May 24, 2011
"Unlike" Your Way to Freedom

So I’ve found myself using the “unlike” button on my Facebook page a lot recently. Not because of my friends—you’re safe (or in danger, depending on how you look at it), folks. Rather, it’s TV shows that have drawn my unlikingĀ  … fury? Impulse? Vague sense that it’s the right thing to do?

Three shows, in particular, have drawn me to unlike them despite the fact that I do, in fact, like them. These are Deadliest Catch, Dr. Who, and The Office.

Why? Well, it comes down to the way these shows have turned their sites into nonstop marketing engines that seem dedicated to the idea that I should spend pretty much every bit of my free time engaging with their characters, their memes, and their products. I get post after post after post after post from these sites (and others) that push themselves onto my Facebook page, grabbing and shouting for attention.

Dr. Who, for example, wants me to “like” a show if I am going to watch it—even though, since I haven’t watched it yet, I don’t yet know if I like it or not. (Aside: this season isn’t grabbing me. Someone on their writing staff watched Inception too many times.) They want me to choose which of the recent “enemies” is scariest and which of the Doctor’s companions is the best. And, of course, they want to drive me to their website where I can pick up some Dr. Who merchandise.

Deadliest Catch wants me to play a crab fishing game while watching ever more snarky videos that didn’t make it on the show … which is pretty well over-filled with snarky videos as it is. It wants me to watch interviews with captains and crew and track the progress of my favorite boat. It wants me to care about what it wants me to care about—and spend a lot of time and perhaps money doing it.

The Office may be the most egregious offender of all. In addition to clips that were edited out of the show, it posts links to products and services that appear or are introduced in the show on its web page the next day. I can follow the online life of bands or products the show’s characters create—themes that are introduced for the sole purpose of creating an online life for the introduced item, and that will never be heard from in the broadcast storyline again.

I get why the producers and webmasters do this. Driving traffic to your site and marketizing the things your characters do is part of the modern economics of the entertainment industry. Especially as people stop watching commercial programming and pick up shows in drips and drabs in various virtual venues, the need to invent new and seemingly creative ways to monetize a commercial activity has become a core focus of all producers.

But it’s getting to be too much … and we’ve only recently begun down this road. Lord knows what it will be like just a year or two from now.

Essentially, the overwhelming marketing of EVERYTHING seems to me to be as likely to create exactly the same kind of backlash that SHOUTING TELEVISION COMMERCIALS once did. It certainly has for me.

You are, of course, to twiddle away your time as you wish, just as I am free to twiddle my time away in my own particular way. But if I might offer a piece of utterly unsolicited advice from someone who is too old to have grown up in the digital superscape we find ourselves in today (I, after all, didn’t get an email address until I started teaching at a university in 1990):

Turn it off. Disconnect. “Unlike” a lot of things you have signaled you like. It doesn’t mean you don’t like them. It doesn’t mean your (actual) friends won’t like you any more. It just means you will be freer to do whatever it is YOU actually want to do, and to care about whatever it is YOU actually want to care about. “Unlike” is freedom.