Housemaid Demons

By | 1 October 2020

Author note

Digital spam was named after the luncheon meat, and a Monty Python sketch in which it features as the hero ingredient in a British cafe. In the sketch, a table of feasting Vikings sing the word to drown out the nearby diner who is complaining about the SPAM-heavy menu. Spam is the starchy, salty filler that takes the place of superior content.

Because digital spam is partly composed from fragments of original texts, inserted to weaken the filters that detect common spam words, like Viagra, Nike and fuck, it can have a chance poetic quality. In between the ads for Adderall and requests to X me in the X that pour into my inbox, among the links to mail order brides and Russian salutations – ‘Good afternoon what about oral sexy’ – the Louis Vuitton bags and anti-ageing solutions (the whole panoply of vendible life) are oddly eloquent phrases, excerpts from Paradise Lost, chunks from hundreds of Project Gutenberg texts, or Biblical mashups. Beholde the following: ‘a riche ilande full of maiz (and that is their corne), oxen, shepe, goates, fowle and fishe, greate retailer of frutes, michael kors outlet on the net, grasse and woods’.

In an age of Trump speeches and dubious social media facts these strings of odd, irrelevant, random words, this patterned nonsense has come to sound almost coherent. If spam is, as some have speculated, a conversation between robots, I’m cheered that robot chat samples classics written long before robot-time, that these texts can still be found speaking between the empty promises of online life.


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