Perhaps it’s just me, but lately my spam filters – on this blog, on my email accounts, everywhere – have been clogged to the brim with bad messages. I’m talking about the sort that want to sell me stakes in up-and-coming muscle maximiser companies, or property in the Czech Republic, or warning me that ‘dirty, funny videos!’ of me are available if I just ‘click a link!’, or ones which are just gibberish, words thrown together at random with a few links included for good measure.
I hate them.
If there’s one thing I hate more than spam, though, it’s advertisements. That might sound strange – spam is, at best, illicit, and advertisements are a central plank of most economies – but there you have it. I’m a terror when watching the TV, because I usually insist on hitting the ‘mute’ button during ad breaks, and even at that, just looking at the silent images can often be enough to drive me into a fuming rage. I don’t really read magazines, probably because they’re usually 80% glossy images trying to sell me stuff I don’t want or need, and it’s the most irritating aspect of radio-listening, too. At least on the radio I can turn the sound down if a really annoying ad comes on, however. In this way, I do my best to avoid as many adverts as I can, but there are still too many.
A phrase I particularly loathe, and it’s one that has appeared on a huge amount of ads in the last year or so (and the number is growing!) is ‘up to 100%’ – as in ‘our new toothpaste, EnamelKiller, removes up to 100% of tooth plaque!’ or ‘this wonderful shampoo, freshly released on the market, promises to zap up to 100% of dandruff within four washes!’
Is it just me? Seriously? Does nobody else see the idiocy of saying ‘up to 100%’? It’s the most meaningless phrase in existence. It sets my (plaque-free!) teeth on edge because not only is it stupid, and a pointless waste of language, but it also speaks of the litigiousness of modern society. Nobody can claim that their shampoo or toothpaste or hair dye or whatever can provide ‘100%’ of anything, because that’s leaving the gate open for some dissatisfied customer somewhere to sue the manufacturer if they’re not entirely happy with the product’s performance. Instead, then, the ridiculous phrase ‘up to 100%’ – which says absolutely nothing – has to appear everywhere, driving pedants like me round the twist.
I also find it hard to cope with the amount of stuff in the world. You know what I mean – all the different types of everything, the seventy different brands of orange juice and the fourteen separate flavours of margarine and the sheer mountain of breakfast cereal you have to climb just to buy the one you want. I don’t want a grey and beige world where everything is exactly the same, but I wonder sometimes whether we’re just burying ourselves in excess, and calling it ‘choice’. This is before we even get to the idea of waste – it makes me profoundly uncomfortable every time I see an ad for air freshener, for instance. To me, it’s just chemical-laden gloop that you spray around your home environment, which is contained in a can or a plastic holder which will go into landfill once you’re finished poisoning everyone in your household. I’d just prefer to open a window, to be honest. Recently I saw an ad for shampoo which was very proud of the fact that over one million bottles of it had been sold in the UK alone, and all I could think of was ‘how many of those were recycled?’ and ‘do we really need another brand of shampoo? Aren’t they, under the fancy packaging, all the same?’
There are some good ads, which are funny and arty and memorable – I particularly like the ones Guinness used to produce in the 90s – but usually they’re more of the same old blandness, making use of pretty people (usually women) to sell, sell, sell.
I don’t mean to sound like a total curmudgeon. I’m not going to tell a person what they can or cannot purchase, and as I said I don’t believe choice is a bad thing, in theory at least. I just can’t help sometimes feeling a little like we’ve given ourselves too much choice, which ends up paralysing us with the fear of making the ‘wrong’ choice. I usually stick to my old reliables – I’m pretty predictable when it comes to my purchases, and I’m definitely not a ‘follower of fashion’ or in any way interested in beauty products, besides the basics – and I tend to go shopping with blinkers on, just so I don’t get bamboozled by the piles of stuff everywhere.
The only aspect of the market to which my cynicism doesn’t apply, of course, is books. Let them pile high and give me as much choice as possible! When it comes to shampoo though, I can take it or leave it.
So. Am I alone in this? Or does anyone – anywhere! – see where I’m coming from?
Hope you’re all having a good Thursday. Oh, and while we’re at it – Happy Nelson Mandela Day. Make the best of it!