the rude roommate

There’s a presence following us everywhere. Insinuating itself into our lives, as we enjoy movies, TV shows and music. This rude roommate not only lives with us, but follows us to school, to work and everywhere else that we go, constantly blathering to wear us down. Posing as an indulgent pal, it offers tasty treats, with “go on, you’re worth it!” encouragements. Then, morphing into the concerned friend, it chides us “you’re getting some love handles there, buddy!” and pushes snake oil for that too. Yes, I’m talking about the shifting personas of ADVERTISING. 

advertising - the rude roommate

You don’t truly notice the ever-present & manipulative jibber jabber of advertising till it’s not a part of your life. It’s like cigarette smoking in this. I was raised by on-again-off-again smokers, and for many years worked in offices permeated by ever present cigarette smoke. Soaking in it everywhere for my entire life, it was only upon moving to California (where it’d just been banned) that I truly became aware of smoking. After living smoke-free, I couldn’t believe the stench when visiting places that still allowed it in communal spaces. My own hair & clothes reeked of it, even though I didn’t smoke myself. Bleurgh!

Likewise, after soaking in advertising my entire life, I’ve only recently lived in a (relatively) ad-free bubble, enjoying media streaming services at home for the last few years. We just watched a movie in a cinema for the first time since 2019. Tickets were almost 20 dollars each for comfortable reserved seating in a beautiful theatre. Then we had to endure 30 minutes of constant advertising blather before the film. Not movie trailers mind you, but ads for clothes, soft drinks and so on. After living ad-free, this was excruciating, and eye-opening. Absence had not made my heart grow fonder. Quite the opposite.

The deal used to be that we tolerated the buzz of ads – like blowflies at a picnic – in exchange for free movies & music (on radio & TV). Nowadays, I pay extra for the ad-free option with entertainment media. Which is a blackmail shakedown – “Pay us, or you have to watch another incontinence commercial” – but at least I understand the terms of that arrangement. I don’t understand (or accept) any deal where I pay AND get ads too (which is why I didn’t have cable TV for very long). If theatres want us to come back en masse after the stay-at-home-years of covid, then making the experience special is key. For me, paying premium prices to watch Madison Avenue Punch & Judy shows is an absolute no no. 

Advertising is RUDE. The constant interruptions are simply annoying, but the purpose of the messages is insidious. In our real lives we are wary of people who constantly broadcast their own PR, because they’re trying to manipulate our perceptions of them. We must be on extra high alert for those who tell us what we are, because they’re trying to manipulate our own perceptions of ourselves.These are the goals of advertising’s trillion dollar industry. It is a nonstop psyop, fanning our hopes and inflaming our insecurities for profit.

“The spectacle of advertising creates images of false beauty so suave and so impossible to attain that you will hurt inside and never even know where the hurt comes from.”
Robert Montgomery

Ever since humans first gathered around fires and hearths, we’ve related to each other via stories. Stories are ‘lies’, in that many of them are 100% made up, but we know that and sharing them is fun. Besides, there may actually be a truth within the story. A parable. However, the human love of stories makes us vulnerable to manipulation by stories too. This is well known on Madison Avenue. Advertising subverts the parable, where the parable’s ‘moral’ has been substituted with a plug for Brand-X

It used to be that everyone was served the exact same ads at the same time, but we now live in the era of micro-targeted advertising. After sneakily looking through our private data, the rude roommate can now identify & hammer on each of our specific ‘problem areas’. Despite my attempts at internet ad-blocking, the rude roommate has a fairly accurate demographic profile of me, and websites I visit now display ads of male middle aged losers, worried about their dicks, bald spots, love handles & baggy eyes. The rude roommate has custom-curated these parables just for moi. If advertising was indeed your roommate, an actual person, they’d be the worst person you know. A passive aggressive, gaslighting master manipulator, and the last person you’d want constantly whispering in your ear. 

“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. — They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.”

 “Narrative” has become a buzz word, and Hollywood folk (including story artists) now give story seminars to big companies. Wall Street, Langley, & Silicon Valley understand the appeal of storytelling, and Washington & Whitehall both use Spin Doctors to “get ahead of the story” and “control the narrative”. The NSA & CIA know a little about narrative manipulation too, and even they are wary of internet advertising propaganda, and use ad-blocking software. Takes one to know one, right? Speaking of that, my own growing allergy to advertising is surely punishment for years of participation in the mass hypnosis. Yes, at one time I enabled the rude roommate, by animating parables that enticed kids to eat sugar bombs for breakfast..

Mea culpa!

Given that advertising so often subverts artforms, artists have been known to return the favour.  B.U.G.A.U.P. was a collective of Sydney graffiti artists active in the 1970s/80s who specifically targeted advertising, very active when I lived in that city. Their special brandalism defaced advertising billboards to subvert the intended message of the ad, revealing the hidden truth of the unhealthy product itself. These wittily-defaced billboards on commuter routes in Sydney were talking points at office coffee pots & tea urns each morning.

Their movement spread to other cities in Australia and even to other countries (I often wondered whether Banksy knew about them) and B.U.G.A.U.P. activism ultimately led to a ban on cigarette advertising in Australia in 1994. Advertising’s corrupted parables RE-made into truth telling parables again. Utterly brilliant.

PS: Full BANKSY QUOTE on advertising (as illustrated by Gavin Aung Than).

10 thoughts on “the rude roommate”

  1. Yes! I saw Spiderverse at an AMC theater and the ads were interminable! That chain almost collapsed during the pandemic so perhaps they’re making their $ back with increased ad times (another gripe of mine is having to suffer the stench and sound of others stuffing themselves with junk). I love watching movies on the big screen but it’s rarely a pleasurable experience. I’ve posted some of the ‘classier’ British ads from the 90s on IG: these were visually sophisticated and done with wit. British audiences came to expect this quality in ads and some brands made ‘the game’ of sussing out the meaning ads into the selling point (eg. Benson & Hedges commercials & print ads). Here’s adman John Hegarty on using irreverence

    • Oh yes, there are some clever ads out there, and of course they are a great training ground for filmmakers, but also a brain drain. As Banksy says;

      The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.

      Getting back to cinema ads, I believe the entire thing started in Britain? and if it didn’t start there, Britain was certainly an early adopter. I do not remember ads at cinemas in OZ when I grew up. As to the food, it is weird that cinemas sell some of the noisiest snacks to eat, eh?

      Thanks for commenting Matt!

  2. As a Pastor/Chaplain, I write a blog on WordPress, the free site. I put a disclaimer on the bottom of my blogs, because of the incredibly blatant sexual content of the ads.

    Thanks James for your article.

    • Yes. Ads are often not only annoying but also inappropriate. RUDE. It seems that WordPress must have some settings about adult content? If not, they absolutely should. To be plastered with lewd ads is ghastly for any blog but especially one such as yours.

      Thanks for commenting Ross.

  3. In a few hundred years 1900 to 2000 will be known as The Age of Advertising. I love the name of a famous book about Madison Avenue – THE WANT MAKERS. Because that is exactly what advertising does, what it is for. Though I think Banksy is right… working on commercials was fun and more creative with it’s short schedules and constant hunger for new styles. Maybe we got it all wrong?! Maybe Homo Advertitas was our pinnacle form, leading the herds of Homo ConsummatusHomo SuckasHomo Rubes! Remember what Harry Lime said: ‘Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs – it’s the same thing.’

    • I agree that working on commercials was a lot of fun. It was the first time in my career that I began to truly love the work I was doing, and I learned lot about our craft. It was very telling though that when I tried to show my family the work I was so proud of; they zoned out. And of course they did. Commercials are inherently annoying, as I’ve mentioned here, and we learn to blank them out. They were always simply the cue to make a cup of tea or go to the toilet when I grew up..

      So working on entertainment is much more gratifying. The problem with THAT is only having a new project once every 3-4 years. I think my ideal projects would be of short length and shortish schedules – BUT be entertainment rather than some propaganda for Wall Street.

      Too bad there is nothing akin to a modern Termite Terrace, turning out lots of entertaining animated shorts. I’d hoped that it might have happened somehow in this TikTok/Youtube era, where people are consuming lots of shorts. Sadly it is mostly taken up with influencers etc. Perhaps because computers haven’t yet sped up animated production, nor made it significantly cheaper either. Maybe that will happen sometime though?

      Thanks for reading & commenting Tony!

  4. James! Thoughtful write-up, sir. Love Banksy’s quote stressing the non-consenting aspect of advertising. That said, I mostly enjoyed working on animated :30’s — it was like the ultimate graduate school, with enormous budgets-per-second of screen time. Loved the Coke spots I got to do with Chuck Gammage. But I’m grateful my last ten years in the biz were in service of pre-school TV, my karma cleansed (slightly) by cartoons modeling good behavior (“Be nice! Share your toys! Don’t throw rocks! Etc!”) as opposed to selling whatever corporate biz whizzers decided needed to be sold.

    • Yes, I feel the same way. I had fun and learned a LOT but I’m glad to have moved on to other work. Thank for adding your perspective, George!

  5. My wife and I decided to go alcohol free in 2023 as a challenge. (I totally recognize how fortunate we are to just stop.) It dawned on me over the weekend that we’d crossed the 6 month mark. I mentioned that to Cynthia.

    Next time I checked some social media feeds…I was served ads for alcohol detox programs. I was served ads for bourbon and gin. YouTube pushed videos by people who DID quit because it was a problem in their lives, and I have to assume they were accompanied by ads related to alcohol in some manner.

    Just from saying, “Oh, yeah…we crossed this line. When we’re done, I’ll probably have a martini or a Belgian ale on rare occasions,” and Cynthia saying, “I thought about whiskey a few weeks ago…”

    It’s so invasive.

    While I’m a technical writer, I’ve worked in a marketing group once…and it was eerie. Just how every thought by the people in the group was how to pressure people to buy our services. How we had a tech lab developing a tracking aspect to a travel app the company made that would pick up where people were in airports and present them with ads just shy of, “You’re 20 steps away from the best airport deal in Houston!” with a map to a restaurant or service and a QR code ready to be scanned.

    When I mentioned I found the whole thing odious and wouldn’t work on that project, the rest of the group couldn’t fathom not working on it.

    “It’s the coolest thing we’re developing, and it has value and optics! It’s innovative!”

    It was none of those things…

    • wow YES! Julia & have had similar experiences MANY times. Sitting here at home, working together, we will speak of an obscure topic (such as travel to a specific place we’ve never been to before) and then, BLOOP! ads for those very things will appear on each of our social media feeds.. It is as creepy as hell. Lately I’ve noticed how BRANDING is a thing that everyone talks about. Children are now aware of ‘curating their own brand’. It is becoming very difficult to live an unselfconscious life..

      Thanks for commenting Chris!

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