… I’d probably be ashamed to admit it.
As I was lounging on my balcony this evening, listlessly picking at the plate of shoestring potatoes I’d prepared for myself, and watching the rainy wind plaster shredded pieces of tissue, and pages from NOW Magazine covered with pictures of naked women, and empty Cheetos bags onto the plexiglass, three passenger pigeons appeared out of nowhere, their feet stuck out in the “landing” position.
What a sight for sore eyes! I’ll tell ya!
Curly, Larry and Moe were carrying little suitcases covered with stickers saying things like “Warszawa” and “Achtung!” and “Italia: Con sprezzatura!” and once they touched down on the balcony railings they began cooing and rustling their feathers and beating on the little suitcases with their beaks, making a noise like distant tom-toms.
I took this to mean, incorrectly as it turns out, that the suitcases were filled with important, time-sensitive information. For me? Fat chance! More likely more letters from Hell, no return address, Can’t wait to see you again, not very long now! So excited!! Sincerely, Mom and Dad!
The wind feels very cold on my naked body and I pour a shot of vodka into the Baccarat tumbler, gulp it down and feel the warmth spread outward from my gut. I relax a little. The tumbler is sturdy, with a pleasing heft, and I hold it up, admiring the crystal’s clarity. It’s like holding the solidified air of new planet.
My feathered phantoms had been attracted no doubt by the moonlight glinting off the bespoke ice cubes from Greenland, hand-cut from the single remaining glacier, that I’d just had flown in on Porter, one seat for each cube. Nobody’s perfect and if I’m going to nourish every last dehydrated cell of my once luscious body with the purest water on earth, I’m sure as little blue buttons gonna fuck spiteful hell out of the environment as I do so. Those ice cubes are suddenly yawning big, as are the giant birds which are now advancing on me, beaks opening and closing, opening and closing…
… which is when I awoke with a little scream,
usually the sign that I’ve drifted off during the first act of “Siegfried,” but a quick assessment of my surroundings assured me I was merely at my desk, face down on my computer keyboard. Business as usual!
I’d nodded off while trying to figure out what a boycott of Tucker Carlson might mean. Do you get that, too? Shall I assume Tucker Carlson is an accounting firm? A small, boutique grocery store?
Serves me right, reading Michael Ondaatje and listening to Beethoven string quartets and talking about “watching TV” like white trash. If I did my homework and kept up with the Joneses I’d be able to respond with a well-placed “Whateverrrrr!???!?” to pop-culture references, instead of having everyone I meet squint at me when I ask a question, then back away while calling an ambulance.
But apparently people take exception to this Tucker Carlson double-named entity, and are very, very serious about wanting advertisers to stop validating said entity by associating their advertising with this manufacturer of power drills or purveyor of lavender-scented eye cream.
A brief phone call to Emma, whom I call my virtual assistant because she’s somewhere else and gives assistance which is virtually useless nine times out of ten, informs me that Tucker Carlson is an unpleasant person somewhere specializing in unpleasant concepts relating to white people being people and other colors of people being less than people. Thanks Emma! Are all Young Girls these days named after nineteenth-century English housemaids? You are totally woke, or at least you will be when I test-call you at four AM!
So, Tucker Carlson is a person, or, more accurately, a pundit! Now, I ask you. Why would a corporation spend endless hours getting their ad agency to perfect their brand creative—then air it during Tucker Carlson?
Why would they do that? Having spent ten long years working in ad agencies, I can tell you why, with confidence.
It’s the numbers, stupid.
I don’t really think you’re stupid. It’s just the trope, OK? Work with me, here.
It’s not that the corporations or the media buyer are clueless, or that they want to sully their good name or toss the work of dozens of talented people down the toilet. But corporations, and by extension their ad agencies, are in the business of selling stuff, mostly stuff that people don’t need, in as large quantities (model 1) or, if moronic luxury is the order of the day, at as high prices (model 2) as possible.
To accomplish this, they need you to believe that their breakfast cereal is not just another mass-produced box of corn kernels puffed up, pressed through rollers and sweetened with more corn, and delivering such low levels of nutrition that most of the actual food value comes from the milk you pour on it.
No, that’s not what their breakfast cereal really is. Their breakfast cereal is really a bowlful of togetherness and familial love and community and the silvery laughter of mischievous yet ultimately still adorable children.
They need you to believe this so completely that they begin to believe it themselves. This, then, is the birth of “the brand.”
No one knows what works, because what worked last time doesn’t seem to work the second time, and though everyone buys the nonsense that marketing is becoming more and more “scientific”, in their hearts they know that marketing and branding are more like dowsing for water or using a ouija board, where the miracle of one coincidence that gives the illusion that you knew what you were doing erases the memory of the three thousand flops that prove you don’t.
It’s not like there’s a “target audience,” a “niche,” so that you might reasonably work out that your perfectly aligned customer does not watch Tucker Carlson, thus sparing you a moral dilemma. Please! Save the cant for your MBA presentation, buckaroo. In my example, but you could make up your own, anyone with a mouth, a couple of teeth and a stomach that can retain a bowl of cereal is a potential customer.
Therefore they need to find the biggest gatherings of the most pairs of eyes, and what has the most pairs of eyes? Huge sports events, tawdry reality shows and low-life self-styled “pundits” spouting the opinions their audience wants to hear, i.e. white supremacy, anti-intellectualism and the undesirability of rapists and murderers from shithole countries, which is the new, of-the-minute locution for what my generation with its quaint, old-school manners called “immigrants.”
It’s not like Acme Cereals Corporation had a board meeting where they said, “Let’s get Korn Krunchies in the six PM slot, next to a video of some brown kids being thrown in jail!” No, there was far less thinking involved. They said, “Get us the most eyeballs on the most screens for our $500,000.” Potato, potato, pronounced differently.
Corporations are not evil, just psychotic. Let’s split the diff and say “amoral.” Eyeballs are eyeballs. How can the most eyeballs get the most Korn Krunchies into the most kids’ stomachs? Tucker Carlson is one answer.
(Now, seriously, the idea that anyone would believe that the puffed corn that leaches nutrients from your body is a bowlful of happiness is clearly preposterous. It would take a brain-vacuum to actually suck the intelligence out of viewers and fill them with despair, so that any positive action became impossible and people simply did what they were told to do, like zombies.
Well, three hundred thwacks on my cracked fontanel if they haven’t invented that brain vacuum— it’s called Tucker Carlson!)
This is why I don’t jump for joy when, say, Toronto-Dominion Bank sponsors Pride Month in Toronto. I’m sure they believe their heart is in it. But I didn’t vote for T-D Bank, and they have no mandate to look after my interests. As long as supporting rights for trans persons provides an off-the-rack halo and a ready supply of new customers to exploit, T-D Bank will be right behind you with the can of Brasso and a rainbow-colored J-Cloth. When the day comes when all of us queers are in jail being tortured, they’ll just move on and sponsor something else.
Individually, employees and art directors and brand managers are humans, sometimes intelligent ones, and they care. Collectively, they’d advertise on the Pol Pot Breakfast Hour if it were the most eyeballs on screens. They have little choice and less will to do otherwise.
That’s why we are always organizing boycotts and waggings of fingers and cluckings of tongues. But corporations aren’t on our or anyone’s side, and it’s silly to believe that they’re suddenly going to develop ethics, or even good taste—which I define as having every right to do something, then not doing it. Go ahead and switch to Wheat Whippies (because, surprise: they own that as well)!
Tucker Carlson, and forgive me for being obvious but it’s what I do best, isn’t a “show.” It’s not Ibsen. It’s just another product, most of whose value comes from the milk you pour on it—your attention.
In fact, it could very well be that Korn Krunchies is the show and it’s selling Tucker! You know what, that just occurred to me.
But a half-hearted boycott of a third-rate political commentator will do little to improve the world. Protest does not look like an email, or even a petition; at least, not just a petition.
Protest happens when people have reached tipping point, when you are blind with outrage, when you simply can’t sit at home and pretend everything’s all right, and you are driven to take to the streets. Real protest has a specific gravity and momentum and explodes with constructive anger
(but not violence) that has been denied for too long. You will know it when you feel it.
Protest is not a light smack on the wrist written by someone else about an issue you don’t really feel all that pumped about. This is one reason we have become prissy about protest, judging protesters as anarchists, criminals or just plain old tired hippies. We complain about how disruptive and unruly and not-nice they are.
In reality, we’ve forgotten what protest looks like and think that the knee-jerk emailing of a boiler-plate message that disrupts no one and doesn’t even get us out of our chairs is all we need to do to be engaged citizens.
There’s only one thing that will work and I dare you to try it out.
Turn off the fucking TV, log out of YouTube, stop watching Tucker Carlson, stop buying Korn Krunchies, get out of the house and help someone worse off than you.
Do this every day. Then gradually, we can come together, all of us, and ask: how can we as a society muster the courage to do this, full time? How can we ensure that no one falls through the cracks, ever again?
Tucker Carlson! You’re funny! People—real thinking, feeling people—don’t watch that kind of shit. Now, honestly. Do I need to tell you this? Let’s try a little harder and then I can be proud to be your friend, and you can be proud you’re mine.
Buddhist teachers sometimes ask a pointed question: What will you do with your precious life? This question administers a jolt of low-grade panic and lights a fire with our to-do list. One more day of my life has just passed by. How did I spend my time? What’s the choice? Watch Tucker? Or help someone?
If you loathe Tucker Carlson’s message about immigrants, don’t focus on his fear mongering and racism. Find a way to advocate for immigrants. Work to improve and fix the immigration system (and don’t confuse those seeking to immigrate with those seeking asylum—these are two very different issues). Be clever. Listen to, or better yet, tell, immigrants’ stories. Counter lies with facts.
Even a boycott of Tucker Carlson by advertisers is more attention that he merits. Tell the station how offensive you find his message.
Then put your attention where it will do the most good: on the poor, the marginalized and the maligned.