FICTION: THE AD-ADDICTION EPIDEMIC
It all came as quite a shock.
I’d heard it on the news a few days earlier. Suddenly the sales of certain products had dropped like a stone. At the same time, the streets and shops had become so much busier. No one could understand it.
It was as I was talking to my next-door neighbour Fred that I first noticed it.
It was just a niggle at first. Like an itch you couldn’t scratch.
In a matter of minutes, all I knew was that I HAD to have Gibbs SR toothpaste. It sounds ludicrous I know. Mad. I didn't know why, I didn't know where I just knew I HAD to HAVE some of it!
It was ridiculous. It was totally irrational.
And surely it would go away I told myself...
But it didn't.
That night I was plagued with just one thought. Gibbs SR. Get it. Now!
Early that evening I took some sleeping pills and went to bed, looking for any relief I could find. By morning this strange manic desire would surely be just a memory.
But it wasn't. It was still VERY much on my mind. And that's not all. It had been joined by another longing. For WRIGLEY'S GUM.
Now, this was getting serious. And what's more the intensity of the need for these products was growing.
I paced the apartment for the next hour unable to keep my feet still and my brain from repeating the names of these products and the banal slogans associated with them.
It was no longer any use fighting it. I couldn't control the longing, the overwhelming imperative now screaming so loud in my head that I MUST find these items that I couldn't remember even thinking about for years!
I made my way quickly to the door and ran down the stairs two or three at a time.
The street scene which greeted me at my front door came as a shock. I live in a relatively quiet area, nothing much goes on there. I'm within the city but it's a leafy suburb, in no way a main street.
The place was alive with bodies! And there were no leisurely walkers here. Everyone seemed to be in a frantic rush. Their heads were whipping about as they strode quickly this way and that, sometimes breaking into a short run before standing seemingly nonplussed for a while before striding off, sometimes in a completely different direction.
I can tell you I was pretty confused at this scene for a moment or two. But in a matter of seconds, I understood the whole thing. For I was off and running - it was like my legs had taken over from my brain, they had a mind of their own. Driven by the excruciating need which now filled every cell.
I MUST HAVE GIBBS!!!! I MUST HAVE WRIGLEYS!!!!
I shot off in the general direction of the nearest snake of bodies, glancing here and there, to the left and right, up and down.
My body had become like some demented addict scanning frantically for a fix.
Within an exhausting ten minutes, we reached our first shop. The snake poured right in. There were no assistants inside. Products were scattered in incredible chaos, wrapping, torn boxes, foodstuffs and juices smeared and trampled underfoot, spattered on walls and rolling around under our feet.
No sooner were we inside than we were back out again scurrying along the sidewalk like warrior ants in convoy. My feet were beginning to feel the pace and I noticed some no longer even had shoes on their feet. Their trouser legs and stockings were tattered and in some cases, exposed feet were bleeding. Yet still, they ran on. Relentlessly. Seeking who knew what.
We reached main street and what had been fright within me soared to the realms of terror. The whole width of the road was packed with a heaving black and bleeding mass of humanity. In my terror, I did manage to notice one or two things. There were no children or teenagers and few women. Everyone looked to be in their late fifties, no younger. There weren't that many very old people either. I'd no idea what to make of these observations at the time. They registered dimly within the screaming tornado of insistent longing that filled my mind.
I cried in my bitter frustration; in my fierce addiction. I recognized now what it was to be addicted. I suddenly felt total empathy for all the drug addicts who I'd looked down on before. I realised, suddenly and totally what they went through each and every day of their lives.
I cried then like a baby and I only stopped when my tear ducts finally ran dry. Not for the drug addicts, though I suppose it was for them as well, but mainly it was for me. What was happening to me? Why was I feeling like this? I was totally out of control. I couldn't stop this.
I was lost within the great writhing mass various snakes moved like starlings I'd observed in the night sky or great shoals of fish deep in some ocean like I'd watched on TV.
We moved instinctively, searching frantically. Shops were being cleaned out of everything as a terrific mass of bodies entered them constantly, swirled around every corner then ran kicking and smashing at anything that was not what they sought charging out of the door again and onto the street.
The noise was deafening. Apart from the sound of the debris being constantly thrashed here and there the greatest noise of all was the wall of sound generated by the screams of the people themselves. Within the collective sound were a great many competing sounds that in a grotesque way at times almost harmonised one with another. Mostly, however, there was total cacophony.
It did register with me that one of the loudest communal screams was one single wail of one well-known word...
The 'o' sound was voiced in a painfully long, howling, plaintive cry, like a beast in utmost pain. It constantly made my stomach convulse in agonised palpitation to hear it.
I was told later that some of the lucky ones had managed to locate a few existing supplies of Coca Cola. I call them lucky, but I wonder if that's the right word. They had drunk themselves to death. But, at that moment when I craved GIBBS and WRIGLEY’S like my life depended upon it I would have thought them the luckiest souls on Earth. It may seem like a hard, cruel thought but they were lucky to be no longer rabid and screaming, they were indeed lucky to no longer be living.
Unknown to us within the mob, the scientists were already feverishly pondering this phenomenon. Some of them of course were directly affected and were useless to anyone, being down on the street with the rest of us. But the younger and somewhat older members of the scientific establishment were strangely unaffected and they worked day and night to understand what was going on and to find some way end it.
It was they who finally figured it out. It was they who then advised the astonished government of their native country and who then passed on the answer to the scientists and governments of the others.
It was they who oversaw the end of commercial television.
I write this from my cell where I am slowly recovering. They say the drugs will keep me stable and I can inject myself at home from next month. I'll need to keep strict control of my injection schedule they say. Otherwise, I'll take a relapse in a matter of hours.
I'll need to do this for the rest of my natural life. The effect on me of subliminal advertising has been totally devastating.
Now that all television and movie advertisements have been halted it will take many decades before the last person exposed will no longer be thrown into the ‘Must-Buy Spasm’ as it’s become known.
The first ads seemed innocuous enough and I'd never felt particularly inclined to buy any of the products shown but as the years progressed I found I was watching more and more television. I suppose I was getting older and more sedentary. It seemed an easy and comfortable thing to do. Life was getting stressful and it was a way to shut my mind off and relax.
The sophistication of the ads grew and grew. It's funny no one thought at the time that there might be long term side-effects of all this stuff going into our brains. It does seem strange to me now that we all just went right along with it, opened our brains to it, sitting there, vulnerable to it, letting it all in and having it repeated and repeated over and over to us, imprinting us.
What the scientists eventually figured was that there was a lead-in time, that after a dormancy period the triggers mature and the full force of all that direct and subliminal conditioning hits.
We'll have to live with this for a long time to come. Each year the next batch will be triggered and so it will go on for many years to come. And who knows how bad it will be as those who have been exposed since birth come on stream? Unless they can find better and cheaper antidotes it is a truly terrifying prospect.
The antidote I'm on is colossally expensive. Each dose requires the synthesis from ten subject brains.
It was only out of desperation that the law to compulsorily take the brains of all future deceased was passed. I am one of only a few who escaped the cull. The others were put out of their misery. It was only kindness after all. It sounds cruel perhaps but they begged for it to be done in the end. Some hobbling on naked bone, clothes long gone, bodies smeared in blood, excrement, paint, foodstuffs, you name it.
It was a kindness, in the end, to herd them to the steel enclosures which had been so rapidly built, douse them with hundreds of gallons of fresh water and then pull the switch. I cry to think of them, I do. But I can't think too long about those times, it hurts too much.
If I do my hands begin to twitch, searching blindly, thoughtlessly, frantically for the remote.
Though there are no ads played anywhere now, not on TV and not anywhere, I and those like me, still see them, clear as day and enticing us, right there in front of our eyes... just as if they were playing within our very own skulls.