When people ask me what I do these days, I just tell them straight out: I make porn writes Gordon Comstock. Really it’s not that different to advertising I say, you still spend all day in a brightly lit room with someone you can barely stand, searching for variations on a creative act considered, up-to-now, unpalatable or just plain disgusting…
I get the same embarrassed look I used to, but I am spared the lecture on the ills of capitalism, inevitably delivered by people who work for the BBC, whose jobs are funded by large-scale theft.
And it’s true – not that I make porn, that’s a sociopathic lie – but advertising is porn’s disreputable cousin. They are both almost, but not quite, art. They are both driven by a desire for the curious that means they get weirder and weirder the longer they go on. And they both demanded much less of their practitioners for a much higher return in the 80s.
But those heady days are past. Neither porn studios nor ad agencies can afford to be complacent. Their dominance has been undermined by the diffusion of DIY technology.
In advertising we call this phenomenon ‘user-created content’, in porn they just call it ‘amateur porn’.
This is especially important for two industries so fundamentally concerned with truth. In this age when a professional studio can fake anything, people implicitly trust the amateur. Anyone with a webcam and access to genitals can make a rudimentary porno – and to make an ad, you don’t even need genitals.
Both industries have responded to the threat to their supremacy with assimilation. In porn they call this gonzo, in advertising, we don’t have a word for it yet, so for the sake of devilment, I’m going to call it gonzo.
The gonzo plot is the same every time. Pornstar stalks beach, approaches ‘real’ girl, confuses her with double entendres, girl agrees to anal sex. It’s just as fake as studio porn, but the frame is real – this is the gonzo innovation.
Gonzo advertising works in exactly the same way. ‘Real’ Londoners suddenly break into a dance routine, or are astonished when an arriving train releases a mass of helium balloons. The citizens of Miami are covered in thick white foam, and are, in perhaps a nod to bukkake films, apparently delighted. A huge beach ball is delivered onto a crowd in Dallas who mindlessly bat it around for five tedious, tedious minutes.
This, I’m afraid, is only the beginning.
Gonzo’s rise is assured, not because it’s good, but because its ideal consumer isn’t the consumer, it’s the brand manager. Showing the public loving an advert, within the advert, is the equivalent of the porn queen’s ooh-ya-do-it-to-me schtick. They might convince themselves they can tell when it’s fake, but when even reasonable people regularly fall for a lie, brand managers frankly don’t stand a chance.
It seems like the only way to resist this trend is to deliberately associate it with an unpleasant type of porn.
Gordon Comstock was, until recently, an advertising copywriter. He writes the Not Voodoo blog at notvoodoo.blogspot.com. This article appears in the Crit section of the CR March issue.