An uncontrollable pressure relief valve for the questionably sane.

The Hustle

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“By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising……kill yourself.  You are the ruiner of all things good.  You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with garbage.”        

  -The late, great, Bill Hicks. 

When summer ends I get anxious about the impending holiday season.  I don’t know exactly when I started hating the holidays–maybe when I realized so much in modern life is contrived.  Christmas is the Super Bowl of Hustles. “The Holidays” as we call them now,  are sterilized ideals co-opted by money-making schemes to bolster revenues.  The capitalism I’m all for, hooray for fourth quarter blockbuster earnings–but don’t expect me to buy it.  And I don’t just mean “buy it” literally.  I won’t buy the fuckin’ shit your sellin’, get it, Jack?  Quit hustlin’ me.  I know what a hustle looks like, ever since I was just a dumb 17-year-old with no money and a cocky attitude, getting my meager dollars taken from me by street hustlers in New Orleans.  They got all my money, I fell for all of it, I must have had a bulls-eye painted on my forehead.  Which begs the question of who is responsible for the exploitation, the hustler or the hustlee?  You know who the biggest hustler of all is?  Santa.

I love the good parts of the holiday season, the real parts:  Celebration, vacation, family, giving thanks, communing with loved ones.  But these are the times the advertisers really ramp up the game.  Somewhere along the line our priorities were skewed and we started to think we had to buy stuff to make these sacred times worthwhile.   And I, unfortunately, am not an exception.  Despite having had my consumerism-epiphany, I still find myself trudging around a mall on December 22 or so, stuffing bags full of products that I pray will be well received by my family and friends.

The Hustle had been around me my whole life just as it’s around everyone all the time.  A moment of clarity is what most people are missing;  if you’re born into a society where everyone’s getting hustled all the time, it seems normal.   Some of us (definitely not all) have an epiphany somewhere along the line and understand that a lot of what we see are just the machinations of some other human being trying to get something out of us.  We all gotta eat, and most of us eat by making money to buy food, and to make money you gotta figure out how to get others to spend it.  And that’s what we find so much of in America–everywhere you look someone is trying to get you to buy something.  Be it a panhandler or a fading advertisement, just about everything you read while walking down the street in a modern city is a hustle.  The smartest hustles don’t even let on that they’re hustling you, the sophistication has come so far that we’ll spend our money because we think we need something that’s being suggested to us.  Key word, suggestion.  You don’t need that shit, it was just a suggestion!  But even then we’ll buy whatever is being sold, and we’ll congratulate ourselves for fulfilling a need, like we’d gone out and hunted and killed an animal for food, dragging back whatever “necessity” we’ve just bought for our family.  The huge irony is, of course, that whomever buys the product, regardless of need, is actually the prey, not the predator.  The consumer always get hooked and reeled in by the scheme.

Now, let me reiterate, I’m not bagging on capitalism,  I’m a firm believer in “bottom-up” economic policy.  But I’m under no illusions, there are problems inherent in all systems, and lately the problems seem to be more flagrant than usual.  Maybe it seems more evident because there are more people on the planet these days….it’s easier to be observant of your fellow man when your crushed up against him.  Alexis de Toqueville saw all this coming:  the inherent problems of a society dominated by popular opinion (if you haven’t read Toqueville, you should, some of the smartest writing on problems the United States and other democracies inherently face).  You can’t take a quiet shit these days without a populist uprising about the kind of toilet paper you’re using.  But then again, I’m a father of a two-year-old, quiet shits are a vague memory at best, maybe I’m being cynical.  Popularity doesn’t equal “right.”  And you can debate morality all day long, but you’ll never come to a philosophic conclusion where majority rule substantiates any moral decision (although this happens all the time).

Which brings me to the groundbreaking television drama Mad Men.  I watch more TV than I should, but only rarely does a show come along that I find edifying (NatGeo documentaries typically notwithstanding).  And it’s on basic cable nonetheless. If you haven’t seen the first three seasons of this show, do so now, and try to pay attention to the social commentary–it’s easier not too, Mad Men stands up on its own even superficially, but if you read between the lines it’s very illuminating.   The entire series takes place during the early 1960s, or as I like to call it “When Shit got Weird in America.”  Things were different in the early 1960s–apparently you could drink and smoke all day at work and tell your secretary (not your Administrative Assistant, mind you) that you overdid it at lunch and to hold your calls because you’ll be taking a nap until 4 p.m.   World War 2 and The Korean War were fresh memories, and the country was enjoying it’s peacetime, Vietnam wasn’t even on the news yet.  There were only a couple channels on TV, and people still read newspapers every morning.  Suburbia was a fresh, welcomed idea.  The show makes it seem, and I suspect it’s true, that advertisers on Madison Avenue are some of the most powerful, savvy people on the planet.  They don’t actually produce anything, nothing tangible or empirical, but they’re more influential  than the Ministry of Propaganda from 1984.  This was a time in our country’s history that was ripe for the exploitation of our citizens’ new wealth, or what we now call “consumer culture.”   We weren’t in an economic depression, we had disposable income, and no one was being shipped off to war.

Modern advertising has shaped American culture with a reckoning force greater than politics.  Strangely, whether they realized it or not, politicians and advertisers were working hand-in-hand to change the psychological landscape of the American frontier.  In a country that favors capitalism and free markets instead of authoritarian rule, The Ministry of Propaganda becomes Sterling-Cooper.  Advertisers have convinced us that money can buy love, happiness, freedom, control, adventure, or security.  None of these things can be purchased, only products can.    For some reason we keep going back to the store subliminally expecting to buy happiness, and all the shelves are full, we just can’t seem to find where they stock all the happiness and love.  And when we get home and look at the receipt, after we’ve opened our shiny new product and we’re wondering what to do with all the packaging, we wonder why we feel so dissatisfied.  This product was supposed to make me feel better, right?  That’s what we were lead to believe, but it turns out we bought into and idea instead of the product itself.  Now we’re the proud owners of something with very little actual function, but might earn us the slightest piece of status in the world of contrivance (again, created by the advertiser).   If you’ve ever felt this way, you got hustled, baby.

So where can you buy some happiness around here?  Is it expensive?  I’m sure it is.


Written by billlobe

August 31, 2011 at 3:32 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Ok Billy, here are my two thoughts on The Hustle.
    1. That reference to Mad Men was quite random. Not sure I really followed the relevance, but then again, I don’t watch Mad Men, so perhaps it made sense to a Mad Men junkie. Caught me off guard.
    2. In broader terms, I think it is important to introduce the concept of getting “duped” when discussing the concept of being hustled. The way I see it, whenever someone gets duped, they were successfully hustled. On the other hand, someone can avoid falling prey to a hustle and thus avoid being duped. Let me explain. Let’s say you and a friend go to a club, and a stranger tells you that your friend is out of of money and needs $20 and for you to give it to her. And this stranger tells your friend the very same thing about you. And let’s pretend you and your friend bought it and gave her $20….You both got hustled….and duped! But when I am accosted by the Delta Airlines credit card guys in the Detroit airport telling me that if I sign up I get a free flight, I don’t fall for it. Sure, I’m getting hustled, but unsuccessfully. Actually, I enjoy denying the hustle, as it gives me a sense of empowerment…kind of like I’m saying “don’t fuck with me ’cause I’m not gonna buy your shit, seriously, get out of my face”. God is that satisfying when I pull a heisman on the hustle. Yes, we all get hustled on a daily basis, but if we don’t fall for it, it’s an empty hustle. TD


    September 5, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    • Well said Trey! I should include something about being sharp enough to avoid as opposed to just venting about it happening. I had a difficult time with this one and actually cleaned it up a bit after you commented on FB, my journalist friend made me edit it quite a bit (I have a tendency to be tangential). And yeah, the Mad Men thing doesn’t work if you’re not a fan, although it fits if you are–I think I’m gonna work on this one some more. Great comments, thanks.


      September 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

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