25.11.2005 21:09 - The Writing on the Wall
You can learn a lot about a culture from what they write on their walls.
The Ancient Egyptians wrote their history on their walls. The Romans wrote their laws on their walls. In the rennaisance, Michaelangelo spent years painting the Sistine Chapel. Technically it's a ceiling, but you get my point.
What does our culture put on the walls? Advertisements. Advertisements for television. advertisements for CDs, advertisements for concerts, advertisements for cars. Advertisements, advertisements, advertisements. Eat this, buy that, do this, vote for the other.
For example, on my way to work I noticed (inasmuch as I can notice anything, because the tram is covered in advertising, even the windows, using that cunning mesh-trick so you can just about see out but can't actually read the sign for your stop) that there are billboards for a Robbie Williams concert. It's practically being hailed as a second-coming. This concert is eight months away, and tickets cost 150 Euros! And that's just standing room. Now I don't even like Robbie Williams, so I'm certainly not going to fork out 150 big ones to see him, however good he was at Live 8, and even if he does have Richard Hawley on guitar. I wouldn't fork out that much money to see someone I liked, because, lets face it, you're not going to see that much of them in a place the size of the Rheinenergie Stadion. Added to that, you're probably going to have some idiot girl next to you who persists in crying and howling "Oh Robbie, Robbie, Robbie!" in your ear for the next hour or so. Readers in possession of a little knowledge of my band career might point out here that this is something I was angling for. Wrong. I wanted to be up there with the band because of the stout wall of bullet-headed security men between them and the audience. Audiences are full of nutters, as experience has shown me. But that's another story.
Anyway, advertisements. Does it not shock you that our lives are full of these messages? Does it not irritate you that so much of our lives are consumed by these stupid little evil selfish messages, designed to stick in our minds, ruining our mental tranquility, destroying our attention span and ruining our day? Are you not driven to despair by the fact that when you buy a magazine, you have to shake it over a litter bin for ten minutes to remove all the excess cards and flyers, and that when you cease shaking it and actually read it, half the magazine itself is taken up with adverts, some of them cunningly disguised to look like a part of the magazine you want to read? Do you wonder why your children are incapable of sitting still and concentrating for more than a minute? Does it not worry you that when you watch satellite TV, the ad-breaks are actually longer than the segment of the programme you are watching?
The truth is, advertising is now such big business that it has reached saturation point. Magazines are not written to deliver a viewpoint, they are written to conform to a viewpoint because marketing science says that so many people with that viewpoint will read the magazine and so the magazine can guarantee a particular audience to an advertiser who, for example, wants to sell the new Ford family car. The advertisers have taken over.
The place I work - a website - is not there for its users, who get the information free, it's there to get money out of advertisers, who pay to be featured on the website. Whole new vistas of advertising have opened up in the past few years, such as co-advertising. It used to be that advertisers paid record companies to allow them to use a piece of music. Now, it's the other way round, and they actually print the name of the music at the foot of the screen. The whole thing has come so far in the last few years that when Tivo - the digital video recorder people - released a machine that not only recorded a programme for you, but cut all the adverts out, they were actually taken to court by the TV companies, fearing that their advertising income would disappear overnight if such a device became popular. Monty Python had it right. There is a battle going on, and this battle is to retain our own minds. Python would have it that the meaning of life is lying close at hand, requiring only solitude and inner contemplation, but our civilisation is so full of distractions that we may never manage to grasp it.
Someday, Archaeologists of some far-flung race, visiting the devastated earth in some distant epoch, will dig all this rubbish up, and conclude that the human race died from attention deficit disorder.