His little friends in the box talk to him. They talk to him incessantly. And they tell him things. They tell him who he is. They tell him what to do. They tell him what to think of himself, and they tell him to think of himself all the time.
Sometimes they address him as "America." He likes that. "Take off your coat, America," a voice says, "Take off your coat to Sure." Another voice says, "Come on, America - get on the Honda Express." But sometimes this is confusing. "America is turning 7-Up," he hears - but he doesn't feel at all turning 7-Up. And Sears is "Where America Shops," they say, but he hasn't been to Sears in months, years maybe. Does this mean he isn't part of America?
He begins to feel alienated. "Women of America, are you in charge?" a voice on behalf of Master Charge asks. He is not a women of America and at the moment there are no women of America in the room with him. Just him and the set. He wonders if he really is a part of the great audience, if the voices he hears perpetually are actually talking to him.
And then they start with the questions. Questions, questions, questions. "Do you hate your hair?" he is asked. He hadn't thought about it. Hate my hair? Well, I - he is told he should "love" his hair. Love my hair? Well I - but it is time for another question: "Who do you share the power with - the power of the pump?" This sounds to him like a sinister secret group plotting the takeover of the country by force or violence. But no, it is by aerosol: "Vitalis Super Hold - Get the Pump and Share the Power!"
"How do your teeth feel?" a pretty girl asks. "Do this," she says, and she flits her tongue across her teeth. He does it, too. "Mmmmm," she purrs. "Yecch," he thinks. "Mine feel great," she says. His feel just sort of, well, toothy. She explains patiently but rapidly that if he only had the brains to use Pearl Drops Tooth Polish, he could twirl himself into ecstasy over his teeth, too. This is a source of pleasure that had never occurred to him before.
"Which one keeps you drier?" the pretty lady asks; he already knows it's Tickle - why does she keep asking? "What does extra strength mean to you?" the handsome man asks; but he knows it as well as his own name: "Extra Strength Means Excedrin."
"Which costs more," the man asks, "canned dog food or Gainesburgers? The answer may surprise you." It won't surprise him; he's heard this a thousand times.
And then there's that fellow with the eggplant nose who seems to represent either the voice of the Almighty or a Jewish mother to the world: "What WILL you do?" he asks again and again. "What WILL you do?"
That voice has a point. What WILL he do? Something wells up from deep within his soul and tells him what he will do. He will stay tuned like 50 million other dummies.
At least he knows how to spell "Relief." He would know how to spell "phenomenology" if he had been asked a hundred thousands times.
Of course, the grilling he gets is nothing compared to the grilling some people get. People in the little box are forever being confronted in supermarkets and on what appear to be old "Star Trek" sets abd interrogated in a heartless style not seen since Richard Loo brutalized Yankee Dogs in World War II movies.
A married couple have already promised to start using Ivory Liquid, but that isn't enough for the man with the threatening microscope. "What happened?" he asks them after they have dutifully done their dishes - and he knows the answer as well as they do. "So what do you think now?" he persists. "Do you want to stay with your brand? So what did you learn?" It's a wonder they aren't sitting under a bare light bulb.
The poor souls who sticks their hands through holes in curtains to feel one another's hair are also subjected to a merciless drill. "What do you believe?" the man asks impertinently. "So what are you going to do?" he continues. If they give the wrong answer, will they be hauled out in front of an ivy wall and shot, or will they just spend eternity in the purgatory of disobedient consumers? Does Orwell write the dialogue for these inquisitions?
Sitting there alone in his room, he likes it better when his little friends in the box talk to him . But they keep giving him orders; they keep telling him what to do. He gets perplexed. He feels picked - on. Sometimes he just doesn't know which way to turn.
"Reach out and touch some one," he is told one minute, but as he goes toward the telephone as instructed, he hears, "Let yourself go - to Pizza Hut." As he is looking for his car keys he hears, "Get your body in beautiful shape from head to toe with Body Tender - new from Gillette." That sounds reasonable until Roy Rogers appears with hamburger in tow telling him, "and you thought you couldn't get food this good this quick." As a matter of fact, that is exactly what he thought; where are those cars keys?
Somehow, "they" always seem to know what he wants. "TWA knows how you like to fly to California," they say - but how did they find out? He is told he wants fast-fast-fast relief when he has a headache, which is a fair enough assumption, but he also is told he should enroll at once in a school that will teach him to become a computer programmer, and that a tire company ominously predicts, "sooner or later, you'll own Generals." Then, "The Mike Douglas Show!" trumpets an all - knowing unseen voice, declaring, "More than ever before, Mike knows what YOU want and HE'S got it all!" And one of those ragtag local TV stations looks into his mind and pledges he will get "just the news you want" and get it in fact from "people like you." When he gets a gander at the people like him, he is amused to see they are nothing like him at all. They have steel hair.
Kool-Aid-you loved it as a kid, you trust it as a mother," says a voice. "Isn't that you behind those Foster Grants?" asks a voice. "Maxwell House is coffee you can count on," soothes a voice. "Gravy Train satisfies your hungry dog," insists a voice. "Squeeze-and go from flat to fluffy," orders a voice. "Come on, come on, and have a Pepsi Day," implores a singing chorus. "Come fly with me in my '79 Thunderbird," coos a sexy vamp. "Fills your cup to the rim with rich taste of Brim," commands a man.
"Take your lips as far as they can go," says yet another voice, "with Maxi Moist Lipstick. Take your lips to the Maxi!"
Now he is knocked for a loop. How far his lips could go had never before struck him as a topic for consideration. He is trapped in the room at this point, rendered immobile by all conflicting directives. "We do it all for you," the little friends in the box reassure him. "Because you have an appetite for life," some other friends chime in. "Whatever you do, that look just comes through - it's confidence, confidence," they sing with a genuinely inspiring conviction. "Pamper yourself," "Indulge yourself," and "Treat yourself," they say in succession.
"Roman Meal thought you'd like to know. "
How do they know all about him? Why do they keep telling him what to do? When will they ever give him a moment's peace? "Stress!" screams a man fromABC News. "What you don't know can kill you!" Oh, no! He panics. He looks for the nearest exit. It happens to be a window on the 7th floor. He opens it. He looks down. It's an abyss all right, but such a blessedly quiet one.
And yet something stops him just before he leaps. Another voice, this one from inside himself, is telling him something. And to satisfy an instinct he does not really understand, he runs his tongue across his teeth again. Mmmmmm! It does feel great!
His little friends have got him where they want him.