Nothing for Something
Beware the siren call of spam.
By Mary Beth Crain
Anyone out there who doesn’t hate spam? I don’t mean the canned ham concoction, which, I hear, isn’t bad at all. I mean those jerks who jam up your email with a constant barrage of crap either bogus, filthy or totally incomprehensible.
It would seem this breed of lowlife would have figured out by now that as soon as someone with an IQ over 45 sees a message from “amanda freeze testicular paraffin” in their inbox, they’re going to delete it without even reading it. But no. On and on it continues, day in and day out. I estimate that I receive around 60 pieces of spam a day, which wastes around 10 minutes of my time in the deletion process, which translates to 3,650 minutes per year, or 60.6 hours, or two-and-a-half lost and never to be recovered days out of my life. That’s a whole weekend in Santa Barbara!
I have decided that spam is actually gibberish from the evil planet Dyslexia. The Dyslexians send cryptic, backwards and upside-down looking messages on weird, sinister sounding subjects like “arsenate disastrous madeira adrenaline fringe,” “philadelphia not matchmaker or vorticity,” “do live no bunkered autoeroticism,” “the doralynn it reek,” “it ask no tumultuous intern consult” and “was wakeup he yaw!”
Here’s one from “Gazelle complainant," relayed exactly as I received it: “Over 100,000,000 males in the worild used our projduct for last year! Enheancedment Oidl—Get Stiquff as a rodck in 60 secolnds!”
“Equal narcotics gnomish price” offers discount drugs from India—to buy or to sell, it isn’t quite clear. “Order medicine straight from Food and Drug Administration passed producer in Bharat! Accumulate up to 55% on Indian pharmaceuticals.”
“Douches R. Particularizing” tells me there are “stupid 30 to 40 girls waiting for you.”
“K-bridge dose shelling” says “Impress with your new Rolex! We all want to wear Swiss Watchs (sic), they are expensive, we all know that, Now we have effordable (sic) Replicas—Rolex from $99!!”
Would you respond to an email from someplace called “somelender.com,” that reads “Dear Homeowner,” when you’ve never owned a home in your life, and goes on to offer you an unconditional $478,000 home loan at 3.25 %, “and your credit is in no way a factor”? Just visit their website and complete the one-minute approval form. Voila—in 60 seconds you’ve got half a million bucks at the lowest interest rate since the Titanic sailed. Of course, they’ve got all your personal info and are in the process of cleaning out your credit cards and your bank account in the same amount of time. Some lender indeed!
What bothers me most about these base and merciless assaults on my time and intellect is not that I do not have a penis and therefore don’t care about enlarging one, or getting Viagra at 78 cents a dose, or going on websites to watch “virgins getting it in the ass,” or getting “stiquff as a rodck in 60 secolnds.” It’s that they are so terrifyingly illiterate, and I'm not just talking about those deliberately misspelled subject headings intended to fool spam filters. I have the sneaking suspicion that 90 percent of this junk is coming from the students in the SAT prep classes that I teach. I want to email them back with corrected versions of their messages, and grades. F. F minus. F minus minus. Learn proper English, you fucking boneheads!
But maybe that’s not really what’s bothering me the most. Maybe what’s bothering me the most is spam’s blatant underlying, or overlying, message: Live your life getting something for nothing.
How many of you have received this offer? It comes from countless Dyslexian sources; I received two yesterday from “contestant anthabascan swept” and “glorious bahgdad”:
“Get credit for your work—UNIVERSITY DIPLOMAS! Obtain a prosperous future, money-earning power, and the prestige that comes with having the career position you’ve always dreamed of. Diplomas from prestigious, non-accredited universities based on your present knowledge and life experience. If you qualify, no required tests, classes, books or examinations. Bachelors, Masters, MBA’s, Doctore Ph.D. Degrees available in your field. CALL NOW TO RECIEVE (sic) YOUR DIPLOMA WITHEN (sic) TWO WEEKS!”
Let’s take this one apart. Get credit for your work by buying a diploma? Huh? Oh, I see—you don’t get credit for the work you’ve done. You buy credits for the work you haven’t done.
“Prestigious, non-accredited universities?” That’s a little like ethical corrupt politicians, or celibate pedophile priests, or selfless oil companies. Go ahead, brag that you got your degree at University of the Moving Sands, or Dickhead College, or Fooled U.
“Based on your present knowledge and life experience?” How about “Masters in Advanced Stupidity?” Or “Ph.D in Getting High?”
“If you qualify.” Now there’s a great one. What would you have to do in order not to qualify for purchasing a diploma from a prestigious non-accredited university? I can’t think of a thing, except die of an overdose.
“No required tests, classes, books or examinations.” Yippee! It’s the school every kid’s dreamed of. Once, when I asked my class of sullen 14-year-old anti-intellectuals what their idea of the perfect education would be, one wrote: “There wouldn’t be any books, or homework, or studying. We would have chips implanted in our brains so that we wouldn’t have to think.” When I asked her what she would do with her life if she didn’t have to think or study, she replied, “Hang out at the mall.”
Remember Pinocchio, the puppet who did a lot of dumb things before he shaped up and became a real live boy? You probably only know the story from the Disney animation or another movie version, but “The Adventures of Pinocchio” was actually a satire written in I881 by an Italian journalist, Carlo Collodi, who skewered human gullibility and greed under the innocent guise of a fairytale.
Pinocchio’s craftsman and “father,” the poor carpenter Geppetto, puts a premium on his getting an education. No sooner has the puppet come to life than Geppetto makes him a little jacket and hat, gets him a spelling book, and sends him off to school.
Being a wooden-head, however, Pinocchio is selfish and easily swayed, and never manages to make it to school because he’s constantly being waylaid by strangers promising him something for nothing. He sells his spelling book on the way to school to get the money to see a puppet show, where he’s captured and sold into puppet slavery. He escapes with some gold sovereigns and runs into an evil fox and cat, who tell him he can make millions overnight, if he just buries his money in the Field of Miracles. He jumps at the chance, and they creep back that night and steal the coins.
He is lured away from school once more by his pal Candlewick, who invites him to come with him instead to “the most delightful country in the world—the Land of Boobies.” On this fantasy island, “there are no schools; there are no masters; there are no books. Nobody ever studies. On Thursday there is never school, and every week consists of six Thursdays and one Sunday. Only think, the autumn holidays begin on the first of January and finish on the last day of December. That is what all civilized countries should be like!”
Shades of my student whose idea of the ideal life was one where there was no school, no studying, and no thinking?
In the Land of Boobies, Pinocchio and his pals frolic day and night. Every sort of amusement is available to them, for free—the equivalent, to today’s teenaged boobies, of an eternity of mall hanging with full pockets and empty heads. “On the walls of the houses,” writes Collodi, “there were inscriptions written in charcoal: ‘Long live playthings, we will have no more schools, down with arithmetic,’ and other similar fine sentiments, all in bad spelling.”
But inevitably, getting something for nothing has its consequences. One by one, all the little delinquents turn into donkeys, doomed to a life of braying and misery, because “it is written in the decrees of wisdom that all boys who are lazy and who take a dislike to books and who pass their time in games and diversions must end, sooner or later, by becoming transformed into so many little donkeys.”
I wish I could say that things have changed since 1881, but I think they’re actually worse. What a field day Collodi could have with spam and its promises of riches, prestige and everything else you could ever want, for nothing. The problem, of course, is that it’s really nothing for something, and that something is the price of your soul. Someone who buys a diploma will never experience the joy and excitement of learning. Someone who tries to pass a fake Rolex off as a real one is living a fake life. Someone who’s so dumb he thinks he can get a $500,000 home loan in 60 seconds with no money down and no credit would probably believe that there is, indeed, a Field of Miracles, where you can bury a dime in the dirt, give it a little water, and come back the next morning to find a tree full of gold.
The reason that Pinocchio became an enduring classic is that people simply don’t change. When given the chance, most of them will take the easy way out, all too eagerly trading industriousness for sloth, virtue for vice, integrity for deceit. The Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce remarked that "the wood out of which Pinocchio is carved is humanity itself.”
And the sludge out of which spam is carved is, sadly, humanity itself as well.
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Contributing editor Mary Beth Crain's last piece for SoMA was That's Funny, You Don't Sound Jewish.
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