In the coming postlapsarian winter, I can’t wait for the end of campaign emails, and, I hope, the return of my name.
For the past year or so, I’ve felt the power of my name gradually lessen after the many times it appeared in my inbox, used as a guilt trip after a comma “…, Jacob” or for an emphatic hit at the start of a sentence, “Jacob, …”. Before, like a dog, the utterance of “Jacob” caused me to turn my head and wait for something vaguely good to happen. I felt a certain rush when I got an email. Sometimes, I even clicked! I miss that innocent, dumb dog me who assumed a random message with my name in the subject line might be important, and I think he existed until at least 2015.
Since then, algorithmic templates persuading me to support this person for president, that one for House, this one Senate (many in states in which I do not live!) have somehow managed to avoid the spam filters, and been the death of “Jacob” meaning anything but “here lies a desperate plea for attention or money.”
I think after the election, the emails will stop. After a few months, I’ll adjust. And I will be free. (In part, this is because I am confident that whether Democrats win or lose the White House they have no plan to keep up a robust organizing effort by engaging voters outside of an election year, and Republican ones actually do go to spam.)
Bad campaigns emails started before this year. In the early 2010s we were told that campaign emails were—like its cousin, clickbait headlines—an art. The “geniuses” of the Obama team taught the world to open up messages full of pap and big buttons to DONATE with subject lines that sounded “human.” Maybe I’m being an asshole. But, to me, “hey” is not what a human would ever put in a subject line of an email. Still, the Obama team raked in $690 million in 2012 by asking for small donations online. And so we’ve been stuck with these missives for years.
The fakeness of these uncanny valley thrusts at “real” messages has crept up on me over the last few years. Changes in speech can erode the previous beauty of a sentence over time. Reading old clips from magazines, or books, one can see how performative “genuine” speech can be—and how writing that speaks to the moment (stylistically, at least) can end up stuck in that moment too.
By the time the next presidential election rolls around, I hope there will be some new fake way of sounding genuine that does not involve my name, over and over, being said in subject lines. —Jacob Rosenberg