Monday, April 30, 2012

live más (o menos): on the crowd-sourcing economy

If you’re like me and make the daily mistake of listening to commercial radio, perhaps you’ve heard the Taco Bell commercial for their new Locos Tacos. Believe it or not, I’m not here to question the edibility of a taco made out of Doritos. We all grew up eating those finger-dying orange chips, so filling them with meat (or “meat”) and other “food” isn’t really a big leap. They probably taste pretty decent, in a 49-cents sort of way.

I am a little concerned with the name: We should call them Tacos Locos if we want to stay true to the Spanish language and Mexican culture, which, as we know, Taco Bell is devoted to doing. If we want to acknowledge the inherent and sometimes positive hybridization that happens when two cultures merge (hello, banh mi sandwiches!), we should call them Loco Tacos. In English, the adjective comes first and is never pluralized. Locos Tacos is a fair but awkward linguistic compromise, in my opinion.

Make mine without the inside part. Or the outside part.

But my real problem is with the commercial itself, which quotes Taco Bell’s real-life Twitter followers. Their thoughts on the new Tacos Locos, as performed by sincere, enthusiastic voice over actors:

“Freakin’ delicious!”

“It brought tears to my eyes, yo.”

“It’s like French kissing a unicorn.”

Why would someone follow Taco Bell on Twitter, you ask? To find out when those regularly 49-cent tacos might go on sale? No. The only reason someone would follow Taco Bell on Twitter is because he or she is a huge pothead who enjoys food- or “food”-related irony.

That fact, coupled with the particular diction of the quotes above, suggests that the Taco Bell tweeters are not actually passionate about Tacos Locos. I know, right? No one told the voice actors. The middle comment is spoken by an African-American or maybe “African-American” man, the sort of guy whom pop culture would have us believe regularly says “yo.”

But I can almost guarantee you it was written by a white stoner dude who enjoys using “yo” ironically. I also think it’s unlikely that a unicorn would deign to tongue-kiss anyone who’d ever eaten a Taco Bell taco, loco or sane. So I think that one’s made-up too.

The voice actors aren’t in on the joke, but I think Taco Bell is. I mean, somewhere at their corporate headquarters*, some highly paid ad exec knows that people don’t actually love their product this much. And they don’t give a shit because all publicity is good publicity. So they happily package people’s ironic comments about their barely edible product as actual advertising for said product. The stoners who tweeted the comments either think they pulled a fast one on Taco Bell, or they’re excited to get a free taco, or whatever it is people get paid in today’s crowd-sourcing economy.

And therein lies what bugs me: It’s a whole economic chain based on people who don’t care. The people who tweeted don’t care about the taco. The people who make the taco and the people who advertise it don’t care about the taco. Almost no one who buys and eats the taco cares about the taco. And yet millions are employed by this single, strangely hued item.

When people make, advertise or talk about products with a small fan base, they’re labeled elitist. But if I write a book that only two people read, at least I know that I really, really liked writing it. And if either of my two readers bother to finish it, well, they cared enough to spend more time with my story than it would have taken them to make, buy, eat and tweet about a Loco Taco (is that what you call a singular Locos Tacos?**)

Did I just use a Taco Bell radio commercial*** to make a case for a slow food/art/etc., non-capitalist economy? Yes, yes I did. And on some level, is our stupid fast food economy subsidizing my slow art career? Probably. And am I now kind of craving a taco? Not a Taco Bell taco, but maybe a Poquito Mas taco, which is still not exactly what you could call “artisan”? Yes, yes I am.

Hot robo-unicorn on pegasus action.

*At one of Meehan’s parties, we met a woman who worked at the Taco Bell corporate HQ. Almost everyone else at the party was a lawyer, nonprofit worker, artist or all of the above. The Taco Bell lady quickly became the Most Interesting Woman In The World. We had So. Many. Questions. I only wish I’d been able to ask her about this commercial, but back then Locos Tacos were just an orangey dream in some exec’s eye. Or the eye of a focus group stoner.

**My friend Lizzy works as an ad exec at Lexus. She once informed us that there is no plural of Lexus. Not Lexuses, not Lexi. It’s always just The Lexus.

***So, after further research (i.e. searching for taco images for this post), I learned that Taco Bell is sponsoring something called the Doritos Locos Tacos Hometown Tweet-Off. Meaning that the ironic stoners may actually have cared about something: winning a contest. Which defeats my whole point. Whatev. I dont know what the prize is. Im going to assume it’s a date with a unicorn.


Raardvarks said...

Congrats to the contest winner! Oh, the irony... So many LAYERS...

Claire said...

Ah, Taco Hell. I had heard about these dorito tacos before. They just remind me that I got sick after eating a ton of Doritos back in elementary school. No good associations there. Tacos Locos are not winning me over.