I was picking up a proof-of-residency/tax form in order to get the Spawn registered for her junior year of high school, and someone in the office had the radio on a country station. The song ended and a commercial began. The announcer asked if the audience had been to [PatentMedicine/DietarySupplement].com and seen “the video so shocking that big corporations and the medical industry have been trying to suppress it.” In fact, the speaker continued, we need to check it out immediately, because if we wait, it may already have been taken offline by Shadowy Figures of some sort or other.
As I ambled back to the van, I started thinking about how often I’m seeing and hearing this kind of appeal these days. The ad feeds on Facebook and the various sports, news, and music sites I visit are constantly telling me that I need to learn about some “weird trick” that will let me lose weight, cut my insurance rates, score cash from the government, or whiten my teeth. Likewise, many of these tricks were apparently discovered by “local housewives” or “Man from [nearby town]”, and furthermore, the trick is always something that big business, the government, or the dental industry “doesn’t want you to know!”
What they have in common is the suggestion that these ads offer the opportunity for the initiated audience to access some sort of esoteric knowledge — a sort of consumerist mystery cult. And in turn, this makes me wonder about the sort of radical skepticism that pervades our postmodern culture.
We see it in politics of course, from the fever-swamp birthers on the right to the 9/11 truthers on the left, and the Alex Jones folks who are completely in Weirdsville. And we see it in views of other institutions — from business to religion — all of which are seen as would-be loci of control. To respond to the ads I’ve described is to express a longing for the “red pill” of The Matrix. To believe in conspiracy is, at last, to believe in something, even a something that is unpleasant and arcane, but seemingly real. And too many people are starving for the real.
Now the fact that I’m seeing (and now hearing) these ads all over the place suggests to me that they must be working for someone — the advertisers, anyway. And it saddens me to think that more and more of the people around me are responding to these ads. It must be some kind of weird trick, huh?