Days pass. Time flies. Eyes blink, life goes on. Things appear normal. They are as they are, what they always were and for all one knows what they’ll always be. They’re life, the way it is. The way it couldn’t be otherwise. And we – we march into a show of madness that abuses our nerve endings.
The signs are everywhere. In plain view for all to see. Clear as day and bright as night – for the night is bright these days. Our planet is the only celestial body to light up after dark, when the sun don’t shine on it. It turns on and simmers in the blackness, like a firefly. It’s alive.
That’s a good thing. A truly wondrous thing, a miracle. I might even consider writing about it in glorious tone: the wonder of a little blue dot lost in a vast and endless universe, yet somehow able to rise up from the shadows and dare live.
But there’s a downside – deep and dark, and perpetual as hell, as the sprawling universe-desert out there, expanding, getting stronger, establishing itself among the bright hours of the day and the prime hours of evening, into the wee dark hours of night; playing itself out louder and faster, more bright and snazzy as it goes along, leaving imprints everywhere, echoing in our mind at night, when we sleep, low enough for us not to hear, sharp enough to burn etchings in our synapses.
We would notice if we weren’t so preoccupied – stand up and say: wait a minute… this – this is absurd! When did life become this? When was the madness normalized?
What is it, then, this madness – this thing so terrible?
Advertising! Incessant, endless advertising. No, not the concept of making a product known – that’s to be expected: we need to talk about what’s out there, so we pitch something, we talk about it, bring it out in the public eye and make others take notice. Naturally. It’s survival of the fittest at its most sophisticated. Part of the gene pool.
Which of course makes it harder for things to stand out. The more we pitch what works, and the more information we have to deal with, the more things there are to choose from. And competition grows. Products diversify. Pitches get louder, smarter, fancier. Sharper and more explosive. They impress.
Soon they’re all over the place. Ads everywhere, jingles, announcements, reminders, attention catchers and emotional hooks. The sine qua non of existence, part of life, like oxygen and water. Like words of affection. They begin not only to sustain life but also influence it. Seep into it. They become normal in their entirety. Scores of people fancy them, rely on them. We find it only natural and acceptable, expected even, to spend time in the living room, watching some program, the scope of which is our choice to enjoy, in the dead times of which, filling the holes – and there are many of holes, running for many many minutes – filling those short but continuously recurring voids with advertisements… an endless stream of advertisements, one after the other after the other, relentless landslides throwing product after product onto society. Pepsi… Bacardi… Nokia, Elvive. Thunderball, Cheeriohs, Iams, Gucci. Man Utd and Rooney vs. Chelsea’s Drogba, watch it this Sunday… Duh-dam! Peugeot – with an ass that shakes… yeah, baby! And Barclays, and Lloyds – who creates a new world for you… Tango, Gap, Man U v Chelsea, this Sunday, don’t forget – Volkswagen, das auto – John Smiths, no nonsense – Domino’s, Ariel, Wheetabix, Sainsbury’s… Cartier, Viera, gocompare.com, Argos it… The Office… watch The Office… a double bill of The Office. Duh-dam! Man Utd v. Chelsea… Man Utd and Chelsea … watch the great match between Man Utd and Chelsea… Duh-dam! With Carlsberg, Dominos, Pringles, Audi… an endless torrent of products, recycled day in day out, the same items round and round, spewing their way through the waves.
Like insects being born!
It’s not that they’re bad in themselves; some of these ads are great pieces of entertainment. Some are just repetitious pieces of garbage, but many of them are outstanding, enjoyable enough to become popular. They spread, speak volumes, and drive their message home, hard or soft, elaborately, crude as nails, with wit and charm. That’s their purpose, what they’re made for, to drive messages home, communicating their value. They have value in themselves, loads of it, products in their own right, creatures with a purpose. To deny it would be to refute a dog’s bark. But when dogs bark all the time… all the fucking time! all day and night – inside, outside, in the dark, in the sun – when they’re hungry, or fed, or happy, or upset – when dogs bark all the time, it gets annoying. Infuriating. It drives you insane. Can they please shut the hell up? And when they do shut up, only to start again at some inopportune time, randomly, picking it up where they left off, breaking that precious little window of silence and peace, just when you started relaxing, well, that can drive you up the wall. It’s like torture, turning on and off at whim, never letting you settle down.
Advertising. On and off, day and night, audio-video, home, out, text and symbolic, on the bus and the tube and the mobile phone, youtube and facebook, cinema and sitcom… on/off at whim, in between precious moments of calm and tranquility… wedges thrust into your quality time, splintering your flow, nagging, repeating, etching in… and no one taking notice.
Because it’s hard to take notice in the presence of company. Shared activities spill over and cover the pain of nerve-etching so that we barely notice. It may seem like a good remedy, panacea even – company! the balsam that heals all wounds caused by our rampant way of life. Only it’s not like that. Things are way more sinister, painful, impactful, like a tattoo gun drilling its art in our skin while we joke around with friends, our company masking the pain, making it tolerable – the mark made in the process, yep, permanent!
Now the cool thing about tattoos is that you (usually) make a choice before having one. You look at a million designs, find the one you like best, make a conscious decision to get it, then go get it. You get two or three or twenty three if you want. You cover your entire skin with them from head to toe, if it turns you on, including the back sides of your ear lobes and the inner parts of your lips. But it’s a conscious and deliberate decision. (Unless you’re drunk – which is tough luck.)
But with advertising you have one million designs created by one million professionals needling away at your mind all the time, against your will. No conscious choice in any of it. Plenty of it on choosing which to buy, sure, but none regarding hearing them, for the Panacousticon never ceases, blaring its way into every nerve ending out there. No escaping it. Unless you stop going out on the street. Switch everything off, radio, TV, internet, the whole damn matrix. Become a monk. Go out in the wilderness, become a troglodyte. Which may be an option for some, but not for everyone.
For those of us who don’t want to go into the wild, those billions of urbanites who aren’t eager to turn off, tune in and drop out, urban reality is what we have. And for those among us who don’t want to turn off, tune out and drop dead either – living dead that is, infested with a gazillion ad jingles, bled and scarred by the incessant branding they cause – for those of us who don’t want to turn into cattle, or zombies, or cattle zombies, there’s no choice! Tough shit! It’s mind tattooing all the way for us. Because the Panacousticon never shuts up.
Some would call this cruel and unusual punishment.
Others would call it torture. Advanced, modern, bloodless torture…