Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Snitching for dollars

You people with your spam filters (the ones who reroute my brilliant e-newsletter "The Virtual Comic" into your "Deleted Items" folder) don't know what you're missing. Then again, you're not a comedy writer.

You see, unsolicited emails provide a steady stream of inspiration for the absurdity-oriented. Let's take one I received today, from Matthew Lesko, who I'm sure you know from his exclamatory infomercials that shill his books and tapes on how to take advantage of government largesse without bribing a lobbyist or Congressman. The subject line of this email is "Make $10K From The IRS Turning In Your Tax Cheat Neighbor." The email goes on to say:

If you see your neighbor buying a new $50,000 Mercedes on a teacher’s salary or you overhear that nasty no-good co-worker brag talking about how he never pays his taxes, well then government financial guru, Matthew Lesko, says: “STOP being Mr. Nice Guy and bank big money while you help the IRS collect back taxes.”

My initial thought was: How brilliant! He's going Stalin one step further. Uncle Joe got the entire Soviet population to inform on each other through fear and intimidation. But this is America, not the U.S.S.R., where when it comes to motivators, fear and intimidation are second only to cash. Soon we'll have neighbors and colleagues watching our every move. "Hey, the Fresh Direct truck just pulled up in front of Jim's house. How can he afford it as a freelance comedy writer? HE MUST BE CHEATING ON HIS INCOME TAX! Quick, call the IRS Snitch Line!"

And if the cash reward (15 percent of what the IRS collects from the tax cheat on whom you informed) isn't enough, Lesko appeals to patriotism: "Go and do the right thing for your country!" Lesko's pitch doesn't end there. In a cheeky, playing-both-sides-of-the-fence gambit, he also offers "free legal help to fight the IRS (thanks to your nosy neighbor!)." So: Snitch but be not snitched against!

Of course, the success of Lesko's "Snitching for Dollars" scheme is based on a rather unrealistic conception of law-breakers as audacious braggarts.

"Yeah, not only do I cheat on my taxes, but you should see the sarin gas tank I've got in my garage! Speaking of which, are you free this Saturday? I'm hosting an Al-Queda meeting..."

Ultimately, Lesko's scheme is loopy with contradictions. But then again, anybody who takes financial advice from a guy wearing the Riddler's costume deserves what he gets.

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