I am sitting in a chair feeding myself idioms like It’s not what you’ve got it’s what you make, Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, and Everything will be OK. People buying feelings from one another surround me. Not feelings that are literal and obvious like drugs or sex. For sale in this room are heavy ideas that sink below the frothy cream which tends to rise to the top: Satisfaction, exclusivity, and belonging.
It’s a party where women are gathered together to learn about the promise of a new product with wine held hostage behind a glossy desk. This product is all organic. It’s natural. It’s better than all the other products. “Doesn’t it feel better?’ they ask. This product is special, and by virtue of its specialness the attendees gathered on this smoggy Sunday afternoon are not so much party attendees as they are privileged VIPs– wristband wearers without wristbands, celebrity interviewees without nerves. They are the lucky few. ‘You have to hear about this great new product,’ they say. ‘Will you order it? You’ll love it. We’re growing fast. Get it before we grow. This product will change your (average) life.’
The feelings for sale are the butter to the interactive marketing industry’s bread. One in every seven people in Japan currently engage in interactive marketing as a means to generate income outside their day job and, while the industry is ‘growing’ in North America, it is not new. It can best be understood as the reinvented Tupperware party. After gaining a seemingly innocent yet simultaneously exclusive invite to witness the unveiling and testing of said miracle product, attendees are made to feel special. Because everyone wants to feel wanted, especially if you don’t want the thing that wants you back.
The only thing better than attending a fancy party is the feeling that comes with turning its invite down. You don’t decline because you have a family reunion; you do it because you have better things to do. Even if it was once worth your time, it isn’t any more. There is a rush that comes and slurs in blurred syllabic ramblings, spinning your core into the bliss of indifference– nothingness that does not obstruct your view, but balances it by acknowledging everything as the same.
Yet indifference is rare. Those who have seen it shout ‘beware’ at the top of their charcoal lungs, warning against its toxic fumes while hoarding its sickly rotten smell. It is a topical ointment like Benadryl cream or Polysporin; put it on and watch the swelling fall into itself, the scab flake away, and morning turn into the bliss of a grey day. It brings perfection that does not push happiness with sunshine, sadness with rain, or anger with snow coming down again.
The feelings of privilege and promises of beauty that were for sale that Sunday night were not unlike the security for sale at insurance firms, or belonging on sale at Holt Renfrew– yet its face was painted in ugly mismatched hues. There was a disconnect between the sellers and the guests covered by a thin slime. The invitation did not sound like a prolonged infomercial that would be spun out in real-time. That’s why it worked.
I could talk but could say nothing. I became a windowless room, inhabited by insufferable undergrads, talking about John Milton at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. The other guests, although slightly uncomfortable, were perched on the lounge chairs meant for display. They seemed fine. Had we become so numb to advertising that we were comfortable with spending our Sunday afternoon, not viewing but living in an ad?
The problem was, outside of this party, we were already living in our own carefully selected version of a late night infomercial; it just wasn’t glued in front of us like a Tim Horton’s donut strategically placed in front of a treadmill. Still, fragments of ads had been plopped down around the circumference of our lives since we could remember. But worse, instead of changing the channel, flipping the page, or crossing the street, to escape this ad we had to deal with human interaction. We had to fall out of the door with an excuse, not slink away into the corners of the room, or flick on with the remote control.
The feelings on sale were as real as any other shore of emotion that stings its inhabitants as it strings one day into the next. The lights flickered and ticked like bombs as the cream rose to the top where it could not feel–topical with no Achilles heel where the wind blew on its sweaty back. We took Instagrams for vintage feelings, drank wine and talked for an hour. We made our excuses and said our goodbyes; some exceptionally skillful guests threw in a few “See you next times.” Then we picked up the heavy-handed soles of time, dragged them slowly onwards by the bottoms of our discounted shoes. Leaving is the easy part. It’s after we go that determines what part of the pint we settle in.
Claudia McNeilly writes for Toronto Standard. You can follow her on twitter at @claudiamcneilly.