Have we branded every item in every niche of our lives from diaper wipes to gravestones? Jeremy McKeen chronicles a lifetime of purchasing power.
Your loyalty starts with the comfort of the basic needs: food, water, mother’s hug at the table, sharing with the siblings.
Then at some point a symbol makes it in—a cross, hamsa, smiley face, apple, building brick, golden arches, swoosh. There is a glow to the symbol, a voice calling out in the concrete forest of the rough and tumble daily living. You run your finger over the chain in your pocket or the engraved picture on your game console; the world has taken you, in a manner of speaking, and offered goods to make you feel better.
And you do.
Your loyalty is demanded to make it work. It’s a long haul on the turnpike, but when you see those Ds, or the Mermaid Lady, or the Girl with the Red Pigtails, your heart settles. Your hormones release just enough of the right kind of chemicals to entice and calm you and then you’re ready for more. The smell of the gas, the taste of dough; dad lets you help pump the gas, mom allows one more fun purchase from the convenience rack. You look up and there are gods everywhere blessing you from their metal signs and plastic light ups.
Your school, doctor’s office, church, camp, YMCA, mother and father’s workplace—these places are littered with the symbols, and when the adults break for food, all their bags carry the same, there are even pictures of what to do with the garbage made from the symbols’ companies. You drool on a plastic spoon from here, and make a bow and arrow from the plastic stirrers from there. Toys even come with your meals, and dad complains about not enough foam on his latte or ice in his drink. Gone are the days of hose water or the tap – everything is bottled, marked, branded, marketed as more eco-friendly than the next, and cheap. You remember a large red jug you used to drink from after practice. No more. Now Bubbly Soda Pop brand or Pop Sody Bubbles brand offers a gallon of water for a dollar. The future is here. The future where everyone gets everything for cheap.
You start a band, business, company—something that needs something for the people to know – a name, picture, a jingle. Hard work and dependability aren’t enough. It will be enough in the future when the formula for whatever it is you’re selling is lab-tested and every franchise operates the same way, bringing the same sound, taste, and product the same way to new and more customers. You are Henry Ford. You are David Geffen. You are Local Bank, then Corporate Bank, then Corporate Bank US, then CB North America, then something catchier, with pens everywhere. You were a McDonald, but some guy named Ray wheedled all your money out of your hands.
There are fifteen minutes left until lunch is over. There is a whole strip of highway dedicated to serving you. You. They are all there just for you, from the mechanic boys to the sandwich kings. Servile men and royalty await your rushed lunch break. Servants in slightly greased uniforms take your order and name, and you wait, unless you’re in your car waiting. There are supermarkets everywhere, but there is no time to shop or make lunch or bag or pickle or preserve or jam berries anymore. There must only be time for rushing here to rush through work, to rush through lunch, to rush back, to rush until closing time. Your insides hurt, and you are gassy.
You’ve grown, married, and the baby has arrived! Our ancestors had blankets or cloth for diapers, and now we have 120 diapers in plastic bags in clean looking boxes on shelves in large stores, with ointment and wipes nearby for simultaneous purchase. These diapers have color lines and smiling baby models and a bubble-font logo. Get the Bubble-Font logo brand, unless you can save a few dollars with the Mart-Brand kind. The Mart-Brand kind diapers, like all things Mart-Brand, are just as good but cheaper, and that surge of hormones when you see the Mart-Brand logo is inimitable. And you get Mart-Brand points on your Mart-Brand card as well as Mart-Brand bags to put the kitty litter in when you change the cat box.
Your children eat sliced apples from seven different countries that have been dipped in a chlorine wash and taste differently than the sliced apples you cut up at home, which are also from a different country during a different season than the one you are currently and geographically in. Big ships with big containers brought them here, for cheap, and we’re all better for it. No one wants to eat only root vegetables in the wintertime. We want red meat and green leaves. We are glad the kids are eating fruit, but are they really eating fruit? At least they’re not only eating the soy-carb-corn starch product all the time. Kids, you know. You can’t eat healthy all the time. Life is expensive.
There is a new Mermaid Lady Coffee store inside the Mart-Brand Superstore, which sells all the things you need right now, or this week, or always. And you can always go there, and they will always be pleasant and have what you need. And if not, there is the online. The online has everything, always, too. Life has meaning, and we have reached the pinnacle of whatever it was history and time and space was leading up to.
Mermaid Lady Coffee never tasted so good.
The children are growing—they fall asleep next to the communication machines they got for Christmas or a birthday. There is an orgastic green light always blinking. They have several email accounts, games, apps, all with usernames and passwords, all with buttons and touchscreen adaptations. Our ancestors had pick-axes and two-man saws, we have unlimited WiFi and cookies to disable. And everything needs a new USB portal, even the new wireless pick-axes in the part of Mart-Brand Superstore dads always wander off to.
There is a village in a large, poor country that sends its boys to mine for minerals that are then used to make the motherboards and parts for the toys and machines that your business, children, and neighbors just can’t do without. There is a another village in another large, poor country that sends its girls to factories to build these toys and machines, and another village in yet another large, poor country that mines the motherboards of discarded toys and machines for parts to sell back to the company, while their water and crops turn black and poisoned from the leftover run-off used to clean the electronic waste (sent back from the countries that purchased and were done with said machines). The smaller the village, the less billboards and franchises there are selling speedy bread sludge.
Christmas is coming, and the new models are out. Business is good, and we’re all getting rich.
The retirement home is not franchised, but it soon will be. The immigrants don’t know any difference, nor do the locals who are still only making minimum wage working there. Their cousins run the coffee shops at the strip malls, and clean the beds at the motels, and do all the dirty work behind the scenes so that Mart-Brand Superstore goods feel better and public image remains intact. We’re all in this together. We’re all fondling the logos on the tchotchkes on the keychains in our pockets.
All that mattered was the children, and the wife, health, happiness. All that mattered was that the world came together and made a better tomorrow. The clean-up was awful, but we learned a a hell of a lesson. The oceans still swim in plastic though. The symbols gave us strength, and were meaningless, and we forgot most of what we consumed or learned, which is par for the course. It wasn’t such a waste. All the basics were covered and if we had to do it over, we probably would have done it the same exact way. The poor were fed, we got along for the most part, and many of us were educated and healthy.
And the burgers were only a dollar apiece.
—Photo: Charis Tsevis/Flickr