We got a puzzle from the dollar store. Unbelievable. A huge puzzle for a dollar. How do they even pay for the paper or shipping at that rate? When we got to the end, there were three pieces missing, and one duplicate. Now imagine if that had been a car, because in your lifetime, it COULD be. The bet here, is volume. If they sell a thousand people a cheap puzzle that doesn’t work, how many will find it worth their while to return the item? And there you have it, a cumulative G-note based on poor quality wed to human lassitude.
Today my wife wrapped a cabbage leaf around her arthritic finger, sealed with Saran Wrap, and went to work. Never mind that it looked ridiculous. Someone on the internet swore by the cabbage leaf treatment for joint pain. Presumably there is money to be made here, in the new economy that is comprised of “followers”, if you merely post such information on the internet. If you have enough followers, a sponsor will pay you. What is most curious to me, is what a person needs to bridge an assumed credibility gap. You could CLAIM something with no tangible proof, and there are simply a number of people who will go along with that just because. So rolling the dice to become an earner in the new economy often boils down to making a claim and looking good while making that claim. The visual is everything, or as Marshall MacLuhan once said, the medium is the message. Dress up nice, and by all means, be authoritative while making your claim to the world that wrapping your arthritic finger with a cabbage leaf, is the miracle cure doctors and scientists world-over apparently missed. If there is any success with the cabbage, I think you might call that the placebo effect, buoyed by WANTING something to be true. What I do know is that my wife will be swearing by the cabbage leaf, and also telling her friends.
Which brings me to the weather rock I came across on my walks. The rock played on your sense of credulity. More than that, the rock was labelled the “AMAZING” weather rock. Beneath that, the basic meteorological report.
Rock wet... RAIN,
Rock dry… CLOUDY,
Rock makes shadow… SUNNY,
Rock white… SNOW,
Rock jumping… EARTHQUAKE.
Rock gone… TORNADO.
The amazing weather rock packages and sells you what you already know. The cleverness of this rock is that you must be honest enough to embrace the basic irony of the human condition. Some may even take the rock for real weather advice. Why? Because someone has systemized it, and made it easy. All that was needed was to cook up a system, and deliver it. The rock in this case was merely the herald of its own status, looking for true believers, and yes, it will find them.
I am reminded when I was a kid, that pet rocks were a fad for a while. They effectively mimicked what pets did without the maintenance or cost, and someone was smart enough to recognize this. You literally packaged a rock (ready made) and the whole clever thing was the write-up. You knew you were being fooled but the delicious irony is that you would brag to your friends about your own deception, because you now had a pet which required no walk, no feeding time, it would never pee on the rug, or bite anybody, and hey, it would never run away or get hit by a car. The amazing success of the Pet Rock as a fad, went against the odds. At a certain point, every kid had to have one, and it never occurred to anyone to pick up your own rock from the side of the road. You had to have the OFFICIAL pet rock, the one sold in a box with the written instructions and pedigree. I am 100% certain that the first guy who pitched this idea to a toy company, was bum rushed out the door with the advice “Come back when you have a real idea…”. It begs scrutiny for the veracity of truth claims, but the financiers who said ”NO” to the pet rock idea did not realize that the truth doesn’t much matter, because someone made the pet rock slick, and most importantly, EASY.
The idea that you are selling truth has paled, replaced with the more sexy notion that it is good simply to win some attention. To get that fifteen minutes of fame is (as Andy Warhol said), both desirable and inevitable. In my own training, we were given “OGILVY ON ADVERTISING” to study like a Bible. David Ogilvy was the Ad Man, the guru of last generation’s truth claim. He created tidy looking ads that showed a picture of an item, and sold you on its good points. He gives very serious advice in the book. Never make a claim that you cannot back up with quality. Of course, such sage advice is long gone. What is now commonplace, is mere association. You see a picture and if it looks good enough, you want to be like the people in the picture. Jean ads are notorious for this. Routinely, they will feature androgynous looking models with impossibly perfect bodies, sullen and insouciant, laying about with not much to do, and functionally naked apart from the jeans. Never mind the visceral reaction, that most people will have the urge to slap those sassy-looking teens. Basic logic decrees that having the jeans will not make you look like the people in the picture, and yet - people buy the jeans. The hook apparently works.
And what is truth? asked Pontius Pilate rhetorically. Something inside me understands that Pontius Pilate was ahead of his time, a truly modern man. He understood something long before us, that whether it is true does not much matter. What matters is this: does it sell? You should know, because you have opened your wallet without asking questions as often as I have in my time.