Saturday, July 19, 2008

Life imitiates art...again

NBA player Stephon Marbury has tattooed his head with the logo of the sneaker company he is endorsing. In 2008, we only roll our eyes, but ten years ago, this would have been greeted with disbelief. Thirty years ago, we'd be outraged at the sports player's "sell out" to corporate ideology. How times change...

I personally found it interesting because, in the original version of my novel, "A Distrubance of Fate" (Seven Locks, 2003), which I began writing in late 1998, I had a science-fiction opening of the year 2033, including the creation of a time machine that leads a time traveler back to 1968 to save Robert F. Kennedy. I dropped the entire time travel opening, after first condensing it, because I finally recognized it got in the way of telling the story of the alternative history where RFK survives and becomes president.

Appropos of the NBA player, however, this is how the manuscript originally opened in the "time travel" version, written almost ten years ago:

The tattoo on her forehead said, “Enjoy Coca-Cola!” The rest of her head was completely shaved. After all, she thought, why let something as useless as hair get in the way of ad space?

She had tattoos of product logos on and about her head, arms, legs and chest. There were ads patched and pasted on the few clothes she bothered to wear. She seemed to have a perpetual smile, which one might have mistaken for a vapid bliss. But she was full of information, and rich with visions, of how your future would be brighter if only you bought and used the products she sold.

She wore a nose ring that contained a small receiver blasting a variety of product slogans and jingles. She sang along with the jingles while floating on her air board. The speed of her air board moved with the jingles, faster with the upbeat jingles, slower with the softer sounding ones, her arms waving with dramatic emphasis. Through all the sight, sound and flowing movement emanating from within and about her, it was difficult to notice her olive eyes, the slight acne on her face, her somewhat pear-shaped body, or even that she was barely twenty-two.

Were the sounds music? Were her logos art? Her movements dance? Or was it all simply commerce? The difference was no longer of any consequence. Over the decades leading into the 2030’s, music, painting and dance had ceased being an art. Each had become a commodity no different than peanut butter. As early as the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, technique and proficiency resided more in the computer software programmers and marketers than the people we used to call artists. By the start of the third decade of the 21st Century, art, dance and music became the province of sales floaters such as the Coca-Cola girl, who went by her legally contracted name, “Cokie.”

Cokie was a professional sales floater with multiple contracts. To start as a sales floater, you signed a contract with a corporation to exclusively consume a corporation’s products as opposed to competitors’ products. You also agreed to sell those products by advertising them at your home, on your clothes and on your body.

Sales floaters often named themselves after the leading product of their main contracting company. This was all voluntary, and conceived in liberty and free enterprise—meaning that most people agreed to it because it meant more money to pay the bills. The discounts for a floater were terrific, which added to the allure, but the sales volume purchase requirements could sometimes be steep.

In the streets of every city in North America and Central America, it was common to see professional sales floaters. To add to the commercial charm of the streets themselves, sidewalks were painted with product slogans, and sounds spurted through speakers within the sidewalks. Corporations paid for this advertising, which meant that the taxpayers no longer directly subsidized what used to be called “public works.”

Every home or office had its windows, doors or walls filled with messages of buy this or sell that. Corporate logos in hologram banners projected above people’s heads from the computer chips planted inside their heads. Some still wondered how or why people agreed to such implants. But it wasn’t hard to understand. Besides the money, the computer chips allowed one instant access to the World Wide Web of the Internet, projected on anything out of an eye of one’s choosing.

The symphony of commerce was everywhere and anywhere anyone wanted it. And most people, it seemed, wanted it.

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