Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Failure of the Day: It's Not So Much the Heat as the Humanity

I love puns. That's an old one I wrote for a poem about my trip to New York in 1997, but it applies to today, too.

First of all, it's 80 goddamn degrees. I know, I know, that's barely tepid compared to other parts of the country, but I don't live in other parts of the country for exactly that reason. I live 15 blocks from the Pacific Ocean. I live here so I can complain about the unusually warm weather when it is 70 degrees—80+ is out of the question. Does anybody know who I might speak to about that?

And yesterday's focus group. The highlight was definitely the little machines we all used, which were called "perception analyzers." It was just a dial that we turned to apply a numeric value to our reactions to a TV commercial. But I've read a lot of Phillip K Dick, and a machine called a perception analyzer evokes all manner of other ideas of what a machine like that should really do. I myself would rush out to buy a device that gave me a numeric value that rated how my perception of a situation matched up against someone else's, or against some sort of objective perception. (Ooh! " objective perception!" That's my oxymoron of the day.)

For example, I expect I'm way off the mean in my perception about today's weather. San Franciscans get to be sun bunnies maybe 4 days a year, but they take to it with gusto. I imagine most people are thrilled with this weather while I am barricading myself in my apartment, wrapping frozen towels around my neck, and swearing out loud in an empty room. And that's confusing to me…if you love the sun so much, why the hell did you move to San Francisco in the first place?

The focus group, as it turned out, was sponsored by Phillip Morris USA. I expected as much; why else specify that they were looking for smokers and non-smokers to participate in the group? But others were not so bright, and they spent a lot of time working themselves into a self-righteous frenzy about how they resented being in any way involved with helping Big Tobacco create more effective pseudo-"Talk to Your Kids About Not Smoking" ads. They weren't so resentful that they left and forfeited their $75 though.

I'm not stupid. I don't believe for a second that Phillip Morris USA actually wants anybody to talk to talk to their kids about not smoking, and I certainly don't think that asking parents to go to the Phillip Morris USA Web site to get anti-smoking info is any sort of step toward convincing people that their Aim is True. The marketing people at Phillip Morris were on crack for even thinking about trying to convince people that they are anything other than drug dealers. But seriously people, can we at least be a little bit honest about our motivations here? Can anybody muster up any actual desire o help any company big enough to hold a massive focus group with their ads? Would you feel any better about McDonalds? Ford?

So please. Spin the dial, take your check, and learn to live with in a world with people who don't always act in a way that you approve of.


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