OK, I knew if I’d study on it long enough, I’d figure out a way to institutionalize my hilarity on reviewing my spam filter.
For those who believe, incidentally, that humor must be spontaneous and unplanned, I refer them to the example of P. G. Wodehouse, who — this was in the days before word processing, recall — would take plot sheets for his books and pin them to the walls of his studio, re-arranging them time and again until he got it Just Right. He was also a playwright as well as a prose author, and when you read his stories (most of which initially appeared in serialization in any event) you get a strong sense of the story lines moving like a play. Perhaps that’s what makes his books so entertaining. Just like you can’t have dead time on a stage without killing your play, Wodehouse never allows awkward pauses in the flow of his stories.
In any event, what I decided on was a weekly spam championship. I can jot down over the course of the week the most outrageous, or puzzling, or howlingly funny spam subject lines, and each week announce the finalists. Perhaps even an outright winner. So, without further ado, the below are the contenders from Week 1:
“Night or day Glucophage is your way!” Have to love the poetry of that. Almost disappointed they didn’t shove a “Burma Shave” at the end of it. Sugar-eater, though (which is what I assume “Glucophage” translates to in plain Saxon yes)? Not entirely sure what this medicament is intended to accomplish. Diabetes, perhaps? I’ve seen it crop up for a couple of months now, but never in any connection that would allow the spam target (me) to divine what it was all about without opening the e-mail. That is, I have to suppose, the entire purpose of the subject line.
“Over the edge of the format. Cialis Daily” This one’s got a strong claim to Brain Teaser of the Week. Years ago, when I was first learning to speak German as an exchange student, I invested in Langenscheidt’s German-English and English-German school dictionaries. I’m sure there’s a technical expression in the industry for that sort of thing; I just think of them as “translating” dictionaries, because that’s really what they do, instead of defining words. You locate the word you want to translate from your source language and then follows a list of words in the target language. Well enough. Except none of the target language words comes with any sort of context, so that you can tell which word is the correct one for your specific usage. It’s pretty obvious the author here is non-Anglophone, and I’m reasonably comfortable he’s got hold of a translating dictionary and just pulled up the first word he came to when he went to translate whatever the hell he wrote in his native language. And he came up with “over the edge of the format”. If anyone can figure out what, precisely, that’s supposed to mean — other than that you’re supposed to get your willie permanently hard or something, either in order to or in consequence of having gone “over the edge” of the “format” — I’d like to hear it.
“The pleasure is where Viagra Soft takes place. Buy here.” Respectfully, but isn’t that exactly backward? If I’ve already got me some pleasure, why would I want to produce Viagra Soft (itself a product name of questionable utility) with it?
“Your spell against infections.” Medical spam meets the Middle Ages here. Bag of wolfsbane, anyone? Or are they advertising little voodoo dolls? Perhaps this is a book of exactly that, spells to ward off or cure infections. Like burying a live cat under a rotten oak stump at full moon or something. Is the spammer here a Druid, perhaps? The target audience here must be the same sorts of people who respond enthusiastically to the One Weird Trick That Will Triple Your Gas Mileage!
“Your world of safety.” That’s it. I like this one because it has a bit of a 1950s vibe to it. If you ever have looked through a popular magazine from back then (I still recall finding in a book rack beside a bed in one of my grandparents’ guest bedrooms a copy of Life . . . from December, 1942; as God is my witness I think that thing had sat there in that rack from then until I stumbled across it in what would have been the late 1970s), you’ll recall the way they did print advertising back then. Lots of slogans in quotations, frequently in decorative typefaces and to be associated with either drawn or photographed pitch-men (or women) with improbably white and even teeth, invariably in a coat and tie if male or a buttoned-to-the-neck dress if female. [N.b. The book to read is Paul Fussell’s Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. He goes on at some length about the social commentary implicit in wartime advertising.] “It’s a sure thing!” “Now featuring <insert proprietary ingredient name>!” “Can’t go wrong with a Pontiac!” “It’s anhydrous, dear!” Years ago a buddy of mine, who has the sort of mind and talent and capacity for insight which I genuinely wish I had, took to whiling away the time in class by drawing tiny little sketches in lieu of class notes. I hope he still has some of them, because his drawing of Public Policy must rate as classic American art, to say nothing of political commentary. One of our crypto-Marxist classmates was gassing on once, and my buddy whipped up a drawing of the kind of Brave Proletarian Facing Manfully Towards Communist Future that would have had Comrade Koba (better known to history as Stalin) with tears in his eyes. In any event, he came up with a slogan that exactly captures the kind of thing I’m trying to get at: “Now featuring Moxie!” I now use that expression — mentally at least, no one of my current circle of acquaintance having any reason to know what the hell I would be talking about — whenever I run across something in life that just reeks of advertising blather. When I saw this spam subject line, I could almost conjure up the picture in my head of some slightly-overweight, white, gently balding or perhaps graying, man (but of course) in a shopkeeper’s apron, proudly standing in front of a wall shelf of vaguely non-discernible hardware-sorts-of-items, and above his head the quoted slogan: “Your world of safety”.
So do we have a winner? I’m declaring a tie between “Your world of safety” and “Over the edge of the format”. Very different, but strongly evocative each in its own way.