Sex is work, but money is pure pleasure
Mutilation, death and ugly naked people-what else is new?
There's always something sexy and violent and freshly tasteless going on in advertising. And this year did not disappoint. We achieved new obscenities: angry dwarves (globe.com), the all-purpose but basic "up-yours" (7-Up), deformed athletes (Nike) and the Grim Reaper himself selling an SUV (Jeep)
For my money, however, the spookiest new visual turn is the sudden rash of fat men padding around naked in ads. There are those MTV guys, of course, and MTV visually impacts everything. There's also the guy (not fat, not cute) who, because he downloads at home in the raw, scares the deliveryman away (Beyond.com). Then we have the shameless, nearly nude, flabby man in the Arizona Jeans ads, telling the teens watching television that the hot tub is free.
Now, in an age of too many options and microsecond attention spans, stripping bare is the last resort in publicity. The naked truth: this trend has future ramifications. We are sick of perfect bodies boasting amazing pecs and shapely implants. The stream of gods and goddesses has been constant-and unnerving.
But it's more than that. All those gross guys with big bellies symbolize something else-an attempt at being more real, but in an extreme sense. In essence, it has to do with-what else?-sex-as in the end of it. The death of sex; yes, it could happen.
In the articles and books I read, people claim that with travel, tight schedules and long hours at the office and problems with their spouses and kids, sex is too much work.
The upshot? Post-shock, post-irony, post-sex, we have nothing left to expose. This doesn't mean we'll settle for fat schlubs or eliminate adultery, just that we're too tired and stressed to do the horizontal samba. Sex is work, while in the new millennium, money is pure pleasure.
So for the next few years, I think we'll be taking a rest from sex. Instead, we'll dream of money.
The fervent desire to be a millionaire will be our new escapism and our new hysteria. We are dumbing down and trading up. After all, the latest spin on money is profoundly child-like: We dream of making money rather than earning it.
That social twist neatly links the hit shows Do You Want to Be a Millionaire? and Greed to Internet entrepreneurs. The average Joe is not aware of the 20-hour days the Web guys put in; he is only aware of the big Wall Street payout for companies that have yet to make a cent.
Advertising, ever the reflection of a bloated society, champions this emerging trend.
Remember the tow-truck driver who owns a tropical island? The Discover Brokerage ad was a truly seminal spot. The Internet is fueling the new economy and filling the television airwaves with spots that maniacally attempt to get a rise out of us; whether we understand what they're selling or not.
And because these commercials exist, they give the illusion that the company is big time. It used to be that only the most successful, multinational, macho companies had the nerve to spend the ad bucks for the Super Bowl. Now, it's almost the opposite: It's Descarte 2000: I am on the Super Bowl, therefore I exist.
In a recent interview with Salon, former ad god Jay Chiat said, "From what I understand, monster.com and hotjobs.com were almost out of business when they ran on the Super Bowl."
I think the monster.com ad ("I will have a brown nose. I will be in middle management") is easily the best spot of the last two years. It deftly shows the way we don't want to go. We don't want to be the faceless drudge putting in a lifetime of gray days at a corporation.
In the foreseeable future, money will be the new sex, and watching people make it in an instant the new voyeurism. Need proof? Regis Philbin's Millionaire? is the only network breakout success to become a national obsession.
We watch people answer questions so obvious and dumb-Where is the Leaning Tower of Pisa? What body part of Pinocchio's grows when he lies?-it's an insult to our intelligence.
In this brave new world, stupidity is foreplay; we are waiting to feel the intensity build, the pleasure of a really big win, the orgasmic response of the audience and the players-and no exertion necessary!
Watching people make money slowly, and then quicker and quicker, or not, is part of the game.
Another is Regis, the guy from the Bronx who made it, asking the winner what he or she will do with the money. I've yet to hear an answer that justifies our so-called politically correct, socially aware times, a response that an Oprah or a Martha or a captain of industry would be compelled to make, such as "repopulate spotted owls'' or "donate it to the Detroit public school system.''
Invariably, it's an answer that would do a capitalist marketer proud: buy a Jaguar, buy a Mustang, buy a house, go to Paris. Advertiser heaven: instant gratification via product purchase.
We watch some schmo make his $350,000 and announce his plans to buy a Jaguar. Suddenly, we're all seized with Jaguar envy.
Which is not to say that in the year 2001, we'll revert to the 1980s "greed is good." mantra. This is a new manifestation, anti-mega-corporation and definitely anti-corporate raider. It's about the little guy making it on the level of a corporate raider. In the 21st century, everyone can be queen for a day; we're happy to take the money and run.
In the 19th century, Karl Marx wrote that "religion is the opium of the people." In the near future, the lottery and dreams of making millions via game shows will serve as our new opiates.
This, coupled with the extreme mood swing of the Internet, is a potent cocktail. The ancillary problem for marketers is Internet advertising, which is based, as Jeff DeJoseph, chief strategic officer at Doremus puts it, "on filling the void, churning out the work, everybody dancing as fast as they can, nobody taking a breath and praying the music never stops."
But if it ever does, there's always sex.