Your Life, Sponsored By …
In a nation where everything is for sale, there's no escaping advertising.
In David Foster Wallace's novel, Infinite Jest, our current system of measuring time has been abandoned in favor of increments of advertising. There's something called "The Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar," for example, and "The Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland." With our entire society choked by the trappings of marketing, this premise doesn't seem so much futuristic as it does sadly inevitable.
Tonight, flip on the nightly news, where KITV 4 has the McDonald's logo on screen during its sports segment. Take this a step farther, and we'll have "The Whirling Weather by Jamba Juice," or, worse, "All State Insurance Presents: Four Killed in Early Morning. House Fire."
Turn the channel to a NASCAR race, and you'll watch as drivers steer four-wheel brand names: Tide, Budweiser, Vavoline, Viagra. By next year, savvy marketers will have approached me about sponsoring my 1999 Saturn, and I'll be tooling around in the Jell-O Fat-Free Pudding Mobile.
I won't use a cart in the grocery store, because I'll be navigating an I Can't Believe It's Not Butter trolley. And I won't be able to shop in Longs without turning to a fellow shopper and offering him some sample-size packets of Crest White Strips.
I used to just go to the gym, but if Lance Armstrong can wear a bike jersey embroidered with the names Bristol-Myers Squibb, PowerBar, Dasani, Sirius Satellite Radio and Suburu, surely I can negotiate with Diet Coke to cover the cost of my socks.
In the future, we'll all go to work and have conversations revolving around our sponsors. The Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes have turned into one big shout-out to couture designers-"It's Valentino and I love it," gushes the starlet-so shouldn't our office? "Yes, that story assignment sounds great. I'm wearing Armani!" "Could you sign this invoice .. Oh this? It's Harry Winston; I have to give it back tomorrow."
Illustration: Michael Austin
The movie industry itself isn't much better. The producers of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory saw fit to team with Hostess for "Chocolicious WonkaCakes," while The Fantastic Four appear on Popsicle boxes and Chewbacca did a guest gig on a Raisin Bran box. (Clearly, Wookies are concerned with a healthy daily fiber intake. Cuts down on fur balls.) And those are just the tie-ins. This summer, a film called The Island, racked up an astounding number of product placements, but didn't stop there-even the dialogue contained witty, well-written lines such as, "This is a $500,000 Cadillac Cien." Put a postcard for a test-drive right into my popcorn, why don't you?
Still, there are a few signs of sanity, of a world where not everything needs to be sponsored, sold, advertised, pitched or sampled. This spring, there was talk of changing the name of the Neil S. Blaisdell Center to allow for a corporate sponsorship title, but thankfully the bill died in the City Council. Otherwise, we'd been going to see concerts at some place called "The 1-800-FLOWERS/Aloha Airlines/Norwegian Cruise Line Arena." Hopefully we can put off that kind of future a bit longer.