Extremely to the Max
May 2003

If you are like me, then you live for superlative experiences. Nothing else will do. And why should we accept anything less? Even now, I find that I'm nearly powerless to resist the temptation of finishing every sentence with an exclamation point. But then again, who has time for complete sentences? I read somewhere that incomplete thoughts and sentence fragments are very 2003, and you, my (young, popular and sexy) friend, are all about 'now' experiences. Don't be modest, we all are. You deserve it. We all deserve it. We all deserve everything, all the time, don't you think? Or don't you think?

If it didn't happen decades before, God certainly died somewhere between Gulf Wars. That's hardly disputable. The good news is that Advertising filled in His shoes before we noticed He was gone - in all likelihood before He was gone. And let's be frank, shall we? It was a welcome change. Advertising is much more in line with society and our constantly expanding set of non-negotiable needs. In terms of self-discovery and spiritual meaning, Advertising offers so much and asks for so little in return. The only requirements of the new faith are that we keep tabs on which market segmentations we occupy, that we've got a least a few credit cards (hopefully memorized), and that we don't question Its Wisdom.

Now I'm the first to admit that the death of God is hardly news, but since history was completed with the fall of the Soviet empire (even more so when concurrently considered with the post post-modern ideology that argues that all intelligence has already been fully expressed on an episode of 'Everybody Loves Raymond'), we must become accustomed to gracefully accepting repetition as if it is new, or increase the rate that we huff modeling glue so that we can greet the re-run of each new day with Nell-like babe-in-the-woods wonder.

Even so, most of today's oracles are wrong. They would have you believe that money is our new god. Not so. Money is simply Advertising's bitch. We use money to obey Advertising. And don't let's argue about our unquestioning subservience.

For whatever reason, I find that I constantly hear people talking about how misguided Advertising is and how these people claim to be unaffected by its charms. If you self-identify with this group, I offer the following considerations:
1. The simple act of discussing the Advertisements that have no effect on you negates your credibility.
2. Billions and billions of dollars are spent every year on marketing. Such amounts tend not to be left in the hands of hacks.
3. Water-cooler critics of Advertising are generally as sharp as marbles.

My point? Resistance is futile. There is even a defined market segment of those who pride themselves on their imperviousness to Advertising messages.

I knew that I'd seen the advent of a new epoch when Boston Market introduced a new menu category that they referred to as "Extreme Carvers" (written, if memory serves, in red, lightening bolt-ish letters). It turns out that a "carver" is chicken and condiments placed between two slices of bread. I need not say it, so I will: what exactly is an extreme sandwich? I'm only human, but shouldn't I be allowed to dream of a world where I can transform a sandwich into an extreme experience on my own? How can I become complete? What is the essence of this kind of extremity? How can I understand this extreme sandwichness?

The humbling truth is that I cannot. I'm just one man. My role isn't to create, it is to consume. And even if individual identity is an attractive concept to me, I can only delineate myself in a publicly understood way if I do it along codified Advertising markers. Suppose you consider yourself a sophisticate with highfalutin sensibilities - congratulations! You've just aspired to the status of a housecat who enjoys Fancy Feast cat food. In fact, if you go to fancyfeast.com, the top navigation options include "gourmet cuisine" and an enticing yet enigmatic option of clicking on "indulgence." Another page advises "Exclusivity has its privileges, join Fancy Feast today and start enjoying the privileges of membership."

You know, that has me thinking. The message comes right through their poor grammar -- I should own a cat! Trust me when I say that no one enjoys enjoying privileges more than I do!

No matter how you identify yourself, fancy, bumkin, erudite, nipply, you must have pretenses to usher yourself into the next upward demographic. You are who you project. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had it all wrong when he wrote "What is essential is invisible to the eye." What a charming, antiquated and out of touch sentiment! We all know that in the new millennium, what is invisible to the eye couldn't be less important.

So be careful of how you carry yourself. You posture isn't important, but your posturing sure is. In case you need others to understand that your status can only ever be an aspiration for them, you need to shop well. How might one shop well? Stroll through non-discount retailer with a friend and have a conversation along the lines of:

"I'd sooner wear Bonnee Belle Lipsmacker than Clinique lipstick."
"I'm going to try and get the next shop assistant fired if she suggests I buy Urban Decay or Benefit."
"I simply don't reply but give them an utterly blank look in complete silence."
"Of course! And if they don't cower, I ask for their manager's name."
"To be honest, I usually phone ahead from the car, ask for the manager in advance and issue a warning. I find it saves time and frustration."

In 1991 the Pet Shop Boys recorded "DJ Culture," a song about the first Gulf War. The first verse:
Imagine a war which everyone won
Permanent holiday in endless sun
Peace without wisdom, one steals to achieve
Relentlessly, pretending to believe
Attitudes are materialistic, positive or frankly realistic
Which is terribly old-fashioned, isn't it?
Or isn't it?

It could have just been recorded this year. But then again, I'm sure someone has said that before.

"Cynicism is a sure sign of emotional and spiritual atrophy." That's from a Nike Advertisement.