Nomaville: Can of Words

Cogito ergo spam.Having just sent off the first installment of “The Week That Was @,” my weekly e-mail newsletter highlighting new content on “Ye olde webbe site,” I’m pleased to report that the churn has been minimal and the surfeit of congratulatory replies a welcomed surprise.

Admittedly, I approached the promotion with some trepidation. The difference between spam and an informative e-mail to thousands of friends and colleagues (as well as the friends and colleagues of my friends and colleagues) is the difference between canned meat and a Monty Python sketch. I’ll explain: For reasons lost to history, the porcine-based product called “SPAM” was not included on the U.K.’s list of rationed foods during and after World War Two. Consequently, the relative abundance of the preserved meat soon bored the isle’s collective palate, which will seem ironic to anyone who has ever eaten such Brit delicacies as mashed-peas.

In the ‘60s, pioneering English comedy troupe Monty Python penned an ode to the ubiquitous luncheon product of their youth in which dining Vikings intrusively chant “Spam, spam, spam, spam” over the dialogue of others until the credits roll (which are likewise graffitied with the word “spam”). The Net’s Jurassic-era geeks perceived an analogy between the Python sketch and the proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail. The slang stuck and fine people at Hormel Foods, purveyors of what “Ask Dr. Science” described as “Scientifically Produced Animal Matter,” have been generally sangfroid about such use of their product name since. (Theirs is a branding issue on par with “Muzak,” which Lennon used pejoratively in a lyric decrying McCartney’s solo work: “The sound you make is Muzak to my ears…”).

In 1994, immigration lawyer Laurence Canter and his wife Martha Siegel posted the world’s first spam to thousands of Usenet groups promoting their “green card lottery” enrollment service to non-citizens of the U.S. Predictably, cyberspace erupted in uproar. Within two years, Canter had been berated in the media, disbarred, divorced and, finally, reduced to small talk with a 23-year-old would-be scribe in the banal splendor of someone’s east Petaluma kitchen. Larry, as he was introduced to me, was reacquainting himself with the former stepmother of a young woman with whom I briefly lived during the mid-90s. What I found remarkable about Canter was that he seemed rather inured to the oily image the media had ascribed him and ardently unrepentant about the whole debacle. He was, as I was reminded repeatedly by the former-stepmother, featured in a Time Magazine cover story after all. Reporter Philip Elmer-Dewitt’s July 25, 1994 article opened, “There was nothing very special about the message that made Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel the most hated couple in cyberspace…”

Despite her squire being one of the two most hated people in cyberspace, the former-stepmother seemed compelled to uphold Canter as an example of public relations ingenuity. I myself had just gotten my mug featured in a local paper in a round-up of area writer-types and I believe she was trying to teach me a lesson, something akin to “There’s no such thing as bad PR, just bad publicists.”

As a writer, my byline is my brand name and given the amount of sweat-equity I’ve put into the moniker (the origin of which is too recondite to recount here) I am, of course, loath to tarnish it with a half-cocked foray into self-promotion. Seeing as my public relations budget is a smidge above the average cup of coffee, however, I must use the cheaper means at my disposal and risk mirroring Canter’s oily image in the media. Then I remember — I am the media, baby! I put the “me” in media. And the “I.” Heck, I even put in the big “D.” The only letter left for you, dear readers, is the “A.”

Actually, make that an A++. You deserve it. And you can’t spell “Kiss A++” without it.

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