Year-long depravity: Groupon’s Contest — Art, Commerce, and Sacrifice


The new Groupon promotion “Live off Groupon for a full year and win $100,000″ smells exactly like a Japanese “Live off contest winnings” contest previously covered here where a poor Japanese man had to survive for a year off prize winnings.

The Groupon contest description:

Nearly all human survival needs are covered by Groupon. You can get your daily nutritional content with a restaurant Groupon, and then immediately have a Groupon-accepting dentist floss that meal’s remains from your teeth. You can fortify your aortas with a Pilates deal, and protect yourself against rampaging hamburglars with a self-defense class.

In a recent interview in SF Weekly Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon answers some questions:

Why did you start this contest?

Since we started Groupon we joked around about the idea of could someone survive off of nothing but Groupon, and after about 30 seconds of rational thought leads one to the conclusion – No, of course you can’t, but we still think it would be fun to try. It will be an interesting social experiment. It means you are eating a lot of sushi, you’re going to do a lot of yoga, you will have beautiful fingernails and it should be an interesting life for someone. They are going to have freakishly white teeth, their teeth are going to reflect all light by the time this is over.

And now a description of Nasubi’s situation after beginning his contest (it’s bad):

When he arrived at the apartment, he was shown a stand full of magazines, a huge pile of postcards, and told to strip naked. The room was empty except for a cushion, a table, a small radio, a telephone, some notebooks, and a few pens.  There was not a crumb of food, a square of toilet paper, or any form of entertainment.  Whatever he needed, he was to win by sending thousands of postcards into contests.  The producers left and Nasubi was on his own in his unique survival challenge.  Imagine what was going through his mind:  How am I going to eat?  Why are they doing this to me?  How long will it take to get out of here?  He must have thought he was in a bad episode of The Prisoner. (via)

Poor Nasubi was stuck in a small room with a nothing but a waste paper basket to crap in. Our Groupon hero will be unleashed into the world but also recorded and lifecasted much like Nasubi (who became a celebrity). The CEO of Groupon continues:

…Whoever wins is going to get a cell phone, a computer, and they will be blogging about their experience. Plus we will give them a GPS so people in the community will be able to locate this person and go out and share Groupon experiences. This person will travel around the country. This will be a bottomless Groupon wallet.

… like a PR company on wheels that only costs $100,000 a year. I think we can assume for legal purposes that the Groupon contest will not be such a stickler on the details. Nonetheless, both situations remind me of Tehching Hsieh’s work (Chinese, this time): “Cage Piece” where he remained locked in a cage for an entire year. [nytimes piece + pictured below].

Both Groupon and Hsieh remind us that we choose to participate in a economic system.


Engineered depravity is an interesting concept for both art and promotion, but Hsieh’s does more to help us think than any live-streamed fool grasping a hair salon coupon, twittering during a spa treatment. In the end, Groupon will get the word out and perhaps we’ll pity/envy the new economic structure the poor/lucky winner enters into.

More reading:

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