The Old Scout

Garrison Keillor's weekly newspaper column.

Strange New World

April 21, 2009

I am a poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe, but it's OK, I am well paid for the woe and I enjoy watching my fellow wayfarers, the road guys, the men who fly from town to town, talking on their cell phones, hustling software and industrial carpeting, advising companies on branding issues, guys with pagers, laptops, BlackBerries, and voices like drill bits.

Road guys tend to be a little grim, which you would be too if you were trying to peddle your widgets these days. They don't sit in the gate area and exchange stories about road life. Except lately, I've heard numerous road guys discussing the Domino's Pizza hooha in which an employee in Conover, N.C., shot a video of another employee making a salami sandwich, farting on it and adding some cheese he had pulled out of his nose -- which was posted on YouTube and promptly viewed by millions of slackers and mouth-breathers and apparently had such an effect on Domino's business that its president, Patrick Doyle, made his own YouTube appearance defending the brand.

This is the world turned upside down, in which satirists finally have some power to step on the big boys' toes and make them squeal. Two minimum-wage employees with a cheap videocam are able to make such a stir that a man who earns almost half a million a year has to stand up and say that the Conover store has been closed and sanitized, that the two "team members" are charged with felonies, that Domino's makes a delicious and hygienic pizza, and that the company is now re-examining its hiring practices so as not to admit to its team the sort of person who would pull cheese out of his nose and fart on the salami. "It sickens me," he said.

This shakes up some of the road guys, who wonder what the world has come to. But it's the very world they live in.

The Internet is fundamental to the migratory life. You can sit here -- I'm in St. Louis right now, at Gate A17 -- and shower the world with your e-mails and check your Facebook friends to see what they ate for breakfast and download anything you care to look at. All you need is a laptop and a little plug-in wireless antenna. It's an electronic world that keeps you in the loop as you zoom around. It isn't the real world anymore.

In the real world, the booger video is piffle. A joke. It doesn't require the company president to make an official statement -- Matt the night manager just says, "Hey you guys, cut it out and go clean the toilet."

But in the Strange New World in which I travel and am quite comfortable, thank you, it is amplified to an absurd level, which of course is the strategy of satire. What Jonathan Swift strove to create in "Gulliver's Travels," the Conover Two brought about with a simple upload.

Teams of consultants now will be brought in to Domino's and other large corporations to draw up multipronged strategies for fighting back against booger attacks. Actors will be hired to shoot mock videos -- of car rental employees wiping their noses on steering wheels, hospital orderlies ridiculing unconscious patients, pilots mixing martinis in the flight deck, sausage workers introducing bodily fluids into the kielbasa -- and tens of millions of dollars will be spent on training programs to show top executives how to respond to gross-outs, all because two members of Team Domino got bored one day and had a funny idea.

And then we will hear about guerrilla skirmishes between corporations, Domino's sneaking out a video purporting to show rats running through a Pizza Hut and the Hutites responding with one of a coven of witches explaining the Wiccan meaning of the dots on the domino. It is tempting -- the thought that for practically no expense, you can force the president of Burger King to make a public defense of the product and say that, no, the French fries do not include deep-fried tent caterpillars. The denial is what plants the idea firmly in the public's mind.

Meanwhile, I call on all Americans to stand up for the Conover Two and for our national sense of humor that has served us so well for so long boopboopbadoop. People have been grossing each other out for centuries and this is no time to stop. Is this a felony? No, it's snot.

© 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.

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