Mike Straight
1127 s. 51st, street West Philadelphia, Pa. 19143

Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #85

It is definitely one of the stranger things that I do. It is not an easy endeavor; actually it is kind of difficult. Memorizing a role, staying with it, acting out accordingly - it can even be a bit stressful. If it wasn’t for the fact that it pays so damn well and I get to fuck with the American advertising industry from the inside, I probably wouldn’t do it…but I do, and it really is interesting.
     See, I do a lot of different types of “work” and one of the more bizarre jobs I do is to be a professional guinea pig for large marketing firms. That’s not what they call it - the official wording is - “participant in a focus group” - but I have never been one to call things anything different but what they are. I am there to hear new marking ideas, to listen to presentations and give my opinions. I am there to help them develop new strategies to sell products. Also, I am there to, in my own little way, fuck shit up.
     Has anyone read the book or seen the movie Fight Club? Well if you have, think of the scene, where the main character talks about his experiences visiting different self-help groups, taking on a different personality each different meeting. This is what I do. I am a fake lab rate for the American advertising industry. I have created a number of different personifications, as I take on the attributes of what is needed. Sometimes it is obvious -
Sometimes after going through the questionnaire, I fit into a group that the quota has been filled or not wanted. Fine. I just wait a ½ hour and call back - with a slightly different voice and different attributes. Maybe this time I’m not married, maybe this time I make $50,000 a year. This time I am this way, that time I am that way. It doesn’t matter, I work ’em.
     Philadelphia has two main marketing agencies - I wander between them. How they don’t recognize is beyond me. Sheer disgrunteledness and lacking of care for the ridiculous job that they do - that is my best bet. Seeing a 100 people a day, acting as well paid guinea pigs to test out new marketing slogan - yep that is a recipe for desensitization. They ID you as you go in (I guess so people won’t do exactly what I am achieving) but that is a haphazard glance (desensitization, remember?) I give them a number of different names - sometimes I am Michael, or sometimes I use my middle name Charles. Sometimes I spell my last name Straight, and sometimes Strait. When I walk in I casually pull out my ID, and they always accept it.
     Anyway, they let me in, then I hangout with a group of strangers picked for a certain demographic with a visiting moderator - then two hours later I walk away with $75. Not bad for a day’s work, no, not bad at all. Sometimes I wonder how I can actually keep pulling this off, because normally I am a terrible liar. But here, here I work wonders. Here I talk about my fictional wife, my fictional kids, my fictional career - my fictional desires for their bullshit products. Maybe it is like lying to cops, in the face of evil, I can ethically lie about anything.
     So I pretend to be something I am not. I take on that persona, and run with it. First I normally play my role but then I wait. About halfway through is the best time to start introducing new ideas, or critiquing society as a whole, and the place that this next stupid product will fit into it. Once, in a group looking over television idea about a Reeses cookie, I just starting going off about commodity fetishism, and does the world really need another brand of cookie? Sometimes people start agreeing, or even questioning - but sometimes they just start staring blankly - and you realize that you have just gained the “wingnut” title in the description they have of you. But that’s fine, cause you are here just to fuck up the results a little, and to get paid. So morally, I can just do what I want to, anyway I can. Oh, it is interesting work and I like touching ignored subjects. One idea that is constantly ignored is the idea of “class perspective”.
     It never ceases to amaze me how Americans simply avoid taking about class division and class differences. They ignore it. People will immediately state if a certain marketing campaign is catered toward gender, or race, or age, but so often the class consciousness and connection is left out. Totally ignored. Not even faintly thought about. And this, I believe, is no accident.
     The hierarchical system of power in the USA benefits greatly from the lack of class consciousness with the working class. Without class consciousness, and the unity and awareness that goes along with it, the American working class won’t have the bargaining power with those of economic that they could otherwise achieve. This may be a simplified statement, but in so many ways, I feel it is a basic truth. Now, in American society, it is like class doesn’t exist.
     So often, I just want to yell, scream, “It’s about class”. Fuck, how the propaganda in this country has worked so damn well. It amazes me. In a country where the upper classes hold onto their wealth and privilege so completely, you still have so many feel that being rich is solely from “hard work” or “luck.” It is crazy how everyone in this country feels they are part of this elusive middle class. OK, the very rich and very poor see their roles, but the rest of the country identifies as “middle class.” The advertising industry doesn’t feel this way, they ask right off your income level - they know that someone of a household income level of $30,000 isn’t the same “middle class” as someone of $80,000.
This idea of “everyone is middle class” is a new step for capitalism as it is a definition that tells the workers that they may not be rich, but they are better then others. They are middle. They have the average, no matter how hard it is to survive.
     Think about class for a bit, and think about how often people use it as a definer of their lives. How often is race, gender, or nationality used, but class is ignored? Why? Is it because if other definers of identity are used, people on the same social/economic level will feel less cohesion? With less unity, there is less potential for a power block, therefore less of a threat to the powers at be. Is this a simplistic view? Maybe, but the one thing I do know is that once a month I go to one of these focus group and every time I am asked by the agency for my income level, but never once, have I heard anyone talk about their class identity and how that identity forges their opinions in the focus group. The American Capitalist economic/social structure has forced class upon us, and many of us haven’t even recognized who there peers are. 

Mike Straight

Endnote: So I have almost all the songs for the Slug &Lettuce benefit comp. At the time of writing this everything is in except the Limpwrist song which Andrew is waiting on some guy from Canada to mail it down. Tomorrow, I am going to Asheville for a week so it should be here when I get back and then I send it to get mastered and then pressed (aka it will be out soon) Speaking of Asheville, When I get there I am going to have to buy Jeremy Clark a beer, as he drew one hell of a cover.
Fragile