Guide to Moral Living in Examples: Banner Ads

"I think your paper on the sexism of banner ads is publishable," Dr. Kansky said, chomping on the earpiece of his glasses.

"Oh, wow, thanks," Kevin said.

"In fact, not only that, I think you should submit it for consideration of the Allen Prize."

"Was it really that good?"

"Without a doubt, without a doubt," Dr. Kansky said. He flipped through the pages for emphasis. "Not only were you able to apply a critical eye to the assumptions underlying banner advertisements on, you issue a stunning challenge to the advertisers that strikes to the core of their revenue model."

"Well, I'll submit it with your support."

"Please do."

Kevin submitted his paper to a journal recommended by Dr. Kansky and for the Allen Prize. Several weeks went by, in which Kevin drank enough and wrote enough to erase the essay from his mind.

Until he received a call from the local radio station for an interview, which he happily did.

The day following the interview, he received a call from a major regional television station for an interview, which he did with a new, ill-fitting suit and a stiff smile.

Kevin celebrated with a few beers and resumed his usual schedule.

Two days later, Kevin received a call from a friend majoring in journalism who watched the television news like a faithful man performing devotions.

"You just got slammed on television," he said.

"What?" Kevin asked.

"Chase P. Q. Jefferson just ripped your essay a new asshole. Go check it out on the internet."

"It's on the internet?"

"It's all over the internet!"

Kevin checked and soon enough he was watching a video of a tall, handsome man with an expensive haircut, smile and suit with the nametag 'Chase P. Q. Jefferson, CEO of EyeJam Advertising Agency' floating in ghostly letters beneath his square jaw. Chase was ruthlessly demolishing Kevin's arguments. Or rather, that's what it seemed to Kevin on the first viewing. Subsequent viewings revealed a cleverly disguised ad hominem attack with phrasing including "lack of experience" and "when he enters the real world."

"I don't know what EyeJam Ad Agency is, but it's CEO sure is a prick," Kevin said.

"You haven't heard of EyeJam? Hell, people who aren't in the industry have heard of them, and that's a helluva thing to accomplish. They're better-known than Sterling-Cooper, and that's in a famous show."

"Then how come I haven't heard of them?"

"You study too hard. Remember that giraffe that climbed out of that tree and sold paper towels?"

"Yeah."

"EyeJam. And the ads in Tumbling Rock, HQ and Axiom for that electric shaver that was an mp3 player, calendar and GPS?"

"That was pretty impressive."

"They sold millions of those things! And it's a stupid idea! That's what I'm saying about EyeJam. They've recently gotten into the banner ad market and are taking it over."

"I got blasted on the regional news!"

"Blast back - at least they aren't suing you."

Kevin went back on the regional news show (whose ratings were through the roof because of EyeJam) and blasted back, citing peer-reviewed paper after peer-reviewed paper and even calling Chase an age-discriminatory bigot for dismissing Kevin's points due to the age of the speaker.

Two weeks later he went to court as the defendent in a lawsuit. EyeJam's lawyered sued him into a smoking crater. When the dust settled, any financial arrangement that Kevin could conceivably enter into would require another team of lawyers, equipped with boxes of pens and not a few nosefuls to cocaine, to complete the paperwork.

Kevin had been drinking himself into a stupor and writing Dr. Kansky a rude email when the doorbell rang. He answered it, half-empty bottle in his hand. A chaffeur stood on his stoop.

"Good Evening, Kevin. Mr. Jefferson sent me."

"Chase can go fuck hizzelf," Kevin replied.

"Mr. Jefferson would like to offer his apologies," the chaffeur said.

"His apologies can go fuck hizzelf," Kevin replied.

"Mr. Jefferson would like to explain himself over dinner at Stone."

"His ex-ex-expl-aw, fuck it," Kevin said. Stone was a fancy restaurant. A very fancy restaurant. This would probably be the only fancy restaurant that he'd be in for the rest of his natural life. Chase had already taken everything he owned or could own. Why not get an expensive dinner out of it?

So Kevin changed into some clothes that weren't liqour-soaked and had a pleasant ride in the chaffeur's limousine and spilled some more alcohol down his throat and shirt.

They arrived at the restaurant, where the hostess and Kevin sneered at each other for a while until Chase appeared and greased the wheels with a fat roll of cash.

"Fuck you," Kevin said as they sat down.

"I deserve that," Chase said. Unlike the actors that Kevin had seen, Chase had even more presence off-screen. He was tall, handsome, rich and smelled like a forest in the spring but without the allergens.

"You ruined my life," Kevin said, placing an order for a variety of disgusting-sounding dishes based solely upon the price.

"I did, and for that I'm sorry," Chase said. "And I'd like to thank you for giving me a chance to explain myself."

"I'm not intending on listening. This is just my last meal, you could say, since I'm apparently on a beans and water diet from here on out."

Chase said nothing and looked stoic, but Kevin thought that he could see the mournful fish of sorrow swimming in the twin globular aquariums of Chase's eyes.

They ate in silence, Kevin focused on putting together a serviceable meal from between the bizarre set of foods that arrived.

"Would you care to come back to my penthouse for a few drinks?"

"Are you going to try to have sex with me?" Kevin asked, trying to make Chase uncomfortable. Chase remained unflappable.

"Hah," Kevin said. "Sure, if you've got something expensive."

They went through a backdoor in the restaurant and took an elevator up to a penthouse apartment at the top of the building. It was night, and the city glittered from this angle.

"I want to say again that I'm sorry that I destroyed you. I'd like to offer you a compromise."

"Offer me a drink, first. The most expensive that you've got. In the most expensive glass that you've got."

Chase poured a rare whiskey into a priceless crystal glass and handed it to Kevin, who poured the whiskey into the carpet and threw the glass at the wall. It shattered.

"You know, I looked you up. I know that EyeJam has destroyed hundreds others like me. There's a network of support groups for us."

Chase looked sadly at the ground and pointed to the picture of his brother.

"His name was Nicholas. There was nothing that I could do to get him off of that computer of his. Gradually he withdrew from his friends, then his family, and eventually he wasn't Nicholas anymore. That stupid computer took away my brother."

"And destroyed countless other people," Kevin said.

"Yes," Chase said with a sigh. "I can only offer you cash. As much as you need, when you need it. You may not be able to open a bank account or get a mortgage or even get a subscription to Netflix, but I can make sure that you don't want for anything."

"Bullshit."

Chase opend a small safe and handed him a bundle of hundred dollar bills.

"There's more. Go to any of the support groups and ask. You're in the club, now. And you're the final addition. I was hoping to finish my plan without anymore damage but that wasn't going to happen."

"What plan?"

"A plan to prevent anymore from meeting the fate that Nicholas suffered. I hate advertising. I wanted to be an engineer. But I knew that I'd never be able to engineer a way out of this with that narrow skillset. An engineer's ideas are warped and twisted by those who pay him."

Chase flicked a switch on the wall, and a projection screen rolled out the ceiling and a projector behind Kevin whirred to life. A ghostly image of a computer screen materialized on the white fabric. With a few keystrokes on a recessed keyboard, Chase called up a web browser and displayed a major news site.

"Surely you're familiar with this ad," Chase said, gesturing at one.

Chase pointed to a familiar banner ad running up and down the right side of the page.

"Sure, that's the middle part of my essay that ruined my life, the increasing sexification of ads."

"And you aren't wrong. This ad is for a game that has very little to do with these generous, computer-generated breasts. The ads didn't start out with any women at all. Now, the text describing the game has been shrunk in favor of decolletage," Chase explained.

"So? You're a sexist pig. I knew that. You're wasting your breath."

"People like Nicholas click on these ads."

"So you want people like your brother to see boobies?" Kevin asked. Even though Kevin hated Chase's guts, he felt like an ass for saying that, as Chase looked like he was on the verge of tears.

"I didn't want to be in advertising. I hate advertising. But I had to enter the field. And not only did I have to enter the field, I had to be the best fucking advertiser in the world. What I didn't realize until I entered this racket is that anybody can be rich, but most people's hands aren't large enough to carry all the blood that's on mine. I atone where I can. I compensate my victims. As much as it hurts me, it would hurt me more to stop."

"Stop what? Being a prick?"

"I own, or rather, EyeJam owns, almost the entire online advertising industry. Sure, there are plenty of intermediaries and puppet corporations, but I directly control billions and billions of dollars of ads, and have planted loyal engineers at my subsidiaries as necessary. Engineers who have lost loved ones like Nicholas. We're intending to destroy the internet."

"That's impossible," Kevin said.

"Is it? The only guardian it has is that the same people who could destroy it are those who have the most vested in preserving it."

The keystrokes were anticlimactic, and Kevin instantly understood why film makers always included unrealistic computer use along with their unrealistic situations and characters.

A bar chart appeared on the wall. It only had two bars: one labelled "Standard" and the other "Omega." Standard towered over Omega until Chase typed a few commands into a terminal window. The Standard bar shrank while the Omega bar grew.

"This is for you, Nicholas. Omega is a set of ads that I've developed that will make web browsers shit themselves. Processors will overheat, fans will struggle to keep up with the instructions provided by the atrocious code contained in the ads! Observe!"

Chase loaded a webpage. The computer running the desktop began to slow down. The cursor shuddered and chugged.

Kevin smelled burning.

"Holy fuck," Kevin said. "That's impressive, but the point of the internet is that it's distributed. And as far as I can tell that won't do anything to the servers."

"Oh," Chase said, with a dismissive wave, "that's why I also have submarines cutting the deep-sea cables and my engineers are swinging sledgehammers into very sensitive circuitboards that really aren't made to deflect sledgehammers."

"So what the fuck am I going to buy with this money if I can't buy computer gadgets?" Kevin asked, waving the wad of bills.

"I'd suggest you purchase a good set of maps and two tin cans on a quality string," Chase said.

The Moral: always run your own undersea cables.

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