Two things you might not have been aware of:
1) The Shorty Awards, which honor "the best of social media," including accolades for a small handful of "arts and entertainment" figures (actor, celebrity, music, dance, comedy, and TV), activists, pro-am internet entertainers (breakout YouTuber, Instagrammer, Twitch streamer, Snapchatter, et al), and about 983 awards for advertising and sneaky marketing campaigns with categorical micro-distinctions that will make blood seep out of your eyes (you will NEVER guess which TWO companies went home with statues in the Midrange Media Buying Strategy category).
2) The actor/writer Adam Pally, who was on the initially very funny TV show The Mindy Project and in a pretty good movie called Band Aid that played at SIFF last year, and does voices for a bunch of stoner cartoons. Not super famous, but more famous than a regular person, and famous enough to be a presenter at the Shortys.
Numbers one and two came together in a most music way when Pally, in the course of the work he'd agreed to do—presumably for pay, but who knows anymore (think of the exposure!)—discovered that he was simultaneously feasting on and serving up a smorgasbord of toxic bullshit. And as has befallen a relatively small handful of professional entertainers, he broke character and acknowledged the abomination in real time, by mocking it, as a comedian might.
It probably helped, or hurt, that Pally appeared obviously intoxicated, as was, presumably, everyone else within cringing distance of that room.
He kept up mocking the proceedings until he was led offstage by a representative of the show.
The AV Club and several other outlets reported on his momentary lapse:
"Pally took the stage to present the award for Best Overall Instagram, his shirt collar unbuttoned and the dull sheen of a man who has lost even the memory of what hope used to feel like in his eyes, and proceeded to mercilessly tear into the entire concept behind the Shorty Awards, as well as several of the evening’s honorees. 'Thank you for having me at the Shorty Awards, the waiting-at-the-DMV of award shows'"
Pretty good line. But, to cite the name of a finalist in the Teen Activism category at the sixth annual Shortys, it gets better:
"Some choice lines: 'I think a career highlight will be when I am done'; 'Once again, I’m giving an award to a company. I’m 36.'; 'Remember that winner who said that she was in college for engineering but she dropped out to play video games?… She thinks it worked out for her, but in six months she’ll be trying to get back into that school'; 'If you want me to host next year, hard pass'; 'Delete my account? God, I wish I could'; and, most succinctly, 'This is hell.'"
Obviously, this story is born for web media (hiiiiiiii...) and it's also very easy to take the contrarian view that no one forced Pally to be on that stage. As Super Chicken reminds us, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.
But sweet Jesus Christ. Please look at a few of these categories and then try not to be on Pally's side.
This awards show has apparently been going on for 10 years, giving recognition to a small number of legitimately creative and noteworthy human beings, while rewarding a massively greater number of people and companies that profit from the collective decline of humanity. I don't believe the Koch Brothers or Halliburton have scored any Shortys, but then again, Koch and Halliburton don't need you to believe that what they do is admirable or worthy of being mistaken for art.
The Shortys "honor" a lot of "content" of the year, including Emoji (Unicorn), GIF (Blinking White Man), and Meme (Distracted Boyfriend); but they also conflate things like the Best Auto Industry Campaign (who can forget the magic of Audi of America's magical Spider-Man Driver's Test?) with Best Social Activism Campaign (#TakeAKnee... speaking of which, did everyone know an ad agency—or rather a "content innovation studio"—called WP Narrative takes credit for that hashtag? Or that anyone, anywhere takes credit for hashtags? Or feels comfortable standing in front of the athletes who took and continue to take such heroic risks and pay such an exorbitant price for actually taking those knees?).
To the industries represented by the Shortys, the meaningful difference between the activism component of internet expression and, say, the penetration of Tumblr by Denny's is quantity, not quality. This is a show that puts the "marketplace" back in marketplace of ideas.
And Adam Pally's short-lived candor notwithstanding, the Shortys seem to be very much in keeping with what politicians like to call the national character. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the world of 2038 looked a lot more like the Shortys than like, oh, the Pulitzers or even the Golden Goddamn Globes.
It already does.
Corporate marketing has come a long way in the past 20 years. Public skepticism, or dare one suggest, objection to it seems to rest between marginal and zero. Ralph Nader got more votes. It appears to be the price we pay for our supposedly free entertainment, all those stolen songs and old lost TV shows on YouTube, our online selves, our urban vistas. What, you want those billboards to just sit there NAKED?
(I mean, obviously I get it. It used to bother me a lot when I was younger. I would rail against it at every opportunity, and it was tiresome as hell for everyone around me and it changed nothing. Now I just hate it and keep my seething to myself, generally.)
But Pally's gunning of the rantlet got me wondering again about the individual and collective effects of being constantly bombarded with so much cynical persuasion, every instant of our conscious and unconscious and subconscious lives. How to account for the pervasive acceptability of an action that is only ever done to people, never for them, unless they're a paying client.
If pressed, I'd have to say I intuitively believe that the unexamined omnipresence of marketing is a big part of why so many Americans were unable to distinguish between Donald Trump and a legitimate presidential candidate. It's a big part of why the distinction between representative democracy and market capitalism keeps shrinking. It's a big part of why humans are forever describing themselves as brands. It's a big part of why you start putting air quotes around objectionable words and phrases like "on-brand" and then eventually just admit that it's basically what you're trying to say and the English language can go fuck itself, again. It's a big part of why "creative" is now an acceptable noun. It's a big part of why the ability to perceive layers of meaning in figurative language has eroded. It's a big part of why "marketplace of ideas" sounds like a perfectly reasonable, literalistic metaphor to use, as though the only way to grapple with something as complex and essential as an idea is to convert it into a material commodity.
Or maybe that's all ridiculous hyperbole. I obviously can't prove any of it. Nor can I stop seeing it.
Maybe the astronomical rise of marketing in direct proportion to the decline of many of the industries it was created to promote is just the way life goes. The social media age has had some moderate benefit for certain groups of people, but its chief value has been to the advertising and marketing industries.
The onset of what Dr. Shoshanna Zuboff has memorably described as surveillance capitalism exists primarily to grant these industries more thorough, detailed, and accurate information about how the artists formerly known as autonomous human beings really operate— the better to achieve the longtime goal of influencing, and ideally commanding, human behavior before it reaches the stage of conscious will.
They're getting closer.
I have no difficulty anticipating the arguments that having a strong aversion to marketing is just a cranky old person thing from the '90s, or that marketing is actually a necessary tool for creative people to build audiences for their work, or that, jeez, I don't know, my livelihood is directly paid for by advertising revenue. All essentially true, if also partly false in terms of carts leading horses, but nevertheless. Fair point.
(PS Unexamined omnipresent marketing is also why people argue the way they do online.)
At the very least, can we not agreethat marketing has been culturally "normalized"? That it has evolved away from being a job (like so many jobs) that serious people were slightly embarrassed about admitting they had to do for a living and toward being considered not only a totally legitimate, even desirable career, but a vocation? A passion? An art form?
Maybe it is. Maybe everything can be true. I don't begrudge anyone the need to make some kind of living. Surely we don't need more ways to make people feel bad about what they do to keep their house and home . But don't we reserve some opprobrium for factory farmers? Patent trolls? Arms dealers? Oil executives? Landlords? Lobbyists? Trump appointees?
Maybe that's just more hyperbole. But whenever this subject comes up I'm reminded of this now 25-year-old hunk of comedy, which expresses a far more aggro worldview than my own, and still sounds pretty bold: