Archive for August 12th, 2005

We Have Ways Of Making You Think*

Please sir I left my blogging fingers at home.

As my own computer is banjaxed and I have been working with a loaned one for the past few days, I have found that my blogging muse, or my blo-jo, has deserted me. I feel like a blogging Samson after a number one all over.

Yesterday I wondered how I could find inspiration. William Blake’s ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour’ came to mind, and seemed like a good starting point, but I subsequently found myself preparing to write a rather nasty denunciation of the blurb on the side of a box of Lyons Relax Tea.

But being bombarded with product messages makes me nauseous. Confronted with a piece of text, I feel compelled to read it. And once I read it, I can’t ignore it, or stop thinking about what it can mean just like that. I suppose that is part of how advertising works.

This morning I saw a couple of billboards for a certain Irish mobile phone company that played with the phrase ‘we have ways of making you talk/text’. It is unlikely that the people involved in using this phrase as part of advertising campaign were not aware of its connotations in wider culture. They are paid to know these things.

I am not sure where the phrase originates, but when I imagine hearing it spoken, it is with a slightly camp German accent. Just as James Cagney apparently never said ‘you dirty rat’ in any of his films, these words may never have been spoken in the course of a Nazi torture scene in a Hollywood film, let alone during a real interrogation involving torture.

(That said, there has surely been enough torture performed on people during the last fifty years that we can reasonably assume that it has been said under such circumstances at least once.)

I am no expert on the subconscious, but I imagine that at this level, the ironic delivery (one poster juxtaposes the notice with the sympathetic image of a mime artist holding up a flower) of the message gets lost. The basic message of the advertisement becomes a plainly coercive one i.e. sign up or we crypto-Nazis will torture you. The allure of the ad must also be grounded in its appeal to the reader’s worldliness: spotting the cultural reference saves you from the possibility that the torture is real.

Of course when you have to contend with messages like these every morning, the torture involved, albeit minimal, is still real.

* stolen from Herman Loves Pauline by the Super Furry Animals.

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August 2005
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