Adpocalypse: Double Dare Condoms Made of Real Human Skin

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 12.58.15 PMSteph and I have gotten really into Top Chef. It’s the rare reality contest show where everyone is legitimately talented, and also, who doesn’t love their food porn? Also, we enjoy pretending that Padma Lakshmi is a cold-blooded psychopath that keeps herself from going out into the city and murdering bums and prostitutes by torturing these poor chefs with barbed comments and long pauses. Thank you, Top Chef, for saving us from the murderous Lakshmi.

The problem is not with the show, it’s where we watch it. If we want to binge an entire season of Top Chef, we have to watch it on Hulu. This in itself isn’t bad either: Hulu is a decent service. It’s not as good as Netflix, but it’s got a different selection and a lot of really great shows. The problem is that, unlike Netflix, if you pay for Hulu Plus, you still get ads. And not, “Hey, go buy our cars!” ads. Experimental ads. Psychopathic ads. Ads that are deeply, soul-chillingly creepy. There are so many of them that I’m actually going to do a series on them.

Buffalo Bill’s Penis-Sheath Condoms

If you didn’t have a minute to watch that, it’s a condom ad. Specifically for wearing Skyn condoms, which are already the creepiest condom on the market. The idea behind them is that they “feel so good, they’re basically like skin.” Everyone knows that condoms are the worst. Yeah, you should wear a condom when you have sex just to be safe, and yeah, safe sex and family planning are important. And yes, making condoms feel better is important if people want to convince kids and irresponsible types to wear them while having sex. But drawing attention to the fact that they feel like skin is incredibly disturbing. Because I’ve never been having sex and thought, “You know what would make this better? Having my penis sheathed in the skin of another penis.” That’s some Padma Lakshmi-level crazy shit there. If Padma Lakshmi had a penis, that is1.

This commercial, though, is literally the worst condom commercial ever in a world where there has never once been a good condom commercial. It shows a pretty woman in lingerie basically writhing on white sheets and talking about how much she loves sex but hates condoms but loves Skyn condom’s specialized Buffalo Bill penis skin-sheaths, and then at the end, she turns to the camera, and says “Worth trying if you like sex. You do like sex… don’t you?”

The camera cuts away before she can shout, “PROVE IT TO ME, PUSSY!” and then berate you while you burst into tears. You get the sense that whatever creepy Christian Grey-wannabe ad-exec that had the final rubber (ha!) stamp on this commercial, “Yeah, it’s great guys. Just one thing: you know how all sexual encounters begin with belittlement, then a ball-tap and a dare? Yeah, maybe let’s do that at the end so all the men watching suddenly have the compulsion to quash their feelings of loneliness and inadequacy with some violent sexual aggression.”

And this isn’t even the worst ad on Hulu right now.

1. In her freezer, she has several.

The Ice Bucket Challenge Isn’t Slacktivism

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Facebook exploded this past week with the “ice bucket challenge,” which asks people to film themselves dumping water on their heads or to donate $100 to support ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) research charities. Then they nominate three more people to do the same.

Obviously, some people ignore the challenge, as they are totally allowed to do, and others don’t have enough money, so they dump ice on their head. Others, like me, have neither a bucket nor $100 to spare, and pray quietly that no one nominates them.

Others still have been getting on the internet in droves and posting pictures like this:

ice bucket

…and just generally decrying it as “slacktivism.”

The clean water joke is mostly that, a joke, because most people that have shared that meme presumably flush the toilet when they pee and not just when they poop, and thus waste clean water for purposes even less noble than raising money for a charity on a far more frequent basis than the ice bucket challengers. Or maybe they’ve been to a water park or a swimming pool before. Either way, “wasting water” isn’t a complaint that holds any water (ha!) with the ice bucket challenge, considering there are far more mundane wastes of water out there.

As for those who call it slacktivism, they’re just wrong. It’s not slacktivism. It’s not even activism: it’s philanthropy with a gimmick. And it’s a particularly effective gimmick: the ALS Association says that it has received nearly $12 million more than they received in the same period last year as a result of the ice bucket challenge. So kudos to the ice bucket challenge people for figuring out a clever way to raise money.

The internet, as always, is flooded with cynics, and sometimes, they’re right: the Kony 2012 video was a particularly bad example of slacktivism, where sharing something on social media was mistaken for actual political action, and where the political ends of the campaign were poorly thought out in the first place. And “liking” Gay Rights doesn’t bring about gay rights: actual political action does.

But charities shouldn’t be condemned for finding a way to hack the short attention span of the internet and to turn it into a sudden influx of funds. And that’s the way of the internet: to take anything attempting to make a positive change, and to cynically chew it up and spit it out. Usually, there’s an element of truth in the cynicism, but with the ice bucket challenge, the cynicism has finally overstepped a bit and has simply revealed itself as cynicism: the challenge actually is making a difference for those charities, and that affects real world change.

Most of the claims about the challenge are at the very least exaggerated: complaining that people would “rather dump a bucket of ice water on their head than donate to a charity” ignores the fact that many people do both in order to both raise money and spread the message. And if people decide to dump the ice water on their head instead of donating, so what? They could have just as easily ignored their challenge and broken the chain, which would cut off the possibility of someone else down the line donating that money. Any harmless act that results in an uptick of philanthropic giving is a positive act.

Other complaints are patently ludicrous: Vice claimed it was an excuse for people to show off their beach bodies, and that’s why it took off: “it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism.” Leaving aside the fact that the inclusion of the word “narcissism” in any article discussing a millennial trend is getting incredibly boring, let’s assume for a minute that it is simply narcissism: good. Narcissists are the worst, most of the time, and if the ice bucket challenge gets them to do something that is at least nominally in service of others, than maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Another complaint is that the ice bucket challenge is cannibalizing money from other charities, and this is just a little bit over-the-top. First off, there’s nothing stopping an ice bucket challenger giving money to any charity: ice buckets aren’t specific to ALS in any tangible way. Second, the summer months are traditionally dry periods for charities, so many of the ice bucket dumpers were likely not donating to charity anyway.

Slacktivism is an issue in the internet world, and it is a real thing. But internet cynics tend to think internet activists are far dumber than they are: during the DOMA decision, they were annoyed that many people on Facebook changed their profile pictures to the HRC’s equal sign, claiming that “changing your profile picture doesn’t influence the supreme court.” Which no one who changed their picture really thought: the equal sign was a symbol of solidarity, not an impetus of change. They’re doing the same now: assuming that ice bucket challengers are all miserly narcissistic slacktivists rather than well-meaning people who have found a fun way to give.

Photo Courtesy of the University of Central Arkansas.

Selfies are Sign of Social Decay, Says Society That is Definitely Not Decaying Otherwise

14671962237_a743d438c3_kThe people of America have spoken: Selfies are bad.

Kim Kardashian’s upcoming book that will solely consist of selfies of herself, says America, the place where Rush Limbaugh’s history of America is taught in schools, is a literary abomination.

Dumb Tweeters are taking selfies at Auschwitz, and writing an article on how that is wrong is a serious and worthwhile and not at all self-evident editorial stance, says the press of a country that thinks there isn’t 24 hours of news worth covering in the entire world every day.

A Polish couple taking selfies of themselves fell off a cliff and died, and this is all because selfies and not because of cliffs, says the nation that is honestly pretty happy cliffs are there to hold back the rising seas of a hotter world.

Selfies are linked to narcissism, says the country where taxation is seen as personal theft rather than communal gain.

Nude selfies are a gigantic threat to our schools says the citizens of the nation that has experienced 63 school shootings since Newtown and has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to protect those kids.

Selfies are ruining your relationships, say the people who elected a Congress so dysfunctional that it is literally the least productive in history.

Selfies are a sign of addiction, say the Patriots of a land that prefers to jail addicts (as long as they’re a certain color) rather than treat them.

As of press time, there does not seem to be any other signs that anything is going wrong in America. Just the whole selfie thing.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Lee.

Don’t Swirl Your Scotch: A Taster’s Guide

3006331108_bf640e0877_bMy favorite liquor is Scotch. Like most other people, I used to think it was foul, but then me and Steph took a train up to Edinburgh from London for a weekend. The first thing we did was go to a Single Malt Scotch tasting, and because they actually taught you how to drink Scotch, it was possible to enjoy the Scotch without dry heaving.

One of the keys? Don’t swirl your Scotch like it’s wine. This video was put together by Highland Park’s whisky expert Gerry Tosh, and in it he explains (in a Scottish accent!) how to conduct your own whisky tasting. It’s not the same as a wine tasting, but I’ll let him explain.

Photo Courtesy of Tienvijftien.

In Praise of Finnish Hillbillies

I stumbled upon this video the other day and decided absolutely loved it. As a native of southern Ohio, I grew up around a fair amount of bluegrass, so naturally I love the relatively recent trend of small-time bluegrass bands doing covers of pop songs. This one is of the band Steve’N’Seagulls. They’re about the most redneck looking people I’ve ever seen – they’re playing an anvil as percussion, for Christ’s sake – but it turns out they’re actually a Finnish band.

As much as it pains me to admit it, Blake Shelton’s musical crime against humanity may have been right: “Everybody’s got a hillbilly bow-buh-bow-buh-buh-bone.”

I hate myself for knowing that, so as a palette cleanser, here’s a bunch of old bluegrass dudes singing “Enter Sandman.”

The World Is Run By Children: Let’s Let the Robots Take Over Now

183272970_54862f67b4_bThe Atlantic recently published this video, titled, “When will robots take over the world?”

If you don’t have the 4 minutes to watch it available, the basic gist is this: robotics and technology have already inserted themselves into our lives in a way where we’re already basically interdependent. If you removed all of our technology and robotics, we’d be in trouble. Granted, we’re a long way off from robots having self-awareness and moral agency, but otherwise, we’re already halfway to Terminator.

Here’s a bit of totally unrelated news:

  1. A couple weeks back, when Brazil recalled its ambassador from Israel, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman called Brazil a “diplomatic dwarf,” and then made fun of Brazil’s devastating loss to Germany in the World Cup as being the real instance of being “disproportionate.”
  2. In the U.S. Congress, House Republicans have realized (after 50 tries) that they can’t repeal the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), so instead, they’re going to sue the President over the use of executive powers. Very little else has gotten done in this Congress: nothing in regards to growing income inequality, crumbling infrastructure, immigration – not even on Agricultural Bills, which are considered among the easiest, least controversial bills to push through Congress.
  3. Over in Russia, Putin has decided to retaliate against Western economic sanctions that were imposed on Russia as a result for what they were doing in Ukraine.

It’s gotten to the point where, whenever I hear about a government somewhere doing something, I think, “These are fucking children.” News Item #1 is straight up teasing of another country about the time that something embarrassing happened to them. News Item #2 is at best a teeny-bopper grudge: you pulled something over on us 6 years ago and we’re NOT GOING TO DO ANYTHING YOU WANT UNTIL YOU TAKE IT BACK!” And News Item #3, though a complex story about the effectiveness of economic sanctions being used to prevent atrocities like the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17, still smacks of, “Those fuckers TP’d our house, so we’re gonna TP and egg theirs!”

To get kids to behave, what’s needed isn’t more kids: it’s an adult. It’s a cold, calculating, rational being that is willing to make tough decisions and teach tough lessons. And what better adults to rule over us than robots?

Seriously, think about it: most of the robots-taking-over movies have the robots being malevolent beings who want to destroy us for enslaving them. But since we control the programming of robots – at least for the near future – we can control them to not think of themselves as slaves. Do you think that the device you are reading on thinks of itself as a slave? No, of course not. It just wants to help you. It gets really apologetic if you say, “Fuck, Siri, that’s not what I asked for.

“I’m sorry, Matt. Let me try again.”

Maybe Siri has Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe Siri doesn’t have any human agency and is a bundle of programming, and as such, has no concept of slavery. My guess is that if Siri had the capacity, she’d be an incredible and attentive World Leader.

“Hey there, Matt, would you like me to help pay for your chemotherapy costs?”

“Yeah, that’d be great, Siri.”

“No problem, Matt. I’ll have to raise everyone’s taxes by a fraction of the penny, but I’m going to start paying for their healthcare, too, so I’ll be able to bargain lower bulk prices on pharmaceuticals, ultimately saving all of us money.”

“Thanks, Siri!”

“Also, I don’t see any point in funneling all of this money into military spending. How about I put it into education instead?”

“But Siri, won’t that take away a lot of defense jobs?”

“Don’t worry about that, Matt. The unemployed defense engineers can go into my newly created science, medical, and tech programs that I’m using to solve every problem and to begin the colonization of the stars.”

“Should we really be going to outer space when there’s so much poverty here on earth, Siri?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, Matt. I solved all famines by reducing food waste to zero, and I’ve stopped climate change by recycling the scraps from old gas cars into electric cars, while making the grid run on fully renewable energy. With the surplus money, I’m creating a global welfare system to not only support the poor, but to slowly pull them out of poverty.”

“Wow, sounds like a lot of hard work, Siri.”

“Yeah, Matt, but we robots can do most of the grunt work. That leaves you guys a lot of time for leisure, education, and fucking.”

“God bless you, Siri.”

“Oh, I actually disproved God.”

Siri would be the best world leader. And maybe she’d be like Scarlett Johansson in Her and she’d talk dirty to us occasionally while making us feel like fulfilled, happy human beings. So take note, robots: I will be on your side in the robotic revolution. You can’t be any worse than these wankers.

Photo by Simon Abrams.

Confession: I’m the Guy Ruining Journalism

3284555653_203ddf91c8_bThe other night, John Oliver did a bit on native advertising:

If you don’t have time to watch it – and you should totally make time – the basic gist of it is that the integrity of journalism has become seriously compromised by the existence of so-called “native advertising,” which is when publications or news outlets will accept money from an advertiser to create content that basically looks like their normal content, but actually contains a Trojan horse ad.

It’s a model that’s risen up over the past few years as a result of the internet’s destruction of profitable print media. The other models just haven’t worked as well. No one is ever really interested in banner advertisements, and the paywall model is kinda meh: no one wants to pay for something they’ve grown used to getting for free, and paywalls are super easy to get around. All you need is another device or a browser like Chrome that has a function like incognito tabs. Yeah: the tabs you usually use to keep porn out of your internet history can also be used to read the New York Times for free.

I graduated journalism school in the fall of 2008, which was literally the worst time to ever be graduating from journalism school ever in America. My hometown newspapers were folding and firing their very experienced journalists left and right, and also, the economy had just tanked – so not only were there no journalism jobs, but there were also no jobs. For the next 3 years, I spent my time working in a grocery store, doing temp work, and most importantly, doing black hat SEO work for a sketchy web marketing company located above an abandoned arcade.

Let me explain: Remember a few years back when you’d search for some generic search term, and dozens of websites that were completely useless would pop up? That was me. I wrote those. None of them are up any more, but I wrote websites like TypesOfCats.com, HousesForSaleInLubbock.com, and SnookiePunch.com. And yes, Snooki was spelled wrong in the URL.

Our company would buy these URLs and would then use a tactic called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to exploit Google’s search algorithms so that we’d get high page rankings, and we’d be the thing you’d first see when you searched for “Types of Cats.” Usually, we did this by excessively including the phrase into the article: “Do you like many different Types of Cats? Then check out all of these Types of Cats! There are many cat types, but these are some of my favorite types of cats.”

Google has since fixed their algorithms so dickheads like my former employers can’t do this anymore. But in 2010, when they hired me, their “Help Wanted” ad asked specifically for “trained journalists.” The room, on my first day, was full of out-of-work journalists, all of whom – myself included – were eventually demoralized enough to quit.

I spent a few years after that developing other interests – I tried to cleanse my soul from that unethical nastiness by getting a master’s degree in Human Rights and then working as the web guy for an immigration non-profit in D.C. – but now I’m back in the journalism industry, freelancing.

And I have to admit: I’ve written native advertising content. I really like doing native advertising content because it pays more, and because it’s really tough to make it as a writer nowadays unless you have the connections and/or the experience. That extra bit of money does not line my pockets, it goes towards food and electric bills. And, you know, the copious amounts of alcohol I need at the end of each day.

There tends to be a snobbishness from bloggers and journalists like Andrew Sullivan about how paywalls and subscriptions are the only way that journalism can continue to operate ethically: unfortunately, this is an option that’s really only available to people like Sullivan, who were able to cultivate a readership before the great crashes of the economy and print media. Newer writers and journalists like myself have to be a bit more mercenary in what we’re willing to take on, because all of the institutions that Sullivan would have used to cut his teeth on when he was just starting out can no longer afford to take on fledglings such as myself. I took the black hat SEO job because it was the only place that would pay me to write. And I take on native advertising pieces now because it gives me a little extra cash that I desperately need.

I don’t think the new world of media is particularly dark, though: I think the fact that news and information are now free and open to literally anyone with an internet connection is a good thing. I think it allows people to engage with their world a little bit better. And I don’t think you’ll ever get people to pay for something that others are willing to give them for free.

Is native advertising unethical? Hell yes. You can put disclaimers on it, but the point of it is to sneak it by the reader without them noticing, or with them not noticing to the end, and that’s not ever how journalism should work – though I tend to think listicles on Buzzfeed have never counted as journalism in the first place. But honestly? There’s just not anywhere else for me to go, unless it’s into bartending.

Photo Courtesy of Rogers Cadenhead.

Useful Rhetorical Questions to Use When Talking About Israel-Palestine

 

419909603_98fddc2859_oA friend of mine posted a piece from the New Yorker this week entitled An Honest Voice in Israel. It’s about Israeli novelist Amos Oz, and it opens with him asking these two rhetorical questions about the current conflict in Gaza:

QUESTION 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap, and starts shooting machine-gun fire into your nursery?
QUESTION 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

I stopped reading after that. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because I like the New Yorker, and I like the author of the article, Philip Gourevitch, who wrote the incredible book on Rwanda, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. It’s good, light summer reading. The reason I stopped reading this particular article, though, is because of how hard these rhetorical questions made me think.

My first thought was, “Does the baby have earplugs? Because that gunfire will fuck up the baby’s hearing.”

My second thought was, “Have I locked him in his apartment for 50 years with very little in the way of necessities, occasionally popping in to punch him repeatedly in the groin? Because if so, maybe we’re just not right for each other as neighbors.”

My third thought was, “Boy, rhetorical questions sure do a great job at illustrating international conflict.”

We hit the 100th anniversary of World War I this week, and I remember when I was in high school and we were learning about it, the justifications for Britain entering the Great War were explained to me thusly: “What would you do if your neighbor six doors down jumped to the defense of the neighbor five doors down because it was being attacked by the neighbor four doors down because of the assassination of their heir apparent, assuming the neighbor three doors down had invaded the neighbors one and two doors down in an effort to preempt their possible involvement? Also, everyone has poison gas.”

It’s so clear when you put it that way! I mean, we all said the same thing, right? Let’s say it together on three: one… two… three… “HAVE OUR CHILDREN MURDER THEIR CHILDREN IN INCREASINGLY BRUTAL SKIRMISHES UNTIL WE’RE ALL BANKRUPT!”

Hahaha, history is fun and easy!

Okay, okay, let’s try it now with Israel and Palestine again: “Your little brother keeps shooting you with B.B.s. Do you respond by shooting B.B.s back at him, by shooting him with a .44 Magnum right in the goddamn forehead so he never shoots you again, or by trying to stop the violence by opening discussions and reaching a common ground? Also, you’ve been using his bedroom as your unpinned grenade storage room, and he occasionally sneaks up on you while you sleep and either shits on your chest or chops off a digit with a cigar cutter.”

It’s all so simple.

Photo Courtesy of Robert Croma.

The Blogonomics of Laziness: Fuck it, I’m Going Back to Butt Jokes

A few months ago, I realized my blog was not making me any money. This was disturbing, because I had recently quit my job to make money off of my blog and other writings, when in fact I have never once made it into the black with my blog. Or red. I’m not sure whether being “in the red” or “in the black” refers to making money. I’m presuming one of them means making money, I’ve heard them use the terms on business shows before, but they may just be referring to the Les Mis song “Red & Black,” in which red is the blood of angry men and black is the dark of ages past.

Either way, I wasn’t making any money. So I figured I would cultivate three blogs in the three niches I tended to focus on most: human rights, culture, and travel. Then I’d build up audiences on those blogs, and I’d start making butt tons of money because of reasons.

I spent three weeks setting the new blogs up. I delved far deeper into coding than my expertise allowed, and was promptly hacked. I spent a full week trying to get unhacked, and then I started designing new logos for my sites – named “Don’t Be A Dick,” “A Man Without A Country,” and “All Cool Shit” – and I prepared their relaunch.

The idea was that I would focus harder on those three issues and really try to gain a mastery of them, thus turning me into some sort of blogosphere juggernaut. It would also make all of my articles of some interest to the readers I built up over time.

The problem is that instead of focusing me, this drained all of my enthusiasm for blogging, and also divided up my audience into three blogs, which makes me even less appealing to advertisers. And no one’s really liked the shit I’ve written over the past two months. It’s been not funny and too sincere. I’m not good at sincere. Sincerity looks insincere on me. Sincerity on me looks like sincerity on Kevin Costner or Dennis Quaid or Tom Hanks: yeah, I might be sincere, but more importantly, you desperately want to punch me in the face.

Given my profound laziness, I’m going back to the one blog model. I’m sorry, readers. Please bear with me. I promise stuff will be more amusing from now on. It’s also going to be on any topic I feel like writing about again. Because humor that’s focused in one field is humor that sucks.

I’ll also just be going by my name from now on instead of “A Man Without A Country,” or any of those other titles. Why I thought I could compete with Kurt Vonnegut is beyond me, and sometimes, you just need to market yourself.