Infinite Jest is the kind of book that has to be read slowly because not only are there sweeping themes and ideas to keep track of, but there are short passages and lines that speak volumes into American culture. While I was reading, it was easy to gloss over those small details without considering them in a significant way. I want to slow down with a few. Here is one.
“V&V’s NoCoat campaign was a case study in the eschatology of emotional appeals…It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relieveable by purchase. It just did it way more well than wisely,” (414).
It comes in a section where Hal, one of the main characters and a junior at the Tennis Academy, is “sinking emotionally into a kind of distracted funk.” In what appears to be almost a complete aside with the connection only being that Hal once wrote a paper on the American ad industry, the narrator explains the atmosphere of advertising (as the book is set in the near-ish future). This particular ad was from a company that created a nation-wide need for tongue scrapers: “when the nation became obsessed with the state of its tongue, when people would no sooner leave home without a tongue scraper and an emergency back-up tongue scraper than they’d fail to wash and brush and spray.”
A. This is hilarious,
B. but DFW’s sense of humor is not what I want to write about, though maybe over coffee some time?
His tone and manner of addressing the absurdity of such aspects and culture is so nonchalant and un-ironic (and reminds me of his essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again)–as though he is pointing out the obvious. Yet, it is obvious only in the subconscious that we hardly ever bring out to play, because life is easier when we don’t listen to it.
How did it happen that we know our next purchase will not satisfy anything within us and yet we continue to believe and act on the hope that it will? Why is it easier to believe and act on the promises in advertising than it is in the life truths we claim to profess? What is going on in our brains when we feel great after buying something new? Why is retail therapy a thing? That people joke about?
We are ridiculous.
I want to drink from a well of Life.