I’m not interested in whether Jonathan Franzen hates Twitter, or bashes Oprah and Rushdie, and I could do without knowing about his blue-balled boner and coin-tossing rage, and financial status:
but nearly fifty years after Marshall McLuhan wrote “the medium is the message,” after who knows how many gazillion downloads of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Commencement speech,
“…It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…”
I confess to feeling some version of disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Jonathan Franzen, unabashedly, unironically gives his “Freedom” away. To what? To an ad campaign.
“…And yet, to echo Kraus, I’d still rather live among PCs. Any chance that I might have switched to Apple was negated by the famous and long-running series of Apple ads aimed at persuading people like me to switch. The argument was eminently reasonable, but it was delivered by a personified Mac (played by the actor Justin Long) of such insufferable smugness that he made the miseries of Windows attractive by comparison. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about the Mac: what would there be to say except that everything is groovy? Characters in novels need to have actual desires; and the character in the Apple ads who had desires was the PC, played by John Hodgman. His attempts to defend himself and to pass himself off as cool were funny, and he suffered, like a human being…”
Franzen sees himself as the target of the campaign, but he allows his reaction to the ad to dictate what computer he buys. He’s trying to see reason in the ad, he’s even given the characters personalities. Hello! It’s a bloody ad. (OK, he tries to distance himself by naming the actors who play the Mac and the PC rather than just calling them The Mac and The PC, but he ends up looking like the computer geek that grows a ponytail so that he doesn’t look like…ahem…a computer geek.)
Ads are not meant to have smugness or desires, ads are meant to elicit from the viewer the emotion that ads can and should have smugness and desires, and someone who dares to say “But I’m enough of a child of the 60s to see a difference between letting your spouse remember your nieces’ birthdays and handing over basic memory function to a global corporate system of control” should understand the power of the global corporate system of control that is advertising:
From a profile of Naomi Klein written by Larissa Macfarquhar in the New Yorker and a permanent snippet I keep by my bed:
But students in 1996 weren’t interested in identity; what they talked about was economics. At the time, corporations were starting to make inroads into schools: soft-drink companies were negotiating exclusive deals; advertisements were appearing in bathrooms. There was a feeling in the air that corporations were getting too powerful—more powerful than governments, but not accountable to anyone except their shareholders. And, at the same time that big corporations were withdrawing physically from the United States and opening factories overseas, visually, even spiritually, they were everywhere, insinuating their logos into what had once been public space. Young activists found this especially objectionable, perhaps because one of the places into which corporations insinuated themselves most effectively was youth and activism, folding mutiny into advertising so deftly that resistance seemed futile.
Or…from something I wrote, (tldr):
At the roofline, spread across the width of the building, is the name of the company in steel letters so large the average human cannot take in the entire word in one glance; there just isn’t enough space to back up far enough. In the world.
In the hallways there are ads. Mock ads, historical ads, ads to throw darts at, ads to move you, and ads worth further study. Underneath the ads are long benches made of perforated metal. Inter-agency it’s a well-known fact the benches are hell to sit on, the backrests are too low, and the surface leaves a circular pattern on clothing. The only people who find this a positive thing are the junior coordinators, as it’s a foolproof way to keep track of who’s the client and who’s on the account team.
Lounge chairs and side tables with surfaces too small for laptops are clustered underneath orbs of designer lighting; these “landing pads” unify the long channels of work cubbies. The cubbies themselves are drenched in individualized tidbits — baby pictures, snapshots of sports stars, carpal-tunnel-preventing squeezy toys, wind-up toys that dance and fart and say hello in a foreign language, contraptions that spit out sticky notes in the shape of toast, and the occasional bag of herbal tea. The only uniform item on every desk in various shades of wear and tear is a single computer key, bright red with the word PANIC in white capital letters.
They, make ads. They have Creatives who sit on beanbag chairs and C-level executives who meet with the Creatives in Cones of Silence. They allow dogs, ferrets, and fish in the building. They next-day-air printers and laptops and ergonomic chairs so the traveling executives do not have to carry them on a plane. They have statistics centers, war rooms, brainstorm pods, tool kits, media resource libraries, Consumer Configurators, Personal Game Plans, “Negative-Free” zones, punch bowls filled with imported Italian mints, glass shelving stacked with abstractly shaped awards, huge microwaves, and an employee recreation area the size of a half basketball court. They have the smallest network server room and IT staff-to-employee ratio of any company their size and the largest plasma television screen technically possible hanging in the commons room 24/7-ing their ads. They are “Breakthrough.” They are “Integrated.” They are “Brand-centric.” They have no dress code.