Cameron Conaway on how he immersed himself into new cultures, sometimes at the click of a button.
There were the times when an elder Buddhist monk handed me a pair of scissors and motioned for me to cut a ceremonial lock of hair from the young novice monk seated in front of us. There were the times in various mosques when I felt the swarm of hundreds of beggars closing in. And there were the times when the man who I assumed couldn’t speak a lick of English turned out to be an Oxford scholar capable of rattling off every Pittsburgh Pirates statistic. Though my dog-eared stack of Lonely Planet books is likely taller than I am, I didn’t learn much from them. I’d read some interesting tidbit about Myanmar but because I couldn’t truly place it I’d forget it within a few days. I’m a goldfish in that sense. But through wrestling with the Pehlwani team in India, or meditating alongside Zen monks in Thailand, or sharing tea in a stranger’s hut in Bangladesh…these moments of place are how I came to know a way, a culture.
Oh, and through the targeted ads that would fill the banners of web pages when I’d finally find some WiFi.
In India, I was bombarded with this commercial that attempts to hang onto the tradition of arranged marriages by making it cool:
In much of Southeast Asia, it was mostly static photo ads asking me to “Click Here” to have “Instant access to hot Asians.”
It’s scary just how targeted these targeted ads have become. While they can in no way come to represent an entire community, they do represent a part of it. The minds behind such ads know their audience, they know what buttons to push and they know what works. They know, for example, the need and want for Indian parents to maintain their slipping tradition of arranged marriages. They know the hundreds of thousands of men who poor into cities like Bangkok in order to have “Instant access to hot Asians.”
And boy do they sure know the sociopolitical demographics of US politics. After spending time in Charlottesville, Virginia, where my screen was lit up with ads encouraging me to vote for Democrat Terry McAuliffe, I drove to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Though it’s only a 45-minute drive away, the progressive vibe is all but gone except in areas around James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University. Old Jeeps have spare tire covers that read “Don’t Take Our Guns. Execute Criminals” and many of the restaurants, adorable as they may be, feel straight out of the 1960’s and not always in a good way. One can almost feel the pulsing racism behind the Southern hospitality. Without further ado, here’s the ad that appeared repeatedly on my computer as soon as I logged on in Harrisonburg:
What an opportune time to use the phrase, “In bed with.” Ads like this stoke the fire of those who desperately hate homosexuals, those conservatives who immediately (and often ONLY) think of two men having anal sex when they see an ad like this. And here’s Terry “In bed” with such people. What a disgrace he and other “liberals” must be in all levels of their lives. Naturally, I clicked the ad to find this:
The site, TraditionalValues.us, is a group that says gay rights are “so called” and wants to destroy The National Endowment for the Arts, pro-choice legislation, and one stereotypically radical et cetera after another. Of course, the above photo = this:
While my advice to fellow travelers is always to know a place through fully immersing yourself in it, don’t rule out spending a few seconds to
look at observe the blinking ads. They aren’t always targeted based on your personal interests. Sometimes they’re targeted at the typical community member, and because of this they can provide their own type of cultural insight.