The Null Device

The dream life of consumer culture

Mark Dery looks at spam subject lines as Dadaist found literature:
If only Tristan Tzara had lived to read spambot subject lines, some boiler-room hacker's idea of a foolproof strategy for bluffing your way past spam-killer defenses. "Be godparent or osteology," admonishes today's first hunk of junk mail, a Dadaist ultimatum if ever there was one. What mental-ward wisdom hides in this love-it-or-leave-it, my-way-or-the-highway dualism? Does it mean: If you're not part of a social network, bound by family ties, you've got your nose in the boneyard? "Ragweed conjunct Sherlocke," the next spam asserts, cryptically. A reference to Conan Doyle's mythical detective?
But why the antique terminal "e"? Intriguingly, this one makes use of the market-tested alt.music formula of stringing together three unrelated words to generate a record title or bandname guaranteed to inspire hours of beer-bong explication de texte, as in Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or The Butthole Surfers' Locust Abortion Technician or Independent Worm Saloon or the Mother of Them All, Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. Do spambot programmers in offshore sweatshops have a secret sweet spot for the Captain? Or is there a neurocognitive reason for our requirement that three's the magic number when it comes to dream-logic word games? I've archived mails with Beefheartian subject lines such as "biracial Auerbach crankshaft," "boil longleg Kant" (those of us with little patience for the bewigged old dear couldn't agree more) and the painful-sounding "hardwood pancreatic departure".

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