MaxBarry.com
has hidden shallows
Barcoded EarthWhat Max Reckons

Blog

Tue 26
Oct
2004

Wolves at the door

What Max Reckons Stop me if I’m getting too cynical, but I think elections are won by the guy with the stupidest policies. Not because people are just that dumb, but because of the nature of democratic elections. Political campaigns are mostly marketing, and when your target market is the whole country, any marketer will tell you that your best strategy is to scramble straight to the bottom of the barrel and start groping around in the muck there for the lowest common denominator you can lay your hands on. Because smart is complicated, but dumb is catchy.

During an election, it’s easy to believe you are surrounded by idiotic, ignorant, single-issue voters, and these people are the entire reason the other guy gets so many votes. But they’re not: they just seem numerous at times like this because they get very loud. I put it to you that elections are decided by people roughly as informed and intelligent as you (well, maybe not you), but they (we) are most swayed by stupid arguments.

Let’s take the War on Terrorism. This is a very powerful phrase, to the degree that it’s offensive for anyone to say they don’t support it. But it’s also dumb, because nobody knows what it actually means. Clearly, we are not about to rid the world of terrorism, because you can’t defeat an “ism”. Terrorism will be with us for as long as desperate, insane people exist; the best we can do is to mitigate the damage such people can do, and try not to encourage them. Indeed, when terrorism crops up in inconvenient corners of the world, we don’t even attempt to do anything about it.

In August this year, US President George W. Bush said as much:

“I don’t think you can win [a war on terrorism]. But I think you can create conditions so that… those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.”

This is one of the smartest things Bush has ever said about terrorism, but from a marketing perspective, it was a tremendous blunder. Indeed, his political opponents John Kerry and John Edwards eagerly seized on this piece of insight, and counter-attacked with statements of piercing dumbness:

“This is no time to declare defeat… the War on Terrorism is absolutely winnable.”

It took less than 24 hours for Bush to withdraw (actually, “clarify”) his earlier comment and replace it with a stupid, more marketable one:

“In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table, but make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win.”

Bush is ahead of Kerry on national security, because Kerry has a kind of stupid, nuanced position and Bush has a really stupid but really simple position. The Republicans rammed this home in a series of TV ads so breathtakingly dumb they’ll probably win Bush the election. They put forward the proposition that if you need someone with a big stick to guard your campfire from hungry wolves at night, you should take the guy who whacks anything that moves rather than the guy who stops to think about it. Which do you want, after all: to poke your head out of your tent in the morning to discover George surrounded by a collection of clubbed wolves, squirrels, and unlucky family pets who happened to wander by, or be woken in the middle of the night by John saying, “Is that a wolf? I think it’s a wolf. No, wait… it’s probably not. Or maybe it—AAAAAAAHHHHH!”

Electing a national leader is a lot like buying a computer (or, for the geeks among you, a car): it’s too complicated to consider on the merits, so we end up basing our decision on something simple and stupid, like how good it looks. We’re simply not qualified to make an informed decision. Face it: if you had to prove a real understanding of how to run a country before you were allowed to vote, the President would be elected by about three people. The rest of us have better things to do than read about history and economics. Marketers know this, and target it. Taking a simple position on a complex issue is stupid, but simple sells. It’s survival of the dumbest.

P.S. If you’re voting in the US election next month and you care about my opinion, I would vote Kerry. I wrote a blog about why here. If you don’t care, that’s fine, too. You can still buy my novels.

Sun 03
Oct
2004

Democracy, Aussie-style

What Max Reckons On Friday night I shared a few beers with Freddy, a friend of mine, and around 2AM we were sufficiently inebriated to debate politics. “So,” I said, jabbing my beer bottle in Freddy’s general direction. “Who are you voting for?”

There’s a federal election next weekend, you see, and in Australia, voting is compulsory. I know that just made a few of you choke on your Starbucks double-decafs, but it’s true. There is a reasonably sensible case to be made for compulsory voting, but I don’t like it because it means elections get decided by people who live in marginal electorates and don’t give a crap about politics. It’s difficult to persuade intelligent, well-informed people to change their political views, so political parties target the swinging “who-cares” voter bloc. This time around, for example, the government’s chief campaign claim is that if the other guy is elected, interest rates will go up, a position backed by no credible evidence and believed by no economists, including the ones employed by the government. The Opposition, on the other hand, is simultaneously arguing that the Prime Minister isn’t fit to run the country and that shortly after the election he’ll probably resign anyway, points that stand up pretty well on their own but cancel each other out when you put them together.

The reason I’m voting against the government is that it’s been busted several times telling big porkies. To my mind, the way to deal with governments who lie to the general public is give them a big kick in the political backside. If you don’t, they realize there’s no downside to lying, and they do more of it. It’s a systemic thing: voters are meant to reward or punish government behavior. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

I am not the only person to think this, and indeed “truth in government” is a big election issue. Until Friday night, I thought it was the election issue, but Freddy had an alternate view. “Max,” he said, blurring in and out of focus, “nobody cares about truth in government. All politicians lie: the government, the Opposition; all of them.”

“Well, what about Iraq,” I said. “We participated in an invasion that killed ten thousand Iraqis because the government told us they had weapons of mass destruction.”

“Nobody cares about Iraq!”

“Pfff,” I said. “Then what do they care about?”

“What affects them. How much money they’re going to end up with in their pockets. That’s why the government is going to win, because they’re talking about interest rates, and the other guys are talking about morals.”

A chill ran down my body, and it wasn’t only the beer I had just spilled: Freddy was right. It didn’t matter that the government had lied, or that its interest rates scare campaign was dubious at best: it was speaking to people’s self-interest.

Self-interest is a scarily powerful concept. Regardless of what you think about the morality of self-interested behavior, it trumps altruism time and time again. The reason why you, reading this blog right now, are living in a capitalist country is that capitalism harnesses the power of self-interest and socialism tries to repress it.

When you’re up against self-interest, it’s pointless to argue about ethics and community. You can only beat self-interest with more self-interest. “What about the fact that the government doesn’t even control interest rates, and that in fact when they do rise it’s because the economy is doing so well that it needs a brake applied?” I argued.

But even I could tell this was too complicated, and Jen came downstairs to tell us that it was three in the morning and would we please stop yelling. “Okay, then,” I said, with less volume. “What about this. The fact is, your single vote won’t make any difference to the election outcome anyway, so you might as well vote against the government so at least you can say you didn’t support lying bastards.”

Freddy considered this. “Hmm. Maybe.”

Aha! Apparently I had found an argument so stupid that it just might work. This would never fly in the US, but in Australia, where it is compulsory to exercise your right to be free, maybe it was just what the Opposition needed. Is it too late to run up a quick series of TV spots? “And next Saturday, remember: your vote won’t make any difference whatsoever. So please vote for us.”

Thu 16
Sep
2004

Marketers Probe Squishy Bits

What Max Reckons The secret object of women's desireI stumbled across an article in New Scientist magazine on a remarkable new development: neuromarketing. The idea, apparently, is that if you study what happens to people’s brains when they’re making a buying decision or watching an ad, you get all kinds of insights, such as that despite their protests, women really do find grossly over-muscled men like The Rock attractive (I knew it!).

Joey Reiman, CEO of a marketing consultancy firm—and may I just say how sad it is that you so rarely see a CEO named Joey outside of a marketing consultancy firm—explains the reasons behind neuromarketing:

What if you could, for example, show a company that their moral and ethical behaviour has a bigger influence on consumer preference than the color of their packaging or their tag line?

Bwahahahahaha! If you could—hahahahaha! Ethical behaviour! Ohhhh, that’s funny. No, now I see it: I was thinking marketers would mainly be interested in working out how to trigger the synapses that make you open your wallet, but as Joey says it’s really a noble scheme to improve the moral behavior of corporations by… showing them there’s a buck in it. Now I feel all warm and snuggly!

This is just another example of marketing bravely going where genuine scientists went a long time ago, only this time for profit. For example, 17th century physiologist E.H. Weber was the first to develop a way to measure how small a difference you could make to an object before anybody noticed, but it was marketers who applied that knowledge to shrink candy bars. Yet who gets the Nobel Prize, hmm?

Neuromarketing experiments suggest that a particular part of the brain is related to product affection—that is, it gets busy when people look at products they like. So if marketers can find a way to stimulate that part of the brain, consumers will start drooling and fumbling for their credit cards no matter what crappy product they’re being offered—the Holy Grail of marketing! No doubt there is money being poured into research on lasers or special chemicals. In the meantime, though, I think we should all be on the lookout for sales assistants with small drills and sticky fingers.

Mon 16
Aug
2004

Something Desirable

What Max Reckons Sometimes you have to sit back and say, “Damn, this internet thing is cool.” I mean, obviously we all know it’s pretty handy. You can send e-mails on it and steal music and read newspapers for free. But occasionally you get reminded just how cool it is, in the world-shaking, society-defining sense of the word. Like when you go to this site.

Something To Be Desired is what happens when a bunch of people decide it’d be neat to make a TV series, only without the TV part. Instead they put up each episode on their web site, where you can watch it for free. A drama-comedy set around a Pittsburgh radio station, Something To Be Desired is clearly being made with very little money but bucket-loads of talent and enthusiasm, and it’s totally addictive: you download one ten-minute episode and then you have to find out whether Jack and Dierdre are going to sleep together and before you know it two and a half hours have passed, you’ve watched the whole thing, and you can’t believe you have to wait two weeks for the next episode.

Before the internet, I never would have seen this. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have been made, because why spend the time and money producing a series that has very little chance of ever being broadcast? But the web offers creative people a new way to drop their work directly in front of an audience. There’s no need for pitch meetings, for agents, for attending industry events in the vain hope of networking with someone who can get you a meeting with someone at a studio; instead, you just produce something, stick it on your web site, and if it’s any good, ordinary people hear about it and come check it out.

This is the vanguard of a major decentralization of the creative arts industry. As the internet evolves, hundreds of thousands of amateur artists are going to forget about trying to batter down the closed doors in Hollywood, the networks, and the publishing industry. Instead, they’ll just publish their work on the net. Some of it will be brilliant. Much of it will be terrible. But all of it will be given a real chance to find an audience, a chance that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. And, damn, that’s cool.

Sat 07
Aug
2004

Um… (#2)

What Max Reckons Clearly I didn’t think this through. I now have to write a six-volume series chock full of appalling characters just to satisfy all the people who wrote me annoying “Um…” e-mails. It was meant to be a deterrent, dammit! Now stop it!

Thu 05
Aug
2004

Um…

What Max Reckons Okay, that’s enough. At first I thought this was kind of funny. Then it wasn’t so funny, then it got irritating, and now it makes me want to hurt someone. I’m talking about the practice of starting a post with “Um.”

This is particularly virulent on technically-inclined mailing lists and forums. It goes like this: a person posts something—a comment, a question, anything—and some other guy thinks they’re wrong. But he doesn’t just come out and say that, oh no. First he says: “Um…” Like this: “Um… Word won’t run on Linux.”

This is meant to convey the impression that the initial post was so mind-numbingly stupid that at first he couldn’t believe it was actually meant in earnest. Then, as he began to phrase his reply, he had to pause to ratchet down his intelligence a few levels so that the drooling simpleton who had uttered such idiocy would be able to comprehend it. This created a pause which had to be filled by “Um.”

Only that’s not what happened at all. If you’re having an actual conversation with someone, sure, you might say “um.” But if you’re typing out a post, what the hell are you doing? Are your fingers operating independently of your brain? No! You’re just being an asshole!

Maybe I could deal with this if it only happened when genuinely brilliant people wrote messages to real morons. After all, geniuses aren’t supposed to have social skills. But it happens all the time. This is the exchange that finally sent me over the edge:

#1: Happily seen that Gentoo has released 2004.2. I’m now using 2004.0 and I wonder whether it is necessary for me to migrate to 2004.2 from 2004.0.

#2: Uh.. if you do an “emerge -uD world” then you too will have all the bonus’s of 2004.2…

#3: Really? I think simply doing this won’t change my /etc/make.profile. It’ll be still point to ../usr/portage/profiles/default-x86-2004.0, isn’t it?

#4: Um, its a symlink… change it to point to the new profile

No! No! Not “Um!” The first guy was right, goddamn it! You can’t “um” him when he’s right! What is this um doing? It’s a totally unjustified um!

This is a cancer of the internet, I tell you, and it’s got to be stopped. Please. I can’t take much more.

(P.S. If anyone writes me an e-mail like “Um… Word can run on Linux if you use an emulator,” I’m going to name a really bad character after them.)

Fri 18
Jun
2004

Everybody just left the room

What Max Reckons The commission investigating the September 11 attacks has released tape recordings of some of the conversations from that day. Among them was one of the most powerful pieces of dialogue I’ve heard in years. I have no jokes or political points to make here; I just want to talk about the actual words.

The situation was this: within the last 50 minutes, two hijacked airlines had struck the World Trade Center in New York, a third had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a fourth was being tracked. The national Air Traffic Control System Command Center contacted the FAA headquarters to suggest military jets be used to intercept this fourth aircraft.

Many people have said that 9/11 felt like a Hollywood movie. If it had been, the scene would have gone like this:

          TRAFFIC CONTROL GUY
    Do we want to think about scrambling
    aircraft?

          FAA OFFICIAL
    Way ahead of you.

PULL BACK to reveal out of man's office window,
two F-15s screaming off a runway.

Or, perhaps, this:

          JACK RYAN
    You guys need to scramble aircraft, 
    now!

          FAA OFFICIAL
    You don't run the FAA, Mr. Ryan. I do.
    And I'm not spending twenty thousand 
    dollars in jet fuel just because you've
    got a point to prove!

CLOSE UP on RYAN as his jaw clenches with 
frustration.

This is popcorn entertainment, escapism. There is nothing wrong with that; I often enjoy a good dose. But what I love even more are tiny moments of realistic human failing: when a person does something unthinking, or gets confused. These are touching simply because they’re real and recognizable. Humans make a lot of mistakes. Our lives are not scripted, and if we could yell “cut” and do over every bit of our lives we weren’t happy with, we’d all still be in our teens.

That’s why this little exchange is, for me, almost heart-breakingly tragic.

Air Traffic Control: “Do we want to think about, uh, scrambling aircraft?”

FAA: “God… I don’t know.”

Air Traffic Control: “That’s a decision somebody’s gonna have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.”

FAA: “Uh… you know, everybody just left the room.”

Sun 30
May
2004

Max reviews the classics: Mary-Kate and Ashley #20

What Max Reckons Mary-Kate and AshleyLast night I took a break from re-reading Cryptonomicon to pick up a book roughly as long as one of its paragraphs: Sealed With a Kiss, by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. It was number 20 in a series, so at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to follow the story-line without having read the previous 19, but luckily these fears turned out to be unfounded. It was a cracking read, full of hope and joy and heart-breaking pathos, so I’m sharing it with you.

Here’s the blurb:

Mary-Kate and Ashley can’t wait to go home for winter break. But they wind up stuck in a Harrington University dorm instead.

Things start to look up when the girls meet a new boy with a romantic holiday secret…

You see why I was intrigued. The book’s first sentence alone raised a series of perplexing questions:

“We’re going home to Chicago for only two weeks!” Mary-Kate Burke told her sister Ashley.

First, who, exactly, reads the 20th book in the Mary-Kate and Ashley series without realizing they’re sisters? I mean, setting aside the possibility that the previous 19 books have been keeping this a secret, and that the reader has thus far been unexposed to mainstream media, the book’s cover shot is of two remarkably similar-looking girls. Isn’t that a giveaway? If you’re worried about readers that stupid, you probably need to point out that they’re twins, too.

Second, I can’t help but wonder what percentage of Mary-Kate and Ashley books contain an exclamation point in the first sentence. I haven’t checked, but I get the feeling it’s a high number.

Third, and most intriguing: Mary-Kate Burke. The authors of this book—and it says so on the cover, so it must be true—are Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. I’d thought this was some kind of tell-all autobiography, but apparently not. It turns out that Mary-Kate and Ashley books feature characters called Mary-Kate and Ashley that look exactly like them but are, in fact, fictional. I hope you get that, because I had to stop and think about it for a while. Whenever I came across passages like this:

“Why can’t you just get another flight, Cheryl?” Ashley asked.

“On what—Santa’s sleigh?” Cheryl grumbled. “It’s the holidays. All the flights are already booked.”

I thought, “Well, just send your private jet, Ashley!” Then I had to remind myself that fictional Ashley doesn’t have a jet. People complain that movies and computer games blur the line between fantasy and reality; I say, start with Mary-Kate and Ashley. After reading this book, I’m no longer sure if they even exist. I mean, think about it: first there was just one of them, on that TV show Full House, then they split into twins; now, apparently, they have divided again, into the Olsens and Burkes. They’re actually spinning themselves off. Either that or they’re some kind of mutant virus, and unless we do something, there will soon be eight of them, then 16, then they’ll destroy mankind.

But back to the book. It quickly became apparent that Ashley was the more entertaining twin, getting all the good lines:

“Wait!” Ashley cried out. “I forgot to pack my bathing suit and flip-flops!”

“Bathing suit?” Mary-Kate shrieked. “But the winters in Chicago are ice-cold!”

“There are indoor pools,” Ashley said.

Snap! Good work. The book really started to move along when the twins’ Chicago holiday plans were dashed and they were forced to move into a dorm with four boys. Hoping to recover from the indoor pools comment, Mary-Kate stepped to the fore:

“I hope you like Twister,” Mary-Kate said.

“What’s that?” Derek asked.

“It’s a game!” Mary-Kate said.

“Does it run on double-A batteries?” Tyrone asked.

“How impressive is its resolution?” Derek asked.

“Does it include a thirty-two-bit RISC-CPU with embedded memory?” Garth asked.

They’re computer geeks! (And Derek’s surname is “Wang,” so extra funny.) This was a startling development. I knew that large sections of the internet were writing fantasy fiction about the Olsen twins; I didn’t know the reverse was also true. But then, with adulthood approaching, I guess they have to manage the transition of their fan base from pubescent girls to lecherous men.

The inclusion of geeks as love interest had me hooked, and I couldn’t wait to find out how the twins would manage to pry them away from their computers. (“Stop posting about how you’re about to kiss one of the Olsen twins, Derek, and just kiss me!”) But then a new figure entered the scene. He was Colton, and I knew he was trouble because his clothes were described (“cuffed jeans, black sweater, and grey trainers with black stripes”—which, incidentally, boldly puts an Americanism in “sweater” right next to two Briticisms in “grey trainers”). Colton looked “like those models in the Gap ads.” He skateboarded, snuck through tunnels, cooked pizza muffins, and his great-grandmother invented the pencil eraser. Or so he said. It quickly became apparent that Colton was a pathological liar. Ashley picked this up straight away, but Mary-Kate was blinded by infatuation.

Alas, if only they’d gone to the geeks, a few minutes Googling would have punched holes in Colton’s story. But no. Old fashioned Scooby-style investigation ensued, with plenty of creeping around in tunnels. At one point, the book got into a bit of trouble when the story required that the twins and two other girls return to the tunnels, but there was no motivation for them to do so. Authors hit situations like this from time to time, and I tell you, it can be a struggle. The solution to this one, though, was pure genius:

“I am not going back down to those tunnels,” Cheryl declared. “I’m tired of sneaking around.”

“Me, too,” Kirsten agreed.

“We have to go back,” Elise said in a small voice.

Everyone turned to look at Elise.

“I dropped my Peppermint Pink blusher in the tunnel,” she explained. “It must have fallen out of my sweatshirt pocket last night.”

“Why can’t you just buy another one?” Kirsten asked.

“Because,” Elise said, “Peppermint Pink was discontinued last month.”

Down in the tunnels, Ashley got off another zinger:

“Wait!” Mary-Kate said. She pointed to a narrow tunnel. “I know we never went through this one.”

“Let’s not and say we did,” Ashley blurted out.

So Mary-Kate was already steamed when they discovered Colton’s secret: he was the son of the tyrannical Headmaster! His full name was Colton Harrington III, he was stinking rich, and he’d lied non-stop to them since they met. This, you’d expect, would be when Mary-Kate slapped him, realized how she’d overlooked the gentle love of the geeks, and learnt a few life lessons about untrustworthy men who look like Gap models. But no: in the greatest love tragedy since Molly Ringwald chose Andrew McCarthy over Jon “Duckie” Cryer, she fell into Colton’s arms. There the book unexpectedly ended; I say unexpectedly because there were still dozens of pages left but they turned out to be full of advertisements for other Mary-Kate and Ashley books.

But wait! All was not completely lost for the geeks. They missed out on the twins, but in the final scene Garth scored a slow dance with one of their hangers-on, Kirsten. Alas, even this was tinged with tragedy. Kirsten quickly complained that Garth was “more into computer games than smooching,” and thus the relationship seemed doomed. Oh well, at least it was realistic.

Wed 21
Apr
2004

Vote 1 The Other Guy

What Max Reckons There’s no question in my mind that George W. Bush has been great for democracy. Previously, a lot of people were becoming disillusioned with mainstream politics, frustrated at having to choose between one corporate-backed rich white guy with good hair and another, slightly different-looking corporate-backed rich white guy with good hair. The feeling was: “What difference does it make if I vote? They’re all the same. What will one guy do that the other won’t?”

Thanks to Bush, now we know. He’s like a walking object lesson in the importance of voter turnout.

I’m Australian, but one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen was a rally outside City Hall in New York in 1999 to protest the police shooting of Amandou Diallo. Thousands of people voicing their grief and outrage… all quietly and competently supervised by the target of their protest, the NYPD. In plenty of countries, the cops would have been beating the crap out of those protestors. In the others, the protesters would have been throwing rocks at the cops and setting their cruisers on fire. But not in the United States. It was, to me, not just impressive but almost magical.

Then there was September 11. In the aftermath, there was a global outpouring of grief and sympathy for Americans—and more than that, of allegiance. If you lived in the US, you might not have noticed this. Your attention was, of course, focused inward. But it was there, and it was extraordinary. It was overwhelming. What I heard over and over was, “Today, we are all Americans.” Throughout the world, people wanted to stand by the US.

I wonder now what might have happened if the war on terrorism had chiefly been a diplomatic one. If the Bush administration had defined what terrorism was and called the world together to expunge it—not just in one country or two, but globally, and no matter in which cause it was employed. In 2001, with that incredible worldwide feeling of unity… maybe it was possible to take that act of great evil and extract from it a great good.

But it’s not possible now. That global unity is gone, and in its place is cynicism and mistrust. It happened because George W. Bush told the world it was irrelevant. As the war on terrorism morphed into an invasion of Iraq, Bush and his administration said it again and again: “You either agree with us or you are meaningless.” Maybe it was ignorance of the importance of international diplomacy. Maybe it was arrogance. Maybe it was even realistic. But one thing’s for sure: the world had offered its hand in solidarity and it didn’t like having it slapped away.

Opinion of the US has fallen so low that America is now widely viewed as the greatest threat to world peace—not just by people in “Axis of Evil” countries, or Muslim countries, but by majority populations in Western countries, like Australia, that are staunch US allies and have troops in Iraq right now. That sounds absurd if you live in the States, I know. But to understand it, imagine you don’t. Imagine it’s China that has more military power than the next 20 countries plus yours combined; China’s new government that rapidly cancels international treaties on everything from anti-missile proliferation to global warming; that announces it has no use nor care for world opinion; that conquers two countries in two years and hints of more to come; China that says other countries must choose to either support it without question or be “with the terrorists;” and China’s new President who describes entire nations as “evil” and his country’s military operations in religious terms.

I hate how the US is viewed by the world today. America is a truly great country, and doesn’t deserve to be considered deceitful, dangerous, arrogant, and greedy. But it is, because in the eyes of the world, George W. Bush is the US. It’s not as if we foreigners watch CNN. All we know about American politics is who’s President and how many bombs he’s dropping on other countries.

Which is why I hope like hell that John Kerry wins the election this November. If he does, people around the world won’t know it had anything to do with who had the better service record, or was more credible on jobs. But they’ll think, “Maybe Americans didn’t agree with Bush after all.” They’ll think, “Maybe they’re not all like him.” They’ll think, “Maybe we can stand together again.”

Thu 08
Apr
2004

On Your Face Advertising

What Max Reckons Another day, another company tattooing itself onto people’s foreheads. This is why I love marketing: it’s not just shameless, it’s shameless and imitative. In 2003 it was Dunkin’ Donuts, now it’s Toyota taking the word “brand” too literally and slapping Scion logos and prices onto 40 human foreheads in Times Square.

“This is the first time we’ve used foreheads,” says Toyota exec Brian Bolain, which is, just quietly, not a sentence you want to put into your press releases, Brian; not ever, not about anything. It sounds like there could be a second time; like forehead billboards could be the next big thing in advertising real estate. Presumably companies will pay varying rates for foreheads, based on available space (low hairlines equals low pay, people with fringes need not apply) and smoothness of texture (perhaps a deduction per zit).

But wait! I’m forgetting the most important part: attractiveness. Because the point of forehead advertising is to embed the brand into the human host, so it becomes the most whole-hearted product endorsement ever. A person wearing a corporate tattoo says: I like this product so much, it’s literally oozing out of my skin! You don’t want uglies walking around embodying your product; if you’re buying human flesh by the inch, you want the good stuff. The nice-looking stuff.

In the Ad Age report, Josh Tierney, one of the walking corporate billboards, says, “It is a little compromising.” Getting the tattoo, that is. The logo tattoo. Tattooed on his forehead. Josh strikes me as the kind of guy you want around when your plane crashes in the Andes and you need to pick someone to eat; he’d complain, but only a little.

I have no doubt that this was pitched to Josh as a bit of fun: make some money, do something silly, why not? Don’t worry about concepts like dignity and individuality: you can have them back when you’re done. But look at the pic of the two marketing geniuses who convinced him, standing in Times Square as their forty Frankenstein Inc’s monsters roam around. Decent-looking guys. Nice, wide, smooth foreheads. But whaddya know? No tattoos.