Thursday, 18 February 2010


Copywriting has changed over the years. Not fundamentally. Fundamentally it's exactly the same. It's still the art and science of using words for the mystical purpose for which they are most suited. That of inverted telepathy, or putting thoughts into other people's heads. To digress briefly, it is borderline hilarious that there are so many earnest scientific experiments in peer reviewed journals over the last century testing the possibility of tiny feats of telepathy. If someone in a room can predict the card that someone in another room has turned over, or pointed to, by a fraction of a percentage more often than chance alone might allow for statistical significance, it's a cause for excitement. Yet we are blind to the everyday miracle of language, that plants complex thoughts into other people's minds in great, fat, thick torrents all over the world on an increasingly brilliant scale. Or take the current batch of astonishing TV programmes in which people try to the contact people from the past by standing in a room with the lights out. They ask them questions, hear bumps and scream and swear when a mouse coughs on the other side of the room, or a mote of dust wanders guilelessly across the night vision camera lens. These terrified people then hand back to a studio audience to wonder and emote at the possibility that contact might have been made with people from the past. The murderers and their victims, the historical figures who were making known their tiniest thoughts, as imagined by people who coincidentally got paid for hearing them. Others watching at home could send in their own observations from watching webcams - cameras pointing at empty space - unlit empty space, and these too could be interpreted as voices of the dead. Strange how much entertainment is wrought from such darkened voids of nothing, broadcast at prime time, strange how much pleasure and titillation this provides from hour after hour of literally nothing, when interpreted as the faint expressions of those gone to the other side, when you can garner the very thoughts of Charles Dickens by the very ordinary feat of reading them. You can read a John Keats letter describing his stockinged foot in front of the fire. It's simple, everyday telepathy across time. But it's so mundane that it is not worth remarking upon. But that is what writing is, and copywriting is a kind of paid for, industrial version of this. Is , was and always will be. However, the way copywriting is judged has changed in the internationalist world of the internet. To write an apposite and mildly persuasive line is a kindly sport with its own pith and value as its only reward, or occasionally an actual trophy might be won. But nowadays there are new achievements to enjoy. A few days ago a cluster of words I wrote 'trended'. They trended No 1 in UK and No 10 worldwide on Twitter for a period of a few hours according to Times Online.
The words were more derided than applauded as it happened, but who cares. I trended. Interactive real time news and politics where there was once a docile cluster of persuasive words on paper. I feel I have anonymously contacted another dimension. To paraphrase Coriolanus's mother, Trending on Twitter more becomes a copywriter than gilt his trophy. Well, it's paraphrasing Shakespeare really. Although it's good to think about a telepathic link with a fictional character. He also said through Coriolanus himself, 'action is eloquence' so perhaps I shouldn't be writing at all, but twittering. Twittering is after all where word and action meet. In the bird-territory - mating -hunger world from which the word is derived, tweet is a functional noise. Words allow us to communicate with people from the past, even with fictional people from the past. But when those words are trending, they are being used to mark territory or a sexual display perhaps, in some pathetically abstract way. The words are being recycled as a locus for human behaviour. How crazy is that. (I think I should start a list of quick and easy ways to extract oneself from a long and convoluted blog.)

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