Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Yes, Mom, It's An Ice Floe, But It's A Reliable, Old-Fashioned Ice Floe", Dept.

We as a people pay huge amounts of lip service to the notion that Old People Are Good. This will increasingly be the case as the Boomers slouch towards decrepitude chanting "70 is the new 50". Which, given how they once felt about anybody over 30 must be one rude fucking wake-up call. At any rate, between AARP and Centrum ads and all the meds advertised on national evening newsprograms whose audience must be comprised exclusively of octogenarian shut-ins, a visitor to our country might think we prize our seniors, their wealth of experience, an invaluable national resource, etc., etc.

Said visitor would be, of course, wholly wrong.

Two advertisements I found recently tell me pretty much how the mercantile class of America feels about the cane-waving, kids-off-lawn-chasing, Matlock-watching geezer demographic.

The first was in the catalog for The Vermont Country Store® which, if you're not on their mailing list, caters to ancient white people who remember When Things Were Better. If you have fond memories of wearing Evening in Paris or Arp├Ęge or of eating Walnettos and Nigger Babies "Liquorice Babies" or of owning chiffon scarves or if you enjoy reading ad copy that uses phrases like "relive memories" a LOT, then this company is for you, my friend.

As I was leafing through their latest offering, I stopped at an ad for a manual typewriter that bore this heading:

Manual Olivetti Typewriter Types at a Pace You Can Think

and continues with the following text:
"We don't anticipate selling many of these typewriters to the young word-processing crowd. But all thinking persons past the age of discretion should consider this reliable, old-fashioned machine. This manual Olivetti moves at a pace that allows ample time to compose your thoughts, and will never crash and lose your words of wisdom."


How artful is that? To combine a hint of ageist elitism with uncut condescension for the doddering old fools who'd buy such a sales pitch.

I mean, let's break this puppy down:
-the heading introduces the notion that machines somehow have a life and volition of their own by implying that, in contrast to some other consarned contraptions, a manual typewriter will type just as slowly as you think, Gramps.
-the first sentence looks down its nose at whippersnappers in its reference to that "young word-processing crowd" and allusion to their new-fangled notions of "electrical brains" that do "computing".
-the second sentence flatters the reader as a "thinking person past the age of discretion" and waves under the reader's nose the sweet, homey scent in which words like "reliable" and "old-fashioned" are steeped.
-the third sentence seals the deal by again invoking the terrible notion of autonomous machines driving poor, arthritic fingers and poor, befuddled minds faster than they can operate, bless them, by contrasting those computerized tyrants with this ol' typewriter that allows one "ample time to compose (one's) thoughts"--in contrast, say, to Microsoft Word which opens a window every five minutes to call you a worthless cunt if you haven't written anything--and--watch for it, Culture of Fear fans!--"will never crash and lose your"--Flattery Alert!--"words of wisdom". Damn these slave-driver machines and their instability! And just when I was getting to that part about me meeting Patton too!

I repeat, Wow.

I don't know if they sell many of these pups but I hope the writer gets a follow-on gig questioning prisoners at Gitmo. 'Cause he or she has exhibited a calloused, careless mastery of the lubed mindfuck.

If you're interested in the Vermont Country Store (and, jeepers, could any e-retailer have a homier name?), you can visit their site here. Personally, I'm not sure how the elderly are going to manage to do this, using a manual typewriter for a browser and all, but, hey, they're the Greatest Generation, they'll figure it out.

The second advertisement was on the back of last week's Sunday NYT Book Review section. An ad for a product called "jitterbug™" from FirstStreet® "for Boomers and Beyond™", "beyond" apparently referring to the afterlife.
(Just a little sidebar about FirstStreet. They're a division of TechnoBrands, Inc. which was the object of a little unwanted FTC attention a few years back when charged with "misleading ads and deceptive upselling". Y'all may have encountered the hydra-headed TBI doing business as "The Lifestyle Resource", "TechnoScout", "Ennovations", or the "International Collectors' Society" as it attempted to sell you that most valuable of commodities, peace of mind. Like the "Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet". Or the "BMI Magnetic Kit" for pain relief. Or the "Nisim New Hair Biofactors System" for follicle growth stimulation. Among many other doubtlessly-fine products. So, you know their shit is f'real, right?)
The jitterbug™ is a cell phone, you see. But WHAT a cell phone. To quote from the full-page ad's headline:

It doesn't play games, take pictures, or give you the weather.

and to cite from the first paragraph of the ad's text:
For people like me, who want a phone that's easy to see, easy to hear and easy use. Over the years, cell phones have become smaller and smaller with so many complicated features. They are harder to program and harder to use. But the Jitterbug Cell Phone has simplified everything, so it's not only easy to use, it's easy to try. no crowded malls, no waiting in line, no confusing sales people, or complicated plans.

I won't delve into the guts of the offer itself, although $15.00/month for 30 minutes could hardly be considered a steal, particularly when, in print too fine for any elderly eyes to see, it notes that this rate excludes "government taxes, investment surcharges, and activation fee". So, hold onto your hats when the real bottom line kicks in, oldsters. Instead, let's focus on the tone of the text.

In case the nuanced copy did not make this clear, the emphasis is on EASY, okay? Because old people are OLD. Math is HARD. EVERYTHING'S hard. And SCARY. Don't forget SCARY. 'Cause SCARY is how one makes people buy substandard shit. That's why the ad touts such astonishing features as "FREE 911 access" and "Operator assistance 24/7". (Unlike my cell plan which only has operators standing by on national holidays and doubles my monthly bill should I attempt to call for emergency services.) Things are too CONFUSING and COMPLICATED and CROWDED. Everything's SMALLER and SMALLER. And the Grim Reaper's parking his car in the lot outside. Wait! Listen! Here he comes! Hurry! Buy this phone! Because you're OLD. And STUPID.

The above is not to say that products should not be introduced that take the specific needs and wants of senior citizens into account. Quite the contrary. I just don't think that fear-mongering, condescension, and disempowerment are appropriate ways to advertise products to the elderly. I don't think stoking their own sense of self-doubt regarding their place in, and adaptability to, 21st-century society by immuring them in misplaced nostalgia for an imaginary America is a particulary good or kind idea, particularly when this exploitative impulse is motivated solely and exclusively by a desire to part them from their Social Security or pension check. I don't think that selling the shortcomings of a product as desirable features is particularly honest ("Buy our product! It doesn't do any of these things!") And, generally speaking, the American populace is stupid enough at every level that advertisements which encourage and validate ignorance and helplessness are more than a little counterproductive.

Things may improve as the media-savvier Boomers encounter senescence.
If not "improve", at least "play on their egotism and vanity".
Which'll be a change, at least.

1 comment:

Meg said...

I went to look this over. Not only do they have a bottle of Seven Seas Salad Dressing for $13 (which I can get at the grocery store for about $3), they have the Bikini Zone Gel, which smooths skin after hair removal.

What I'm trying to say here is that this site made me think about my mom's bikini area.

This is not okay. Thanks for nothing, SobSister. Now I know what the theme of this evening's nightmares will be.