Archive for the ‘lies’ category

The ableism of “on the go”

January 19, 2017

What does “on the go” actually mean? Various online dictionaries, all of which seem to be plagiarising each other, say that the phrase has been around since 1843 with the meaning of “in constant motion”.

But we don’t say the moon is “on the go” around the sun. We don’t talk about Robert Fludd’s “on-the-go” machines. These days, “on the go” is a marketing phrase. And by that, I really mean a phrase that people use to tell us stories about ourselves, stories told with the intention of manipulating us.

Some people genuinely believe that products and devices marketed for use “on the go” really are used mainly by people in a hurry. I’ve heard stories about the early days of designing software for smartphones, where the assumption was that the user would be “on the go” (and indeed “out and about” and other such stock phrases denoting busy-busy-busyness), so they would use the phone for quick, simple things and save the complex stuff for “real” computers. As late as February 2015, a research paper about grocery shopping on mobile phones was entitled On the Go: How Mobile Shopping Affects Customer Purchase Behavior.

What’s the reality? Developers now understand what users have known for a long time: that someone accessing the internet via a tablet or smartphone is more likely to be slumped on their sofa or sitting in bed than “out and about”. Which means they want to use their device for the complex things too – maybe it’s the only internet-connected device they can afford, or maybe they spend most of the day in bed and a lighter device is easier to manage. Either way, their reasons for using a tablet or smartphone have bugger-all to do with being “on the go”. Did the researchers of the paper I cited above really believe that people doing a whole grocery shop on their smartphone are putting toilet roll in their online basket while physically dashing from place to place?

It’s a similar thing with e-readers. They’re marketed for their portability, with the implication that otherwise you’d be throwing War and Peace in your bag before hiking the Machu Picchu trail or jumping on a train to Paris. But I do all my e-book reading at home. Other people tell me that they love e-readers because you can make the text bigger, or because you can hold one and turn the pages with the same hand while the other arm holds a baby or rests in a a sling.

Another example: snacks marketed as “on the go” because they don’t require preparation or cutlery. Are they mostly bought and consumed mid-jog? No, they’re mostly bought by people who don’t have access to a kitchen, or who never learned how to cook, or who are too disabled/depressed/tired to prepare food from scratch. The consumers of “on the go” snacks are probably doing just as much sofa-slumping as your average tablet user.

My point here: things marketed as “on-the-go” make life easier because they compensate for missing resources. Sometimes those resources are financial, which is why so many low-income people access the internet through phones and why insecurely housed people eat more convenience food than most. But a lot of the time those resources are about health and what we can broadly call “cognitive resource”: attention, energy, intelligence, knowledge.

But to talk about that would be to talk about poverty and arthritis and poor education and depression. It would be to talk about insecure housing and chronic fatigue syndrome and failing eyesight. So we reframe it all as being about the frantic pace of modern life. That’s why the marketing for TENA Lady pads explains that the typical buyer needs them because she’s “always on the go” and loves to “keep busy”.

Up to a point, it’s nice to look into the marketing mirror and see someone prettier looking back at you. You buy urine-absorbing pads because that’s what sporty women do, and definitely not because you keep leaking urine.  You buy ready-grated cheese because that’s what busy executives do, and definitely not because your hands hurt.

But wouldn’t it be nice to look into that mirror and actually see yourself sometimes? The marketing concept of “on the go” erases people with disabilities and people in challenging but unglamorous circumstances. They’re replaced by imaginary people who can’t stop dashing around. That erasure is, of course, ableist as hell. It also means that we miss out on more interesting, realistic advertising – and the marketers miss out on telling us the real reasons why we should use their products.

Bored on a tram

March 31, 2016

Yesterday I was on a tram and heard a kid trying very hard to annoy his parents. (At least, I assume they were his parents.) He kept singing: “I’m… sooooooo…bored!” It worked. They got annoyed. They both started telling him off in quiet, grumbly voices that undercut the singing.

After a while, presumably as an experiment, he changed the words to the song to: “I’m sooooooo…happy!

His parents didn’t react to the change in words. They both just carried on talking non-stop in low voices about how he was going to be in trouble, how he could stop that nonsense right now, etc, etc.

Hypothesis 1: his parents spotted the lyric change, spotted that he was testing them for a reaction, realised that he was still trying very hard to be irritating despite the superficial change in lyrical subject matter and decided to respond to the intent rather than to the actual words.

Hypothesis 2: they didn’t actually notice the lyric change.

I’ve written about this before: when you think someone has seen through your attempt to deceive and you credit them with insight for ignoring it, but in fact they never even spotted your attempt to deceive in the first place. The example I originally gave was of a mother trying to trick a child, but I actually think it’s way more common the other way round. Because when you’re a kid, even after you’ve got out of the phase of thinking your parents are omniscient, you still think they’re way more observant and interested in the minor things you do/say than they really are.

Mr Soylent illustrates my point

August 21, 2015

I blogged a while back about competitive minimalists and the privilege behind the concept of “living light”. My point was that to live with few possessions you need to engage with and benefit from existing systems, and the competitive minimalists who boast about living light don’t always seem to fully understand that.

Less than a month after I published my post came an example so perfect I initially thought it was a parody. The software engineer Rob Rhinehart, best-known for peddling the meal replacement product Soylent, wrote about how he’s given up electricity. (Spoiler: he has not in fact given up electricity.)

In the storm of internet mockery that followed, someone unearthed an old blog post in which he explains how he described undergoing a challenge to reduce his water consumption. (Top tip: when your clothes get dirty, give them away instead of washing them! Then get new clothes shipped to you from China. This saves both electricity and water!)

It’s tempting to dissect both posts line by line explaining why he’s wrong about nearly everything. But others have already done that. I just wanted to share the links, because this person’s thinking is the perfect example of how you can think you’re “living light” and maybe see yourself as some kind of lean frontiersy hero while in fact you’re:

  • dependent on many things that weren’t invented 100 years ago;
  • dependent on things that most of the world’s population does not have access to;
  • dependent on things that won’t exist or won’t work in the future if everybody carries on like you;
  • generating a carbon footprint the size of a small country;
  • generating a huge amount of non-recyclable and/or harmful waste;
  • consuming a wildly disproportionate share of the earth’s resources.

Our Manic Pixie Dream House

June 5, 2015

My partner and I have decided to sell our house. We’ve followed the conventional wisdom, as set out in a thousand telly programmes, how-to guides and magazines: tidy, declutter, deep-clean, carry out minor repairs, etc, etc. But the reality of getting your house ready for marketing photography or for a viewing is more than that: it’s about trying to hide the fact that the house is currently inhabited by humans with bodies.

To make your house into a desirable object, the evidence of your actual inhabitation must be removed from view. This means (temporarily, thank God) hiding the hundreds of tiny things that make your house a comfortable and convenient place to spend time in: the bins, the spare loo roll, the much-used appliances that normally sit on the worktop, etc. This week, as we shoved the soap-dish into a cupboard and drank straight from the tap to avoid getting any cups dirty, it came to me: selling your house turns you into a manic pixie dream girl.

For anyone who’s not up on the concept, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Twitter account will give you a good idea. She has no interior life of her own and exists as a human reward for the male protagonist. She is quirky, bubbly, attractive and in no way an actual person with needs. In other words, she’s the human equivalent of the house with no shampoo in the shining bathroom, no mugs on the coffee table, no shoes in the porch. Despite the surface quirkiness, she’s a blank canvas for you to start sketching your own character development.

Laurie Penny nails it when she writes that it’s easy for youngish women to get shunted into the manic pixie mould. Are you an attractive-ish female-identified person who can tick three or more qualities off this list?

Petite
Giggly
Creative in your spare time
In a “creative” profession
In a job you dislike but can joke amusingly about
Quirky
Pink/blue/red/green/purple-haired
Disorganised
You enjoy an unusual hobby
Tactless
Stupid
Insightful
Clumsy
Caring
Witty
New to the area/country or in the middle of travelling
Spontaneous
Eccentric
Unreliable

If so, I’m guessing that at some point in your life you’ve been mistaken for a manic pixie dream girl  (who does not exist) by some straight guy (who was slightly disappointed when you turned out to be a person). And when I say “at some point in your life”, obviously I mean “at a point in your life when you were young, attractive and probably thin”.

For others, selling your house is the first time you have to pull this crap. “Soap? Shampoo? No way! I just jump into a mountain stream! Possibly I yelp adorably while doing so and then encourage you to jump in as well. Shoes? Hell no, you won’t see any shoes when you come to view my house. I just walk barefoot to my adorable job at the quirky bakery. Or perhaps I don’t actually have feet. Maybe it’s just a cute haze from the ankle down. And before you ask, no, of course I do not eat or go to the toilet or do laundry or wash dishes or file any paperwork.

Meanwhile, the house itself backs you up. “Bins? I have no bins! (Please don’t look behind the hedge.) My floors have never witnessed cat-sick! I always have a vase of fresh flowers! I always smell of something nice like vanilla or coffee but don’t worry, no food or drink is ever prepared here because there are no human bodies here! No human bodies! None! I am here to help with your character development. Maybe you’ll be living in me when you meet your soulmate, quit your job for something better or take up snowboarding!

I haven’t felt this bad about owning a human body since I was a teenager. And – maybe coincidentally, maybe not – my body has recently been going out of its way to remind me that it’s real.

Manic Pixie Dream Girling is work. Hard work. If you’re doing it to sell a house for thousands of pounds: marvellous. If you’re doing it for no reward, because your existence has been framed as somebody else’s reward: terrible.

Read the articles about how to prep your home for viewings. Imagine they’re talking about a person and not a house. I hope the psychic violence behind the Manic Pixie Dream Girl framework jumps out at you like a murderer jumping from behind my super-clean shower curtain.

Everybody is above average

February 2, 2014

Rhys Ifans has inadvertently blown the gaff on celebrity interviews by being so rude that the journalist interviewing him chose not to pretend otherwise.

This is rare. Journalists don’t like admitting when celebs behave in a shitty way. They also don’t like admitting when celebs, or indeed corporations, refuse to answer their questions. Sure, they’ll admit it in the pub, but not in print. It’s a sort of unwritten code; if you admit that someone gave you nothing to work with, others might start to think that you’re not up to the job, because getting something to work with is part of the job even though it’s not within your control. So you do your damnedest to turn that nothing into something.

If there’s a PR on the scene, the “nothing to work with” thing stops being such an issue, because the PR will happily polish quotes, supply extra info and generally do anything to help you write the article (except for answering your questions honestly and promptly, of course). And if the editor has agreed copy approval, the whole article might as well have been written by the PR without the interview taking place. (OK, I exaggerate, but.)

This is why the female subjects of magazine interviews are almost always “refreshingly unstarry” and “down to earth”. This is why they supposedly arrive for the photoshoot looking amazing without make-up. This is why so many of them are “tiny” in real life, with perfect skin. (The men are almost always taller than expected.) This is why they never get called on their bullshit.

My favourite bits are when the celeb tries to rope their (absent) friends into bolstering their down-to-earth status. You want an example? Exhibit A: Gwyneth Paltrow. Apparently she loves cooking so damn much that all her friends contact her when they want a home-cooked meal. They get sick of restaurants and room service, they want some simple home-made food…so they ring Gwyneth Paltrow. Does that sound likely to you?

I mean, even if she wasn’t Gwyneth Paltrow. Have you ever thought “I want some real food” and then phoned a friend asking them to cook a meal for you? (I know some young adults do this with their parents, but I don’t think it’s the same thing.) Flipping the script, have you ever had a friend phone you up asking you to cook them a meal? If not, how would you feel if they did?

Exhibit B: Isla Fisher. She’s just a normal mum and definitely not trying to relaunch her acting career, so her friends all drop their kids off at her house and she ends up in the nursery “surrounded” by kids. Again, does this sound likely?

These are fantasies. Fantasies of being grounded, being a nurturer, being a host, being an earth mother, being an ordinary person, being needed. Ideal Home interviewees (not celebs) fall prey to the same thing on a smaller scale: it’s quite uncanny how every house featured has become the hub of social gatherings, and every couple interviewed has friends and families constantly dropping in for a meal. Life can’t be like that for everyone, or who would be doing the dropping-in? We can’t all be “tiny” with “perfect skin” either, because both “tiny” and “perfect” are relative values.

We all know that magazines are glossy bullshit. But sometimes it’s nice to get a reminder, just in case you’re feeling bad about not looking amazing and feeding the five thousand.

Don’t let it go

July 30, 2013

Recently my partner made a remark to friends which was misinterpreted. Attempts to clarify were washed away in the general tide of people saying “You’re wrong!” I felt a bit got-at but we both decided to let the misunderstanding go; there was more chance of being caught in the oncoming rain than actually having our explanations heard, so we just left. No big deal.

I found out yesterday that the people who did the misinterpreting didn’t let it go. They’ve been talking about it to people who weren’t even there, and the misunderstanding has been set in stone as fact.

I don’t like it because the thing-that-wasn’t-actually-said makes my partner and me appear spoilt and clueless. (We’re not, we’re really not.)

If I wasn’t so upset, I’d be able to laugh at the irony: this comment was worth discussing at length behind our backs, but it somehow wasn’t worth actually understanding in the first place (and my partner’s fresh attempts to clarify have been met with laughing disbelief).

This is why I don’t like “letting things go”. Because every time I let something go, trying to be laid-back, trying to smooth things over, it comes back to bite me. It comes back as the misinterpreted remark suddenly set in stone, or the bad behaviour that gets worse because the other person takes my silence as tacit acceptance, or some other upsetting problem that I suddenly have to fucking deal with anyway.

On bad days, I think the whole concept of “letting it go” is just a rhetorical technique to make the injured party feel bad about standing up for themselves. Whether or not I let something go is my decision, not anybody else’s. I’m the one who’ll have to deal with the consequences of letting it go, whether that’s “Oh, you didn’t insist on a receipt?” or the “People who ignored previous creepy comments also get the following creepy comments…” sleazeball algorithm.

This time, I wish I’d stood there and argued the toss until the heavens opened; better to be judged argumentative and stubborn on accurate grounds than be thought of as stupid and spoilt on completely false grounds. Anyway, it’s confirmed that my general approach is right: try to avoid letting things go.

By the way, I’m back! Did you really think I was going to let this blog go?

Lie-to-word ratios: Moschino Cheap & Chic

May 14, 2013

Moschino Cheap & Chic is a fashion line from the Italian designer Moschino. So that’s the first word taken care of very quickly: it’s definitely not a lie.

But cheap? I’ve just taken a look at the recent collection online. Looks like a belt will set you back around £209.00, a blouse is retailing at £446.00 and a pair of fucking red trousers is £203.00.

Obviously we all have different ideas about what “cheap” means, depending on whether we’re buying, say, an aircraft carrier or a loaf of bread. But I think most people would probably baulk at spending hundreds of pounds on a single item of clothing for everyday wear. Personally, I wouldn’t spend £700 on a blazer unless it had a jetpack attached. So cheap? No.

And chic? Again, this is subjective. You can tell it’s high fashion because the women’s sizes only go up to a 12, thereby excluding the majority of the UK’s female population (the ones who weren’t already excluded by the damn prices, that is). And the men’s range features lots of clothes that would be laughed at in most of the social situations I encounter. But chic? My subjective opinion is no. These clothes are what I’d describe as boggin’. Some are unwearable because they’re transparent; others are super-frumpy yet sleeveless; there are plenty of hideous patterns to make you look like the office joker.

I’m sure there are some people who are capable of looking good in Moschino clothes. But that’s not the test of chic. To me, the test of chic is: do these clothes make you look better than you would otherwise? For example, would you actually look better in a Moschino T-shirt than you would in a completely plain white Primark T-shirt? I’d say the answer, pretty much across the board, is no. I challenge the reader to find three items in the entire spring/summer 2013 collection that they would actually like to wear. I bet it takes you a while. Now remember that you have no idea whether or not it’ll fit you anyway, because you can’t find the size guide. And you don’t know if you can wash it or if you’ll have to shell out for dry cleaning, because they don’t bother to give you that information; surely anyone who can afford it has servants. Oh, and that reminds me: you can’t afford it anyway, can you?

Ignoring the ampersand, Moschino Cheap & Chic comes out as three words, two lies. A lie-to-word ratio of 2:3.