The Ringer's New No-Soul Simulator: A Totally Fresh Experience

No way out. No way out.

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The Ringer's New No-Soul Simulator: A Totally Fresh Experience

A recent piece about Domino’s Pizza for The Ringer, titled “How Domino’s Became the Pizza for the People,” is not merely the worst thing ever written on the Internet—it is the perfect embodiment of everything our politics, economics, and culture stands for. This is the part of the essay where I would describe to you what the Domino’s feature is actually about, but I can’t do that yet: I must disgorge these powerful feelings this Ringer feature has given me.

Okay, I’ve processed those. In brief, the Domino’s essay is a feature about how Domino’s is worth your time because it embraces trendy millennial values, like love and superfandom. That’s it.

Ostensibly, the article recounts the climb of Domino’s from hated brand to viable contender in the Pizza Wars. I just lost a year of my life typing that out. “And isn’t that real love?,” writes the author, “To see and be seen? To Domino’s, this level of fandom is more than just how many pizzas someone orders, it’s something spiritual, almost.”

No, it’s not. There can be nothing spiritual now. You have killed God with this hot take. He is dead, and Domino’s and The Ringer has killed him.

If you eat Domino’s, fine. I eat Papa John’s, and I know Papa John is not a nice man. I like Papa John’s pizza, but I understand what it is. Domino’s is a vast corporate machine with a pro-life founder. But even if it wasn’t—even if it was what the author claims—even it was a temple of perfect enlightened liberal values—this would still be the worst thing ever written, because this essay is a beautiful flower grown by consumerism on the grave of human passions. Advertisement is a part of modern life. But this is advertisement so advanced that the writer may not even know they are writing an ad.

Perhaps you’ve already read the essay, and you don’t see what the fuss is all about. But if you have spent the last several years watching people who call themselves highly-aware advocate for their most-beloved brands, then you know this is the logical outcome of woke consumption. Consumer choice began with awareness of which brands were the best bang for your buck, to use a dead horse cliché. But in the race to the bottom, the products are scaled as close to bare bones as possible. Between brands of similar capability and similar cost, there is little difference: therefore, generics are a reasonable choice. They do the same thing as the product you like, because all of them are the same material, more or less. That’s the paradox of consumerism: so much stuff, so little choice.

As a phenomenon, consumerism demands a new mindset, which requires education in consumer practices and brand loyalty. We are trained in it since childhood. We respond through evolving defenses, like irony and selective attention. This leads to an arms race with product-makers. As we spend more time in Consumer World, the stories we tell ourselves about dwelling there grow more and more advanced, to the point where even savvy buyers feel absurd loyalty to mass-produced products. Being a consumer is no longer about just accounting and making rational guesstimations about products, but deciding who to pledge lifelong adoration to. And watching people advocate fulsomely for brands is unsettling. It’s as creepy as watching North Korea go about its business. Trendy, bougie, market-savvy emoji bullshit is its own brand now.

The Ringer piece on Domino’s is, in its own way, a miracle, as pure and peerless as an orphanage turning to ice in summer. It’s like watching a child be birthed of money, manipulation, and consumerism, and I can’t look away. What a terrible beauty is born.

When I say it is a work of genius, I am not being snarky. How many artists and writers have labored to give us a vision of hell? Countless. But the vision of humanity as described in this Ringer feature is uniquely appalling: they have no purpose, no crusade, no inherent worth except to create brands, and consume brands. They are nodes on an ecological map where product and money cycles through, like the hydrological cycle in old textbook illustrations. Imagine a world without human dignity, without ties to nation, ideology, or religion: just brands, and the emotions that go with brands. I have often wondered what it would be like to be a walking meatsack who had no purpose but to be a receptacle for product loyalty. The persons conjured up in this article are the best examples of the ancient dream of creating a zombie humanity. We ought to buy the superfans a Cadillac. They could only have been created as the byproduct of half-aware boosterism, and that could only have come at the end of an age when literally everything else was being stripped from the human experience except consumer loyalty.

Oh my God. How does this feature start? “The act of ordering Domino’s can be described only as a sublime experience.” No. No it can’t. No it fucking can’t.

Not unless you’re talking in the Zen sense where every single moment and molecule of the Universe is holy. Otherwise, this is the part where I put my head through a plate glass window, then back out, then in again, until the magic of vein opening does its work.

So help me, I will go on. The author describes the infomercial process of ordering Domino’s, and how it arrives to her door, “Then the real experience begins.”

Next paragraph: “My two hands grab the box and open it hastily. Gratification is near.”

No, no. I’m sorry. I am very sorry, Paste reader. Gratification is not near. I cannot do a summary of this article. It won’t do. It won’t be done. Do you remember in The Ring, where making a copy of the video carries the curse forward? Or the Monty Python sketch, for our older readers, where the funniest joke in the world can’t even be read? This is the same way. Staring into the depths of “How Domino’s Became the Pizza for the People” is a madness-summoning experience. If I summarized it for you, that would be like drawing a crayon picture of the body of Satan, which means the Devil would literally be in your hand, thereby giving you access to the infernal regions. I will not subject that to you.

Pain. Shutting down. Writing. I can’t go on, I’ll go on. I scan forward …

“I’m firmly in Domino’s target demographic, if not a dream user. ... I ride for Domino’s like Jay Z rides for Beyoncé.”

No! Oh, sweet dear fancy Moses, what am I doing here? Imagine a conglomerate left a computer program running in a Delaware basement since 1995, and after years of absorbing sales figures and brand information, it became self-aware and began to write winking stories about how great Domino’s pizza is, and this is exactly what you would have. It touches every base. It uses the word “gamified” unironically. There’s praise for technofuturism. There’s links to brand ambassadors whose main qualification is that they have appeared on other corporate brands: “Ruby Tandoh, 2013 Great British Bake Off contestant and cookbook author, agrees.”

There’s the Malcolm Gladwell-level contrarian “Hey, buddy, forget literally everything you once knew about pizza. What’s that? You have opinions about things? Is that right, you total piece of shit?”

If you don’t believe in God, this Ringer piece will give you faith in a cruel deity. If you already believe in God, this piece on Domino’s will literally deliver atheism to your door. This is the reversible raincoat of theodicy. It’s absolutely breathtaking. I feel if I sneeze or blink it might be gone, like vomiting up a perfect Van Gogh. Can propaganda be written unconsciously? I think it can.

I read and read more and can’t believe how insanely shilly it is.

Once again, The Simpsons was ahead of its time. When we speak of that show’s crimes, we usually refer to its last fifteen seasons. But The Simpsons has a lot more to answer for than just shredding its legacy: through its poorly-understood cultural power, it has literally molded the world.

In the service of comedy, animated satire beats reality into terrible new shapes with a tire iron of prophecy. The Simpsons gave us Krusty the Clown, the ultimate showbiz hack. In one episode, “The Last Temptation of Krusty,” he made the full journey from sad old schtick comedian to edgy standup comic to legit voice of the people to huckster again. The subtle, underlying message of the episode is either 1) we are who we are, or, much more unsettlingly, 2) every entertainer is inherently a shill. The episode ends with Krusty hocking the Canyonero, a big, terrible, dangerous SUV. But The Ringer has lapped them twenty times over with this piece.

Modern liberalism began in the 18th century with the dream of human freedom and has ended as a dartboard for brands. This is the worst sales job since Garden State got everybody to go off their antidepressants. It’s so bad I almost suspect it’s a high-level grad student ploy to get me to talk about the blatant brand-pandering. What if this is a clever trap to lure in outraged features-writers? Could Domino’s be counting on the existential-horror buzz to bring the sweet quarterly profit numbers home? If so, it is working. Oh, is it ever. As a friend of mine suggested, what makes this even crazier is, it’s entirely possible that this person was not paid to write about Domino’s, but has done this of their own free will.

You may have heard of the Turing Test, which is designed to see whether or not a computerized artificial intelligence can pass as human, and fool us meat creatures. And perhaps you have heard of Poe’s Law, which suggests that there is a level of parody so high-functioning, that it becomes indistinguishable from the real thing, without a clear statement of intent from the creator which bluntly states, “This is a parody.”

I suggest a Rhode Corollary: as promotion and self-obliviousness evolve at the same rate, eventually a point is reached where marketing copy is indistinguishable from Long Stories About Things I Like. It is the Omega Point of Cultural Irony.

Slipperier still, I have written an entire feature making fun of an online essay that is in essence an ad for Domino’s Pizza … but in doing so, I have spread the word of Domino’s to my readers. Is there no end to Domino’s marketing juggernaut? Am I also inadvertently an agent of this secret power without realizing it?

Am I through the looking glass? How far down does the rabbit hole go?

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And the greatest trick postmodern capitalism ever pulled was to package feelings, and then to package feelings as a choice which somehow leaped over consumerism and advertising. It’s like cancer funding a diet version of itself for yuppies.

There was always a moment where soulless marketing and self-aware consumption would meet. We could all see it coming from the far distance, like praying all your life for two trains you secretly hate to collide. It was obvious as far back as the Eighties, when the Boomers finally left the Summer of Love and headed straight for the mall. It was always there, from the dawn of the counterculture, when flower children bought VW bugs instead of bringing the horse back into vogue. Steve Jobs made a fortune off of it. And now here we are. Brands are the locus of all human meaning. We are all the Noid now.

So the company spent $75 million on a campaign to tell everyone, “Hey guys, we’ve been screwing up for a while now. We made bad pizza, but now we make good pizza. Please buy it!” The spots, as you might remember, featured CEO Patrick Doyle and pizza chefs begging consumers to give them a second chance, while acknowledging all the complaints they’d heard over the years. It was so self-deprecating it had to work.

Jesus wept.

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