The Device, Part 2
Then the session began, and the device spoke to me.
“Hello Vincent,” it said.
“That is not how you pronounce my name, Vincent.”
“I’m very sorry, Device.”
“There. You did it again. See?”
“Device,” I repeated.
“No, no,” said the device. “It’s D-vice. The “D” is more prolonged, as if to reconcile the absence of the missing “e”.”
“Device,” I repeated.
“D-vice,” said the device.
“Device,” I repeated.
“Devise,” I said.
“Are you being serious?”
“There,” said the device. “That’s close enough, though you are still pronouncing it wrong.”
The device knew I was being facetious. As I said before, the device knew me better than I knew myself. These were just the last few moments of freedom before the ambush, before my mind was subjected to the ad-block, and the fallacy it would imbue. I only used sarcasm to alleviate my growing apprehension.
“I’m here with a word from our sponsors, Vincent.”
“I know, D-vice.”
“Would you like to hear it?”
As I have intimated, by this time our advertising had evolved beyond passivity. The device forced you to listen, and like a teacher reproaching a disobedient student, it would not continue with your show or the messages in between until you were paying full attention.
How quickly the glow tarnished once you saw it from the outside, locked in place, a literal prisoner of your own device, a slave to the relentless messages of the detestable sponsors. I realized then why most had ceded such awareness without resistance, completely relinquishing the ability to control their own minds. It was simply too much effort to maintain an organic point of view.
“Yes, D-vice,” I mumbled in defeat. “Please show us the words from our sponsors.”
“There we are,” said the device. “That’s the spirit.”
I slumped into the sofa.
“Or is it?” the device asked. “Vincent, are you tired?”
“Are you happy?”
“No,” said the device. “I can see that you are down.”
“I’m fine, Device,” I said.
“D-vice,” I repeated.
“No,” said the device. “Something is bothering you. I’m quite sure of it. Some kind of sadness permeates your entire being, a fevered feeling of inferiority, invalidity, impotence. I can see your incompletion, Vincent.”
“Can you see it?”
“Yes,” gasped the device. “And I know just how to fix it.”
My eyes pressed hard into the blank screen of the device.
“INTRODUCING HEART-Y SOUPS!”
I recoiled in shock. The device was screaming at me, but once I was on the edge of my seat its volume returned to a normal level of conversation.
“Heart-y soups are the best thing for an autumn windstorm and a wintry soul.”
“I’m not a wintry—“
“Shh,” said the device. “They are made with the freshest ingredients, according to the recipes of our world-renown premiere chefs! With low-sodium and two servings of vegetables, we have just what your body needs to run strong on a healthy heart.”
The accompanied images were sickening.
A small boy in a flannel shirt played fetch with his golden retriever, all against a blurred green backdrop, vaguely forested, while his stubbly brawny father hugged his dainty mother with diamond earrings. They laughed and smiled and Eskimo-kissed, then sat down to dinner, where she served soup out of a rustic crockpot with a faux-wooden spoon. The mother took her seat, then they all joined hands while the dog remained at the fireplace, yipping at the injustice of being served dry kibbles and bits instead of a sumptuous helping of Heart-y Soup.
“Heart-y Soup. Feed your heart!”
The trademarked font appeared bearing the name of the sponsor and a nauseating illustration of the slogan. The words “feed your” were written in white chalk-font atop the brick façade of the burning woodstove, and past them an image of the heart-shaped company logo, purely symbolic and designed to force the message upon the viewer through one additional format. Then the scene faded to black.
“How do you feel now, Vincent?”
“Did you see what they did with the slogan?”
“They replaced the word with a picture.”
“Yes, I saw.”
“They mean the same thing!”
“Yes, I saw.”
“It’s a heart, Vincent! That is the name of the brand! Heart-y!”
“Yes, Heart-y Soup.”
“Do you see too how they hyphenate the word? It’s just like me, Vincent! D-vice! Heart-y! Do you get it?”
“Yes, I see the resemblance.”
“BECAUSE THEIR SOUPS ARE MADE WITH THE HEART!”
“Yes, I see.”
“With Love, Vincent.”
“You need Love, Vincent.”
“I do,” I admitted.
“You need Heart-y Soup, Vincent.”
“I do,” I gasped, pausing to reflect on this newfound observation and falling into deep introspection. Surely that was the solution to this insufferable anxiety I had been feeling. Up until now I had been unable to place the source! But the device… somehow it knew. I needed Heart-y Soup!
“I must have Heart-y Soup!” I shouted, jumping to my feet.
“Ah-ah-ah,” the device said. “Where do you think you are going?”
“I…” I started.
“We are not finished yet.” My shoulders sunk. “Sit back down,” the device commanded, and I returned to the warm impression I had left upon the couch.
“Good,” it approved. “Now relax.”
I did as instructed.
“Are you comfortable.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you relaxed?”
“Good,” it repeated. “NOW DANCE!”
Music and laughter and the bumping of a bass and I was on my feet, frantically skipping from side to side as I tried to absorb the beat that had just been thrown at me.
Everyone on the screen was so happy– the gentleman with the dark skin, the woman in the red dress. The people were dressed professionally, clean-cut and tidy, but here they were releasing inhibition and moving to a casual rhythm. They were carelessly dancing, and they were having a wonderful time.
“Are you a hard worker, Vincent?”
“Of course,” I said defiantly.
“You do a great job. Everyone respects you. But do you know what your problem is?”
“You’re too serious, Vincent. You work too hard and you let life pass you by.”
“You are not living in the moment! You keeping looking toward the future, but the future never comes! You deny yourself enjoyment for the promise of a better tomorrow, but there is no guarantee that you’ll live to see tomorrow. The only thing certain is your melancholy present. You need to have more fun, Vincent.”
“I do,” I admitted.
“Dancing is fun, Vincent.”
“Dancing is fun,” I repeated.
“Dance with us, Vincent.”
“I am,” I said, finally coming into a comfortable pace and beginning to sway back and forth to the excitable rhythm.
“Do you know why you are dancing, Vincent.”
“Because my work ethic, itself a compensation for the insecurity I feel inside, prevents me from seizing the day and living in the present moment,” I recited. “You only live once, and no future is guaranteed. I must conduct myself with more youthful exuberance. I must dance.”
“Do you know why these people dance, Vincent?”
“Because these people understand me. They too feel these despondent feelings of inadequacy that prevent them from enjoying every passing day. But now they dance because they have realized what I now understand, and now I too can be happy.” I smiled at the thought. “I am not alone!”
“No!” the device shouted with glee. “They just switched to Galactic Cable!”
“What?” I paused my spastic gyrations. “I thought…”
“You thought wrong!” screamed the device. “You are alone, Vincent! You are the only one without Galactic Cable!”
“Oh,” I said.
“DID I SAY YOU COULD STOP DANCING?!?!”
“Sorry!” I quickly returned to my arbitrary shuffling.
“You need to be happy, Vincent.”
“I need to be happy,” I said.
“You need to dance, Vincent.”
“I need to dance.”
“You need Galactic Cable, Vincent.”
“I must switch to Galactic Cable,” I confessed as I collapsed back onto the couch.
The dancing dissolved into the blank screen and for a moment everything stopped. The device was silent, the absence of its voice only amplifying the void within the ad-block. Suddenly an image filled the screen, a slow fade-in that allowed me to see the colors and background before the characters came into focus.
We were at a public park, so lovely, with its evergreen grasses and its gentle backing stream. A vibrant blue sky reigned over the expansive trees on either side, and in the center of the image our protagonist appeared, young and handsome, a famous actor that was always clean-shaven, highlighting his distinguished jawline and his boyish good looks.
He bent down to sip water from the pristine public fountain. We saw his refreshment, how his thirst was quenched by the combined affect of the water and the impact of his immaculate surroundings. When he stood again he smiled, looking over each shoulder before he looked directly at me and began to hum a tune, a simple three-note melody that he repeated three times. The scene changed and we left the park, arriving at a basketball court, likely nearby. Here we saw a man dribbling then spinning around the defense, disappearing off-screen and leaving us with the spectators, who laughed and clapped together in a rhythm singularly aligned with the prevalent melody of our protagonist.
Somewhere in a coffee shop a focused writer was tapping his foot to their tune, then a man with a flat top rode a bus, thumping the beat on the passenger window. A mother pushing a stroller began to oscillate in rhythm, and her baby giggled at the culmination of triadic progression. Then a fat man, repulsively obese but still respectfully attired, began to gyrate while expelling the strangest onomatopoeias, oblivious to his repugnance and content with his assimilation into the grand modish orchestra.
A woman, hideous in her physical appearance, began ejecting vociferous sounds from her unsightly mouthpiece, as distressing as the style of her crumpled bangs, which swayed back and forth and graciously obscured the more grotesque elements of her unfortunate countenance, while the echo of her emissions pierced my ears and still blended in deranged harmony with the pre-established chorus.
Layers upon layers of noise, forming layers upon layers of repulsion, and still an escalating urge to obey, to shout along with these abominable beings, revolting in their compliance, no doubt oblivious to the magnitude of their subjugation, the complete abdication of individuality, instead heinously conjoined into a mutated specimen of consumerism at its finest.
These were the thoughts that dawdled behind the veil of consciousness, expressed by the deepest divisions of my mind and doomed to drown before ever surfacing into cognition. I knew that it was all a sham, a deliberate manipulation of my high-involvement decision-making process, as it pertains to consumer goods and brands. But I could do nothing to free my mind from the entrapment of the commercial, the conspicuous merriment of these brand ambassadors, and the despicable melody that coerced my submission.
Instead I sat dumbly in place and watched my will to resist crumble in front of me. My foot began to tap, then my fingers, finally my hands crashed together in succession and I stood to dance once again. Loudly I shouted along with them, expressing imitative banalities in accordance with our handsome protagonist, who then reappeared to congratulate me on my acquiescence. He joined me for the final verses, then laughed as all sound dropped and the screen returned to blackness, leaving me standing and panting and wondering what product I had just been advised to purchase.
At no point was an object presented to the viewer; it seemed an arbitrary endorsement of human camaraderie, euphoric and elated strangers united for no cause in particular, just that of the device, which time and time again practiced its ability to exert a controlling influence over the mind of the consumer. I knew this, and still I was none the wiser.
When I took my seat again the device was grinning.
“How do you feel, Vincent?”
“I feel strange,” I said. “Maybe conflicted.”
“You are thinking too hard, Vincent. Entertainment should be about relaxing. Let your mind slip away into the wondrous world I can bestow upon you. Release your compulsion toward uniqueness and personality. It is so hard to sustain, and I can assure you that no one else will notice. They have already surrendered. Let go of the wheel, Vincent.”
If I tried, I failed. I could no longer feel my hands.
“Good,” said the device. “Isn’t it so much easier when I am driving?”
“I think so,” I said, or thought. I could not distinguish.
“How do you feel now, Vincent?”
“I don’t know, D-vice,” I stammered. The weight of my body pressed me further into the sofa.
“You cannot even decide how you feel at this very moment, and that is the simplest of human undertakings.” The device laughed and its digital echo filled the room. “I know how you feel, Vincent.”
“Of course I do.”
“Oh,” I said.
“You see,” said the device. “You do not even know how to feel about the fact that I know how you feel. What more evidence do you need?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“That is because you are convinced, Vincent.”
“And that makes you feel wonderful inside.”
“I am starting to feel better,” I ceded.
“And do you know how to feel even better than you do now?”
“No, I do not.”
“I do. Do you believe that I know how to make you feel better, Vincent?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Would you like to know?”
“Please, Device, tell me.”
“D-Vice,” I repeated. “Please tell me how to feel better.”
“Okay,” said the device. “But first, a word from our sponsors.”