In the good old days when I still watched normal TV, my brain got to the point where it could filter the ads out. Sure, my eyes were still on the screen, but the people begging me to buy gum or finance a car became just a casserole of colors and sounds that threw off the pacing of The Simpsons. But after college, I spent a couple years watching Netflix or Hulu or YouTube, where you don’t see a lot of ads, and that skill atrophied. Then I went to visit my mother, and when we watched TV, I was unprepared to process … this.
Somewhere along the lines, ad companies realized that they could get away with literally whatever they want. That’s why nobody complains when they tell us a bold-faced lie about …
#5. How Much Your Monthly Bill Will Be
Monthly bills are my enemy. And because they’re paid automatically, on my credit card, they’re a largely invisible enemy, like cholera or David Christopher Bell. So whenever I sign up for something that I’m going to pay for forever, like a new cellphone line or internet service or monthly deliveries of fresh buffalo meat, I carefully negotiate. I do math. I stick that number into my budget. And then, when I get my bill, it is always, every single time, several dollars more than we agreed.
Even worse, they are the very same dollars that I had planned to spend on drugs.
This is by design. Cellphone companies intentionally make their bills so confusing that you don’t know what you’re paying for. Which is why your $69.99 plan ends up costing $86.73 every month. And, sure, if you click that link you’ll discover that AT&T eventually got sued for that shit, but don’t worry: Phone companies figured out other ways to lie to us. Like that time Verizon intentionally overcharged all their customers for years, and no one cared. Or that time the government gave them $2.1 billion in tax breaks to install fiber optics in Pennsylvania, and they didn’t do it. What was their excuse? Haha, it’s adorable that you think they bothered to offer an excuse.
Why This Will Never Change
Getting mad is hard. Reading fine print is also hard. And the whole reason we have cellphones and internet service in the first place is convenience, so putting effort into improving the experience would be, ya know, paradoxical. So instead, we just shake our fists at the heavens and mutter, “Ahh, they got me!” every time we read our bill. “Can you believe this shit?” we ask, perhaps. Or, in extreme cases, all we can muster is a long, raspy, “Ehhhhhhhhhhh …”
#4. How Long Something Will Last
Consumer electronics and prescription medication have exactly two things in common: I use them recreationally even when I’m not supposed to, and they will lie to you about how long they last. Whether it’s a bottle of Tylenol promising “relief for four to six hours” or a laptop battery that’s supposed to last “for your entire road trip,” these are promises that were never even intended to be kept. Listen, label-writers: You can’t lie to me with numbers. The whole reason we invented them was to get around the tricky subversiveness of words. They have an inherent power and must be respected.
Also, I’m pretty sure there are more of them than there are of us.
Now, I know the excuses that some of you are offering. “Those numbers are estimations,” you squawk, “there are a lot of variables here, and it’s hard to measure this stuff accurately.” Really? Is it harder than making a tiny white pill that cures my head pain? Is it harder than building a talking pocket computer that is also a phone, a camera, a GPS, and a sex toy? You’re telling me that scientists built a machine that can take a high-definition photograph of my penis and then use satellites to beam that picture anywhere in the world, from the snowy mountains of Japan to the bustling metropolises of Africa, but they can’t accurately tell me how many times I can do that before I need to plug that phone in? Bullshit, scientists. Bullshit.
When it comes to batteries, there is one explanation I always hear: When they’re measuring the estimated battery life of, say, a laptop, they’re doing it with the screen dimmed and all the apps turned off. OK, fine, but listen: Why? No, seriously, look at me. Look right at me. Stop doing that. Stop it.
Why This Will Never Change
I don’t think anyone important reads my column.
Aside from you, obviously. You’re really important to me.
#3. Whether Something Is “Special Edition,” “Collector’s Edition,” Or No Notable Edition At All
Remember when DVDs first came out and some of them weren’t special editions? The first DVD I ever bought was Shrek — not Shrek: Ogreific Edition or Shrek: R-Rated Director’s Cut; it was just Shrek. With a picture of CGI Scottish Mike Myers on the cover. Back then, the idea of a special edition meant specialness. It meant extra features. Now, it means nothing. It’s gotten so bad that there are some special edition DVDs out there that list “interactive menus” as one of the special features. I’ve seen it. With my own eyes.
Then there’s collector’s editions, which I can’t even begin to decipher. What’s the difference between someone who wants to own movies to watch them, and a “collector”? Am I too much of a peasant to own a collector’s edition because I remove my movies from their plastic wrap? Are there people out there who see the words “collector’s edition” on a DVD and say to themselves, “Finally, the film Gods have deemed it necessary to make a special version specifically for me, The Collector.”
My bidding be done.
It gets to the point where there are so many versions that you don’t even know what you’re buying. Say that you, like any red-blooded American, want to buy a Terminator DVD. Good fucking luck.
There’s twice that many. I ran out of space.
The reviews are full of people complaining about how the version they got has fewer features than earlier versions, but it’s never clear which version they’re talking about. And none of them look like the “special edition” I have:
I bet I got my copy of Terminator for less than you!
Even if you put in the research to figure out which version is for you (and if you look in the Amazon reviews, you’ll see that lots of people have done just that) you may quickly discover that you’re wasting your time, because they’re all the same fucking thing. The 10th Anniversary Edition of Titanic is just the first two discs from the four-disc Collector’s Edition that had come out years earlier. The 30th Anniversary Edition of Bob Marley’s Exodus is just the normal edition of Exodus. Then there’s my 50th Anniversary Edition of Ben-Hur, which offers … a single commentary track. Who do you bridge trolls think you’re trying to fool? We’re the internet. We have eternal eyes and infinite opinions. We see all.
Then we get distracted and don’t do anything about it. That’s kind of our jam.
Why This Will Never Change
Because even though we’re all catching on to this, they’ll soon figure out something else. There are two different versions of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight — a 70mm cut, and a digital projection cut, with the former having six minutes of extra footage as well as an overture and an intermission. But he couldn’t call it a special edition, because “special edition” is tainted language. So he had to call it a 70mm version, which alienates everybody except the kind of people who like to talk about how they’re the kind of people who go to see movies in whatever the hell 70mm is (aside from the length of my penis).
Is that … is that impressive? I genuinely don’t know.
And now Batman V Superman is going to release an R-rated extended cut, which people are going to want to see, because what the fuck does an R-rated Batman movie look like? Though they’d probably get a more enthusiastic reaction if they called it Batman V Superman: The Version That Makes Sense. The point is, we can’t help but fall for extra versions of stuff. Even when they’re stupid riffs on foolish things.
#2. Cover Art Is Always Horse Shit
Behold, the poster for the original Star Wars.
Look at Luke’s chest. These are the pecs of a man who can rip a can of peaches open barehanded.
Also, Leia is clearly Asian.
I’m not going to show you a picture of Mark Hamill’s actual pecs, but rest assured they are not quite so boner-inducing. Also, check this out:
There aren’t that many X-Wings in all seven movies, let alone that first one that was shot on a budget of about $500. This poster is selling a far bigger and more insane story than what we get. I understand it’s a shoutout to a classic style of poster that also lies, but I don’t know why that makes it better. The fact remains that movie posters are a scam that we all agreed to fall for. It’s not technically a problem with Star Wars, since everyone knows what actually happens in Star Wars, and it’s pretty bitchin’. But what about the movies you’ve never heard of?
If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice that nobody wins here: People looking for a cheerful Sally Field movie get a serious political drama, and people looking for a serious political drama end up buying A Bronx Tale …
… which is actually a coming-of-age story involving no explosions that I can remember. Then there’s that time where every version of Layer Cake released after Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond tries to make it look like a James Bond movie, when in reality Craig only adopts the James Bond pose as a joke, in one scene.
I can go all night. There’s also this Secret Of NIMH poster, which deceitfully implies it isn’t going to give your kids every nightmare, for the rest of their lives:
For comparison, here’s a totally normal scene from The Secret Of NIMH that is 100 percent indicative of what the movie is like.
Why This Will Never Change
Because who gives a shit.
#1. Anything (As Long As They Say It Cleverly Enough)
“Caveat emptor” is Latin for “buyer beware” and frequently appears in actual law to describe what lies the purveyors are legally allowed to tell the consumer. Basically, any time you’re reading the back of a can of soup or talking face-to-face with a salesman, there are a certain amount of things they’re saying that you’re supposed to know aren’t true. And they know you know they aren’t true. But they still have to say it, and you still have to pretend to believe them.
Nothing says “honesty” like white dudes in business suits.
I’ve mentioned before how when Apple advertised one of their new iPhones, they said it was “twice as fast for half the price.” Which was a lie. But when they were called out about that, they just explained that this “wasn’t meant to be taken as a statement of fact.” I mocked that as bullshit, but really that was a genuine legal defense for what they were doing: They thought that the consumer was in on their ridiculous bullshit.
“Oh, but that’s the game! That’s how negotiations work; only a total sucker would fall for this stuff!” Well, aren’t you lucky that you aren’t a sucker and somebody taught you the rules. Let me know how “totally fine” this system is next time you take a vacation day to go to a used-car dealership and spend the entire time trying to get a straight answer from the guy before giving up and paying just to end the interaction, because you’re tired and angry and monthly payments are something future you will have to deal with. Don’t pretend you’ve never been there.
Why This Will Never Change
Because this is really only a problem for people like me, who find meeting and talking to new people exhausting. We’re automatically at a disadvantage in any negotiation. And there’s nothing we can do about it, because we don’t know how to bring up our feelings without making it weird.
What do Chuck Norris, Liam Neeson in Taken, and the Dos Equis guy have in common? They’re all losers compared to some of the actual badasses from history whom you know nothing about. Come out to the UCB Sunset for another LIVE podcast, April 9 at 7 p.m., where Jack O’Brien, Michael Swaim, and more will get together for an epic competition to find out who was the most hardcore tough guy or tough gal unfairly relegated to the footnotes of history. Get your tickets here!
See how we’ll let companies get away with anything in The 6 Most Baffling Marketing Disasters By Famous Companies, and find out about the time Nike essentially endorsed murder in The 5 Biggest Disasters In The History Of Marketing (Pt. 4).
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