utterly amok? This is news?
It's what I don't tell them that let's me sleep at night. Which is that even terminal confusion is a thousand times better than spiritual enslavement, and that I am beginning to see people -- some people anyway -- waking up from the long bad Night of the Undead Advertisers. No matter how slick the shtick, they wouldn't buy any of this crap if their lives depended on it, which of course they do not.
"Hey Beavis, I been thinkin..."
"Let's get us some collaborative groupware."
"Yeah-yeah! Heh-heh. Heh-heh. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh."
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Entropy Gradient Reversals CopyLeft Christopher Locke firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.rageboy.com
"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon
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