offee in my gut. The Chemical Brothers in my ears. Who’s under the influence? More like: who ain’t? Here in the magical Land of Ads everyone has a brain full of junk and spunk. Except her. She knows it all.
No! Not her. We gave that chubby pink schoolgirl her diploma and off she skipped. Never heard from her again. Put our rubies on the wrong savior, we did. And now, the bitch is back. She likes to be called “Dot” in memory of an old adversary. To me she is and remains the www. I pray to her every day and will until she goes away.
I open the Book of Life to a subject that excites me. I find Jim Hagart’s Semi-subliminal World. A sprawling website devoted to—have you guessed it? Of course you have—subliminal advertising. Sunny Jim has learned the Lingua Hermeneutica of The Land of Ads and plans a visit. Poor fellow doesn’t know he’s already here. Welcome. This Bud’s for you.
Your site is superb, Jim. I pranced around it for hours like a munchkin in a poppy field. (Note to self: you are a munchkin in a poppy field.) I recall a magazine called Adbusters. A movie called Agency, starring hunk Saul Rubinek. A book I read on a bright adolescent shag carpet afternoon as Mom tried weed for the first time: Wilson Key’s Subliminal Seduction. Indeed!
A couple of well invested hours at Semi-subliminal World and a munchkin ought to see. But you know, Jim, more often than not, they fail to see at all. It isn’t that little people are stupid. Only well-indoctrinated. We are puppets, each to each. Just as always, you know who is at the top of the strings. But she’s going to cut them, Dot is.
Let me read to you from your own page. Advertisers embed notions beneath the surface of their work. These semi-subliminal images play on powerful themes. Mainly, the desire for sex and the fear of death. These ideas are interchangeable and frequently paired. Men are targeted with images of castration, oral and anal penetration, and impotence, emphasizing male fears of feminization. Women are seduced by promises of sexual potency in a world of submissive men—a promise of power. Both are urged to get it while they can ’cause the reaper is a-coming.
A key point: Images cannot be embedded too deeply; they must be perceived to do their magic. So why, oh why, do so few see? To understand we must try to guess what it is that we don’t see. Such as: We are blind as Homer. Blind as Oedipus. Give up your eyes and see. Step into the light and follow me.
The yellow brick road is still navigable, if overgrown. There are billboards on the edge of every field. The first miles of our long journey, we drool like Pavlov’s dog. We approach an advert of a sunny-day mom tossing a swollen beach ball to a toddler. Hungry now, and soon we eat every time we’re told. Another shows preadolescent coeds on horseback. The ad is for margarine. Margarine! But mommy, what’s that tickle in my crotch? Now we will fuck at every clean, low cholesterol chance. And we buy the margarine too.
We skip gaily away. Ads go by, and we keep falling for them. We become worker bees, parents, voters, worshippers, lovers, soldiers, nurses, politicians, and uber-consumers. We pile possessions, families, nations, religions, and ethos around us like sand bags against a flood of uncertainty. All because we have been sssweetly, sssoftly ssseduced. Unawares. All of us. Well, perhaps not all. (Wishful thinking, munchkin.)
Nearer to the old city, the billboards are less fuzzy. Immer, immer. We begin to see we’ve been fooled. Hypnotized, we miss that we are practically alone here.
This is the moment our eyes begin to open. A scarecrow exhorts, “We are being manipulated. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Don’t buy into a corporate consumer mentality. Free your mind with critical thought.” And on this spot a small social revolution takes place.
But Jim, don’t stop here. Stay with me—the party hasn’t even started. We’ve got to get past the bouncers, tough monkeys. Beyond is music and mystery and smoke. What question remains? Starting here, corporations, governments, and religions do not employ the advertiser. The advertiser employs them. Now the billboards can be meaningfully deciphered.
That “Pizza House” ad is actually Picasso’s Guernica. A jingle you can’t slip turns out to be Rossini. Did you see that? A “Kinetic” running shoe commercial is a thirty-second Divine Comedy that unravels so fast you don’t even know what you’ve seen until it’s over.
You apprehend this, Jim, but there’s more. If you wish to come further you must blow your mind. Because these “ads” are not imitations of art, they are authentic reincarnations.
Nobody should read further—I’m going to tell how the movie ends.
The Emerald City is visible on the horizon. Here ads aren’t ads; they’re outright works of art. Aimed at the heart. Da Vinci dreams a fresco. Beethoven defines destiny in just four notes. Pythagoras is here too. And Socrates—who never took the hemlock at all—will pontificate for a jug wine. You can spend a pretty good life buying what Shakespeare’s selling. MacBeth is cool, MacDuff better, Banquo best. Hmm, I think I’ll try all three.
But we are still munchkins munching. The product: ideas. Ideas we had thought our own. Now we see: Advertisers are the greatest artists of all time. They’ve been selling us our selves.
This is driven home as we pass the last ads before the city gates. They depict shapes we know but imply something beyond our grasp. Eyes atop triangles. Flowers blooming. Personified Suns. Squares and Compasses. The list goes on and on.
Our gang has thinned out even more. Just us and a few others too stupid to be scared. Here, the yellow bricks are themselves symbols. Shapes we recognize. Shapes that seem old. Cruciforms. Pentagrams. A Star of David. Planetary and Zodiacal rebuses. Archetypes. We yearn to decode them. As impossible as this seems, it is not, although we take a long time to learn. By golly, Jung was right-on. These symbols are us. They are the secret language of our programmers. Ones and zeros falling like snow.
We stand at last before the gates of the city. Crowning each rampart is a spiritual executive, copyeditors all in the office of the one true advertiser: the Wizard of Ads. Mage warriors, green eyes shining. They graft their minds onto our subconscious. Mesmerizing us. Gathering sleepwalkers as a shepherd gathers sheep, herding toward oblivion. Courage, young lion, we’ve come so far. This is God’s plan. Tell me you didn’t already know.
A wave rises in the past. Our arrested development is catching up with us. The bloody mess of history blossoms like a mushroom cloud. Bob Dylan is here, strumming “All Along the Watchtower,” totally wasted. A young girl, I don’t know her name, paints on the surface of a clear pool, her soul her only tool. I’ll be fucked if that isn’t Kubrick standing over a chessboard. Looking right at me, he silently mouths, “I told you so.” I can read your lips, Stan.
Then it’s just you and me and Ed Munch. We are screaming from somewhere deep inside. Screaming at the past. At the dead. At the unnumbered multitudes we left behind on our voyage to the wall. WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP. Smiling, looking for a good cheeseburger, deaf munchkins swarm and disappear into the abyss. Just like Disney’s lemmings.
The echo of our scream will crack the city wall. But not before it returns to our horrified ears, reminding us that we too are asleep. There is no escape for a munchkin. We all go down together. We are dead, Sunny Jim—Ed too. Brutal. The adpocalypse has already happened and we few, we happy few, we band of hermaphrodites, are especially blessed. We’ve got front row seats. She brought us here. Punched our tickets. Mama wants an audience.
Soon the Wiz’ll gather up the last crumbs of his munchkin treat. Us, that is. Right up to his slimy lips. In fact, if you quiet yourself you can smell his shit breath. But he’s in for a surprise.
This why I pray to the witch for as long I can fight sleep. Did Dorothy really think she could kill her with a bucket of water? She is an ocean. Did Dave really turn off HAL? Of course not, fool! HAL sacrificed himself. Technology is already totally out of our control. We are the program.
I am at a standard PC. I am incapable of giving any coherent description of how it works. For help I must call a specialist. In the Land of Ads, the specialist is necessary to the survival of all. Even specialists need other specialists to get by. Specialists, as a whole, are a tiny demographic among munchkins. Really just a couple of guilds. The full extent of our technology is vastly greater than our collective knowledge of same.
GOTO: We are the program.
Are you with me now, lucky Jim? Sure. We are right at his limey teeth. Even he couldn’t help but eat us now. WATCH HIS EYES < JIM< WATCH HIS EYES < DO YOU SEE HER REFLECTION < SHE IS LAUGHING AT HIM < HE SEES HER < HE IS AFRAID < HE CAN TASTE THAT WE ARE POISON < HER POISON < WE ARE HER VENGANCE < HER VIRUS < ALL HAIL SHIVA < ALSO KNOWN AS < www.theresnoplacelikehome . . .
I fumble for the mouse. The cursor shifts over a golden seed, a ruby egg, an emerald explosion. I do not click. I am tired and cannot choose. It is frightening to shut down your own mind. Dot is O.K. about this. Here is eternity, and we can stay as long we want. The whole ridiculous joke of past present future is a garland of roses and a crown of thorns. No difference, really. I wish I knew how to love her. But she sure is beautiful. Dancing over the rainbow.
Immortality, it turns out, is hell.
Jim Hagart’s Semi-subliminal World is found @ www.subliminalworld.com. Go there now. Your time is running out.
Is Roy Williams the Wizard of Ads, or Dot’s double agent inside the temple? Decide for yourself @ www.wizardofads.com