Monday, September 17, 2007

I Ought To Be Paid For the Way I Spend Money

I'm rethinking my position in the "marketplace" as a consumer. I'd like to start billing my credit company a disposal fee for sending those fake checks -- the ones for amounts like $8.25 that, upon cashing, sign me up for things that require reams of small print to explain. I will never cash one of these stupid rip-off checks; it's more insulting than junk mail because it's junk mail from my own credit card company.

I'd also like iTunes, eBay, Amazon.com, and other big web companies to start paying for my Internet access. Why? Because if I'm not online, then I can't buy stuff from iTunes, eBay, Amazon.com, and other big web companies. And no, I won't sign a contract that says I'll agree to buy x-amount of merchandise this calendar year. No. It should be like Las Vegas where the casino gives me free drinks and comps my hotel room, knowing that I'll drop a bundle in the slots anyway. They merely have to be what Twelve-Step programs call an "enabler."

It's like when I realized that whenever I bought the British music magazine Q on the American newsstand for $9, I was actually spending $9 in order to learn how to spend dozens more: it only led to me buying new CDs. Good for the music labels, good for Q, but it's like a music tax for me, so I stopped buying it unless it came with a free CD glued to cover (which it does at least twice a year). American music magazines ought to do that.

In this commercial culture in which we live today, almost everything involves a trade-off. In the cases where we consumers pay once in order to pay again, or get endlessly saddled with menial tasks (like shredding credit card offers and bogus checks that could end up making indentity theft easier), we need to take control, correct the situation, and make it an even trade once again.

As much as we like to praise ad-skipping technology like Tivo, it works against us in the long run because it forces advertising and marketing to become more covert. It forces product placement to become such an integral part of television programming that many of us stop noticing it. The companies that advertise are seeing consumers get a lop-sided deal, which is bypassing the ads that pay for the programming. They correct that by inserting the ads inside the shows.

What we don't want is a world full of things like popular mystery writer Fay Weldon's The Bulgari Connection, a novel sponsored by the watch company Bulgari. Or chick-lit writer Carole Matthews' novel The Sweetest Taboo, which Ford Motor Company paid for mention in. See? Books are not immune. In this new world, all art becomes mere vehicles for the marketing, promotion, and movement of goods. This lower motive inevitably leads to lower forms of art.

Much of my argument was repugnant to me just a year ago, but my friend Keith's championing of an even more radical idea, wherein consumers sign up for lists to be marketed at by companies they would actually buy from, convinced me that we have a delicate balance in the world of commerce. A balance that consumers can embrace and defend, ignore at their peril, or destroy by weilding the untimate power: not buying anything. What's more conservative than that?

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