Last summer, my family was visiting my grandmother in her apartment in Vermont, and she was going through her old high school yearbook with myself and my brothers, telling us all about how she was in charge of finding sponsors and formatting the advertisements. It’s something my grandmother and I share, that appreciation of good formatting and the solidly-written word, and the conversation turned to how current technology makes her old job easier than ever. I don’t know how the topic turned to it, but my brother proudly told my grandmother about this wonderful plugin called “AdBlock,” wherein you don’t have to look at advertisements online anymore because the program filters them out. Aghast, my grandmother said to him, “That’s awful.” As someone who vehemently refuses to download AdBlock, I cannot help but agree.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a love/hate relationship with ads, and every so often, YouTube does something super annoying like adding advertisements to the ends of videos or playing two unskippable ads one after the other. And I grit through it because there’s nothing else really to do but sit and wait for the main attraction to arrive. Sometimes I get ads for magical psychological tricks that can science a woman into falling in love with me, or lingerie for plus-size women despite being a chronically underweight man. My favorite is when I get a Trump ad before listening to something by Matt Pless or Mischief Brew or some other anarcho-folk artist because, hey, I appreciate you wanting to buy my vote, hoss, but this video attracts the opposite of the people who would vote for you.
I think my love of advertisement in virtual media stems from the fact that it makes so much art freely accessible to so many people. I did not have the ability to freely access the internet until I was fourteen years old. If I wanted to listen to Styx’s The Grand Illusion whenever I wanted, I would have to go to Borders (because, hey, blast from the past, Borders still existed back then) and purchase it on a CD. Now if I want to be underwhelmed by Styx, I can just type “Grand Illusion” into the YouTube search bar and voila! It’s there. Five to fifteen seconds of being advertised to, and then I’m free to listen to whatever the heck I want. The artists get their pennies per view, and I get my sick tunes.
Advertising on a virtual platform has opened up so many avenues for artists and educators to share their work. Watch any given Armchair Historian or Alternate History Hub video and you’ll realize that the majority of History YouTube is being subsidized by Raid: Shadow Legends and Nord VPN. Musicians don’t need to put their work behind a paywall because that cost is shifted onto the advertiser. That’s what I love the most about this system: I, as a content creator, will not have to put my work behind a paywall. I firmly believe that potent and meaningful art cannot be potent and meaningful if it is not freely available to wide swaths of the population. It’s why I didn’t care much for Hamilton until they put the full musical on Disney+ (but it’s still on thin ice because, let’s be honest, there wasn’t nearly enough Peggy in that musical). I love that I can be an artist in this day and age and not have to gatekeep my own work.
My grandmother used to work in marketing, and she is fully aware of the talent that goes into it. Anyone who’s seen Mad Men can agree that advertising isn’t entirely artless, and I can appreciate the thought that goes into trying to get me to spend money I don’t have or a vote I don’t want to give to someone. At the end of the day, what matters is that the artists get paid.