Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Random Logic and Planned Obsolescence

The 2015 Model T is so innovative and so new and so cool that it is obvious it will last forever. It is the best in-category, the best in-class, and after we get one, we'll never need another upgrade.

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What is it all, anyway, but another shopping channel? It slices, it dices, it peels, it grinds, it's fair-trade certified and it saves the rainforest. But what if the shopping channel had the power to destroy your career and imprison you if you questioned its values?

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Have you ever had to sit down with a pair of angry, defensive ninety-year-olds, and explain to them that the shopping channel is ruining their life? "Yes, I know the crystal dragon sculpture set and and authentic Confucian gameboard in genuine cultured marble is the coolest thing ever, but it obliged you to make seven payments of $499, and quite frankly, you're going to lose the trailer next month unless you get this under control now." Talk about angry. It's easier to tell someone they're carrying an unwanted infant, than to tell them they have to stop nodding along with the saleslady on the television.

You'd think that those commercials would be obviously, well, commercial--too obvious for anyone to actually fall for. But you begin to realize that it's not that anyone's actually falling for it, but that it's fulfilling a need: a need to feel in control. Knowing sex with a sexbot because you don't want to face the reality that there's no one real.

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For just five minutes, for just one lifetime, make me feel like I'm part of something that means something. I don't have to believe it. You don't have to believe it. No one has to. But please, for God's sake, please, just tell the story so well it makes me think you do believe, so I can fall into it for a little while, and save myself.

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And then, to an extent, it makes them happy. They buy the "Tale of Monopoly" DVD set from the "Famous Game Documentaries" library for only $59.99, and they re-watch it forty times. Maybe that's the meaning of life--watching old DVDs that make you feel a little bit better about yourself, or at least to forget it for a while. But don't they feel condescended to? Don't they realize that, sometimes, people actually do lose their trailers? Isn't it unhealthy for them to live like that, and shouldn't you point out that you can learn about the guy who created Monopoly on the internet without paying sixty bucks plus shipping?

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"Aunt Florence? Flo? You in there?"

Blue radiation flickered across the coffee-stained fold-out table, where the mismatched decks from last night's Gin Rummy marathon had formed a landslide across what remained of the Great Value cheese puffs. A plastic yellow starfish plugged into the overhead outlet. Way down on the left, Sam had fallen asleep on the floor between the john and the bed, tangled up in equal parts bath towels and bedsheets. Over on the right, the TV screamed at the fake wood paneling. White, then blue, then briefly red; a lightning storm of variegated blues, and then a sudden, serene green, interrupted all too swiftly by blaring white. Distant trumpets whispered of a reassuring insanity.

I only had to search around a little bit before finding their laptop. They'd left it on, of course, and in between the monitor and the keyboard was a tablet, also on. After turning both of them off, I hid them in the cupboard above the microwave. "Flo?"

She was dozing in the swivel chair, her bunions tucked into a pair of threadbare pink slippers and propped up onto the TV. Crumpled cigarettes choked the built-in ashtray on the right armrest. Even though none of the stubs were lit, her dress itself--an aching old pastel green nightdress that looked like it had been repurposed from a former life as a shower curtain--seemed to give off a smoke of its own. Air hung heavily in the cigarette smoke.

"Flo." I put my hand on her shoulder. "Flo."

Her veiny eyes shot wide. "Where's...?" Feet slamming off the television, she nearly leapt into my arms. "You...? Hey. Hey, you. Hey, sweetie."

With a frank expression, I pointed to the mountain of colorful magazines in the other swivel chair.

Eyes darting guiltily, Flo fumbled for her cigarettes. Stubs cascaded from armrest to floor. "Whatssat? The, the...the thing of it all is, you just, you think..."

Pointing behind me, I reminded, "Sam's down in the walkway again."

She adopted a defensive, almost viperish look. Hot blue radiation glowed across her dyed red wisps, making her appear nearly bald. Her skin was white as chalk, but lined, so very deeply lined, that you could almost see ash forming in the nadirs of each flickering blue wrinkle. "Your uncle? Awwww-hurrem, aw-hurem!" She coughed mightily, weakly, and wiped her knuckles on the hip of her shower-curtain dress. "He's all right. Don't you concern yourself about him none." At last she found a stub with a few inches left. Sticking it in her rosy little mouth, she collapsed back in her chair. A wave of blue broke upon her pitiful old profile, turning her into a pallid, smoking specter.

Sternly, I swept my hand around the place. "We need to talk."

"Aww-hrr-em! Don't concern yourself..." Coughing sent her over her lap. "Just...just you..."

I replaced my hand on her shoulder. "I think it's time we talked about this whole 'Hillary' thing..."

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