Culture

CONSUMER JOE

Life & Art Associate Editor

Ooooeeeee…the life of the American Dream. All ye good ol’ American citizens just can’t get enough and are the carnivorous animals blindly weltering in consumer excess. Brands, brands, brands…you gotta love ’em, if you can ignore how they hoodwink buyers for profit. But hell, all you gluttons want your dose of McD’s at three a.m. after squandering 50 bucks on drinks on SoBe, you want your Lexus and white picket-fenced villa in the suburbs, you want your plasma big-screen TV and all the up-to-the-minute gadgets like the hottest video game console on the market. You damn fools.

At least TV and film writer Paul Davidson was able to lucidly lampoon corporate America – the backbone of that oh-so-splendid American Dream – by disguising himself as a curious Consumer Joe (here, David Paulson), who jestingly wrote hundreds of letters to several Fortune 500 companies as their oblivious and gullible customer service reps wrote back with “concerned” responses for their valuable clients. Paulson, the inquisitive consumer renegade, is then able to give readers an idea of how well-known corporations (Hertz, Ben & Jerry’s, Anheuser-Busch, Kellogg’s Mattell, GAP, Procter & Gamble, Best Buy, etc.) react when their marketing and advertising claims are challenged. Moreover, it’s entertaining to watch him cleverly camouflage his identity into several different characters and trick companies into plowing for answers in order to keep the customer happy.

It’s fun to read him bitching to Barnes & Noble about getting exhausted after perusing the book store’s three floors and not finding what he needed, hence suggesting to hire “personal shoppers” that would go fetch the products; or him inquiring about rumors that Six Flag’s Magic Mountain is overrun by gangs and any nighttime visit could result in a mugging; or even him wondering why Juicy Fruit gum doesn’t maintain its flavor long enough, while Wrigley’s responds by sending him free “fresh” packs of gum. Davidson’s writing is witty and imaginative and the companies’ answers are both courteous rebuffs and humorously serious responses from reps trying to cover the company’s ass.

But Consumer Joe isn’t necessarily such an enlightening set of documents and all it does is confirm how corporate America is phony and, therefore, how the Dream is phony as well. Many consumers are blind sheep that don’t ask questions and thus Davidson successfully counters this by bombarding companies with queries – or as he puts it, “Harrassing corporate America, one letter at a time.” Nonetheless, the U.S. is overrated and, within the next few years, you may just find me in Russia or something, where I’ll publish my first novel about the crash (again) of the American Dream. Good night, ye faithful jingoists.

October 21, 2003

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published in print every Tuesday.