Man Auctions Ad Space on His Forehead

January 10th, 2005 | Category: Essays

I wish that were the first science fiction joke of 2005 (a lá Cory Doctorow’s Billy Bailey), but it’s not. It’s real.

My initial reaction to this type of thing (i.e., advertising showing up on personal vehicles, weather reports, football fields, etc.) is disgust, but once I think through it and recover, I’ve had hints of a different residual reaction lately. Let me see if I can be brief. This continued and exponentially increasing encroachment of corporations on personal space is just one of those things we can’t change. As Seattle’s The Stranger put it in an article a couple of years ago (in an issue called “Yes Logo” in response to Naomi Klein’s book, No Logo): corporate culture is American culture. There’s no escape. So, what do we do?

This is the part I’ve been working on: Aside from the extremes — constant frustration at one end and total resignation at the other — what can we do? There has to be a higher ground, a meta-level to this issue. If pushed far enough, you will realize that everything is fucked. So, then what? Well, then you look out for you and yours and don’t sweat the issue. Hedonism becomes the optimal path. But then one runs the risk of apathy and ambivalence to circumstances that ultimately do affect you and yours. As I said, I’m still working on it.

Friend and colleague Richard Metzger has a healthy attitude toward this kind of stuff and has helped lower my blood pressure quite a bit. It’s a qualified hedonism: We don’t want to be marginalized by Corporate America. We want to become Corporate America.

Other than Richard, two exemplars and their thoughts also come immediately to mind: artist Shepard Fairey and comedian Doug Stanhope.

Shepard does work for corporate clients to fund his Obey Giant projects. “The money that I make from doing corporate work allows me the freedom to do other things that I want to do, such as, travel around to different cities to put my stuff up and to make more posters, stickers and stencils, all the time…” Shepard explains. “The other thing is that I’d like to make corporate or mainstream companies not suck as hard, by doing some artwork for them that doesn’t insult the consumer. I look at it like ‘wouldn’t it be great if you could turn on the radio and hear great songs even on the top 40’s station?’ I know this philosophy won’t appeal to the elitist who thinks it’s cool to be marginalized and special and into the hip things that no one else knows about, but I’m a populist, and I think that attitude is very immature.”

Doug said something that sticks with me as well. He said, “Selling out includes not doing something you’d enjoy, on whatever level, just because of what someone else might think.” The issue of corporate involvement, branding, marketing, advertising, etc. is more complicated than I once thought of it. It’s a very complex, organic memespace in which we all exchange currency — whether we want to or not.

To wit, one might adapt Stewart Brand‘s dictum, “Technology marches on, over you or through you, take your pick.” to read, “Marketing marches on, over you or through you, take your pick” (Andrew Fisher certainly did). Manichean dichotomy or not, it depicts the unfortunate reality of the situation, and to quote it up a bit more, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” (Rush, “Free Will”).

I am sanguine that there’s a way to philosophically feel okay about this shit without selling your forehead, “selling out,” and without pulling a Kaczynski.

Further Posting: